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Linn County high school graduates share stories of hope, perseverance
Thousands of students will graduate from Eastern Iowa high schools in the coming weeks. The Gazette is featuring graduating seniors from eight Linn County high schools this week. Six Johnson County students will be featured in print and online May 28.
The students were chosen by school staff, including their principals, teachers and school counselors. The Gazette asked for students who represent the diversity in Eastern Iowa, including students from different cultural backgrounds, those with different career goals or students who have overcome a challenge or obstacle in their education.
Nakiza Nyankundwa, Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School
Nakiza Nyankundwa was “always smiling, always talking” before a drunken driver crashed into her and her brother while they were walking in December 2020. Nyankundwa, who moved to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo when she was 16, survived the crash, but she lost her right leg. Now, she’s determined to walk across the commencement stage.
⧉ Related article: A drunken driver took Nakiza Nyankundwa’s leg, not her will
Fatima Abdalla, Cedar Rapids Washington High School
Fatima Abdalla already graduated high school in Sudan and even completed a year of college, but she returned to high school after immigrating to Cedar Rapids so she could get a better grasp on English. She plans to enroll in college this fall, with a goal of attending medical school to become a gynecologist or pediatrician.
Donovan Slick-Driscoll, Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School
Donovan Slick-Driscoll, a four-sport athlete, dreams of someday playing in the NFL, and his coaches say he may be among the 1 percent who can do it. If he doesn’t make it to the pros, Slick-Driscoll wants to return to Kennedy High School as a physical education teacher and coach.
Alyssa Baugh, Metro High School
After taking time off from school to work full-time to help support her family, Alyssa Baugh enrolled at Metro High School. There, she’s become a leader and a voice for people who can’t advocate for themselves. She wants to return to Cedar Rapids schools someday as an elementary teacher.
Jacob Sires, Xavier High School
Treatment for childhood cancer limited Jacob Sires’ ability to compete in high-contact sports. But the Xavier High School senior has found another place to shine: on the stage. Sires won best male soloist five times this year — once at every show choir the school’s show choir, Xhiliration, competed in. This fall he’ll take his talents to Iowa State University.
Sarah Tokpa, Prairie High School
Sarah Tokpa was born in the United States to parents who immigrated from Togo, a country on the coast of West Africa. As a student at Prairie High School — and often the only Black person in advanced placement classes — she’s found ways to honor and share her heritage. That includes cooking traditional food and performing a traditional Togolese dance during her school’s Black History Month assembly, which she helped organize.
Chrishelle Lawson, Linn-Mar High School
Throughout her time at Linn-Mar High School, Chrishelle Lawson — a Black girl in a predominantly white school — has held herself to high standards. Her work paid off; she’s achieved good grades, and even tutors other students. This fall she’ll enroll at Iowa State University with plans to study forensic anthropology. Her ultimate goal is a job at the FBI, analyzing human skeletal remains to help identify murder victims.
Max Stancel-Hess, Marion High School
Having been born with spina bifida, any new bit of independence is a victory for Max Stancel-Hess. Earlier this year, the Marion High School senior celebrated putting his shoes on by himself. He’s learning to drive a car with hand controls, and how to cook. And this fall, he’ll enroll at Kirkwood Community College. He’s getting more comfortable with the idea of living on his own someday.