Plymouth State student a model of internet fame after Instagram post

New Hampshire Union Leader
October 25. 2017 9:54AM

Anok Yai, a Manchester resident originally from South Sudan, was photographed last week at a homecoming celebration at Howard University in Washington. (Steve “TheSUNK” Hall)

Photographed last week during the Howard University homecoming, a Plymouth State University student from Manchester may be in line to become the world’s next supermodel.

Anok Yai, a West High graduate, has fielded calls from modeling agencies, photographers and media ever since a photographer posted an image of her on Instagram last week. In the photo, Yai stares into the camera, wearing blue jean cut-off shorts, a skin-tight black top, white painted nails and curly, shoulder-length hair.

Her images have since made the rounds on social media. On Monday, Yahoo News wrote about all the attention the 19-year-old has received.

“Honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around all this,” said Yai on Tuesday. She always wanted to be a model, she said, but never pursued it. She is a biochemistry major at Plymouth State, and was planning to be a doctor.

Until last week, anyway.

She had about 150 followers on Instagram before her photos were posted. Now they have drawn upwards of 20,000 likes.

Comments include:

• “Eyes have not seen and ears have not heard what God has in store for you.”

• “Gorgeous”

• “Black and Beautiful.”

“She’s kind of overwhelmed,” said Alim Yai, Anok’s older sister, who is founder of Manchester-based Yai & Co. Wealth Management and is handling inquiries. An interview is scheduled for an Africa-oriented media platform next month in Brooklyn, and IMG Models and White Cross Management have reached out, Alim said.

Alim said the family of six siblings fled South Sudan and has lived in Manchester since 2001. They grew up in the Elmwood Gardens projects, and Anok and Alim attended Bakersville School, Parkside Middle School and West High.

“Honestly, she was an overall amazing girl,” said Mario Pena, who coached Anok in girls’ basketball at West. She was committed to the sport and her studies, Pena said. And after an injury in her junior year, she continued as a team leader, getting her teammates to show up and put in the extra effort.

Could she be a model? “She was always smiling. A very pretty girl,” Pena said.

Sometimes strangers would ask Anok if she models, her sister said. But the idea of becoming a model just didn’t add up to a family of immigrants — dad works at Easterseals, mom is a licensed nursing assistant — who see education, not a modeling runway, as the pathway to success, Alim said.

In fact, when Alim messaged the Yahoo article to her mother, her mother replied: “What about college?”

Anok said she was visiting a friend at Howard University in Washington when a photographer snapped some photos during a homecoming celebration. He asked for her social media information, and said the photos might go viral.

Her immediate plans are to pursue modeling while working on her degree. 

“Being a model is not like a stable job,” Anok said. “If modeling doesn’t work out, I’ll just get my degree.”

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