Going Places

From the Top of the Podium to Around the Globe, These Local Students Are Going Places

Regan Denham

There’s no such thing as a summer break for 2020 Lakota East graduate Regan Denham. Regan plowed through a four-year undergraduate program in just two years, earning a degree in Human Health Science from the University of Kentucky in 2022. Before starting graduate school this fall, she met 17 other students in Geneva, Switzerland for a three-week summer traineeship with UNICEF. 

The program offered hands-on experience with UNICEF’s humanitarian aid efforts, combining both real-life work with the opportunity to give back. In between work hours, Regan squeezed in some sightseeing: the particle accelerator at CERN, Red Cross Museum, the charming town of Lutry and even nearby France. 

“This trip was humbling. There’s a whole world out there,” Regan reflects. “It’s a good reminder for when I get stuck on small things. I learned how to be happy and content with myself.”

A’Zariyah Bryant 

When Lakota East senior A’Zariyah Bryant toed up to the starting line for her race, there were hundreds of people watching her from the stands of Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. The 2022 Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) Track and Field Championships brought the best athletes from across the state, but no one could faze A’Zariyah as she leaped out of the starting blocks at the sound of the gun, taking the win in just a matter of seconds. 

In early June, just after her graduation, A’Zariyah competed in the OHSAA Track and Field Championships in the 100 and 200-meter-dash, placing first in both events. A’Zariyah, who has been running track since the age of eight, says that her preparation helped her secure the win in her events. 

“My favorite part about running track is the mental readiness in advance,” A’Zariyah says. “You could have all the physical attributes to be an advanced runner, but if you're not mentally secured, all of that is insubstantial. When I’m in a great headspace, I’m prone to have a greater performance.” 

Overcoming an injury in 2021 makes A’Zariyah especially grateful for both her athletic performance and faith in God, which fuel her as she continues her athletic and academic careers at the University of Illinois. 

“One bad day, practice or meet does not define your overall agility as an athlete,” A’Zariyah says. “Take glory in your ‘bad days’ or ‘losses’ because we know that if we can overcome days like this, this produces perseverance and perseverance creates character and great character gives you a greater hope for yourself.” 

Lakota West Varsity Softball Team

When the season began, winning a state title was no more than a far-off idea for the Lakota West Varsity Softball team. But as the team clinched 16 consecutive wins, this idea became a reality when the Firebirds took the field at Firestone Stadium in Akron for the 2022 OHSAA Division I Softball Championship game against Holland Springfield. 

The Firebirds won the state title with a score of 9-2. West senior and first baseman Jasmine Walker was one of 10 seniors on the team led by Coach Keith Castner.

“Our coach always tells us to focus on the game we’re playing at that moment or the practice we’re doing that day,” Jasmine says. “So, when we were actually there, playing the game, and actually starting to win, it was surreal.” 

Fellow senior and right fielder Lily Volmer, who will be attending University of Arizona this fall, was surprised by the size of Firestone Stadium, much larger than her home field. Despite the magnitude of the stadium, the environment felt supportive, thanks to the parents and players. 

“The atmosphere was very welcoming,” Lily says. “Even though the other team [lived] closer and had more parents, our parents brag that they were louder than them.” 

Jasmine will be attending Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University this fall and says that winning the state game was a perfect way to end her softball career. 

“We made the idea [of winning state] super tangible,” Jasmine says. “At first it didn’t feel like a state game. It felt like any other game, but then when we won it kind of hit that all the four years of hard work paid off.” 

Sunitvir Taunque 

Lakota West Junior Sunitvir Taunque had never been called to the principal’s office before, but last spring the scholar athlete was summoned for good news—he had been selected to serve on the National Student Advisory Council for the League of Innovative Schools. 

Sunitvir will be on the Council for one year, one of six students chosen from around the country to lead and guide the League of Innovative Students, a student technology focus group. Together, the groups will provide a student voice and real-time feedback to school districts as they embrace and expand technology for innovation in education. They began meeting virtually in June, allowing Sunitvir to log on from India while visiting his grandparents this summer.

Sunitvir is passionate about exploring educational experiences through virtual reality technology.

“Not enough experiences in schools are practical,” he says. “It’s important to ensure that students are learning, not just memorizing. Virtual reality is a way to be in school, but in a real world setting at the same time.” 

Another initiative that Sunitvir hopes to address with the Council is the elimination of racism and bias in education.

“Education should be fair and equal,” he says. “Everybody should get equal opportunities.” 

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