It was a senior year like no other and this year’s North Shore valedictorians and commencement speakers shared a few of their hopes, future plans and secrets for success with Better.
New Trier High School
Zara Anwar lives in Winnetka and will attend Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. She plans to study cognitive sciences with a double major in accounting. A law immersion program that she participated in at New Trier, offered by Saper Law in Chicago, sparked her interest in law and has inspired her to pursue a career in corporate transactional law. She envisions pro bono work as a civil rights lawyer.
Anwar credits her success in the classroom to a full high schedule that included track and cross country as well as work on a social service board. She approached high school much like a job, she said, and her hectic schedule required her to organize her time time carefully to get her work done. She spoke at graduation about how she expected to miss her friends during quarantine, but instead came away with a true appreciation for the small interactions — someone who smiled at her or opened a door. “It’s the small acts of kindness that make up your support system,” she said.
Highland Park High School
Sammy Dubin will attend Northwestern University in the fall and plans to study journalism with a possible double major in economics. Dubin hosted the podcast “Kids talk politics” on Spotify and Apple with two friends during high school where they discussed politics, the election and concluded with the George Floyd protests. He credits his interest in politics and global affairs to his participation in Model United Nations — a New Trier club where each person would represent a country and debate policies.
Dubin says the secret to his success was building relationships with teachers, not being afraid to ask tough questions, and collaborating with his peers. Even though the pandemic turned students’ worlds upside down, he said, they came away with a resolve to “push onward, toward a happier, healthier, more equitable, more inclusive future.”
Evanston Township High School
Nora Miller lives in Evanston and will attend University of Southern California in the fall. She plans to study journalism and political science and envisions a career in broadcast journalism.
Miller was the executive editor of the Evanstonian, the school newspaper. She credits Patricia Delacruz, an English teacher and advisor for the newspaper, for introducing her to the school newspaper. “Because we are both women of color, she always looked out for me and became my mentor.”
Miller spoke at graduation about the challenging, pandemic year. “This year, we observed the facilitation of science, not in a bio lab, but on a global stage… We reveled in the reimagination of ourselves and our peers despite our physical distance… We traded in the pain of losing the one year everyone talks ‘so much about,’ for the safety of the entire Evanston family. Now, as we set off into society, we are given a unique opportunity to help mend a deeply gruesome period in our nation’s history.”
Lake Forest High School
Finola Summerville lives in Lake Bluff and was this year’s valedictorian. She plans to attend Northwestern University and will study chemistry and Spanish. She envisions a career as a doctor, following in the footsteps of her father, an orthopedic surgeon.
Summerville developed a love of the Spanish language, beginning in eighth grade when Señora Ogren at Lake Bluff middle school “made it fun and believed in me.”
Later, at Lake Forest High School, Senora Abel, head of the language department, helped her realize her ability to master Spanish. She hopes to use her fluency in Spanish to reach out in a future practice in medicine, perhaps with mission work in South America.
She also was very involved in a student ministry team at Christ Church in Lake Forest, helping to plan a winter retreat and mentoring younger students. She said the pandemic was difficult, but she is grateful for the teachers and administrators at Lake Forest. “The school is smaller, but there is a lot of school spirit,” she said.
Isabella Lombardo lives in Glenview and will attend Washington University in St. Louis in the fall. She plans to double major in computer engineering and music.
Lombardo sang in the choir all four years at Loyola. She credits her choir teacher, Matt Begale, with encouraging her to audition for the top level choir when just a freshman. “He made me fall in love with music,” she said. Lombardo has always been fascinated with physics and knows it is a valuable skill to have in our technology-based society. She hopes to be a computer engineer.
She credits her success in school to being very organized, staying on top of her work and having good relationships with teachers. “The worst thing is having a teacher that makes you feel bad for asking a question,” she said. She also participated in “Loyola Way leader” a program that pairs older students with incoming freshmen. “I am pretty proud of that — my freshman year I was shy and scared and it made an impression on me and I wanted to help others who felt like me.”
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Susan Berger is a freelance journalist in Chicago and writes frequently for the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune. She was a 2019 fellow with the National Press Foundation Fellowship to study vaccines and spent time learning from leading experts Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Willam Schaffner and others at the NIH. She was recently selected for a May 2021 fellowship with the CDC through the Association of Health Care Journalists. She also has written for the New York Times, Health Magazine, National Post, Agence France-Presse, and CBC. Susan has appeared on BBC World News, CNN, WGN-TV, WTTW-TV and on CBC Radio. A life-long North Shore resident she not only attended New Trier High School but won an Illinois Press Association Award in 2002 for her coverage of the decision to open New Trier West to freshman-only. Her work can be viewed at www.bergerreport.com and you can follow her on Twitter @Msjournalist.