Silvana Arandia, Ali Nasser, Ben Leatherwood, Zeh Hale and Eugene Bakhir come from different places and have traveled down different roads, but Tuesday, June 21 they were together for the last time saying good-bye to high school.
A few weeks before graduation, these five seniors from South Lakes High School shared some of their high school experiences and aspirations for the future, demonstrating that a straight line is rarely the answer for going from one point to the other.
SILVANA ARANDIA, A Road Less Taken
“Now that we’re seniors, it’s so great, we’ve come such a long way,” said Silvana Arandia.
But Arandia, an 18-year-old senior at South Lakes High School, has come farther than most — she moved with her family to the United States from Cochabamba, Bolivia when she was 13.
“By the time I came here, I was just learning English,” said Arandia, who now speaks perfect English but admits she’s still learning words every day.
She made her way to Reston after living several years in Springfield. During her sophomore year in high school, Arandia’s family moved to Reston, where she enrolled at South Lakes.
“I was scared because I didn’t know anybody,” said Arandia.
But it didn’t take her long to make friends. “People here were really friendly,” she said. “I made friends with a couple of girls from my own country and now I know just about everybody in the entire class.”
Arandia said that the hardest part of adjusting to school in the United States was cultural differences, not language. “They do things different here, like classes are different,” Arandia said. “Here you move from class to class, but there they stay in one class all day, and graduation isn’t that big of a deal, but here it is.”
She likes that graduation is important here and is looking forward to the all-night graduation party.
During her time at South Lakes, Arandia has stayed occupied. In her senior year, she was chosen to be the lead mentor for Taking Flight, a school program that asks upperclassmen to mentor freshmen. She also volunteered time tutoring students at Dogwood Elementary. And she’s been an active member of South Lakes International Club for Education and Entertainment (SLICE). Two weeks ago, Arandia received the department award from English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).
“The three years I’ve been at South Lakes have been the best of my life — I’ve learned so much,” said Arandia.
“I’m going to miss high school, like how everybody gets along,” she said. “There’s a certain closeness between us.”
It’s been five years since Arandia visited her extended family in Bolivia, but she has planned a trip there this summer.
In the fall, Arandia plans to attend George Mason University. After college, Arandia isn’t sure what she wants do. She’s said that she wants to help people, especially help people learn English.
“She mentioned the possibility of becoming a teacher,” said Patricia Meagher, an ESOL teacher at South Lakes. “And we’re hoping.”
ALI NASSER, Breaking In
Transferring into a high school with just two years left can be difficult. Ali Nasser, 19, a senior at South Lakes, knows this.
Nasser spent his freshman and sophomore years at T.C. Williams in Alexandria, where he’d built several friendships.
When his family moved to Reston before his junior year, Nasser had to adjust to a new school, where most students had already known each other for many years.
“It was hard when I first came to South Lakes,” said Nasser, who has a younger sister, Nawal, in the junior class at South Lakes.
“I didn’t really like [South Lakes] and I wanted to go back [to T.C. Williams],” said Nasser.
Nasser said that although South Lakes is much smaller than T.C. Williams, the school and the students grew on him. “Now I love it,” he said. “I like how we have sub-schools here.” A feature of South Lakes is its sub-schools, which divide the school by class, helping generate class identity. Each sub-school has its own color, locker commons and cafeteria.
Since coming to South Lakes, Nasser became a member of the aeronautical club and the Future Business Leaders of America club.
He wants to go into business or be an entrepreneur. Next year, Nasser is going to George Mason University.
In five years he hopes to be a businessman in the area.
BEN LEATHERWOOD, Deep Perspective
Last summer, Ben Leatherwood, 17, went to Africa, specifically to war-weary Rwanda. As part of a humanitarian trip sponsored by his church, Leatherwood traveled to the country that 11 years ago endured one of the bloodiest genocides in world history. In the span of 100 days in 1994, an estimated 800,000 people were killed in the small country.
Leatherwood spent two weeks in the country, passing out supplies and sports equipment while visiting orphanages in the country, including one in Kibuye.
“This one kid, around 7 or 8, attached himself to me and followed me around most of the meeting,” said Leatherwood. “When we left and I tried to get into the car, someone had to pull him from me. The kid kept saying ‘take me with you, please.’
“That was an amazingly powerful experience,” he said, trying to explain the impact the encounter had on him.
Mature beyond his years, Leatherwood said he was shocked he had not known more about the genocide even though he was only 5 when it took place. A history enthusiast, Leatherwood learned more about the episode through books, and then saw first-hand the effects of poverty during his trip.
“It gives you a whole new appreciation for the affluence in this country,” he said.
Leatherwood, whose father works for Defense Intelligence, was born in Germany, moved to Columbia, Md. when he was still very young, then back to Germany for six years. While in the eighth-grade, he moved back to the United States, specifically to Reston.
“It took me a while to get acclimated, but by ninth-grade it was pretty much done and I was pretty much settled,” he said.
“It’s been really good,” said Leatherwood, modestly describing his four years at South Lakes.
A National Achievement Scholar, Leatherwood has been busy the last four years. He plays the alto saxophone and has been in band for all four years of high school. The last three years, he has been in the marching band. He is an International Baccalaureate candidate. He played freshman and junior varsity basketball and coached Reston youth basketball this past year. He is semi-fluent in German, taking the language in school the past six years. He was admitted to the National Honor Society his junior year.
“Easily my best subject has been history,” said Leatherwood. “I’m probably going to major in history because of my freshman history with Mrs. Parent.”
In the fall, Leatherwood will be attending the College of William & Mary.
“My original intent was archeology, but the Foreign Service has always been interesting, so I’m starting to think of that more and more,” he said, adding he is still deciding exactly what he wants to study.
One day after college, he said, he may join the Peace Corps to broaden his horizons.
ZEH HALE, Band and Soccer Are a Good Mix
Zeh (pronounced ZAY) Hale doesn’t like to say, but in German her first name means toe, which, as an important part of her foot, she’s been using quite well as a 4-year player on varsity soccer.
Hale, an 18-year-old senior at South Lakes, started playing soccer when she was 10. Two years ago, she began coaching soccer to Reston youth.
“I just really enjoy it because I love soccer and I want to work with kids, so it has given me good experience with that,” said Hale, who started coaching to complete her International Baccalaureate requirements. “I completed my hours, but I continued doing it because it was so much fun,” said Hale, who graduated as an IB candidate.
In addition to soccer, Hale was in the marching band as a freshman, which she continued throughout high school.
“Marching the halls is one of the most fun things,” said Hale. She has played the oboe since she was in the fifth-grade. Since there isn’t an oboe player in the marching band, Hale has been on the drum line the last three years.
“The biggest problem I had was carrying [the bass drum],” she said. “I ran into so many things because I couldn’t see over it.”
Hale will attend Christopher Newport University next fall. The university has already admitted her to the president’s leadership program, which includes a yearly $1,000 scholarship. She credits her work as South Lakes’ representative with the Fairfax County Youth Leadership program for receiving the scholarship.
“I’m not doing marching band in college because it’s so serious,” said Hale.
Hale has considered studying psychology, but is now leaning toward sociology or history.
Looking into the future, Hale said that she will miss the South Lakes that she knows.
“They’re renovating everything, so I’m not going to recognize the school,” she said, referring to the renovations that start this summer. “I’m going to miss the sub-schools — it’s not going to be South Lakes anymore.”
EUGENE BAKHIR, From Russia to Reston
In English this past year, Eugene Bakhir, an 18-year-old senior at South Lakes, read “A Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.
“I just in general like science fiction,” said Bakhir. “[The book] kind of reminds me of the Matrix.”
Entering his own brave new world, Bakhir graduated from South Lakes this week.
Bakhir was born in Russia and moved to Reston when he was in the sixth-grade. “In Russia schools go from the first-grade to the 11th-grade," he said. "But here there is an elementary school, a middle school and high school."
“I’m glad I went to high school here,” said Bakhir. “It’s definitely an experience I wouldn’t be able to have anywhere else.”
When reflecting on his time at South Lakes, Bakhir described this bittersweet juncture in his life.
“I’m glad I’m leaving high school, but I’m going to miss it,” he said. “When you go to school with people for so many years, you get close with them.”
Bakhir will attend Northern Virginia Community College in the fall, but wants to transfer to George Mason University, James Madison University or the University of Virginia. He plans to study either business administration or industrial engineering.
“I’ve always been good with computers and as a kid I always liked to build things,” he said.
“The best moment for me of high school is coming up: it’s graduation, something I’ve been looking forward to the last four years,” Bakhir said. “But then again schools not over yet.
“Then there’s college and then a life; this is just the beginning,” he said.