While some adults in Brainerd and Aberdeen are freaking out about Muslims and refugees, Willmar High students are confident their homecoming court demonstrates that "being around people from other ethnicities just feels normal."
The West Central Tribune's education beat reporter Linda Vanderwerf interviewed Willmar High's homecoming royalty for The privilege of diversity, an article centered around the student body's selection of Anisa Abdulahi, a Somali-American senior, as homecoming queen for the public high school in the West Central Minnesota regional center that's a two-hour drive west of Minneapolis. Vanderwerf reports:
To her classmates, Anisa Abdulahi deserved to be elected Willmar Senior High's homecoming queen because she's so nice, and everybody likes her.
The other members of her royal court recognize she's the first Somali-American homecoming queen, but they pay more attention to the type of person she is.
Anisa was crowned Monday evening, along with homecoming king Grant Duininck. They were elected by the entire student body after seniors chose the candidates.
For Riley Schneider, the homecoming princess, "I didn't think about it that much; I thought Anisa deserved it most out of anyone, because she is so amazing."
Grant said he was happy when Anisa was named queen. "It was kind of a unique situation that no other class has had before, and it was the opportunity that we had."
The students said attention given to the diverse homecoming court could help show the world what Willmar's schools are like.
The Senior High has had Hispanic students in its homecoming court in the past and this year. Anisa was the first Somali ever nominated. The student body is 57 percent white, 23 percent Hispanic, 18 percent black and 2 percent Asian.
The relative lack of racial strife in Willmar's schools stands in contrast to reports of problems with Muslims or other minorities around the state and country.
"From the outside, it looks kind of cool for other schools to see," said Sophie Schmitz, one of the queen candidates. "This is Willmar; this is what we represent; this is what we have." . . .
The coronation follows last spring's graduation, to which United States Senator Al Franken spoke and personally congratulated each student, out of respect for Muna Abdulahi, one of the graduates who had served as a U.S. Senate page, and "he’d been largely impressed with her." The Class of 2016 valedictorian was Maité Marin-Mera, who was born in Ecuador.
The more recent article continues:
Anisa's family moved to Willmar when she was a third-grader, and the schools have been a welcoming place.
"I feel like they don't judge you on your color, on your race or religion or where you came from," she said. "They treat you the way they would want to be treated." . . .
High School Principal Paul Schmitz said people who aren't connected to the schools may not realize "it's just what's normal" for kids who have gone to school together for years.
Students of all backgrounds rise to prominent positions in the school, Schmitz said. "To me, it isn't a surprise; it just seems like a natural progression. That's just the way our school is," he said.
Students recognize the cultural and racial backgrounds of their classmates but "they really see each other as individuals," Schmitz said. . . .
Read the whole thing at the West Central Tribune. Amazing young people.
Photo: That crowning moment. Photo by Briana Sanchez, West Central Tribune. Photo gallery here.
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