Photography: Anna Knott
Sabrina Chin, 18
Senior at Walter Payton College Prep
Elementary school: Mark Sheridan Academy in Bridgeport
Also was accepted to: Jones, Whitney Young
Four years ago Sabrina Chin almost followed her friends to Whitney Young Magnet High School. But, she says, “[I] decided to put myself out there and go to a school where I didn’t know anyone.” Now a senior at Payton, she travels 30 minutes to school from her family’s Brighton Park home. “I almost bailed out when I was mailing my acceptance letter,” says Chin, whose parents immigrated from Malaysia. “But I did it anyway and it was the right choice.” The honors student has already been accepted to the University of Chicago, among several other schools. But she’s waiting to hear from other top universities before making her next big decision.
Christian Cheairs, 17
Senior at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep
Elementary school: McKinley Elementary School in South Holland
Also was accepted to: Lane Tech
If Chris Cheairs hadn’t gotten into Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, a three-minute drive from his family’s home in Roseland, he would have attended a public high school in his neighborhood. Cheairs spends up to three hours a night on home-work from his world literature, pre-calculus, African American history, sociology, and speech classes. The 17-year-old also is a licensed minister with the Liberation Christian Center in Englewood, where he teaches Sunday school, leads a youth group, and preaches at some events. When it came time to choose a college, his parents wanted him to stay close to home. Instead, the senior will enter the communications program at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, in the fall. “I’m ready to leave town,” he says.
Clarissa Valdez, 17
Senior at Northside College Prep
Elementary school: St. John Berchmans in Logan Square
Also was accepted to: Lane Tech
Clarissa Valdez hopes to be the second generation of doctors in her family. Her father, Arturo, practiced family medicine in Mexico before he moved to Chicago, where he met his wife. He now works as a health care administrator and Clarissa’s mother, Oliva, is a production manager in the fashion industry. “My father was the first one in his family to go to college and he’s glad that I’m following in his footsteps,” Valdez says. “The fact that I chose medicine makes him even happier.” She transferred to Northside as a sophomore after the school she was attending, Good Counsel High School, closed. Forced to give up basketball, cross-country, and soccer due to an ankle injury, she now coaches her sister Kimberly’s junior varsity basketball team at St. John Berchmans. This fall, the 17-year-old plans to attend Pomona College in Claremont, California, on a full scholarship, and ultimately wants to practice emergency medicine.
Tom Kasper, 17
Senior at Jones College Prep
Elementary school: Galileo Scholastic Academy in Little Italy
Also was accepted to: Whitney Young, De La Salle Institute
Tom Kasper, a senior at Jones College Prep, averages only one hour of homework a night even though his current course load includes advanced law, Spanish 4, debate, concert choir, senior world literature, journalism, and AP statistics. “The focus at Jones is to get a lot of work done in the classroom,” he says. “It was worse freshman year, when I had two math classes and one science class.” Kasper, who will attend the University of Illinois as a prelaw major in the fall, found some relevant life lessons in the last book he read, Anthem by Ayn Rand. “What you do is important and the decisions you make have to be important to you,” he says. “For example, you can’t choose where to go to college based on what others do. You have to do what’s right for you.”