Too often educators get caught up in negativity. Like a peace officer who mainly interacts with the worst citizens in society and forms an overall suspicious attitude towards anyone he encounters, teachers often generalize about all students especially when they have several who misbehave or don’t do their work.
When a teacher, however, gets the opportunity to know brilliant students, it more than makes up for others who aren’t. With high school graduations on the horizon, I’d like to devote this column to one such remarkable senior.
I have had the privilege of working with Kamilah Zadi for the past three years. In addition to having her in the 10th grade honors English class, Kamilah has spent nearly all of her high school career in journalism working on Hoover High School’s newspaper The Tornado Times.
In the 23 years I have been teaching journalism, she may be the most passionate editor-in-chief (EIC) I have ever met. She cares so deeply about social issues that she continued as opinion editor this year despite her EIC duties.
In addition to her column, Kamilah writes the staff editorials for the newspaper, often writing about national issues that she thinks teens should have an awareness of. If she had her way, the opinion section would appear on page one.
The qualities she exhibits resemble those of a seasoned professional in the field. Commitment to excellence may be the Raiders’ motto but it’s one that Kamilah adheres to, and it bothers her when she does not see it in her peers.
I asked her why more students aren’t involved in school beyond the classes they take and she matter-of-factly responded, “They don’t care.”
“They don’t seek something to be passionate about and people don’t encourage them to get involved,” she said.
Kamilah’s parents, food historian and writer Susan Park and chef Farid Zadi who has appeared on Cutthroat Kitchen, encouraged her to get involved beyond her own world, to experience other cultures at an early age.
Before she attended Hoover, she was homeschooled—by herself.
“My mom stayed at home with my brother and I and put a lot of energy into talking to us about the world and requiring us to know three languages,” she said.
After her mother laid down the foundation, she attended weekly meetings at Verdugo Academy, but did “everything on my own.”
She decided to attend a public high school “to explore my passions and figure out what I wanted to do.”
Even though she felt ready for college last year, she finished her senior year because she wanted to be EIC and lead her peers in the endeavor of producing an outstanding publication.
In terms of how schools could be improved, she thinks that “teachers are too lenient, coddling the students.”
“When the bar is raised higher, you’ll get higher.”
To prove that Kamilah follows her own advice, look at what this 17-year-old has accomplished and plans on doing:
- created the SAGE club (Students Advocating Gender Equality).
- member of the Gender Spectrum National Youth Advisory Council.
- started a feminist newsletter/club, From Margin to Center, named after feminist Bell Hooks.
- has an internship with political activist and CNN commentator Van Jones this summer.
- works at her parents’ taco restaurant Revolutionario in Los Angeles.
- plans on starting an online vintage clothing store with her mother called BAMN (By Any Means Necessary). Its purpose: to provide clothes and funding for women in prison so that when they get released they have what they need for successful job interviews.
Such an industrious individual is the type of student that inspires even teachers. Energetic, ready to take on the world, Kamilah enters UCLA this fall majoring in Pre-Political Science, feeling “pretty confident” about her future. So should we all.