fb-pixelThis N.H. college student gained Internet fame with one photo - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

This N.H. college student gained Internet fame with one photo

A New Hampshire college student’s dreams to become a model may be one step closer to coming true with the help of a viral photograph and a flock of supportive new social media followers.

Anok Yai, a 19-year-old sophomore at Plymouth State University, was at a homecoming event at Howard University in Washington, D.C., last weekend when a photographer took her photo for his Instagram account, theSUNK.

He told her he was taking photos of people with nice outfits and that there was a chance the photos would go viral.

Saw her right at the end of Yardfest. Stunning @anokyai #huhc #huhomecoming #theyard #fro #curlyhair #darkskin #sudanese

A post shared by TheSUNK|The Shit U Need 2 Know (@thesunk) on

Yai didn’t really take it to heart. She thought at most, she’d gain a few new followers, so she just posed and moved on.

Fast forward to the next day, when the photo was posted and quickly garnered the attention of Instagram users.


“My phone just started vibrating rapidly for a long, long time,” Yai said, remembering the moment she realized her photo was going viral. “At first, I honestly thought someone made a meme of me or something.”

On Twitter and Instagram, new followers began pouring in and commenting on the photo, begging modeling agencies to take her on as a client.

Yai, who grew up in Manchester, N.H., after moving from Egypt with her family in 2000, said fashion and art have always interested her, but modeling just felt like a far-fetched dream.

She studies biochemistry, but said she could see herself modeling now as a part-time gig. Three modeling agenices have already reached out to her, she said Tuesday night.

“It was a dream that I always wanted, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen,” she said.

Yai said she was genuinely surprised by everyone’s reactions. When she first saw the photo, her initial thought was that she disliked the way her face looked and considered it “an average photo.”

“At first, I questioned what everyone was seeing because I didn’t really see it,” she said. “Honestly, I think that people get so used to seeing themselves that people don’t see their own beauty because they see it everyday.”


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.