2021 Star Senior Videos
Continuing our tradition of recognizing graduating seniors, Fulton County Schools proudly launches its “Star Seniors: Class of 2021” web and video series. These 17 outstanding seniors – one from each high school – embody the spirit and fortitude of the Class of 2021. We are profiling high academic achievers, all-star athletes and award-winners, students with unusual or unique stories to share, and those who have beaten the odds to graduate.
The unforeseen arrival of COVID-19 made the stories of this year’s Star Seniors even more important to share. These students and their peers deserve to be recognized for overcoming obstacles and moving their studies online to continue the path towards graduation. Star Seniors and the Class of 2021, we salute you for your grit and can-do attitude. There is no doubt this unexpected experience will equip you for life’s surprises and pave the way for a successful future.
Chattahoochee HS 2021 Star Senior - Kayla Wolensky
Chattahoochee High School Star Senior Kayla Wolensky has learned at a young age what many people learn late in life -- that opening up and sharing problems instead of keeping them inside can bring healing and freedom. “I had lot of low self-confidence,” she shared, “I didn’t really think I was capable of doing the things that I’ve been doing. I realize now that was due to a lot of negativity in my household.” A formerly toxic environment took an emotional toll on her life, but she eventually found the courage to share her concerns with supportive, safe friends. “It took a lot out of me to speak up and talk to people and really separate what I was being told and what was happening vs. what I knew was right. It changed my life, made me a person that I didn’t know I was capable of being.”
Throughout her personal struggles, Kayla excelled academically, maintained connections with friends, and stayed involved in activities. She played on the volleyball team where she won ‘Most Improved Player.’ She served as yearbook staff photographer and participated in BBYO, formerly B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, a youth group for Jewish teens. She loves literature especially writing. “There are no rules in writing, it’s whatever you make of it,” she noted.
Her life experiences, however, have informed her academic and career interests leading her toward psychology and possibly forensics with the goal of helping people. “Psychology explains why and how things happen. Not everything in life there’s a reason for. You don’t always get an explanation,” she said. “I think it’s really cool that with psychology, it helps you understand a lot about who people are -- just all the outside aspects that play into who a person is.” Her AP Psychology teacher, Kristen Falk, reaffirmed Kayla’s affinities saying, “I could really see Kayla majoring in psychology and working in some field to better help others.”
Counselor Tammy Jones spent a lot of time with Kayla and declared how much she has prospered. “Kayla has continued to succeed and getting great grades and serving her community, working two jobs (hostessing for a restaurants), and supporting her family.”
Kayla can now look back on what led to the present moment and concludes the biggest accomplishment is “finding who I was, not who others wanted me to be, becoming comfortable with who I was and am.” One of her closest confidantes, media center assistant Erica Greene, said, “It’s been an honor to watch her through the years. I have seen Kayla blossom into a young adult who’s ready to go out there in the world.” One way she encouraged Kayla was having a sticker on her keyboard of Dori, the angelfish from the movie “Finding Nemo,” and quoting the character (played by Ellen DeGeneres) saying, “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.” Kayla recalls, “One of the reasons I’m able to talk to people about this and bring awareness to things is Ms. Greene gave me the validation.”
Living with COVID-19 during senior year, she shared, was very difficult. “Everything had caution tape on it,” she said, “but it was a lot easier knowing that everybody was in the same boat, and you weren’t alone in what you were thinking. Everybody was struggling and trying to find their way. Fortunately, she had a great group of girls. “We have just made the most of it and do whatever we can to celebrate the little things.”
For fun, she loves simply spending time with friends just going on drives. “I’m just a quality time person,” she shared. “We don’t have to be doing anything, just if I’m with the right people.”
Originally from the Boston suburbs, Kayla acknowledged the culture difference but appreciates what Chattahoochee offered and the strong education system in Johns Creek. “It’s made such a difference. The environment, the teachers, how much people care. The teachers have such a strong relationship with the students. There’s just this feeling you know that they’re there for you, they want to help you and they want to point you in the right direction.”
She hopes to study abroad one day and possibly visit Israel. But for now, she will be finding her niche at Georgia Southern University working to shape her future.
Jones concluded, “Being out in the world, that’s when I see that she will be the rock star I know that she can be.”
“Having a voice is just the most important thing,” Kayla said. “I didn’t have a voice and now I do, and I want to use it. My whole life is this theme of ‘I didn’t think I could, but I did.’"
Released Monday, May 24, 2021
Creekside HS 2021 Star Senior - Justin Ayiih
Justin Ayiih is Creekside High’s Star Senior. The son of immigrants from Ghana, Ayiih is the eldest of the family. “As the oldest child, I take care of my two younger brothers,” Ayiih said. “I wake up and put them on the bus at 6 a.m. When they come home from school, I help take care of them.”
After assisting his brothers, Ayiih begins his school day. “My virtual day usually starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m.,” Ayiih said. “I’m a dual enrollment student. In the morning I have calculus, psychology, and work-based learning. At the end of the day, I have lectures for my public speaking class or English. After that, I have a computer science class that I take from 5:45- 7:00 p.m.”
Enrolled in Creekside and Clayton State University, Ayiih is challenged. “It’s hard learning computer science and calculus online,” Ayiih said. Though difficult, both subjects are his favorite courses. “The applications of calculus are important for me,” Ayiih said. “I get to practice what I’m going to major in in college. I want to program and build code, since my major will be computer science.”
Navigating the world of computer science, calculus and a new school, was made easier by Creekside AVID Coordinator Patti Lee, Ayiih’s favorite teacher. AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a college and career readiness program. “She helped me when I was a confused freshman, and she helped me as a senior with scholarship essays,” Ayiih said.
According to Lee, Ayiih represents the best AVID has to offer a student. “He is the most determined student I’ve ever come across,” Lee said.
Another mentor, Dr. Dennis Yancy, inspired Ayiih to study at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “I met him on a field trip to Georgia Tech,” Ayiih said. “He told us to pursue our dreams and help others along the way.”
Helping others has been a constant for Ayiih while attending Creekside. “Justin is an advocate for himself and others,” said Creekside Principal Frankie Pollock, Jr. “He has great knowledge around instruction.”
Ayiih’s knowledge of robotics led Principal Pollock to consult him when he decided to start a robotics club at Creekside. “Justin was one of the first students I asked about having a robotics club,” Pollock said. “The robotics club has turned into a robotics class, and we now have an engineering pathway.”
When he enters Georgia Tech in the fall, Ayiih will be a computer science major. “Computer science gives you the ability to create stuff you may think is impossible, but you can do it,” Ayiih said. “I’ve made prototypes for virtual education and used tools to help me with my own education, and I’ve used them to help others.”
Helping others is a recurring phrase that defines Ayiih’s purpose. “It’s really those aspects of computer science that draw me to it, helping others through building technology.”
Released Monday, May 24, 2021
Independence HS 2021 Star Senior - Felix Fisch
Independence High School Star Senior Felix Fisch is a man of measured words, but when he speaks, his words pack a punch. He knows that half the battle is showing up and has demonstrated himself to be a definitive Independence Star Senior. School counselor Brett Szymendera describes it as, “someone who goes above and beyond, knows what he wants and works really hard to get what he wants.”
Independence’s 2021 valedictorian, Felix set goals for himself and exercised self-discipline to make his time there really count. What inspires him most? “Change,” he said. When he sees positive change happening, it motivates him to keep pushing those changes forward. Art teacher John Chase Campbell remarked that students at Independence have the ability - the life skill - to pivot and be creative and innovative in their thinking.
Reflecting on the benefits of his time at Independence, Felix remarked, “It’s helped with my own sense of discipline - being able to be self-sufficient in managing my own time and getting done what I need to get done.” His consistent effort in academics as well as treating people with respect didn’t go unnoticed. “Insofar as his work ethic and character,” Campbell said, “it’s always great to have students who know how to take care of what they need to take care of. Having students who you really don’t have to worry about frees up your energy to deal with students who have greater needs.”
Felix has a wide variety of interests, and his favorite school subjects are biology and sculpture. “I really like biology because it’s the study of how life really works, and I find that incredibly interesting,” he said. Though he has such strong science leanings, he also really enjoys art and chose his art instructor to be featured. Campbell ruminated on being chosen since Felix has such a keen interest in engineering. As an art teacher, he observed that “there’s an intersection here of Felix-as-a-creative person and Felix-as-a-math-and-science person. Art and science are natural bedfellows. My theory is that everything students learn in other classes are applied here in this class, so bridges can be built.”
Outside of school, Felix enjoys cooking and has had a job as a line cook. Having grown up in restaurants when his parents previously worked in the business, he loves the culture of cooking and food and how it brings people together. For fun, he likes to skateboard, a sport he’s enjoyed since elementary school.
Looking down the road to the future, Felix hopes to own a successful vertical farming company that will employ hydroponics, the science of growing plants with mineral nutrient solutions in water vs. soil. He relishes the prospect of more efficiently using space and having freedom from weather dependency. In his research, he learned that while the initial investment is higher, long-term operation costs are lower. He hopes his business would contribute to cutting down greenhouse gases used to transport food and assist with combatting food deserts throughout the U.S.
Presently though, getting through school during COVID-19 was “slightly frustrating having senior year during a pandemic.” His perspective is practical. “It’s not the end of the world,” he reflected. “I don’t dwell on it. It’s not like I’m going come up with a cure for it. I just wear my mask and try to have a good time.”
His proudest moment came when he received his acceptance to Georgia Tech. His next four years will be focused on finding his academic niche, whether it be mycology (the study of fungi for genetic or biochemical properties and toxicity) or mechanical, chemical or biomedical engineering.
Szymendera said, “His future is wide open. Whatever he puts his mind to he will do really well in it.”
Released Monday, May 24, 2021
North Springs HS 2021 Star Senior - Breanna Henry
North Springs Charter High School Star Senior Breanna Henry is known for her positivity and bright outlook. AP U.S. History teacher, Eric Smith sings her praises: “Breanna is a fantastic human being. She walks in with a smile on her face every day. She has a tremendous work ethic, integrity, she does what she can to help the people around her, she respects the faculty and they respect her. And the same with her peers.” One might assume she had all the comforts of life that would contribute to such a cheery personality, but in reality, she has had to persevere through some serious family hardships during her high school years.
Despite the adversity, she maintained a stellar academic record and has been involved in school activities. “Throughout my high school career and leading up to my senior year, I’ve gone through a lot of troubling events that usually would cause a lot of people to stay unmotivated during high school and probably not try to do their best.” However, she determinedly worked hard and found herself inspired by other people’s success, believing she could do the same. “I think that’s a really healthy thing,” she said, “when you can look at others succeeding, and instead of being jealous or unmotivated, you take that and you use it to be motivated for yourself and achieve things for yourself.” Counselor Maia Smith shared, “Breanna is a memorable student with a beautiful spirit. She really does exemplify excellence: she is a hard worker, she is a natural leader and she’s special.”
English and literature are her favorite subjects. “Reading is something I’ve always loved since I was very young,” she recalled. “I like the way reading can take you to a new world from the perspective of the writer.”
Breanna’s proudest moment was when she won second place for her work in a state-level literary competition. “I submitted both a poem and a short story,” she shared “two pieces that were very dear to me and that I enjoyed writing. I feel like they were the two pieces that made me realize that I love writing and I wanted to do it in the future.”
Other interests include fashion. “I’m getting into sewing and making my own clothes.” Social and political justice are topics about which she is also very passionate. She believes this world is going through tough times where voices are needed, and she feels ready to give her voice to any community that needs it. She hopes to seek ways to work with organizations to help ease cultural tensions and bring communities together.
Thinking about plans for her future, Breanna lists her main goal as first graduating from college and afterward publishing a few of her works. She is currently writing a book and hopes by graduation, it and some of her poetry will be published. As a side hustle, she dreams of creating a clothing brand.
Learning online during a pandemic has not been easy, but she took time to enjoy virtual activities with friends whether watching movies or simply video chatting. “I feel it’s important to stay connected with people you consider friends during these times because it can be very easy to become distant. She also made a concerted effort in her classwork because she felt it could be easy to become apathetic.
Breanna believes her time at North Springs has strongly shaped who she is today. Diversity, she said, is one of the school’s strong points that provides so many different kinds of people with whom to be friends. “I feel like you’re kind of forced, in a good way, to interact with other people at North Springs,” she observed. “So, it helps you break out of your bubble.” Having been accepted to at least five colleges, she has made her decision to attend Kennesaw State University. “I will most definitely be majoring in English and possibly minoring in creative writing,” she said. As she’s moved forward, she didn’t forget her struggles and knew other kids need role models. She has participated in the Orange Duffel Bag Initiative and Stand Up for Kids mentoring programs for youth in transition while at North Springs.
Eric Smith concluded, “Breanna is a go-getter. She is a hard worker who has overcome a tremendous amount of adversity in her life. Whatever she wants to do, whatever she puts her mind to, she’s going to go get it and succeed.”
Maia Smith concurs: “She is small in stature, but she has a big heart.”
Released Monday, May 24, 2021
Roswell HS 2021 Star Senior - Joan Gonzales
Roswell High School Star Senior Joan Gonzalez is the epitome of turn-around success. According to one of his favorite teachers, Special Educator Amanda Katz, who has taught his science classes, he sat in the back of the classroom as a freshman and didn’t talk much at all. Through his sophomore year, he continued to struggle and fall behind. He played football as an underclassman but academically, he struggled. Then in junior year, COVID-19 struck, and all learning went online. Initially, he said, “It was a lot easier because I could do it at my own pace.” But then it became harder due to the lack of hands-on element from which he benefitted and appreciated while learning face-to-face. The feedback to help guide him was missing.
To make things dramatically more complicated and stressful, financial hardships at home compelled him to decide to drop out of school and go to work full-time to help support his family. While his work was helpful in stabilizing their situation, his absence caused him to continue to fall even farther behind. Ms. Katz reached out to urge him to return to school, which he eventually did, acknowledging that he worked better with experiential projects. The turning point came early in senior year when he realized he didn’t have enough credits to graduate.
Envisioning his high school career stretching into a fifth year, Joan made a decision to change that and went to administrators for assistance. “I didn’t want to disappoint my mom. I felt anxious I guess knowing if I didn’t do my work, I would stay another year.” He also knew he had to finish school for himself in order to create a brighter future. “It was important to help the family,” said Katz, “but as his teacher, I knew it was equally important to finish his education.”
Making up the lost credits would be an enormous leap involving taking four additional online classes on top of his daily six classes. “Joan is extremely determined,” said Inter-Related Resource teacher Gina Satterfield. “He has the qualities of working hard, and he has been resourceful using his classmates and (football) teammates to be the young man that he is today.”
Inspired by his mom, who encouraged him to stay focused on school, Joan resolutely moved forward. Katz said the qualities of a Star Senior, especially this year, are showing effort, perseverance, accountability and responsibility, all of which Joan did despite the odds against him. He found he really enjoyed physics. The hands-on aspect made it easier for him to understand. “The thing I liked the most was building a rollercoaster – putting the marbles on it and seeing them go down.” His proudest moment came when “I found out I might graduate on time and being chosen for this award out of the entire senior class.”
For fun, he enjoys playing guitar (which he learned in guitar class at Roswell High), singing in church and cooking. “My plans for the future are I’m trying to be an electrician. I like to wire stuff, and I like working with my hands.” Meanwhile, his mom started a house-cleaning business which now has employees and is growing.
Satterfield recalls, “He came to me in October and said, ‘I am going to graduate this year.’ I said, ‘I will be your biggest cheerleader: I will fight for you, I will argue for you, I will stand up for you if you are committed to this. He said, ‘I’m committed.’ He’s made it all come true.”
Katz and Satterfield predict a positive future for Joan. “I see for him anything he wants to do,” said Katz. “He can do it. We try to give him the tools to help him do it. I think what he’s starting to realize are the ‘I Can’ moments. There’s nothing holding him back other than himself.” Satterfield agreed. “It gives me the energy to keep doing what I love to do – to help the next student.”
Released Monday, May 24, 2021
Tri-Cities HS 2021 Star Senior - Khalya Green
Khalya Green is Tri-Cities High’s Star Senior. The versatile student who excels in subjects from biology to art, has had a difficult time. When her cousin passed away in her 10th grade year in school, emotions took hold. “I had to go to two different mental health hospitals,” Green said. “At the time, I thought I would just give up because I was tired.”
Complicating her time of stress was the fact that her family was facing eviction. “My family was getting evicted from our home,” Green said. “We had car issues and more. Despite all of it I tried to keep going because I do it all for my family.”
Green’s mother is her stabilizer. “Every obstacle I’ve had to experience she had to experience,” Green said. “Despite it all she’s remained the rock of our family.”
Green’s determination comes from wanting to make her mother proud. “I want to be successful,” Green said. “I want to give my mother everything she’s given me.”
“Khalya is a warrior,” her favorite teacher, Ashley Hollins, said. “She really has overcome so many obstacles and has done it effortlessly. She really is a modern day warrior.”
A dual enrollment student, Green took courses from Georgia Military College (GMC) in addition to those she studied at Tri-Cities. “I’ve taken nine courses from GMC, everything from biology to public speaking,” Green said. “I’ve earned 24 credit hours, so when I go to college I’ll be a sophomore.”
When she was younger, her mother had an idea about her college major. “I like science and biology,” Green said. “My mom suggested I major in molecular biology when I was in middle school.”
Green has turned to the Arts to relieve her stress. “I play alto and tenor saxophone,” Green said. “It has been a gateway away from my problems.”
A mural in the hallway of Tri-Cities was painted by Green. “I’ve been drawing since I was very young,” she said.
After graduation, Green will attend Stetson University. “When I graduate college I’ll join the Air Force,” she said.
Tri-Cities principal, Dr. Ethel Lett, sees Green’s future as bright. “She’s resilient,” Lett said. “She should keep the energy she’s had in high school and apply it to her chosen career. I’m excited to see what the future holds for her.”
This multi-talented senior is grateful for being recognized. “In my four years of high school I’ve had to go through a lot of obstacles, physically and mentally,” Green said. “Despite it all, I had to keep going. Being selected as the Tri-Cities Star Senior means all my hard work from 9th grade to 12th grade has been noticed. I’ve finally gotten the chance to have people proud of me. That’s all I wanted.”
Released Monday, May 24, 2021
Banneker HS 2021 Star Senior - Talilah Brown
Talilah Brown is Banneker High’s Star Senior. Born in Israel, coming to America was both helpful and painful. “I was told home is where the heart is,” Brown said. “But where do I reside when my heart has loved and hated the only homes I’ve known?”
Brown escaped to America with her mother and siblings when she was 11 years old. “There was a war going on in Israel when I was on my way to the United States,” Brown said. “I remember witnessing a missile flying in the sky and thinking to myself how I’d hope the firecrackers in America would bring me more comfort than the ones I saw in Israel that night.” After a long, safe journey to America, Brown was relieved, yet homesick. “I remember feeling really scared,” Brown said. “Israel is my home and the thought of losing my home was scary.”
Settling in the Banneker High community was unsettling. “The culture was different-- the food, the music, holidays, the environment,” Brown said. “People were so isolated, and no one interacted unless they had to. Everything was foreign to me.”
The culture that greeted Brown was the opposite of what she had been brought up in. “I was part of a very small and conservative community called the Hebrew Israelites,” Brown said. “The way we carry ourselves, the way we dress, the way we eat, is very different.”
Brought up as a vegan, Brown held to some of the Hebrew customs. “I’m still a vegan, and I sometimes speak Hebrew,” Brown said. Adapting quickly to the new environment was mandatory for Brown, because she was a role model for her siblings. “I’m the oldest of four,” Brown said. “They were dependent on me for guidance, approval, and comfort.”
The transfer to Banneker was not without benefits. “The curriculum is definitely different in the United States,” Brown said. “It gave me opportunities. The Banneker 3DE program gave me the ability to work with companies. They presented us with challenges and we had to come up with solutions. I’m very grateful to the program for giving me exposure and experience.”
Banneker ELA Department Chair Matthew Patterson has seen change in Brown. “In the last two years, she’s been one of the students who has grown the most in my classroom,” Patterson said. “Two years ago, she wasn’t nearly as confident as she is today. It’s been a lot of fun to watch her grow into the artistic juggernaut that she is.”
Patterson, one of Brown’s favorite teachers, is her opposite. “Mr. Patterson is very fun, open and relaxed,” Brown said. “I’m very shy. He reminds us that school isn’t always about getting the best grade. It’s about making sure you learn something and grasp the curriculum.”
Brandon Perkins, AP World History teacher and Brown’s other favorite teacher, has helped her grasp the curriculum. “When she started in my class, her essays often were not polished,” Perkins said. “I stayed on her. I told her to do it again, until she got it right. She is naturally determined. She does not give up. That’s one of the skills you need for college.”
Banneker Principal Dr. Jason Stamper said, “Brown can also be described as compassionate. When I think about Talilah I think about compassion and care.”
Patterson agrees, “There are so many times when I finish my lecture and see her going around to people in the class trying to make sure they all have it. She’s a thought leader. When she speaks the rest of the class listens.”
The oldest of four siblings, Brown sees her mother as the resilient role model who raised three daughters and a son on her own.“My mom inspires me because she’s a very strong individual,” Brown said. “I love how supportive she is of me and my siblings. At the end of the day, I look at everything she’s done for us, and she’s my biggest motivation and inspiration.”
When she leaves Banneker, Brown hopes to study art and become a landscape architect or interior designer.“I’ve always wanted to attend Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD),” Brown said. “I feel I will fit into that environment because I love everything art.”
“She’s our most talented art student in terms of her ability to think abstract thoughts and push them out,” Patterson said. “I see her being a landscape architect and working to beautify not only the real expensive communities, but giving back to lower income communities. She’ll bring beauty where there previously was the iron jungle.”
In addition to finishing college, this renaissance woman looks to traveling the world. “I really want to travel to six countries,” Brown said. Her advice to those who are navigating high school now is, “Whatever you do, be yourself. Don’t try to satisfy others, because you’ll never satisfy yourself.”
Released Monday, May 17, 2021
Cambridge HS 2021 Star Senior - Phillip-Michael Collins
Cambridge High School Star Senior Phillip-Michael Collins’ high school resume is full of activities, leadership and positivity. Called PMC by friends and teachers, this senior is described as a stand-out athlete, dedicated student, a leader in the school and community, and an all-around nice guy. An avid football player since second grade, Phillip-Michael has been on the varsity football team all four years, a three-year starter and letterman at Cambridge. But what he also brings to the table is tremendous leadership and ingenuity. His mom told him early on to enjoy high school and try new things in addition to his favorite sport. So, in freshman year, PMC made it a goal to get as involved as possible at Cambridge.
Over the next few years, he joined SkillsUSA and FFA, was invited to serve on the Superintendent’s Advisory Council, Cambridge’s Student Governance Council and as a Bear Ambassador for new students. If that wasn’t enough, he created a mentoring program for middle school students.
His own mentors and greatest inspiration, law and justice teachers Dr. Tom Washburn and Officer Timothy Hart, stirred within him a desire to support middle school-aged students as they prepare for high school. Reaching out to Hopewell Middle School, one of Cambridge’s feeder schools, he pitched an idea to administrators of a club for 10 boys and 10 girls that would teach life skills.
The administration loved it so much they elevated it from club status to an official Connections course. So, Phillip-Michael went to work with the aid of one of his Hopewell mentors creating a curriculum for the course which he called Skills for Adolescents. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of his high school career. His program eventually won SkillsUSA’s Student2Student Mentoring Award on the national level, his proudest moment.
He has won numerous other awards and accolades such as being a two-time Offense Player of the Year, two-time Captain Award winner, a SkillsUSA three-year Leadership Team officer, earned three state medals and was appointed the Georgia SkillsUSA Social Media Ambassador.
Cambridge counselor Amey Rishel acknowledges PMC is well-known and well-respected by staff and students alike and shared how personable he was from the start. “When I first started here at Cambridge this school year, he was one of the first students who introduced himself to me,” she said. “He wanted to make sure I knew who he was and all of the great things about Cambridge High School.”
Phillip-Michael’s visionary initiative and ability to work with people was noticed by Officer Hart, a former marine, who said, “I remember Phillip-Michael as young freshman in my law and justice class, and it’s not often you see somebody that has potential goals. In him, I saw right away a future leader.”
Being a remote learner in the early months of the pandemic was difficult for Phillip-Michael as he is a self-described hands-on individual. Returning face-to-face gave him new energy to pour himself into his school life and, as SkillsUSA president, he ran a masked-up, gloved, COVID-safe Trunk-or-Treat event in the school parking lot. Fortunately for him, football season went ahead, and not only was it the best year in school history, but he broke the Cambridge record for career rushing touchdowns.vBeyond high school and college, his sights are set globally in a career in diplomacy. Though his annual law and justice class trips to Europe were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, he plans to return from college to accompany students in 2022 as a chaperone. One of his dreams is to become the first African American Director of the FBI.
This fall, Phillip-Michael will attend Centre College in Danville, KY on a football scholarship majoring in international studies and politics. Rishel commends his character saying he’s always shown dedication, perseverance and puts others first. “He is going to be successful is anything and everything he chooses to do,” she concluded.
Officer Hart concurs, “Phillip-Michael has an awesome future ahead of him, based on the goals he’s set in these last four years and what he’s achieved and how he went far above those goals.”
Released Monday, May 17, 2021
Langston Hughes HS 2021 Star Senior - Madison Webb
Madison Webb is Langston Hughes High School’s Star Senior. The first African American woman to win the prestigious Harvard International Debate competition, she entered the tournament after sharing a special connection with her favorite teacher.
“Basil Lee is my favorite teacher,” Webb said. “I started at Langston later than my peers, because my family was facing financial hardship. I was forced to transfer to Langston from another high school and it was difficult adapting to a new school. Mr. Lee shared that he didn’t come from an affluent background, but persevered and ended up at an Ivy League university.”
Webb participated in the 2020 Harvard Debate Council Diversity program, an opportunity for African Americans to learn the skills of debate. Over 200 people apply to the program each year, and only 25 are admitted. From August 2019 until June 2020, Webb trained virtually. She honed her skills with debate partner Christian Flournoy, a student at The Westminster School. The dynamic duo took first place in the competition.
With Lee’s example and the Harvard Debate competition win, Webb was encouraged. “It made me realize Harvard and other Ivy League schools were attainable,” she said.
Basil Lee has helped Webb with scholarship applications and with virtual meetings she has organized for special needs students at Langston.
“She put together a virtual meeting to help students with disabilities have an opportunity to get together and do activities,” Lee said. “She worked it out with their teachers and it’s a fun program they do monthly.”
The club Webb organized for Langston students grew out of her desire to support her sister. “Growing up with a sister with Down’s syndrome inspired me to start the club,” Webb said. “We went on Teams and had movie and game nights once a month. I created a space for them to feel welcomed and heard during the pandemic.”
It is this kind of leadership that has defined Webb. “Madison is a proven leader in our student body,” said Principal Charles Chester. “She is a Student Government Association officer, Dual Enrollment Scholar and a member of the Superintendent’s Advisory Council. She has embraced Langston as her family and looks out for our students as if they were members of her own family.”
When she enters Harvard University in the fall, Webb hopes to study sociology and government, two subjects that will help her develop the career she aspires to in journalism. She will also be awarded an associate degree from Georgia Military College in Communication.
“I’ve been in the dual degree program at Langston since my 10th grade year,” Webb said. “I took courses in Psychology and Business Communication that will make me a well-rounded journalist.”
Webb just received news that she was named a 2021 Ron Brown Scholar. The program, the nation’s leading scholarship program for African American youth, selects 45 scholars from more than 4,000 applicants. Winners receive $40,000 toward their college expenses, mentoring and career counseling.
The iconic Langston Hughes’ poem, “A Dream Deferred,” inspires this Langston senior. “He talks in this poem about not having the opportunity to chase his dreams,” Webb said. “That’s how I started high school because of my financial situation. By creating opportunities for myself I was able to chase my dreams.”Webb’s dream is to graduate from Harvard University and work at CNN, like her role model political correspondent Abby Phillip. “I want to use my voice through journalism,” Webb said. “When you use your voice you can be a vessel of inclusion and make an indelible stamp on the world.”
Released Monday, May 17, 2021
Milton HS Star Senior 2021 - Meghna Madhusudhan
Milton High School Star Senior Meghna Madhusudhan had a few challenges when she came to Milton in her junior year. Having recently made a transatlantic move from her home in India, she entered the school at a time when student long-term friendships and activities were well established.
Navigating a completely new culture, language and education system is no small thing for a teenager. However, she dove right in and joined clubs and groups which aided her adjustment. “The journey has been amazing,” she reflected, “and I’ve learned a lot of stuff along the way.”
Milton math teacher Erin Latimer shared, “Megnha in a classroom brings a lot of positivity. She’s got a great attitude and a passion for learning. When you have that it makes it a lot more fun and a lot easier to learn because it really sets a tone, and you have a good energy in the class.”
Counselor Tiffany Popwell commended Meghna’s resilience observing it was amazing how she was able to perform academically and integrate quickly into the Milton culture, winning awards and demonstrating a desire to make a difference in her community.
Meghna’s mom has been her biggest inspiration having been alongside her through the “big move,” and Meghna said she just always wants to make her proud.
She shared that she has many proud moments for herself in her life. If she had to choose one, it would be the time she created her own technological solution for environmental sustainability in a smart composter that is completely automated. She entered it in the Georgia State Technology Competition (GASTC) and won on the regional level and third place at state. She has not shied away from pushing herself academically and has even taken dual enrollment courses at a local college. Math is her favorite subject, and she hopes to combine it with technology and business someday.
One avenue for dialing back the craziness of her schedule is dance. She loves hip hop and Pom, a dance technique using pom-poms like cheer but with less stunting and tumbling. Participating in the Milton Dance Team has been a great escape. “I love hip hop. It’s the one form of dance that I get to express myself the most in, and there’s so much freedom in your movements.”
Volunteering at North Fulton Community Charities, a nonprofit organization that assists residents with short-term emergency needs, has been a rewarding experience. “It’s always a great time there because I leave with a sense of fulfillment that I don’t get anywhere else.”
Future dreams include creating her own tech start-up company that uses both technology and business to solve sustainable issues. She’s holding on to her winning smart composter prototype. “I would like to productize it and have it easily accessible and affordable,” she said.
Managing life in a pandemic during her first years in the U.S. and at Milton added an additional stress component to her adjustment. Despite how hard it was for so many, she shared her enlightened perspective from living through the experience, “One thing I learned was to cherish even little moments that I spend with everyone, because I think we all took it for granted before.”
The culture at Milton has helped her greatly especially after the big move. “I think everyone I met and spoke to was always welcoming and didn’t mind showing me around,” she recalled. The gifted program also provided a special opportunity to intern in her profession of choice.
Going forward, Meghna will attend Georgia State University Honors College, a highly selective small college within the university that offers talented and motivated undergraduates a special experience.
Both Popwell and Latimer have confidence that Meghna’s future is bright with life skills, drive and talent to propel her to success. Popwell added, “Even when she does have setbacks, she takes it in stride and handles it with grace, so I think she will be a great example for those around her.”
Released Monday, May 17, 2021
Northview HS Star Senior 2021 - Julie Wu
Northview High School Star Senior JiahHui “Julie” Wu has been described as resilient, strong and determined. She and her mother moved to the U.S. several years ago while her father remained in Shanghai, China to work. Though Julie had much to adjust to in a new and unfamiliar culture, coming to Northview felt right when she toured the school. “This building made me feel like I was in the right place, like I was home,” she remarked.
Three days before the start of her senior year, however, her life took a traumatic turn when her mother suddenly passed away. Julie was faced with the choice of staying in the U.S. or returning to her family in Shanghai. She chose to remain, finish her senior year and apply to college.
Northview counselor Letitia Graham shared that while at Northview, Julie exhibited a kind spirit and upbeat personality. “The loss of a parent is such an impactful and devastating event at any point in your life,” Graham recalled, “and to have this occur at beginning of your senior year and during the height of a pandemic, is unimaginable. But Julie has endured, continued to display strength, display determination.”
When asked why she believed she was selected to represent Northview as its Star Senior, Julie humbly said, “I must have shown some qualities. There are a lot of people who are more talented than me and have better grades than me, so I’m really flattered to be chosen.”
Language arts teacher and literary magazine sponsor Tania Pope shared that a Star Senior needn’t be the typical top academic student or athlete, but one who is gritty. She saw in Julie an individual “who finds success in other ways, who inspires others through her determination and her willingness to take chances and to create change.”
Looking back, Julie feels proud of having had the courage to do something so unfamiliar as being the new kid as a freshman in a new country learning a new language. Making friends and connections and becoming English proficient was a victory for her.
Besides the literary magazine, Julie found numerous enjoyable activities and programs such as Student Leadership Johns Creek, which gave her new insights into leadership and business. Volunteer projects in which she participated allowed her to express her creativity and make a positive impact on the community including Key Club and artistic civic projects.
Julie is an artist who has dreamed of pursuing a career in the fashion industry. “She loves bright colors,” said Pope. “When you are around her, you feel the world come alive as she’s that type of person.”
“I have a really big dream,” Julie shared, “I want to start my own brand which hopefully will be in line with top fashion brands all over the world, like Chanel and Dior. I want to leave something behind, something valuable to the world.”
Her mother was her biggest inspiration because she was the sole family member to support her dream. “I have a traditional Chinese family,” she said, “and they wanted me to go to an Ivy League college. I didn’t believe I could chase my dreams and study at Parsons School of Design” (in New York City). Though the family conflicts were difficult, Julie’s mother stood by her. “She inspired me on a lot of projects in my portfolio,” Julie said.
Another cultural adjustment was learning the American college application system. During first semester of senior year and still in the pandemic, Julie faced this enormous learning curve. “I had no knowledge of what to do, step by step,” she recounted. “I was panicking constantly every night about my portfolio, how to answer questions for colleges, how to write my essay.” Connecting closely with teachers and counselors made the difference in answering questions. “They helped me out during a difficult time,” she shared. Julie’s dreams became a reality when she was accepted to Parsons.
Pope sees an incredible future ahead for Julie. “She’s already indicated she’s not scared to seize initiative,” she said, noting that Julie made Parsons happen for herself and was accepted with scholarships. “Julie loves the hustle and bustle of big cities, and I envision her creating an impression with her own sense of culture, her own sense of color, her love of humanity,” said Pope. “Julie’s going to make a mark on this world in a way that’s kind and compassionate, and she will be one to make the world a better place.”
Released Monday, May 17, 2021
Riverwood International CS 2021 Star Senior - Amanda Solomiany
Riverwood International Charter School Star Senior, Amanda Solomiany, is a survivor. This enthusiastic and ambitious student is like any other teenager, except she has faced mortality in a way few her age have encountered. In December of 2019, she was diagnosed with cancer.
Following a persistent pain in her leg, an MRI revealed osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer usually located in the long bones of the arms or legs most often affecting adolescents and children. As Amanda learned all about her disease and its treatment, she was dismayed to learn that it is considered an “ancient disease,” having been around for centuries, yet it is neither well understood nor has there been much research and development devoted to updating treatments in the last 40 years.
The main treatment option besides surgery, including limb amputation, is MAP chemotherapy, a very harsh and intense protocol. Amanda endured nine months of the chemo and four surgeries all during the COVID-19 pandemic. The experience galvanized her to raise awareness about the disease as well as funding for more research to devote to innovation.
Balancing cancer treatments and school was a challenge, but one she took on bravely. “My health is very important, and it comes first,” she said. “But I’ve wanted to stay on top of my academics and my education to make sure I’m persevering and being the best I can be in preparation for college and the future.”
Riverwood counselor Antonio Grissom shared how when he met Amanda for their junior conference, she had a burst of enthusiasm, goals to accomplish and was on a great path for success. Then came the cancer diagnosis. “I just wanted to support her and the family during a very difficult time,” he said. Hard decisions had to be made to adjust the academic rigor to accommodate the treatment’s side effects.
Amanda cites her family as her biggest inspiration and support. “My parents are immigrants. My mother is from South Africa and my father is from Puerto Rico.” She shares how their story as a family has informed her perspective of believing anything is possible if they really set their minds to it.
Her favorite subject is English especially writing. “The freedom I get when I put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboards,” she shared, “I love that freedom and opportunity to express myself any way I want and put my thoughts down to share with the world.”
Once Amanda completed her treatments and was declared in remission in August of 2020, she created her own nonprofit organization. In that endeavor, she gained “the most amazing community” that helped her raise nearly $90,000. She has directed the proceeds toward three different funds, one of which is a research project at the renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, which has the potential to become a clinical trial.
Besides developing her nonprofit, Amanda has focused on her academics. Math teacher Richard Clayton said, “Amanda is the perfect choice for Riverwood’s Star Senior. She is extremely studious, well-liked by her teachers and classmates, and not just liked but respected.”
Amanda, in turn, commended Clayton’s teaching style, which made math – not her favorite subject - enjoyable. She also participates in Beta Club, National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society and has tutored at the Raider Writing Center.
Plans for her future include graduate school to prepare for a career of helping people with special emphasis on those less fortunate or who struggle with drug abuse.
Amanda acknowledges that the pandemic made life more difficult for everyone, but despite everything, she felt Riverwood took a safe and well thought out approach to managing it. “We’ve tried to keep our traditions,” she said. “I think the Riverwood staff are amazing and really pushed through and made this year special.”
The school’s cultural diversity has helped shape her as a person and add to her character. Especially important to her is meeting people from so many backgrounds who have unique stories to share. “I love being enlightened on cultures and opinions I’ve never heard of before,” she shared. “It helps me grow and develop so that I have a new mindset stepping out into the real world.”
Amazingly, throughout her cancer journey, Amanda maintained over a 97 GPA and added in dual enrollment classes. Grissom calls her a rock star. “She is a young woman of perseverance, of stick-to-it-iveness. What she’s had to endure will catapult her to a bright and exciting future.”
Clayton concurs saying he was willing to recommend her for absolutely anything she wanted to do. “Amanda’s future is whatever she wants it to be.”
This fall, Amanda heads to the University of Michigan at the main campus in Ann Arbor, taking the good words of Grissom with her: “The best is yet to come.”
Released Monday, May 17, 2021
Alpharetta HS Star Senior 2021 - Arushi Mittal
Alpharetta High School Star Senior Arushi Mittal has a firm mindset when coming to school: to build relationships and bring energy to the classroom. “I’m a people person,” she stated. She is most inspired by her “Future Self,” knowing she would like to have a lasting impact on the world. “It inspires me to do more with every single day.” Her teachers confirm this quality. AP literary and dramatic writing teacher Mike Womack says “Arushi has a magnetism, a smile that radiates. People are drawn to her. In every class I’ve taught that she’s been in since ninth grade, she just makes the class better.”
An artist from a young age, Arushi loves the hands-on process of creating something, and wants to challenge herself in numerous ways. Last year, she took an unusual step out to remove self-imposed obstacles to her goals by shaving her head. “I realized there are a lot of things I want to do, and the only thing stopping me is myself.”
Art teacher and Fine Arts Department Chair, Kendra Magill said, “Arushi embodies a Star Senior in so many ways. She is engaged, enthusiastic and dedicated to learning but also someone who takes up notch – she’s a good person, is active and supports her fellow students. I’ve been teaching over 20 years, and I have not had a student as giving as she is, and in the most positive, enthusiastic and genuine way. She has an empathetic level that is so mature and generous that it is a pleasure to behold.”
Arushi’s side interests of color guard, tutoring art to young students and dance (ballet, classical Indian and hip hop) play into her creative spirit. “That loose feeling of letting go shows in my art,” she affirmed. Her artistic expression has helped her get through a very different senior year than expected. Despite not being able to do all the typical senior activities, Arushi shared some of the fun and safe work-arounds the senior class has done like playing at Top Golf, Senior Snacks events and students often go to Avalon for a good time. Arushi has lots of friend groups but her “Covid Friends” are those with whom she often gets together to go through the school day alongside one another. “It makes it feel a little more sane for my mind,” she concluded. Taking four art classes has not hurt either. I’m thankful to be in a school which gives me an opportunity to expand on my future career plans.”
The diversity of Alpharetta’s student culture is one that Arushi really appreciates. Womack verifies this, saying, “Arushi socializes with different populations in the room whether she’s close friends with them or not. Some courses can by quite rigorous and she makes things more casual, a little more fun, because she’s an easy-going young lady.”
Looking ahead, Arushi plans to go west where she has committed to attending School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) to study fashion design. She’s not sure yet what trajectory it will take whether the business or design aspect of the industry, but “it will definitely be in the arts,” she confirmed. The big city where many destinations are within walking distance is where she wants to be. A few years ago, she visited the campus and took a class. SAIC is connected with a major city museum, Art Institute of Chicago, located just across the street, so she’ll have access to professional artists which she believes will undoubtedly inspire her art work.
After that, the world is her oyster. She has set her sights globally, hoping to travel anywhere and see as much of the world as possible. Magill predicts Arushi will accomplish beautiful things, and not just beautiful to behold but also things with meaning and power behind them. “She’s definitely going to take things to the next level,” Magill said, “and give insight to the world and spread her positive energy around.”
Released Monday, May 10, 2021
Centennial HS Star Senior 2021 - Maya Orthous Inchauste
Centennial High School Star Senior Maya Orthous Inchauste is one focused and determined young woman. The daughter of Bolivian immigrants and a global citizen at heart with a passion for social justice, Maya has made it her mission to do her part to change the world. “I’m a person who’s very goal-oriented, very passionate in whatever I do,” she said. “I give 110%.” Centennial counselor Melissa Freeman describes Maya as resilient, organized, mature and a servant-leader with true passion for action.
In her lifelong travels to and from Bolivia, Maya has witnessed extreme poverty that has sparked a desire to initiate humanitarian projects. In eighth grade, she started a nonprofit organization, One More Breath, to help fund medical care for impoverished Bolivian children. Collaborating with the German directors of the small, donation-based children’s hospital, she has raised thousands of dollars that have helped treat young patients whose families were unable to afford care. In some cases, the treatments saved lives.
At Centennial, Maya is an exceptional student enrolled in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme. The same determination that mobilizes her charitable endeavors drives her to succeed academically. Eulora Skelton, AP History teacher, said Maya has paved the way for younger students. “She embodies the role model that we as teachers strive to see every day.”
Maya’s school activities fit her goals and vision for her future. She is the Director General of Centennial’s Model UN program and has served on the IB Advisory Council. Social studies department chair, Macklin Hennessey, recalled, “Maya had such an interest in what was going on in the world …and in helping her own community.”
A self-proclaimed history nerd, Maya likes to push beyond classroom requirements. She loves to read and research history on how existing cultures and government systems have given rise to dictatorships. Immigration issues and how policy affects them also tops her list of interests.
She enjoys theater and works at a senior living community as a server and also performs for the residents. Writing a book on immigration policy before, during and after 9/11 is a long-term project in the works.
If there’s one thing Maya’s really proud of, it’s finishing her 4,000-word, IB extended essay, a curriculum requirement, on the rise of former Bolivian president Evo Morales. “I was working for hours upon hours over the summer when other kids were having fun. I think I came out with a really great product,” she good-humoredly said.
As part of her Global IB Politics engagement project, Maya researched immigration in Georgia interviewing politicians, poets and activists to learn their stories. She even visited an undocumented detainee at one of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) detention centers in Georgia, waiting eight hours for a short visit.
Her career goal is to practice some form of international or immigration law. “I just want to do it for the people and make change within people’s lives,” she shared.
Centennial’s diverse culture has been positive for her. “You can learn a lot from that,” she shared. “Someone else might think differently, but to understand different perspectives and how to work with people who are different is very interesting and has made me grow as a person.” Managing senior year remotely while restricted from travel due to COVID-19 has been difficult especially for someone like Maya who is always on the move. “I’ve taken this time to learn. I’ve been reading a ton. I started my book...I started learning new languages.”
Maya has committed to Georgia Tech and begins in June, a semester early, “Because I can’t wait.” She plans to major in International Affairs with modern languages, with a concentration in German and will minor in pre-law.
“My dad says I was born with a lot of grit.” True grit will take her far.
Released Monday, May 10, 2021
Johns Creek HS Star Senior 2021 - Aditya Bora
Johns Creek High School Star Senior Aditya (Adi) Bora has problem-solving in his DNA. A natural science mind, Adi has a passion for technology, engineering and invention and found his place at Johns Creek early on. He believes Johns Creek has many opportunities for students to explore their interests and succeed, and he’s intentionally taken advantage of them. What distinguishes Adi is his sense of goodwill relative to his technological abilities; he is singularly focused on improving people’s lives.
Growing up seeing his mother, a child psychiatrist, help treat patients suffering from mental illness has motivated Adi to also use his capabilities to create positive change. He also looks to people who are impacting the world on a grand scale, like Elon Musk, for inspiration. “Applying aspects of engineering, science and math and using them to solve real world problems is the coolest thing,” he said.
Engineering class with Dr. Steve Sweigart has been an enjoyable experience for both teacher and student. Sweigart uses the empathy-based Design Thinking model in his technology courses which requires examining problems that exist in communities and seeking helpful solutions. Adi was all in. “Engineering is something that gets me excited,” he said. “You have a lot of creativity and free reign but use concrete disciplines like math and science. And then there are opportunities to work with people.”
Each year of high school, Adi sought a humanitarian project involving design thinking. From self-tying shoes for someone with limited arm use to a device that regulates unwieldy Autism spectrum behaviors to a COVID-prevention Apple watch app to detect when a user touches his face, Adi has people’s welfare in mind. In sophomore year, he engaged in the project of which he’s most proud: designing and creating a motorized wheelchair joystick for a fellow student with cerebral palsy. “It was a humbling and amazing experience,” he shared. “I got to see something I worked to design and be used to help someone and got to spend time with Jason; it was a feeling that was unparalleled.”
That’s how Kathleen DeBuys, who chairs Johns Creek’s Community Based Instruction (CBI), a department that educates students with special needs, first met Adi. As he worked with Jason daily during the process of designing, researching, testing and compiling data, she observed how he really connected with her student. Adi, she shared, is “an incredible young man who looks beyond himself, is able to look at a problem and find the solution but doesn’t lose the humanity in between.”
Adi’s extra-curricular activities reflect his interests as well. He has served as the lead of the Johns Creek Robotics Team and has run a robotics camp for elementary and middle school students, pro bono. Additionally, he is on the tennis team, having played the sport since second grade, and participates in the Chief Science Officer’s Program, an advocacy group for science and technology-focused students. In his junior year, he visited the White House and Capitol with the program to lobby senators, including former Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, as well as the Office of Science and Technology Policy Director for more student input in STEM policy development.
Adi will head to the west coast this fall to start college right in Silicon Valley at Stanford University. And one day, he hopes his career will make a constructive difference through robotics and technology, whether leading research at a collegiate lab, running an organization or becoming an entrepreneur and designing and bringing products to market.
Sweigart said, “Adi’s a kid that could change the world.”
DeBuys concurs: “His ability to see people behind the problem is key to the future. We need more people like Adi.
Adi himself if just ready to get to it. “Wherever the future is in terms of technologies and science that are shaping the world, that’s where I want to be.”
Released Monday, May 10, 2021
McClarin High School Star Senior 2021 - Mamadou Diallo
Mamadou Diallo is McClarin High School’s Star Senior. After moving to America with his parents, who are originally from West Africa, he lived in Brooklyn, New York for 16 years. “My parents told us to respect ourselves and respect others, and to be the best we can be,” Diallo said.
After leaving the United States to live in Egypt for two years, Diallo came back with a determination to finish school. “When I came back I had over three years of high school to make up,” Diallo said. “I wanted to buckle down and meet the requirements, so I could graduate on time.”
Dr. Brigit Isaac and Melanie Smith, McClarin counselors, recommended Diallo for Dual Enrollment. “They put me on a path to succeed and do better,” he said. “Dr. Isaac helped me get my first job ever at Chick-fil-A, and the Dual Enrollment program enabled me to take high school and college courses at the same time.”
One word sums up why Dr. Isaac recommended Diallo, character. “Mamadou Diallo from the very beginning showed us what a very focused and driven student he was,” Isaac said. “He was able to come right in and get to work so he could graduate on time.”
Melanie Smith, McClarin head counselor, saw Diallo’s passion for education. “In addition to being the number two ranked student in McClarin’s senior class, he was eager to get back into school,” she said. “His desire to finish, achieve things for his family, inspired me.”
When he enrolls in post-high school education, Diallo hopes to take subjects that will allow him to be creative. “My favorite subject is history,” Diallo said. “If you don’t know your past, you’re doomed to repeat it. I also like to read a lot and write essays. I feel McClarin has set me up to succeed.”
Dr. Isaac has no doubt that Diallo will continue to perform at a high level. “I think he has a very promising future ahead of him,” she said. “I think he’s such a dynamic young man that he’ll prepare himself to have a successful future.”
Melanie Smith agrees. “He has charisma,” Smith said. “He could be the next president. He had a positive influence on his peers and encouraged them to do their best. He let them know that the finish line is coming and that they will get there.”
Mamadou Diallo has this advice for students who are looking to finish high school. “If you feel you want to drop out, keep pushing,” Diallo said. “Keep going, push through it, talk to your guidance counselor. They’ll help you.”
Released Monday, May 10, 2021
Westlake HS Star Senior 2021 - Amina Mbow
Amina Mbow is Westlake High’s Star Senior. The dual enrollment student cheers, runs track, does pageants, and works a 40-hour a week shift at Chick- fil-A. “I admire the owner of the Chick Fil-A where I work,” Mbow said. “If there’s anything going on at the store that needs to be handled, she makes time to fix the issue. I love how she manages time.”
In her spare time, Mbow plays the piano and the clarinet. “I try to make time to relax,” Mbow said.
“She is an inspiring student,” Sherri Bouhi, Mbow’s favorite teacher, said. “While she has all these things going on—cheerleading, track, AP Magnet, she has an amazing way of balancing her time. She works hard. She’s focused. She’s driven.”
Westlake principal Jarvis Adams agrees. “She’s on the cheerleading team, track team, takes AP courses, and somehow she excels in all that she does,” Adams said.” His advice to Mbow as she leaves Westlake is simple. “Continue to multi-task and do well in all that you do, but also learn the principles of good customer service and treating people correctly. That philosophy, along with her aptitude and intelligence, will take her wherever she needs to go.”
Dually enrolled at Westlake and Georgia State University, Mbow will be ahead when she enters college. “I do my classes online so I still have time to work full-time,” Mbow said. “I’m taking chemistry and statistics at Georgia State. It’s easy for me to be flexible and get those college credits early.”
Mbow has been accepted to Howard University, her mother’s alma mater, and Carson-Newman University. “At Howard, I’ll major in biology on a pre-med track to become an orthodontist,” Mbow said. “A lot of famous people went to Howard, from actors to the Vice President of the United States. Going there gives you room to become whatever you want to be.”
With a family that includes her mother and a twin brother, Mbow has seen her sibling participate in many of the sports she enjoys. “He does soccer, track, and football,” she said.
With her track goals cut short because of COVID-19, Mbow is still inspired. She urges students to remain vigilant.
“Because things are so up in the air because of the virus, there are many things in place in school now to keep you from failing,” she said. “Keep trying. Keep doing the best you can, and don’t give up!”
Released Monday, May 10, 2021