Meet the 12 High Schoolers Who Won a New York Times Scholarship

Jenifer Weng nonetheless hates the sound of a telephone ringing. To her, it’ll all the time imply “Get back to work.”

She began serving to round her household’s Tex-Mex restaurant in Forest Hills, Queens, when she was about 5 years previous, flipping tortillas or translating for her dad and mom, who converse Mandarin. By the fifth grade, she had began answering telephone calls in between homework assignments.

Ms. Weng had grown used to the day by day grind of commuting to highschool in Manhattan at 6 a.m., beginning work at the restaurant when she obtained again to Queens and saving her suggestions to offer to her mom. Even as she helped maintain the restaurant afloat throughout the pandemic, she excelled at school and utilized to universities.

“I can’t let my parents struggle alone,” mentioned Ms. Weng, now 18.

The arduous work paid off. Ms. Weng, quickly to be a first-generation faculty scholar, is one in all 12 New York City highschool seniors chosen for The New York Times College Scholarship Program this yr.

The program, which is supported by public contributions and an endowment fund, will present every of the college students with $15,000 in monetary help for annually of faculty. Since 1999, it has helped put lots of of scholars via faculty.

The college students who make up this yr’s cohort have overcome poverty, bullying, bodily and psychological well being struggles and household tragedies. They every accomplished their senior yr of highschool in the midst of a pandemic that threw the metropolis’s inequities into full view.

The college students additionally share a widespread objective: to create a brighter future, not only for themselves, however for his or her households and communities.

“Whatever career path I end up taking, it will be very grounded in improving people’s lives and making it easier,” mentioned Samia Afrin, 17.

About 10 years in the past, Ms. Afrin and her household arrived in the United States from Bangladesh. Growing up in a lower-income Muslim household in Brooklyn, Ms. Afrin grew to become captivated with combating injustice. She will examine political science at the University of Rochester, changing into the first lady in her household to attend faculty.

For Brian Zhang, 17, his training at Yale University shall be the first step in attaining his objective of caring for undocumented immigrants. In the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, Mr. Zhang and his dad and mom share a cramped residing area, kitchen and one lavatory with 14 ground mates.

Despite the monetary hardships, Mr. Zhang mentioned his upbringing impressed him to work to grow to be a physician and to someday open a clinic for undocumented immigrants. His first precedence is to purchase his dad and mom a home.

Lamia Haque, 18, mentioned she spent a lot of her childhood looking for her voice. In highschool, whereas writing opinion items on immigration for her scholar newspaper, she discovered it.

As the eldest youngster in her Bangladeshi family, Ms. Haque needed to pave a street for her youthful siblings and discover ways to navigate life in the United States for her dad and mom. She will attend Williams College in Massachusetts and needs to pursue a profession in felony regulation.

After experiencing racist bullying in center college, Jelyse Williams, who’s Black, mentioned she realized to belief others and gained confidence as a scholar at the High School of Fashion Industries in Manhattan, the place she grew to become often known as “the girl with 101 hobbies.” Ms. Williams, 18, additionally excelled as an intern at Google. She plans to check biomedical engineering at the University at Buffalo and hopes to mix her pursuits in design and know-how to assist others.

“I want to change people’s lives for the better,” mentioned Ms. Williams.

Many of the students shared their household’s immigration tales. For some, their acceptance into prime universities was the American dream their dad and mom had been looking for.

“I don’t want to forget where I came from and the people who helped me get here,” mentioned Aima Ali, 17, who shall be attending Cornell University and plans to go to regulation college.

Ms. Ali, who lives in Brooklyn, mentioned she didn’t apply to high schools greater than 5 hours away from house as a result of she wished to remain near her household, who immigrated from Pakistan when she was a yr previous. Ms. Ali helps take care of her Four-year-old sister, who has autism, and she or he mentioned that have has made her wish to examine incapacity rights, in addition to immigration regulation.

Enlik Tagasheva needed to develop up rapidly. When she was 5, her mom, who had left their house in Kazakhstan to return work in the United States as an interpreter, suffered a spinal wire damage that left her paralyzed. Ms. Tagasheva got here to the United States quickly after and has spent a lot of her childhood caring for her mom.

Now 18 and headed to Bard College, she goals of beginning a Kazakh youth group to host protected areas for LGBTQ+ youth and sexual assault survivors. She’d additionally like to open a museum devoted to Kazakh artwork and historical past, she mentioned, “because all we have is Borat.”

As a youngster in Estonia, Alex Koiv mentioned he didn’t obtain a significantly inventive training and he didn’t have many alternatives to department out. But as a highschool scholar in New York City, he discovered he had the choice to decide on his electives and found a love for robotics and coding.

Inspired by the film “Yes Man,” he adopted the behavior of claiming sure to only about every part whereas in highschool to push himself out of his consolation zone. Mr. Koiv, 18, plans to check pc science at Cornell and hopes to finally work at NASA or SpaceX.

Jailene Sinchi, 17, is decided to obtain the kind of training her dad and mom couldn’t. Growing up in East Harlem, Ms. Sinchi listened to her dad and mom’ tales of residing in Ecuador and the sacrifices they made to outlive.

Ms. Sinchi mentioned she was anxious about shifting from El Barrio to Ithaca, N.Y., which is way much less various, to attend Cornell. On the means there to go to, she mentioned she noticed Confederate flags. Still, she seems to be ahead to finding out psychology and finally changing into a physician.

“Fear is inevitable, but letting that fear control my life is intolerable,” she mentioned.

Danielle Knight was 14 when she realized the significance of “speaking up for the soft-spoken,” she mentioned. That’s when her cousin Shamoya was killed by a stray bullet in the Bronx on New Year’s Eve. They had been the similar age. Since then, she has felt compelled to inform the tales of individuals like Shamoya and the communities they arrive from.

Ms. Knight, 17, will main in journalism at Stony Brook University. Part of her desires to journey the world, whereas one other half desires to be the subsequent Don Lemon. Maybe she’ll begin her personal radio station, too, she mentioned.

For Tigerlily Hopson, 17, faculty didn’t all the time appear inside attain. In elementary college, her love for storytelling was at odds together with her dyslexia. And at house, her mom pored over bills with a calculator in hand whereas the cabinets had been empty.

But Ms. Hopson mentioned she got here into her personal as a journalist and activist in highschool, when she helped resurrect her college’s newspaper. This fall, she shall be becoming a member of Mr. Zhang at Yale.

And then there’s Nikole Rajgor, a 17-year-old from the Bronx. At 14, she took on a accountability that few folks in her life knew about. Her mom agreed to quickly foster a buddy’s new child son, and Ms. Rajgor cared for him whereas balancing college. While bathing him someday, he known as her “mama.”

Despite the stress and soiled diapers, she mentioned her time elevating a foster child helped her grow to be extra mature. After a yr, it was time for the child to go house.

For her, attending Hunter College shall be a time for her to make connections and discover her pursuits. Ms. Rajgor mentioned she want to grow to be a journalist, write not less than one e-book and amplify the tales of others. But finally, she mentioned, discovering success shall be easy.

“As long as I’m happy,” she mentioned.