Senior Spotlight: Harsha Rajkumar, Stephen Lo & Melody Zhang
As our latest class of seniors prepares to move into the next phase of their lives, Fremont Christian would like to recognize three standout individuals, starting with our valedictorian, Harsha Rajkumar, who will be attending Duke University in the fall. Although Harsha originally planned to be pre-med, he’s now leaning towards a double major of bioengineering and computer science, with a bent towards AI (artificial intelligence).
“But that might change, too,” Harsha says. “There are so many opportunities.” He is particularly interested in the research aspect of science, with which he already has a great deal of experience for someone his age. After transferring to FCS his freshman year, he became a mentee to Edward Njoo, a PhD candidate in chemistry at Stanford University. His first project was on the medicinal properties of certain herbs, which was followed by more internships at the GRIPS (Genomics Research Internship Program at Stanford) program, where he researched complex organic chemistry synthesis reactions. Last year, he was a finalist in the Genes in Space competition, which allowed him to travel to Washington, DC, to present his project to a group of astronauts.
Harsha also participated in track and field for most of high school and joined the varsity baseball team (who placed first in their league this year) as a senior, an experience he enjoyed so much that he hopes to join a club at Duke. He credits this surprise love of the sport to Fremont Christian. “It's a small school but has so many opportunities,” he says. “The teachers and students just care for each other so much that you can get involved in any activity.” Even if the activity doesn’t yet exist: Harsha was instrumental in founding both the Medical Research Club and Speech and Debate Club. “That’s another plus for FCS: If you're interested in starting something, it's pretty easy to do.”
He also feels that the close relationships with the teachers were beneficial in his education. “With small class sizes, I was able to learn a lot more. The conversations I had with teachers and students after class are something that I probably won't forget.”
One of Harsha’s closest friends is co-salutatorian Stephen Lo. The two hit it off from their first day at FCS, back in freshman year, and not just because they had the exact same class schedule. “He's always smiling and laughing,” Harsha says. “He lights up everyone's mood.”
That’s an important trait to have when you’re the basketball team’s captain and MVP, as Stephen was. “Even though he's academically and sports driven, his personality is something that's gonna take him really far,” Harsha says about his friend.
Like Harsha, Stephen plans to study bioengineering, although he’ll do so at Pasadena’s California Institute of Technology, where he’ll also play for the school’s basketball team.
Stephen attended preschool at FCS but then went through the public school system through middle school. When he tried to enroll in high school, however, he wasn’t able to take the classes he wanted, so he—and his twin brother—transferred back to FCS. “Fremont Christian has a very flexible schedule and they let me take every class that I wanted,” he says. The twins’ younger brother soon followed suit and transferred as well.
In addition to basketball (and taking every AP class that FCS offers), Stephen also participated in choir, an experience that saw the group perform in the FCS rendition of High School Musical, take second place at the Golden State Choral Competition, and even play at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall. He and Harsha also collaborated with the Alameda County Science Fair to form a nonprofit called the More-STEM Initiative, which partners previous fair winners with underprivileged students for virtual mentorships; Stephen and Harsha helped add a face-to-face component to the program. Somewhere in between all that, Stephen found time to act as head chaplain for the student body council and president of the Health and Science Club.
“I just wanted to share a passion that I had, which was to help in science, and it was so easy,” he says, grinning ear to ear. “It goes to show that anything you want to pursue [at FCS] you can. They provide the opportunities for you to achieve your full potential.”
Stephen is also very proud of his friend Harsha’s achievements. “FCS isn’t like a lot of other schools, where students don't want to help each other because everyone wants to be the best. Seeing Harsha and I both succeed at the highest level makes me so happy. It’s like a family dynamic at FCS. That's something I want to emphasize because we don't see each other as competitors. We’re all here to support each other and lift each other up to be the best that we can be.”
Co-salutatorian Melody Zhang echoes that sentiment. Melody transferred to FCS from a local public school just under two years ago—and she’s incredibly glad she did. “At FCS, you can actually feel the positive energy in the air. There’s so much school unity,” she says.
Once she landed at FCS, Melody made fast friends with other students—and even her teachers. FCS’s art teacher, Ms. Yuan, recognized Melody’s talent early on.
“Over the last two years, I have witnessed tremendous growth in Melody 's leadership, self-management, and teamwork,” Ms. Yuan says. “She is creative and a good leader—and adept at problem-solving.I believe she will be a great artist in the future.” With Ms. Yuan’s encouragement, Melody entered the 2022 Congressional Art Competition, which she won for her district; her entry is currently on display at the White House.
Melody cites Spirit Week as one of her favorite FCS memories. Due to her aptitude in art, she designed and drew all of the posters for this year’s homecoming court. She also participated in Mandarin choir and founded the Creative Cards Club, which sends greetings to residents of senior homes. “We write uplifting messages and affirmations to remind them that they're not alone in the world and that there's always someone thinking about them,” she explains.
After FCS, Melody will be attending the University of Pennsylvania to study graphic design and user experience. “Those are both really useful and a lot of fun,” she says. She hopes to use her degree to work on websites and potentially video games. “It's fun to see how even little changes to the design and the interface can totally enhance the experience,” she explains.
FCS is incredibly proud of our seniors. We wish you the greatest of success!
FCS Hits a High Note at State Choral Competition
On April 25, the FCS Chamber Singers traveled to Pacific Union College in Napa Valley to participate in the Golden State Choral Competition — our first time ever competing in this prestigious event. FCS is honored to announce that our very own FCS Chamber Singers placed second at the invitation-only competition and received the award for outstanding choral diction (text pronunciation). This year’s overall winners were Monte Vista High School in San Ramon. A hearty congrats to them!
In addition to two songs of their own choosing, every one of the seven invited choirs performs one common piece, to provide a better comparison between festival participants. This year, all of the choirs joined together to perform the selected piece, “Vita de la Mia Vita” by William Hawley, during the closing award ceremony. For their two chosen songs, FCS students performed “The Word Was God” by Rosephanye Powell and “Nox” by Elaine Hagenberg.
For more than 25 years, the Golden State Choral Competition has been a leading contest for high schoolers. To be accepted, choirs must submit audio recordings demonstrating a high level of technical musical abilities, often in other languages, while demonstrating artistry in performance practice. The competition’s previous winners and this year’s hosts were Castro Valley High. This year’s event was the first since 2019, due to the pandemic.
Well done, Warriors! All of your hard work and dedication to excellence was well received! Let's keep up the momentum, do our best for the Lord, and in all of our ways acknowledge Him.
FCS Students Honored at Alameda Science Fair
FCS is honored to announce the participation of four of our students in this year’s Alameda County Science and Engineering Fair on March 26. Three of our students even brought home awards, which is a remarkable achievement, especially considering there were nearly 400 projects presented from middle and high schools.
Ninth-grader Matthew Du, who was honored with third place in the category of High School Plant Sciences, Ecology, Agriculture, & Environmental Sciences, submitted his project on the effects of artificial or aquatic environments on crop yield, the results of which Matthew hopes will be scaled to benefit food production and reduce world hunger — an exemplary reflection of the community of compassion we strive to create at FCS. Matthew also took the time to present his project to his class after the fair.
Another such project came from eleventh-grader Neil Makur, who aimed to create an efficient algorithm to cost-effectively distribute extra food from donors to fulfill the needs of food banks. “The best part about my experience was the journey,” says Neil. “I was able to combine skills from AP Computer Science A and AP Stats, as well as knowledge from my volunteer work at the food bank and other math courses, into a project that is applicable in the real world — and get great results. Mrs. Mathews was a great support.” Neil placed third in High School Math, Astronomy, Physics.
Neil’s classmate Sophia Li took home fourth place in the category of High School Biomedical Science for her project on preventing dance injuries in teenagers. “I enjoyed the journey of this research project,” Sophia says, “especially because I'm able to tie together my passion for dance and science and present my findings to experts in the field.”
“We're grateful for the space of independent growth that FCS provides for students, which has enabled our daughter to transform from quiet to confident during her high school years so far,” her parents said in a note to our head of school, Dr. Tricia Meyer. “Thank you again for the school's attention to students.”
Tenth-grader Jared Jackson also participated in the fair, presenting his analysis of how potholes could be avoided — a noble cause indeed!
In addition to our future Nobel Prize winners, FCS also won the logo design competition. The winning trio of Daniel Du, Matthew Du, and Melody Zhang combined their creative talents to produce the image that appeared on much of this year’s fair marketing and merchandise.
FCS is very proud of all our science fair participants! Congratulations to you all!
If any student is interested in more information about participating in the ACS&E Fair or the logo competition, please see your science teacher.
International Students Enrich Our Campus
Almost as far back as its founding in 1968, Fremont Christian has welcomed international students into its classrooms. Although much has changed over the years, our school’s commitment to hosting students from abroad continues to enhance the educational experience for every member of our student body.
FCS’s international program allows our locally based students to learn firsthand about other cultures, which both enriches their curriculum and provides the opportunity to expand their worldview. In return, international students learn about our culture while improving their English skills and receiving a quality education.
For the 2022-2023 school year, FCS is hosting 13 international students, who hail from such diverse countries as China, Hong Kong, Italy, Myanmar, and Nepal. These students have the options of taking part in a homestay, as do Alex, Junlin, and Ryan with Head of School Dr. Tricia Meyer, or to reside with their own families nearby. FCS has hosted 196 international students over the last ten years.
“I like to teach local students to dive into a different culture and compare and contrast the differences between cultures,” says Ms. Frances Lin, who teaches English language development at FCS. “In my special J-Term class, conversational Chinese, not only do we learn daily conversation that will lead to our field trip to a Chinese restaurant where we can practice ordering, we also discuss the sweetness and temperature of food that play an important role in human longevity.”
Our international students feel a strong connection to FCS, staying with us an average 3.5 years, the majority of their high school career. Although much of this is due to the high level of education they are receiving, the bonds of friendship they form also play a decisive role.
“I thought that no one was going to talk to me because of my English language skills,” says Jerry Yang, a 9th grader from China, about his arrival at FCS. “But everyone is really nice and also patient.” He goes on to say how the FCS curriculum has exposed him to new subject matters, causing him to rethink his future plans. “FCS has built in me a lot of interest in arts and music. I used to think I would become a doctor or a soldier one day, to help others. But now I want to study the arts.”
Cultural exchange programs also have the power to break down stereotypes — on both sides. “A really big misconception I had about American schools mostly came from movies that depicted high school as just a place with long hallways and bullies shoving people into lockers,” says Suwon Htut, an 11th grader from Yangon, Myanmar. “My perspective has changed entirely. I now see American schools as being quite the opposite. FCS especially has a warm, welcoming staff and student population. I was really surprised at how friendly each and every single person I’ve ever talked to has been since I arrived.”
Ms. Lin goes out of her way to make international students feel at home. “During Lunar New Year, I give away treats and money red couplets with blessings from the Bible,” she says. “Every student likes the gifts, and our international students, who are thousands of miles away from their families, feel at home and loved during those special occasions. I teach all students the true meaning of Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Easter, so they all learn to feel the joy, love, and hope these occasions bring to them.”
"We have a tiny home (1000 square feet!), but we have hosted international students since our son was in seventh grade,” says Dr. Meyer. Even with her son now away at college, she and her husband continue to host international students. “It is such a privilege to provide a second family to these young people. Our lives are enriched with an exchange of ideas and experiences born out of two very different cultural systems. We have even traveled to China, which gave us a special opportunity to experience our students’ culture.”
Dr. Meyer says she treasures her family’s close friendship with the Xu family, whose son they hosted for four years. The Xus’ son sang in choir and played soccer with Dr. Meyer’s son, Jake. The Meyers even traveled to China, where they spent time with the Xus visiting historic sites and being welcomed into their home. “We connected over our love for our children and our love for each other's children,” Dr. Meyer says. “Even several years after graduation, we are all in touch regularly. This is a lifetime connection."
If you are interested in hosting an international student, apply now to be a homestay family.
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