Meet your 2016 Loudoun County Future Leaders
Whether a journalist or attorney, Gabby will be at the center of things
This isn't the first time Gabby Lewis has been featured in the Loudoun Times-Mirror.
As editor-in-chief of Briar Woods High School newspaper, the Falcon Flyer, she covered a Donald Trump rally and wrote a story that was picked up by the Times-Mirror in December. Lewis and her friend ended up being placed in the front row of the rally, allowing her the perfect viewpoint to cover the event.
The story gave readers a first-person experience of the people attending the rally, their emotions and the overall feeling of the event.
Lewis balances a schedule filled with school, work, extracurricular activities and volunteer service that few could rival. She is a varsity athlete, student council president and a member of Falcons Serve, which makes monthly trips to Washington, D.C. to help feed the homeless.
Lewis has no plans to slow down when she attends the College of William and Mary in the fall.
“It's the most academically rigorous school I got into and I found that appealing because I want to be challenged,” she said.
Lewis plans to major in business and minor in journalism. Even with those demanding academics, she will keep busy with the same variety and intensity of activities that she did in high school.
“I want to continue with the newspaper. I will probably join some intramural sports teams and maybe student government. I am doing that right now and I really enjoy it.”
Her leadership experience leaves Lewis with no lack of confidence to state her opinion, making her, according to her family, perfect for law school following her stint at W&M.
“I am very argumentative as my parents would say. My dad works for the government and he introduced the idea of becoming a criminal prosecutor to me.”
Lewis was initially hesitant, feeling that working as a lawyer wouldn't be demanding enough. After some research, however, working as a trial attorney feels like the right fit for her future.
“I don't want to be behind a desk all day, I want to be challenged,” she said. “I don't want to do anything repetitive.”
Facing discrimination, teen vows to fight for LGBTQ rights
Graduating Potomac Falls senior Ryan Wells came out to his family, friends and, eventually, his peers in 2014.
Coming out as gay while still in high school, a daunting and often frightening idea for most teens, was an overall positive for Wells. There were some bumps in the road along the way, but for the most part Wells said he received a great amount of support. The experience inspired Wells to pursue a degree in public policy, so one day he can help people from all walks of life feel safe.
"People just want to be able to feel like they're comfortable in their own skin," Wells said.
That sentiment is all the more powerful after the devastating mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando June 11, said Wells.
Following the deaths of at least 50 people in the club, Wells said that he was “absolutely devastated” by the incident and called it an “outright hateful attack” on the LGBT community.
“I would like to see some sort of action taken by legislators enforcing stricter gun control laws,” Wells said.
The teen said he still faces discrimination that goes unnoticed by many.
Shortly after coming out, Wells decided to donate blood at his school's local blood drive. One of the questions Wells was asked when he tried to donate blood was if he ever had sexual contact with another man – a response which automatically banned him from donating blood.
In December, the Food and Drug Administration lifted its lifetime ban on accepting blood donations from men who have had sex with men and deferred the wait time to 12 months since their last sexual encounter.
Wells says that he although he is optimistic about the FDA's decision, he still wants to see more work in this area so that gay men can also have equal representation.
After graduating, Wells wants to become a gay rights activist. He says he will continue to stand up for all LGBTQ rights and one day fight to change the FDA's policy so there will be no constraints on gay men donating blood.
MARIA FERNANDA PEÑA
After move from Dominican Republic, inspiration to become an educator
Up until a couple of years ago, Maria Fernanda Peña was a well-adjusted student living in the Dominican Republic.
All of that changed when her mother married a man that moved the two to Loudoun County.
Once she enrolled at Rock Ridge High School, Peña had to quickly learn to master a new language, make new friends and adopt new values. She says the experience made her stronger, more independent and more mature. She successfully acclimated to her new surroundings to excel in her school work and extracurricular activities.
"Let me tell you, there was a lot more to it than just switching from Spanish to English," wrote Peña in her Future Leaders application about her move to the U.S.
The graduate says she at first worried that her impeccable grades would be impacted when she transferred to an American school, because English was, up until that point, a foreign language to her.
"I asked my new step-dad to only talk to me in English; to my mother’s chagrin, as she wasn’t really fluent yet," said Peña. "I started watching English TV and reading books in English, always with my dictionary app by my side. Slowly but surely I started to adopt the language as my own."
Maria not only maintained her high grade point average, she made the National Honor Society, became president of her school's international club, became an officer in the Rising Educators club and was part of the Spanish Honor Society. She found the time to volunteer with Mobile Hope and tutor in Spanish and Algebra II.
Shortly after arriving in Sterling, Peña got a job at a local grocery store, something rare for teens to do in the Dominican Republic. She says the experience has taught her more than she ever imagined it would.
"Being employed has given me a sense of independence and self-reliance," she said.
Peña says she was inspired to become an educator by her U.S. history teacher at Rock Ridge. She will attend Christopher Newport University in the fall.
A kindred spirit who seeks to spread knowledge throughout his heritage
Matthew Eberhart is smart enough to realize he has it pretty good in affluent Loudoun County. The Loudoun Valley High School senior knows he has peers – some near and some far -- who haven't been awarded the same opportunities.
That's why Eberhart, who is of Peruvian heritage, wants to spread his wealth of knowledge.
“I would like to bring STEM to my family's community in Peru,” Eberhart says. “My cousins in the northern rural areas especially, have a poor education system and little to no technology. When I am successful one day, I would like to start a program to bring formal education in STEM-related fields to them.”
The Hamilton resident with a 4.27 GPA plans to study computer science and Spanish at Virginia Tech next year, where his fun-loving, gregarious demeanor should quickly endear him to new friends and new experiences.
The Valley student, like all Times-Mirror Future Leaders, is well-versed outside the classroom, too. Eberhart lettered twice in both varsity basketball and baseball, was on Loudoun County's All County Orchestra squad and earned Employee of the Month at the Nike Factory Store – all this in addition to his dozens of community service hours.
“Matt truly is a people person – an affable young man whose generous spirit shines through in his willingness to positively support and interact with others,” noted Heather Olis, one of Eberhart's English teachers at Valley.
Olis said Eberhart will “undoubtedly flourish in his future endeavors” thanks to his charisma.
In addition to his aspirations in Peru, Eberhart wants to build the Hour of Code program that teaches computer programming to elementary students. Eberhart has participated in the program the past two years.
Of his interest in computer science, Eberhart said he “fell in love with the idea that [he] can sit at a computer and create.”
Family is everything for leader who embodies the American dream
Oriella Mejia, a graduating Loudoun Valley senior, is the embodiment of the American dream.
She is a daughter of an orphan boy who fled guerrilla warfare and a farm girl who grew up in times of famine. Her parents came to America to give their children a chance at a better life. Mejia has taken the opportunity her parents gave her and made the best of it. She not only helps support her family, she also gives back to those less fortunate than her.
When Mejia's father was laid off last year, money was tight. The family was under a lot of pressure to make ends meet. But it was in that time of distress that Mejia found happiness in helping others and started doing community service work.
"I decided to use that energy toward something positive because I figured if I can make others happy, I will make myself happy in the process," Mejia said.
Mejia organized three blood drives for Inova Blood Services in western Loudoun. She took her work a step further and mobilized the Hispanic community to get involved.
"I have been able to pioneer my Hispanic community's blood donations which many of them didn't even know about," said Mejia. "They didn't know blood donation was a thing or some of them had heard about it but had huge misconceptions."
Family is everything for Mejia. It is the driving force behind her dream to become a family physician.
"I want to dedicate my life to preserving the health of families," Mejia said. "I don't want other families that might be in my position to suffer due to something I can probably help them with."
Before Mejia heads off to Virginia Commonwealth University at the end of the summer. She will intern at a family physician's office in Purcellville where she will translate for Spanish-speaking patients.
Scientist, wordsmith and much more. Above all else, a caring leader.
Jasmine Lu, a graduating Loudoun Valley senior, became interested in studying medicine after her aunt was diagnosed with cancer.
The news was hard enough for the Lu family to bear, but what made it worse was the confusion. Lu says her aunt was bombarded with cold, foreign medical terms that she had no way of understanding. After the experience, Lu started volunteering with the Purcellville Volunteer Rescue Squad.
Lu saw a patient’s confusion again, this time in the back of an ambulance. What was different this time was the fact that the medic in the ambulance did what he could to best explain the situation to the patient in words that anyone could understand, said Lu.
“Quelling her confusion with his words, he untangled the mess of wiring that hooked her body to intimidating, beeping machines, explaining the rationale behind the pulse of the oximeter and electrocardiogram [EKG],” wrote Lu in her Future Leaders Scholarship application.
The graduating senior says she realized in that moment that she wanted to become a physician to “lead patients out of delirium,” to “evaporate the fear that strangles the minds of patients.”
It was then that Lu decided it wasn’t enough to simply study biology; she had to become a “wordsmith.” That’s why Lu plans on double majoring in pre-med and English at Princeton.
Lu says she may take a gap year to recover from the rigorous coursework she’s mastered in high school. Lu has been ranked first in her class of 309 students since she was a freshman.
Like many young people, Lu says she isn’t quite sure what career path she will take after college. She is interested in becoming either a doctor or journalist for now. Both fields are important to her, she says.
Lu already has an impressive resume that many working adults couldn’t rival. At the Academy of Science, she researched the synergistic effects of various traditional Chinese medicines, cholesterol remediation capabilities of probiotic bacteria, Radon distribution in Loudoun County households and more.
The graduate’s skills are multifaceted. She does just as well in Advanced Placement chemistry and AP physics as she does in AP literature and language composition.
On top of academics, Lu also participated in numerous extracurricular activities, including serving as senior class vice president, having a seat on the Math Honor Society Executive Board and drawing political cartoons for her school newspaper.
Whatever field Lu chooses, she will no doubt shine and become a leader.
A passion for language and travel inspires a future in public service
Devin MacGoy, a graduating Potomac Falls High School senior, says he discovered his passion for language and travel when he got the opportunity to meet hundreds of students from all over the world to discuss diplomatic issues.
Loudoun County Public Schools’ International Youth Summit has had a big impact on MacGoy. Not only has he spoken one-on-one with other future global leaders, he’s helped organize the summit to make it possible for his peers to do so as well. The experience has inspired MacGoy to study international public service.
“For the past three years, I have spent countless hours writing letters to schools around the world, coordinating fundraisers at local restaurants, finding local host families, pitching ideas to the Loudoun County School Board, and attending planning meetings, in addition to hosting students from Estonia, China, and South Korea,” wrote MacGoy in his Future Leaders Scholarship application.
MacGoy has learned what problems people from other countries face and the kinds of solutions young leaders are seeking.
“We have had discussions about the incredible social welfare of Germany, the restrictive government of China, the racial struggles of South Africa and the national security concerns of Mexico,” said MacGoy. “But we have also learned that the French can’t be beat in ping pong, that Estonians love orange juice and that Australians wholeheartedly embrace the kangaroo."
The graduate has also prepared himself for a future in public service by volunteering for a Loudoun County Board of Supervisors' campaign, serving as a student representative on the Loudoun County School Board and being the sole student representative on the LCPS Vision 20/20 Strategic Planning Committee.
MacGoy was inspired to travel to Italy to learn the nation’s language last summer. He studied Mandarin in preparation for a trip to China in which he will embark on this summer.
MacGoy will study at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in the fall.
Caring for the needy leads toward a career in research and pediatrics
Madison Ojeda's sincerity comes through in her passion for helping others.
She is heavily involved with feeding the hungry and organized a Feed the Need club at John Champe High School where they grow and donate vegetables to the Dulles South Food Pantry. In addition to her sweet nature, Ojeda has passion for knowledge. Growing up in a family of engineers, she is a natural problem solver and investigator.
Ojeda would like to use her technical skills to help others. She dreams of using stem cells to cure Parkinson's disease and learning to grow kidneys to combat organ trafficking.
As a middle school student, she discovered the monthly publication Scientific American and has been researching about new medical technologies ever since.
She will attend Duke University in the fall as a biomedical engineering and pre-med student.
“I chose Duke because there are so many opportunities there and I have a diverse variety of interests. I will be able to satisfy them all there,” she said. “I want to try new things and really get out of my comfort zone.”
Her interests include dance, running and on-campus research with the world-class faculty. Her goal is medical school with the hopes of studying pediatrics.
Ojeda would like to break up her schooling with a trip to Latin America. She plans to participate in service projects after she graduates and connect with her Spanish speaking heritage.
The graduating senior says she is grateful for all of the support she has acquired, including that of the Future Leaders Scholarship program.
“I am so thankful for all the opportunities I have been given. Duke is really expensive and it will be tough for my family. This scholarship will help a lot.”
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