By Aaron Kunkler and Andy Nystrom
High school seniors across Redmond are gearing up for graduation this month and schools in the area have nominated four seniors as standout examples of leadership and academic achievement.
Delaney Campbell of Redmond High School (RHS), Hemil Gajjar of Tesla STEM, Adesuwa Agbonile of Bear Creek and Christopher Chen of Overlake were all nominated.
Campbell, 18, is a Young Life leader and captain of the cheer team. She said while she’s involved in academics and school life, she enjoys participating in a wide variety of activities outside of school.
“I have a very big resume outside of school things I do,” she said.
Campbell has been attending RHS since she was a freshman and said she’s enjoyed it.
“We have amazing school spirit and school pride,” she said.
Campbell has also been involved in putting on the Color Run for the last couple years, an event which has its proceeds donated to the American Heart Association.
Campbell is also the vice president of the Associated Student Body.
Outside of school, Campbell said she hosts weekly Bible studies and goes to Young Life meetings. She also enjoys babysitting.
Over the summer Campbell said she will be working at a summer camp.
While saying goodbye to high school is bittersweet for Campbell, she said she’s proud of her accomplishments and friends she’s made.
She plans on attending Western Washington University and studying some sort of education. The university’s education program, as well as a commitment to being environmentally friendly, is what convinced her to attend, Campbell said.
She’s not sure what branch of education she wants to study, be it for becoming a psychologist, counselor or teacher, but she would ultimately like to be an administrator, she said.
As for advice to younger students? Campbell kept it simple.
“Don’t be embarrassed to be yourself. Whatever you’re doing, do it confidently,” she said.
At Tesla STEM east of Redmond, Gajjar, 18, said he transferred to the school after spending his freshman year at RHS.
He said he transferred because of “the opportunities that they provide to the students,” including many academic enhancements to the high school experience.
Gajjar will be attending the University of Washington next year and pursuing a degree related to computers and engineering.
While he’s been in school, he’s taken four years of robotics and is involved with an outside robotics club called Vex Robotics, where he served as president last year.
His team also made it to the world competition the last two years with Vex Robotics.
His love of electronics came from encouragement from his parents, he said.
“I would attribute a lot of that to my parents, they’ve always wanted me to understand how to put things together,” he said.
He said once, his dad gave him a DVD player and encouraged him to take it apart and figure out how it worked.
While he is involved in his studies, Gajjar said he has also taken up hobbies in the last year, including longboarding.
Classes at Tesla are often more intense than at other high schools.
“There’s definitely going to be academic rigor if you choose that,” Gajjar said.
But his advice to younger students is to also allow time for yourself.
“Just having something that you can do to keep your mind fresh,” he said.
Over the summer, Gajjar said he’s planning on taking a road trip down to Oregon to watch the solar eclipse with some friends.
He also thanked his parents, teachers and the school for supporting him.
“I think a big part of what makes an outstanding graduate is everyone who helped them get there,” he said.
At Bear Creek School, a K-12 private school in Redmond, Agbonile is graduating and planning on heading down to the Bay Area to study at Stanford University.
The 18-year-old has been attending Bear Creek since she was in first grade and is involved in a number of clubs and activities.
These include being on the debate team for the past three years, doing interpretive readings as well as writing poetry and stories.
“That’s definitely one thing that’s been really important to me,” she said. “… It’s a lot of fun.”
Agbonile also serves on the Associated Student Body at Bear Creek where she served as president this year and head of student relations last year.
Although the school is relatively small, she said the student government is taken seriously by the administration.
“It was an actual important thing,” she said. “We actually got to do things and have our ideas heard and our voices heard.”
Agbonile also has experience working with the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, which is an organization for writers. She helps organize open mics every month.
For future plans, Agbonile said she’s tentatively planning on double-majoring in communications and human biology with a possible minor in creative writing.
In particular, she’s interested in journalism and public health policy.
And as far as advice for younger classmates, she said make time for yourself.
“If I could talk to myself when I was a freshman, I think I would say don’t worry too much about the future,” she said. “Don’t worry too much about what grade you’re going to get or how you’re going to finish this project on time because at the end of the day, everything is going to work out.”
Chen’s mind was blown.
He may have only been age 3, but the now-17-year-old Overlake senior knew he was having a crucial experience at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle.
With his mom by his side, Chen recalls the moment that was a big factor in getting him on the science track: “I didn’t understand anything about oxygen, or anything like that, but I remember going in and seeing some guy throw fire into the air and blow up balloons. That was one of the pivotal moments for me where it was sort of like, ‘Well, this is really cool and I know I wanna do this.’”
In the fall, Chen will start his university journey at Harvard by studying neurobiology and digging into pre-med courses as well.
Along with being selected as one of two speakers at Overlake’s upcoming commencement, the class president was recently named a 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholar.
When he steps up to the podium at commencement, Chen plans to share the theme of realism with his fellow graduates.
It’s a time for celebration, but Chen also knows that, “It’s still gonna be tough for all of us. (I’ll be) realistic about what’s coming up for us. What are we gonna be doing in the future?”
As class president, he said it was tough to take the reins at first, but he soon got the hang of things and enjoyed turning challenges into successes. There were dances, a carnival and prom to plan — and copious things in between — and he thrived in his top spot with his fellow like-minded and self-motivated student leaders by his side.
Chen feels he’s grown from a quiet fifth-grader to an outgoing senior while being a part of Overlake’s welcoming community.
So what’s next? He used to think that being a neurosurgeon was his calling, and it may still be, but the door is wide open for him.
“I’ve gotten from a few people, ‘Oh, you should run for (United States) president,’ so who knows, that might be in the future,” he said with a smile.