Whiz Kids

The Class of 2009 Takes the Lead


Jennifer Hale

    With seven high schools and about 4,000 high school students, Alameda can be a tough place to stand out and take the lead. This year, 14 graduating seniors have done that, leaving a legacy that might be tough to match. In their busy lives, their accomplishments, as well as their dreams and aspirations, range from ranking No. 1 in their class, receiving National Merit Scholarships and winning football championships to overcoming learning disabilities and becoming a single mom with a dream to be a pediatric nurse specializing in neonatal intensive care.
    Recurring themes throughout their stories point to much hard work and determination as the secrets to their success. Please meet Alameda Magazine’s class of 2009—its members could very well eliminate any doubts you might have about the latest up-and-coming generation.

Alameda High School
Nathanial Williams

College Choice: Stanford University
Career: Lawyer, Professor, Teacher
Surprising Thing: “I like everything ’70s.”

    Like many of this year’s seniors, Nathanial Williams is both a scholar and an athlete. With a GPA of 4.5, he has been awarded a California Interscholastic Federation Scholar Athlete for both volleyball and soccer.
    He’s no slouch when it comes to community volunteer work, either. He has worked with the Alameda County Public Health Department assembling and distributing information on health issues and literacy for low-income families. Last year he sat on a strategic planning committee for the Alameda Free Public Library, representing Alameda’s youth in an effort to make the library a destination for all ages.
    All this activity will serve him well toward his future goals. After Stanford, where he was accepted early, he says he is looking for a career in public service, helping others and having a direct impact on them.
    Nathanial says he hopes to leave a lasting legacy in Alameda as “serious, motivated, someone you can talk to, but who is not afraid to speak out and create an impact.”

Alameda High School
Kristyna Smith

College Choice: Harvard University
Career: Engineering, Science, Math
Surprising Thing: “I can throw 180-pound men [in judo], but scream at the sight of a spider.”

    Kristyna Smith is busy—so busy, that reading the résumé of this 2009 National Merit Scholarship winner might make those with less initiative a bit tired.
    Just this year, while taking four Advanced Placement classes and working toward her brown belt in judo, she was captain of the varsity soccer team, played volleyball and volunteered for Expanding Your Horizons—a math tutoring program for junior-high schoolers—built housing with Habitat for Humanity and helped clean up Robert Crown Memorial State Beach. All this happened while she was setting her sights set on entering Harvard or Columbia in the fall. Ranked third in her class, Kristyna attributes her multi-faceted lifestyle to her parents, who encouraged her to try everything.
    Kristyna retains a sensible point of view. “It’s important to stay focused on your goals, but you also need balance and a quality of life,” she advises. “Life can’t be all work or all fun; you’ve got to have both.”

Alameda Science and Technology Institute
Yanna Chen

College Choice: UC Berkeley
Career: Nutritionist
Surprising Thing: “If I could travel around the world, then I would visit Antarctica and take pictures with penguins.”

    Yanna Chen describes herself as hard working and not afraid to ask questions. Like many ASTI students, Yanna will graduate having finished the required courses for an associate degree in Liberal Arts. Once she gets answers to her questions, by the way, she’s quick to share her knowledge, as she did when she set up a new math tutoring program at ASTI and as she continues to do with her nutrition Web site, www.yannachen.com.
    Nutrition captured Yanna’s interest and attention at 13 when, at summer camp, she heard a nutritionist talk about food and health. Studying the nutritional information in a liter bottle of 7-Up not only convinced her to stop drinking soda, but also to devote her life to learning more, sharing the information she discovers and leading anyone who listens to finding his own answers.
    “I am proud that I made this Web site, because it can raise public awareness and promote views to make an informed decision,” she explains.

Alameda Science and Technology Institute
Sammy Tmariam

College Choice: NYU
Career: High School Teacher
Surprising Thing: “Even after 12 years of being a student in school, I want to return back to high school to teach, hopefully in the area of Washington, D.C., or Brooklyn, N.Y.”

    It took writing his personal statement for Sammy Tmariam to discover himself. He learned that he’s come a long way from being a kid with dangerously low GPA to a driven student, taking an active role on the PTSA, becoming vice president of his class and applying to New York University and other top colleges. He also realized his mission: to teach inner city high school kids on the East Coast.
    “In writing my personal statement,” he explains, “I realized that high school was a great time of life to learn about myself, and I want to help kids discover that, too.”
    Sammy started his teaching career by teaching “Hip-Hop 101” at lunchtime, helping him practice preparing a course agenda, syllabus and “engaging students in a topic of social relevance.” But he says the most important lesson he’s learned and wants to impart transcends the classroom.  “It’s not how smart you are. It’s all the work you put into it.”

St. Joseph Notre Dame
Madeleine Seiwald

College Choice: Brown University
Career: History Teacher
Surprising Thing: “I have five younger siblings, and I am like a mother to the little ones.”

    If birth order has any impact on career, Madeleine Seiwald was born at just the right time in the right family. As the second of seven children, “Maddo” takes her responsibility as a role model and future teacher very seriously. She’s quick to fix a homemade dinner for the family and wants to make sure the younger kids “learn to clean up after themselves” before she heads off to college. Her first choice? Brown University in Providence, R.I.—a far cry from her roots and big family in Alameda.
    Throughout high school, Madeleine played varsity soccer, held her own in several Advance Placement and honors classes and volunteered for the East Bay SPCA and—fittingly—Alameda Meals on Wheels.
    She says her main objective is to inspire the little ones, as well as her future students, with her own credo: “If you work hard and set your mind, there are so many ways to achieve a goal.” It doesn’t hurt to have a team of eight (including her parents, of course) as your cheerleaders.

Bay Area School of Enterprise
Martha Rosales

College Choice: San Francisco State University
Career: Pre-school Teacher or Nurse
Surprising Thing: “I am a really shy but cooperative person.”

    Martha Rosales says she wants to be remembered by her classmates at BASE as friendly and helpful, but most classmates instead recognize her as a role model who can turn her life around. It wasn’t always that way. When she was 8, she arrived in the United States from Mexico, but soon thereafter her mother had to leave the country and return home.
    As one of the youngest in a family of 13, Martha has had plenty of older siblings looking after her. But she says learning to live without her mom took its toll and she struggled in school. It wasn’t until she started at BASE that she realized her potential and that her sense of independence made her strong.
    “I consider myself a role model and want to be a nurse or work in early child development,” she explains. She says she hopes that in her future career she can help kids just like herself get through tough times.

St. Joseph Notre Dame
Teresa Mooney

College Choice: UCLA
Career: Consultant
Surprising Thing: “I have known many of my best friends since kindergarten, and I have made sure to keep in touch with them in high school, even though we all go to different schools.”

    Teresa Mooney claims that it was plain old hard work that got her to the top of the class at St. Joe’s. She took five Advance Placement courses her senior year, putting in hours as both a student dancer and teacher at Alameda’s Dance Arts Project and receiving a long list of academic achievement, art and literary awards. After finishing her Spanish requirements early and spending three weeks in Chile, she is nearly fluent in Spanish and continues “working really hard on French.” She also claims to be a regular teenager, insisting that going out every Friday night with her friends keeps her sane and inspires her to work hard the rest of the week. It’s her earnestness and sincerity that make you a believer. She says she really enjoys hard work and wants to inspire others to do their best, too.
    “I work really hard and go after my goals,” says the natural-born leader. “I want others to know that they can achieve what they want, too, it’s not just about natural ability.”

Bay Area School of Enterprise
Donneisha Menifee

College Choice: Undecided
Career: Nursing

    At 15, Donneisha Menifee was faced with an enormous challenge when she became pregnant. Should she quit school and stay home with her baby or forge ahead and try to live out her dreams of going to college and becoming a doctor? She says she first dropped out of school during her pregnancy and the early months of her daughter Ayana’s infancy, quickly losing faith in herself and “ready to settle for being another teen statistic.” But her teachers at BASE convinced her to come back to school—“to finish strong, not for my sake or their sake, but for my daughter’s.”
    Donneisha’s dream now is to finish community college, move into a four-year program and work her way toward becoming a pediatric nurse specializing in neonatal intensive care. Ayana was premature and spent three weeks in a NIC unit. Donneisha witnessed firsthand the work the nurses do there as they cared for Ayana.
    Today, Donneisha says she feels confident and strong, knowing that she made the best decision. She says the experience “taught me to never give up on myself, no matter what forks in the road there are.”

Encinal High School
Jonathan Brown

College Choice: Boise State
Career: Undecided
Surprising Thing: “I always wished I could play the piano.”

    Back in the day, students would have referred to quarterback Jonathan Brown as “Big Man on Campus.” Today, he duly deserves that title. Jonathan led the Encinal Jets to the North Coast Section Division III championship and got the nod as the East Bay Player of the Year from the Oakland Tribune. It was the first NCS title for the Jets since 1980 and completed a 13-0 season. At the same time, he has maintained higher than a 3.0 GPA (even a 4.0 at one point) throughout his high school academic career. This helped him win a full scholarship to Boise State, a perennial power in the Western Athletic Conference.
    Jonathan says he is confident in his school leadership role and works hard to lead by example, both in the classroom and on the field. He believes that it’s his responsibility to inspire others like him.
    “It’s hard work, but I want other kids to know that if you dedicate yourself and believe in yourself, your dreams will come true.”

Encinal High School
Marwa Abdelmageed Ibrahim

College: Undecided
Career Choice: Pediatrician
Surprising Thing: “If you take a look at me, I look like the quiet, shy student, but once someone gets to know me, they find out that I’m an outgoing student who sometimes can be loud and fun to be around at the appropriate time.”

    The summer before she entered high school, Marwa Abdelmageed Ibrahim had a life-changing experience. She returned to her birth country, Sudan, and spent time with family. There, she was an eyewitness to life in a Third World country. She says she saw an enormous gap between wealth and poverty while encountering a level of discrimination she hadn’t experienced before.
    “Women are treated as second-class citizens,” she says. “My cousins can’t do the things I can do here.” She discovered this the first time her male cousins went out to play soccer and she was informed that she could not participate because women cannot play sports.
    Upon her return to the United States, Marwa says she decided to make the most of her high school years. She became president of her class and held that position all four years. She was captain of the varsity tennis team and an honor student. She acted as a role model for other students.
    “After spending 30 days in Sudan and witnessing the plight of my young female relatives, I was intent on making the best of everything offered at Encinal High. It became my concern not only to strive for my personal achievement, but to help fellow students who struggled academically and socially.”

Island High School
Maya Campos

College Choice: Hampshire College (Mass.)
Career: Documentary Filmmaker, English/Film Teacher
Surprising Thing: “I can forget somebody’s name literally seconds after I meet them.”

    Maya Campos, in her own words, “bloomed this year.” After struggling with family issues and a growing apathy toward school, she entered Island High last fall, joined the film program and hasn’t looked back. In fact, her sights are on the future—first, college, and then, to “join the Peace Corps and make documentaries about people living in Third World countries to generate critical thinking within my generation and those to come.” Maya credits her teachers at Island High for encouraging her and helping her find her passion in school and life.
    Her advice to next year’s group of seniors makes her sound far older than she is. “Find something you enjoy—passion is vital—follow it and make your passion your job and don’t lose sight of it.”

Island High School
Jesus Gonzalez

College Choice: The Art Institute of California
Career: Multimedia Design
Surprising Thing: “I like to mix music and beats in my spare time.”

    While Jesus Gonzalez was hesitant at entering Island High in the middle of his junior year, it’s a move he says he does not regret. “It was a huge wake-up call to get my life together and become an adult,” he says. Jesus considers himself a success story, ending up on the honor roll several times and further developing his skills and talents as an artist.
    Though not yet old enough to vote, Jesus says he wanted to do his part in the last presidential election by helping out at the polls. The seriousness of the day was not lost on the then-17-year-old.
    “Even though I won’t be able to tell my kids I voted in that election,” he says, “I could at least tell them how I helped out in the election that would go down in history.”

Alameda Community Learning Center
James Wolz-Romberger

College Choice: UC Santa Cruz
Career:  Personal trainer
Surprising Thing: “I read on a first-grade reading level in fifth grade.”

    For James Wolz-Romberger, overcoming obstacles in his own life has helped him develop a can-do attitude. “I’ve learned that I can still do well in school and not let my learning disabilities stop me,” he says.
    In addition to boosting his scholastic achievements, James logged more than 300 volunteer hours for Landmark Education, an organization that offers classes specifically developed to motivate teens and kids. He has also worked another 400-plus hours toward a black belt in the Japanese martial art of aikido, a feat he knows will contribute to his dream of studying kinesiology and becoming a personal trainer. While taking the test for aikido’s highest honor, the black belt, he had quite a surprise: His teacher moved him from the youth category into the adult rankings, lowering his belt status.
    James shows a mature attitude toward the event. “Rank isn’t that important, and a black belt does signify a master, something very few 18-year-olds can claim, and I’m no exception.”

Alameda Community Learning Center
Megan Hayes

College Choice: USC, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz
Career: Undecided
Surprising Thing: “I fear for my college years, because of my complete inability to cook. I’m either going to starve and die or live off Top Ramen and other instant foods.”

    Megan Hayes is an accomplished junior sailor with a dream to teach “as many people as possible the skills of sailing while making it enjoyable enough to cause an addiction.” She even goes so far to say that “every day spent on the water is, in general, a much better day than one spent on land.”
    While on land, Megan spends a good deal of her time taking her role as a leader at ACLC seriously. She says the school has provided an excellent environment for that, as students are an integral part of its governance. “Being a leader at ACLC is being part of a group, a larger community,” she says. “You can’t exist on your own here. It’s about bettering others and myself at the same time.” She says she hopes to continue her role as a leader through college. Not surprisingly, Megan explained why she chose all UC schools as her college picks. “I need to stay close to water.”


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