The Future is Here

16 students in Oklahoma redefine what it means to be an overachiever.

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Photography by Dan Morgan

After receiving dozens of glowing recommendations from schools in Tulsa and OKC, the 16 students chosen for our feature have distinguished themselves in their diverse talents. The group boasts math prodigies, star athletes, socially conscious philanthropists and gifted designers – proving Oklahoma students can do it all.

Vaishnavi Reddy

  • High School Holland Hall
  • College University of Tulsa
  • Major Biochemistry

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why? My parents. My core values involve being humble and kind to others; my parents are the epitome of that.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? Completing my Bharatanatyam Arangetram, the art form I study. It is an Indian classical dance style that is a combination of storytelling and intricate footwork. A Bharatanatyam dancer is fully trained once they complete their Arangetram, which all together is around 2.5 hours of dancing. I have been learning this dance style for 10 years. I successfully completed my Arangetram in October 2016 in front of an audience of approximately 500.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? Starting in the ninth grade, I joined Youth Philanthropy Initiative, a three-year program where 25 students from the Tulsa community come together, find an issue among teens that needs attention, and create a social franchise that will help solve the issue.

Senna Saurino

  • High School  Metro Christian Academy
  • College  Southern Methodist University
  • Major Pre-medicine

What has led you to pursue that field of study? I had a strong draw to pediatric oncology. My dad, who is a physician, has also helped lead me to an interest in medicine.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why? My mom has made the greatest impact on me. She demonstrates the selflessness, hard work and love of the woman I aspire to be one day, pushing me to live a life that consists of setting quality goals and high standards for myself.

What are some of the characteristics that make you stand out from the rest of your graduating class? I academically and socially challenge myself. I strive for excellence and remain adventurous in trying things that are outside of my comfort zone.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I am nicknamed after the professional Formula One driver Ayrton Senna. I used to race go-karts competitively because I was raised in a home that’s passionate about auto racing.

Kyler Herron

  • High School  Bixby High School
  • College  University of Oklahoma
  • Major  Entrepreneurship and venture management, then law school

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? Being one of the valedictorians of my senior class of over 420 students. It feels like the biggest achievement because of the four years of hard work.

If you could trade places with one person for a day, who would it be and why? Mike Trout. I have always loved baseball, as I have played my whole life, and he is one of the best players in the world. Plus, California would be an amazing place to live, so he gets the best of both worlds.

What are some of the characteristics that make you stand out from the rest of your graduating class? I am not only an exceptionally hard worker in the classroom but on the baseball field and in the gym as well. I take four Advanced Placement classes and also balance the study load with baseball practice daily, multiple games a week and tournaments on several weekends. I also work to pay for my own gas, car insurance and other expenses.

Te’a Williams

  • School Union High School
  • College University of Oklahoma
  • Major  Health and exercise science

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why? My small-group leader, Jenn. She has taught me more about myself than any other being. Without her, my relationship with God would have been diminutive because she directed my path to get to where I am today with him.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? My biggest achievement in life is to hear how much I have made an impact on others’ lives, simply from me being kind and smiling every day. I feel it is an honor to know that I have changed someone’s life without me even knowing.

What are your career plans? I plan to start off being a physical therapist, then work my way up to being a chiropractor.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? My background. Never judge a book by its cover because it’s always the happiest people who have experienced the most pain – they just don’t allow that pain to win their life.

Ashtyn Fox

  • High School  Riverfield Country Day School
  • College  Oklahoma State University
  • Major Early childhood education

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? Going through four years of seminary, a doctrine class I take at church every morning before school. It has definitely been a challenge to wake up at 5:30 every day, but I endured it and always enjoyed it.

What are some of the characteristics that make you stand out from the rest of your graduating class? I have a diverse set of interests. I’m involved in athletics, music, drum line and student council at school. Outside of school, I am involved in church and Emergency Infant Services.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I used to be an extremely shy kid; I had a lot of anxiety. People who have known me for a long time are always so impressed at how far I have come. It is something I am really proud of, and I know that my progress gives hope to others.

Anything else that you would like to add? My favorite quote is, “We are infinitely more than our limitations or our afflictions.” I can relate to it, and I have proved to myself that this is true. It’s also a good outlook to have on other people.

Jeremiah Yohannan

  • High School  Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics
  • College  University of Oklahoma
  • Major  Computer science and electrical engineering

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why? My father. With a mere four dollars in his pocket, he began his journey in an unfamiliar land. Recently married and with the future in mind, he moved to America from India to ensure that his children would get the best educational and career opportunities in the world.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? Leading a new robotics competition team to victory. When I first felt inspired to found and captain a competition robotics team, the interest level of my school’s student body was abysmal and no teachers were willing to coach the team. Using concept demonstrations to arouse interest and foster commitment, though, the team soon grew in size.

If you could trade places with one person for a day, who would it be and why? It would be fun to trade places with one of the greatest Formula One drivers of our age, Fernando Alonso. As someone who enjoys the thrills of racing, I think it would be exhilarating.

Jack Ryan

  • High School  Casady School
  • College  Stanford University
  • Major  Mathematics and philosophy

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why? My mom. Not only has she helped me find my passions and pursue them, but she taught me how to endure the hardships and be grateful.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? Managing to survive high school and continue to pursue my passions even with the struggles that my mom and I have been through these past years. Even when we were facing homelessness, I kept a positive attitude and never gave up.

If you could trade places with one person for a day, who would it be and why? Paul Erdos, if he were alive, because he is my favorite mathematician. He was one of the most renowned mathematicians of the 20th century and trekked the world to give talks and collaborate with other mathematicians. He didn’t have a home, and he lived off of the money he made from giving talks. He lived his life entirely for his passion.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I can run two miles in 9 minutes and 50 seconds. I can solve a Rubik’s cube in about 20 seconds. I have three ear lobes.

Hudia Jamshed

  • High School  Edmond North High School
  • College  University of Oklahoma
  • Major  Biology or psychology

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why? My parents. For any immigrant family, the most pressure is put on the parents. They had to deal with a lot when they moved to America, and throughout all the injustice they faced, they stayed optimistic.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? Anytime I scroll through Twitter and see all these tweets about world crises, I never actually see ordinary people trying to do anything more than re-tweeting posts. So after I had seen the 200th Syrian refugee crisis post, I decided I couldn’t keep seeing all this horrible news without doing something. I contacted my local mosque and asked if I could host a bake sale during the Friday prayer, and I ended up raising $600. It made me realize that a big achievement doesn’t have to be something that changes the world; it can be something small that changed your world.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I have a dark secret. It is something so widely unpopular that if I utter a single statement about this topic, I could be (and have been) shunned. I absolutely, positively adore country music.

Matthew Smith

  • High School  Bishop Kelley High School
  • College University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Major Biomedical engineering and finance/investments 

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why? My dad and mom. They did not necessarily teach me right from wrong, but instead they taught me how to decide for myself what is right and what is wrong, and I believe that made all the difference.

What are your career plans? I would like to research and develop revolutionary medical technology to better lives. I would also like to assist my father, who has built his career from the ground up and continues to run his own business, and run for public office of some kind.

What are some of the characteristics that make you stand out from the rest of your graduating class? I think my multi-faceted life experiences have given me the resources and ability to succeed. That being said, my class is full of bright-minded, skilled and capable young men and women who stand out just as much as, and most of the time more so than, me.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I would have enjoyed participating in our school’s drama department, but there was just no way I could fit it into my schedule.

Sarah Cameron

  • High School Jenks High School
  • College  Yale University
  • Major Economics

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? Definitely getting into all eight Ivy League institutions. To this day, I’m still not sure how it happened, but I am incredibly thankful for the experience.

What are your career plans? Unlike many incoming college students, I’m still uncertain of what career path I would like to pursue. At the end of the day, I just want to do something that makes me happy.

If you could trade places with one person for a day, who would it be and why? Kate Middleton. I think it would be so interesting to learn how the British monarchy operates firsthand.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I am a dual citizen. My mom is from Australia, and her entire family still lives there. I love getting to visit, and my dual citizenship is something I’m very proud of.

Devavrat Chandresh Dave

  • High School Heritage Hall
  • College  University of California, Berkeley
  • Major Molecular biology

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? Placing fourth in the country at the NSDA National Debate Tournament my junior year. Debate is an activity I have put a lot of time into, and being from Oklahoma seems to be a disadvantage when facing off against supposedly “better” schools from “smarter” states. Knowing that we can pull off the kinds of victories we did makes me feel wonderful because I believe that I’m representing my school and state well.

What are some of the characteristics that make you stand out from the rest of your graduating class? Too often we try to make ourselves seem better than others, but the honest truth is that I am simply lucky and have lived in different circumstances, which is why I have been afforded this opportunity. Just because I have performed differently does not make me better in any way; everyone is wonderful, just in different ways.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I hate public speaking, which is ironic because I’m a debater.

Helen Homola

  • High SchoolBishop McGuinness Catholic High School
  • College .S. Air Force Academy
  • Major Foreign area studies with a minor in German

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why? My father. He exemplifies servant leadership and his work ethic inspires me to achieve my goals.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? Being able to learn from the people I’ve met every time my family moved. Sometimes it seems easier to shut down when going to a new school and starting over, but I think it was important that I took an active approach rather than passive when I set out to make friends.

What are your career plans? I plan on graduating from the Air Force Academy as a second lieutenant and serving in the military.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I have moved seven times and gone to two different high schools, and I was born in Germany. I also didn’t grow up wanting to join the military; I saw that as my parents’ niche. I also once attended trapeze school when I lived in Washington, D.C.

Olivia Patton

  • High School  Booker T. Washington High School
  • College  Spelman College
  • Major Economics 

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why? My mother. I am grateful to have a supportive woman in my life who always pushes me to take the extra step.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? Founding the Black Flower Society Petals, which is a nonprofit organization that fervently serves the Tulsa community. My favorite project has been mentoring at a local elementary school and building relationships with the students.

What are your career plans? I plan to pursue a position in business and entrepreneurship to better the environment of my community. It is a dream of mine to create and bring businesses to underserved areas in Tulsa, and to create a sense of pride for the members of that community.

If you could trade places with one person for a day, who would it be and why? If given the opportunity to trade places with Michelle Obama for a day, I wouldn’t hesitate to accept the offer. She is a beacon of light whose affirmative action inspires me. Her class, grace and style are timeless.

Abby Cha

  • School Broken Arrow High School
  • College University of Oklahoma
  • Major Physical therapy

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why? My mom. She’s always there for me, despite what’s happening in either of our lives. She encourages me and allows me to be myself, which is something I will always be thankful for.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? Winning the 2015 Grand National Championship with my band program, the Pride of Broken Arrow. It was an awesome reward for all of the hard work we put in during the season.

If you could trade places with one person for a day, who would it be and why? Misty Copeland, the first African-American female principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre. My dream as a child was certainly not to become a ballerina, but now I wish I was one.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I have a black belt in tae kwon do. I was once very committed to it when I was in elementary school and even had dreams to compete in the Olympics one day.

Carl Atik

  • High School  Cascia Hall
  • College  University of California, Berkeley
  • Major  Chemical engineering 

What are your career plans? I would like to work in the development of energy systems such as solar panels, microbial fuel cells or other alternate energy forms.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? Making the gold honor roll for the past three years, as I still remember my freshman year when I thought this achievement was far from my grasp. To me, this serves as a reminder that anyone can achieve their goals and make changes, as long as they have motivation and perseverance.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I am heavily influenced by and infatuated with rap music. About 750 of the 800 or so songs on my phone are rap. These rappers have not only provided me with a great soundtrack to my life but have given me many diverse perspectives on various racial, political, ethical and religious situations.

Y Quan

  • High School Thomas Edison Preparatory High School
  • College  University of Tulsa
  • Major Biochemistry 

What has led you to pursue that field of study? I want to become either a neuroscientist or a neurosurgeon for my grandfather, who died of brain cancer, and for my grandmother, who died of dementia. I also want to preserve a future for those who are born with mental disabilities.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement? Being an Academic All-Stater or the smiles and appreciation I get from the students I tutor.

If you could trade places with one person for a day, who would it be and why? Either Batman or the Wolverine (I’m not on the bandwagon; I swear I loved them both since superheroes were still deemed strictly for nerds.) The next best person is Bruce Lee. He always stays true to his core principles and that’s what has made him an everlasting image. The next person is Beyoncé. She’s successful, talented, original, has a loving family and still maintains her strong independent vibe since Destiny’s Child.

Anything else that you would like to add? Some advice to younger students: Even when you’re a senior and have all your academics to tend to, I urge you to find something that speaks to you. For me, it is kung fu.

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