The MSR has had a long tradition of featuring local high school graduates in the newspaper, and this year is no exception. However, this year’s graduating seniors have had a four-year high school experience perhaps like none other.
Most have endured an entire year of distance learning during the pandemic, felt the impact of social movements and racial uprisings in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and Amir Locke’s shooting, while trying to adapt to a new reality of disruption and displacement from COVID and the loss of classmates to gun violence.
What is remarkable about this snapshot of the Class of 2023 is their perseverance and resilience in the face of tremendous challenges. Their stories should give us optimism and hope for the future, and a reason to applaud their efforts.
Name: Brandon Arroyo Galeana
High School: Harding High School, St. Paul
GPA/Honors: 3.64, cum laude
Brandon Arroyo Galeana did middle school at a bilingual charter school. Harding was the first public school he attended. Although nervous at first, he says the teachers really helped him along. He credits counselor Katie Kovacovich and his Spanish teacher Mary Crosby with helping him prepare for college. Arroyo Galeana was accepted at Dunwoody College, where he won a scholarship to study architecture.
“With the help of Ms. Katie, I found the opportunity. I applied for the scholarship that Dunwoody was giving called P2C (Pathways 2 Careers), which was $10,000 each year,” said Arroyo Galeana. “I wrote my essays. Around April, I found out that I got the scholarship, which was a really exciting moment for me.”
He has already been offered an internship at Mortenson, where he will work on construction projects at Allianz field, a stadium where Arroyo Galeana played during his time as captain of the Harding varsity soccer team. Arroyo Galeana recalls the match at Allianz field fondly, saying he was nominated for player of the night and won a trophy for the match.
Arroyo Galeana says the thing he will miss most about high school is playing on the sports teams. “Around April, I found out that I got the scholarship, which was a really exciting moment for me.”
Name: Wakan Austin
High School: Thomas Edison High School, Minneapolis
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic beginning in the third quarter of his freshman year, Wakan Austin says he still got the full high school experience.
“I don’t feel like I missed out on my high school experience. I just think my high school experience was drastically different than most,” Wakan said. “I don’t think I’ll miss anything [about high school.] I think everything happened at the right time and the right place.”
Austin plans to attend the University of Minnesota (U of M) to study sociology in the fall. Austin feels like the pandemic and 2022 teachers’ strike left him academically behind, so he plans to do a summer STEM program and join the U of M’s “President’s Emerging Scholars” program to help him gain academic success.
Austin said he is “100 percent optimistic” about his future at college and beyond. “I’m really excited to go to college. I’m really excited to have control over my education and decide what I want to study and actually do homework on things I find important.”
Austin is excited to see the changes his generation will make when they graduate and eventually gain political power.
Name: Ali Adem
High School: FAIR School Downtown, Minneapolis
Ali Adem fell behind in his freshman year after the COVID-19 pandemic began. “I didn’t have any in-person classes, and that pulled me away from socializing with people,” Adem said. “I began to feel separated from everyone I knew. Once we returned during my junior year, most of my friends had moved to different schools and I was left with only a few.”
Adem bounced back his sophomore year when he began taking college-level courses. He credits his friends and teachers for helping keep him on track.
He scored an internship at Target, even getting to meet the company’s CIO. He says he plans “on working [his] way up to meeting the CEO.” Adem plans to study computer science at Augsburg University and to continue his internship at Target throughout his college years.
Adem said he is optimistic about the future, quoting rapper J. Cole: “I always feel like it’s two key ingredients when it comes to following your dreams. Making something happen that the average person deems difficult, if you truly believe it, that’s step one. Step two is, you know, the hard work that goes along with it.”
Name: Tate Mack
High School: South High School (Online), Minneapolis
Tate Mack did all four years of high school online, but he does not feel that he missed out on anything.
“From my perspective, I just felt like the in-person environment never really worked for me very well to begin with,” Mack said. “I don’t feel like I missed out on anything so much as I gained an opportunity.”
Mack originally started online, as he said the chaotic environment of in-person classes made it difficult for him to do academic work. He said online courses allowed him to work at whatever pace he was comfortable with and was a welcome change.
He was part of his school’s e-sports club and entered a Super Smash Bros. league (gamers sports competition). He won the tournament for South High School two years in a row.
Tate Mack plans to attend Macalester in the fall, where he has already received the Posse scholarship, a full-ride, four-year scholarship. He has not decided on a major but is considering psychology and is looking forward to his future.
“I feel like it’s difficult not to be [optimistic] with the position I’m in at the moment,” Mack said.
Name: Nalah Fearce
High School: Hopkins High School, Minnetonka
Nalah Fearce attended high school at Hopkins, where a hybrid in-person/online curriculum was used during the pandemic. Fearce says that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, she considers her high school experience to be “kind of normal,” because of the school’s efforts to bring the community together despite distance learning.
Fearce says the most memorable experience from high school was when she organized a week of protests after the shooting of Amir Locke by Minneapolis police in early 2022. A majority of the student body joined either the sit-in, walk-out or march she helped organize.
“We heard the news that weekend and then we came to school. It was not being talked about at all,” Fearce said. “Everybody was going about their day like it was a regular day. This isn’t right. We’re not going to let injustice go unspoken in our building. We’re going to talk about it, we’re going to have everyone here.”
Fearce and other organizers convinced the school to make the curriculum more inclusive. The school will be adding an AP African American history class next year.
Fearce has not chosen a college yet, but has been accepted to 14 different schools, with some offering full scholarships.
Name: Dontae Willis
High School: Humboldt High School, St. Paul
Dontae Willis played four sports during high school—floor hockey, softball, soccer, and adaptive bowling, where he took fourth place at the state tournament. Now Willis, who has Down Syndrome, has his eyes set on competing in the Special Olympics, where he hopes to compete in floor hockey, bowling, and flag football.
Willis enjoyed being on his high school’s sports teams so much that he said sports were the thing he would miss most after graduating.
Willis plans to attend Focus Beyond, a transitional school, until he is 21. He also plans to grow his social media accounts on platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch, where he streams Fortnite, a popular battle royale video game.
Willis says he is optimistic about his future.
“We’re here to help him all the way,” said Shanika White, Willis’s mom. “He has a good support system.”