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Washington Voices

Overseas aim inspires grad from Cheney

Cheney senior Sarah Oakes plans to study political science and international affairs at the University of Washington.
Cheney senior Sarah Oakes plans to study political science and international affairs at the University of Washington.

Sitting and talking to Sarah Oakes, 17, of Cheney High School, you notice she is engaging and smart, quick with a smile and excited about her future.

What you might not notice, or forget about, is that she has a prosthetic leg.

“I forget that I have a prosthetic leg and all my friends tell me they forget, too,” she said.

She was born without a fibula and had her left leg removed above the knee when she was 1 1/2.

In the years since her surgery, her mother, Johanna, said she remembered worrying that her daughter wouldn’t be able to do the same things her friends could.

“I run slower, but that’s about it,” Oakes said.

But she does get to do all the things her friends do. As a flute player, she’s a member of the Cheney High School marching band. She’s in Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America, and she’s a student representative on the district’s school board.

In FBLA, she loves the competitions. This year, Oakes had four projects she presented in competition. She enjoys the relationships she’s formed over the years with her teammates.

“We kind of all just work together on everything,” she said.

In Honor Society, she and her other students are championing the special education students of the school. During her work with the school board, Oakes traveled to Olympia to participate in the Washington State School Directors’ Association’s legislative conference.

Next year, she plans to attend the University of Washington. She wants to study political science and international affairs, paired with Farsi or another Arabic language. She would love to be a Foreign Service officer or ambassador.

“I like Middle Eastern culture,” she said.

Like many seniors getting ready to graduate, she’s very busy, often forced to skip family events with her mother, her father, Reid; her 15-year-old brother Paul; and their dogs, Solo and Loki.

School counselor Lilia Ko said the first thing she noticed about Oakes was her constant smile and positive attitude.

“It’s so much easier to work when you don’t focus on the negatives,” Oakes said. In one of her essays to apply for college, she wrote about doing great things with her life.

“I don’t want to be defined as someone doing great things despite of my disability,” she said.

She just wants to do great things.