116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Ella Heder this month earned an associate degree from Kirkwood Community College — before she graduated high school.
Heder, 17, is one of 300 students to mark graduation Thursday from Jefferson High School at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse.
Heder wants some day to be either an immigration lawyer or criminal prosecutor. After attending the University of Iowa where she will study English, Heder plans to go to law school.
She is inspired to go in to law because of her family history. Her parents are refugees from the Bosnian genocide from 1992 to 1995.
Heder’s mother, Emira Heder, was a refugee in the state of Sylvania and her father, Sabahudin Heder, was imprisoned in a concentration camp for six months before being freed by the Red Cross, Heder said. Her parents were childhood sweethearts and found each other again in Iowa.
Growing up, Heder said she struggled to embrace her family’s culture. During the worst of the pandemic, she spent time learning about her family history and grew to appreciate what her parents have done for her.
It’s also what influenced her decision to play the flute in marching band, Heder said. She “gravitated toward” the instrument after hearing its prominence in music from her parents’ culture.
Heder was also a cheerleader for Jefferson High’s football and basketball teams. During some football games, she would run from cheerleading halfway through the second quarter to join the marching band, perform, and run back again to cheer during the rest of the game.
“Football season was crazy,” Heder said. “It was really fun switching back and forth between cheer and marching band.”
Heder joined the cheerleading squad in her freshman year of high school. Although athletic, Heder said she is not a gymnast or have a dance background like some of her teammates.
“I wasn’t prepared for cheerleading,” Heder said.
Heder worked hard to catch up, however, and even cheered on the Iowa Cheer Honor Squad during half time at the Iowa high school football championship games.
While cheerleading is traditionally viewed as a “sideline sport,” Heder said it is very competitive. “There’s a lot of work that goes in to it,” she said.
Sherren Huston, a cheer coach at Jefferson High, said Heder always worked hard and had “lots of spirit.”
“I enjoyed coaching her. That’s a good thing to be able to say,” Huston said. “She was definitely a team player and always trying to improve her skills.”
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