On June 7, 511 seniors graduated from Hopkins High School. As a final farewell to this memorable class, and as is tradition in the last edition of the Update, we profiled three seniors — Ilham Nur, Isaac Eng, and Amarya Ward-West — each of whom have their own unique success story. We wish them and the entire class of 2018 all the best as they head off into a bright future.
Ilham Nur: Think globally, act locally
Ilham Nur had a global perspective before entering first-grade. At that point, she had already lived in Somalia, Denmark, and Minnesota. She went through the American immigration process in kindergarten and spent her entire K-12 career at Hopkins Public Schools. She currently speaks three languages and can read Arabic.
Nur has spent the greater part of her high school experience focused on bringing people together. In her sophomore year, she was a co-founder of HHS Responds, a student-led group that is focused on creating an inclusive and positive culture for Hopkins High School. Nur emphasized that the group is for everyone, although its mission is to provide a voice for students who have not always had one.
"We are heavily focused on kids who are not being heard, who are primarily students of color," she said. "We respect all people, and we love to h
ear ranging points of view. Different mindsets have come into the club, and because of the club, they view situations differently."
HHS Responds does not shy away from controversial topics. They were key contributors to bringing gender neutral bathrooms into the high school. They helped organize a student-led walkout to protest gun violence, and this year they focused on removing the stigma from mental health issues. But the first time they were instrumental in bringing the whole school together was in 2016 after the election, which caused tension among the student body. HHS Responds organized a facilitated dialogue known as a fishbowl, where students practice active listening and share their personal truths — and it helped.
"This was one of my favorite fishbowls," said Nur. "We set aside being red or blue, and focused on coming together as a school community and respecting one another."
The other thing that stands out to Nur during her time at Hopkins is her participation in the AVID program. AVID is designed to push high-potential students into a rigorous course load and eventually to college. In fact, many AVID students become the first in their families to attend college. Because of the program, Nur took AP (Advanced Placement) and honors classes throughout high school. She was also chosen by her peers to give a speech at the annual AVID banquet. She credits her AVID teacher, Ms. Heimlich, for challenging her to dig deep and push herself beyond what she thought was possible.
"Ms. Heimlich wants the best for all of her students," Nur said. "She has opened the door for many to get to college, and she is always pushing you to be better. This makes us want to do more."
In the fall, Nur plans to attend Normandale Community College for two years and then transfer to a four-year university. She's not quite sure what she wants to do with her life because she is interested in many things. She could see herself pursuing education because it's critical for students to see teachers of color. On the other hand, she loves kids, so a career in pediatrics is appealing. Or maybe she will take business classes and explore a more corporate road. Regardless of the path she chooses, it's clear Nur knows how to define success for herself.
Isaac Eng: Up for the challenge
Isaac Eng is a person who likes to test his limits. In junior high, he was in the gifted ALM (Autonomous Learning Model) program. As he progressed into high school, he took several AP classes and performed well enough to earn the prestigious AP Scholar with Distinction award. He was involved in several activities, sports, and clubs including HopCares, baseball, jazz band, and the Nordic ski team, where he served as captain, and this summer he is running a marathon, just because. The list goes on, but you get it — Eng is not one to sit idle. And Hopkins has offered an array of experiences that have challenged him.
"I have always loved the teachers at Hopkins," said Eng. "I don't think I have had a bad experience with anyone; my teachers have done a good job challenging me."
Although his interests vary, Eng has thoughtfully planned out a rough sketch of his future, which involves international relations, law school, and maybe a seat on America's highest court. His dream of becoming a Supreme Court justice was formed in junior high, when he participated in a mock youth government activity that took him downtown and put him in charge of 40 kids. There he learned the importance of building relationships as a means to influence and create change. He carried this interest into high school, and in his AP composition class, he sharpened these skills by learning to write strategic and persuasive essays on subjects he knew little about.
"This was my most challenging class," he said. "It was a mental test because you had to be able to articulate your points, and the subjects are not always meaningful to you. I think that is a good skill to have."
Despite Eng's ambition, he has a healthy amount of humility, especially for his young age. He describes himself as someone who is happiest when he is outside, and takes deliberate breaks from technology. In his sophomore year, he organized a four-day trip to the Boundary Waters with his friends without adult supervision. To be clear, he had to hold a parent meeting to convince his friends' parents to allow the trip. The next year, the same group headed off to Colorado, but no parent meeting was required — trust had been established. Last summer, he also attended a school-sponsored trip to Costa Rica where he lived with a host family in a small mountain town. Not being able to speak English pushed him out of his comfort zone, but it was also exhilarating.
"When I got off the plane, it was culture shock," he said. "I could not speak any English. It pushed me into the deep end, but it was a great experience."
During his senior year, Eng was able to relax his pace just a bit. He took an independent study course that allowed him to be a teacher's assistant for his favorite teacher, Ms. Ocar, and also build a set of skis with his favorite coach, Mr. Fuhr. This is what he envisions college life will be like — more self-paced and self-directed.
Over the summer, he will wait tables in Wayzata and "tune out and reset" before attending college in the fall. Eng plans to study international relations at Brown University and minor in Spanish. After that, he will likely pursue law school or work at an international company of some kind.
Amarya Ward-West: Overcoming adversity
Hopkins High School senior Amarya Ward-West describes herself as a perfectionist, although that word alone does not do her justice. Very few of us could understand the drive, grit, and determination that Ward-West embodies. The summer before ninth-grade, Ward-West was in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down. She was in a coma for three months, and when she came out of it, she needed to re-learn how to do pretty much everything.
Although this accident will remain a crucial part of Ward-West's story for the rest of her life, she is not interested in letting it define her. She is focused on the future, just like the rest of her graduating class, and is proud of all she has accomplished. She is humble and has a dry sense of humor. She likely won't come right out and say that she has a 3.98 GPA, or that she has taken a number of AP and honors classes, but with a little questioning, she will tell you a few of her successes.
This year, she was one of five students to receive Minnesota's Beat the Odds scholarship. Sponsored by the Children's Defense Fund, the scholarship is given out to five Minnesota high school students each year who have overcome tremendous adversity to achieve academic excellence, demonstrate leadership in their communities, and aspire to attend college.
"I applied for the scholarship at the last minute," said Ward-West. "A counselor here recommended that I go for it, and I decided to give it a try."
As a Beat the Odds recipient, Ward-West will receive a $5,000 matriculating scholarship and a laptop computer, among other things. She has been accepted into the University of Minnesota, but plans to attend Augsburg University this fall to study psychology, although she jokes that this might change in the next couple of months.
"I am really interested in how people think, how they react to stuff, and knowing how their minds work," she said.
Ward-West describes Hopkins as an inclusive environment that is both welcoming and diverse. She has equally enjoyed her AP statistics and pre-calculus classes, and her English and modern non-fiction classes. Experimenting appeals to her curious nature, making physics another favorite. Although she has found her fit at Hopkins, she is also ready to pursue new adventures.
"I am looking forward to being done and attending college," she said. "I am ready to move on to the next thing."