Redmond seniors make the most of their high school experience

Aaron DiGenova is graduating from The Bear Creek School on Saturday. During his high school career, he has participated in three sports: football, basketball and baseball. - Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter
Aaron DiGenova is graduating from The Bear Creek School on Saturday. During his high school career, he has participated in three sports: football, basketball and baseball.
— image credit: Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter

They may have different backgrounds, but high school seniors Aaron DiGenova, Sophia Xu and Jihoon Lee have all made the most of their education.

The three have taken what they have learned in and out of school to prepare for what is to come as they all look toward college outside of Redmond — and Washington.

DiGenova will graduate from The Bear Creek School on Saturday and Xu and Lee will graduate from Redmond High School (RHS) on June 19.


Relationships are very important to DiGenova — whether it's his family, classmates and friends or teachers. He said the bonds he shares with others are what matter most.

And this becomes apparent as he walks through the halls of The Bear Creek School in Redmond: The 18-year-old is greeted with nods, waves and hugs from fellow students who haven't seen him while the seniors were off to work on their senior projects. And everyone wants to know how he is and what he's been doing.

"I've been here for a very long time," he said. "I know just about everyone."

DiGenova has attended Bear Creek since kindergarten and said one of the reasons everyone is so familiar with each other may be because the K-12 school is so small — this year's enrollment was 762, with 220 in grades 9-12, according to the school's website.

This extends to the teachers as well. DiGenova, who grew up in Sammamish but now lives in Duvall, has nothing but praise for the Bear Creek faculty, saying they really connect with their students. He admitted that one of his favorite subjects is history because the teachers are more engaging than the subject itself.

DiGenova is graduating with a 3.97 grade point average. He spent his senior year as president of the National Honor Society at Bear Creek. As president, he helped organize the annual school-wide canned food drive. This year, the school brought in more than 8,000 pounds of food for Redmond-based Hopelink, a human services organization.

DiGenova is also a three-sport athlete. He participated in football at Eastlake High School in grades 10-12, Bear Creek basketball as a junior and the Bear Creek-Overlake School baseball team, the Growls, in grades 9-12. When he thinks about his time on the teams, DiGenova doesn't recall the games they won or any great plays he made. Instead, he talks about the roles his teammates have had off the field and off the court.

"They're some of my best friends now," he said.

DiGenova will be saying goodbye to these friends as he heads off to the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He won't be a student athlete, but said he may look into Notre Dame's intramural sports programs. He plans to study business in college.

DiGenova looked at a number of schools, including the University of Washington, but decided on Notre Dame because he wanted a bigger environment for his college experience — even if it means being away from his family — which consists of his parents and sister as well as his maternal grandparents — and friends.

"That'll be tough," he acknowledged, adding that the relationships he's formed are strong enough to overcome geography.


Math and science have been a part of Xu's life since she was a young girl.

She joined her school's math club in fifth grade, sticking with it until the end of her high school career. And even though she spent her junior and senior year at RHS as Math Club president, Xu said things were fairly uncertain for her during those early days in elementary school.

"I didn't want to join at first," she admitted.

The 18-year-old has been in the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) since kindergarten and said her mother, a math major in college, signed her up for math club when she was younger. Xu said she decided to continue with it as her math skills improved and she began enjoying herself. She said she enjoys the thinking process and "elegant solutions" that come with math, but doesn't see herself pursuing a career in the field.

"I don't think I can be a math major," she said.

Xu found her niche in science, specifically biology.

She said she was doing a lab on invertebrates involving dead crabs in a jar when the subject clicked for her. Xu said she finally realized that molecular functions are the foundation of life — including hers.

"I'd been taking my body's functionality for granted," she said.

Xu's passion for science and biology extends beyond the classroom as she has participated in a summer microbiology research program at Stony Brook University in New York and was named a semifinalist in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology for he work in the program.

Xu plans to continue with her studies in science in college. She will attend Stanford University in California and said she wants to study biology and computer science. Other schools Xu considered were California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She said with the former, the subject fields' focus was too narrow so her decision came down to Stanford and MIT.

"It just came down to (the fact that) Stanford's closer," Xu said. "But that was a hard decision to make."

Xu, who is graduating with a 4.0 grade point average, also received a National Merit Scholarship but said she turned it down because the award was school specific and was not from Stanford.

Outside of academics, Xu has participated in RHS's tennis team during all three years. She said her interest in the sport came from her father, who would take her and her younger brother to the courts whenever he played.

Xu said her parents have played a big role in shaping her life and influencing her choices in academics beyond, which she sees as a good thing. And while she is looking forward to a bit of independence in college next year, she said she will miss that closeness with her family — among other things.

"I'm going to miss my mom's cooking," she said.


Lee split his childhood between South Korea and New Jersey before his family settled in Redmond when he was a sophomore in high school.

His early schooling days were a mix of a heavy course load while attending a Korean public school six days a week and a science-oriented education in the Garden State. While these two educational styles were very different, Lee said he was able to adjust easily.

In addition, the 17-year-old's experiences set the tone for his high school career. He said the different schools he has attended have taught him the importance of hard work and pushed him academically. As a senior, he has been enrolled in various Advanced Placement (AP) classes including psychology, physics, art history, government and literature.

Lee has maintained a grade point average of 4.0 and was the secretary for the National Honor Society at RHS.

Lee also said attending a school where the biggest extracurricular activities were in science has influenced the choices he has made since arriving in Redmond.

"That sort of started my science activities in high school," he said.

Lee is the president of RHS's Science Olympiad — last year, he was vice president. He is also a member of the school's robotics team and Math Club.

Although he said he would have been interested in science regardless, Lee admitted he probably would not have been as proactive in seeking extracurricular activities if it were not for that school in New Jersey.

"Science, to me, I think it's pretty interesting," he said, adding that this is because he has always been interested in learning how and why things work the way they do.

Lee has taken his interest in science outside of school, calling computer programming a hobby. He and some friends have even competed in a computer programming competition.

Next year, he will attend Caltech and plans to study biochemistry. Lee said he was also considering the University of Chicago and University of California-Berkeley. He decided on Caltech because he liked the rigor the school's science program provided.

"It has a clear focus on that category," he said.

Lee said he has spent time away from his family before while attending summer camps for weeks at a time, so he is not too anxious about the move to California — especially since he can still easily communicate with his family and friend. He is looking forward to the freedom of living on his own, but said he will miss his family and friends.

"It's good to have the comfort that my parents and family give me," he said.


The Bear Creek School's commencement ceremony will be Saturday at 3 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue at 1717 Bellevue Way N.E. in Bellevue.

The Overlake School's commencement ceremony will be Sunday at 4 p.m. in the main court in the school's gym at 20301 N.E. 108th St. in Redmond.

Redmond High School's commencement ceremony will be June 19 at 5 p.m. at the Key Arena at 305 Harrison St. in Seattle.


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