Already accepted at an Ivy League school and with one of the most impressive academic resumes imaginable, Rosie Zhou could be forgiven for coasting to the finish line.
No chance, she said last month.
“I still have some AP tests to take,” said Zhou, whose ambitions stretched far beyond Ferris High School even before she was accepted at Columbia to study political science.
The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Zhou grew up speaking Mandarin Chinese, but also is fluent in Spanish.
“I believe that learning languages not only expands my own worldview, knowledge and cultural awareness, it is also a wonderful way to help others in my community,” said Zhou, who was named the top honoree in World Languages this year by the Spokane Scholars Foundation.
She also had top scores in three Advanced Placement tests and carried a perfect grade-point average, yet managed to find a way to make a difference for others.
During last year’s presidential election, Zhou was only 17 and too young to vote. But she noticed that many older classmates were taking their rights for granted.
“They don’t think their vote matters, and I wanted to help change that mindset,” said Zhou, who worked with other teens in Spokane Youth Votes, a group affiliated with the League of Women Voters. She also helped register voters in the city’s Mandarin community.
Zhou also volunteers with the Sunrise Movement of Spokane, a youth group dedicated to raising awareness about climate change.
“Getting involved with Sunrise helped me become more involved locally and give me a new sense of identity,” Zhou said.
Earlier this year, Zhou was profoundly affected by a rise in attacks on Asian Americans, especially the deaths of six people in a spa in Atlanta on March 16.
Immediately, Zhou and others worked to organize a vigil in Spokane.
“We felt like we needed some healing,” Zhou said of the event, which drew 400 people to Riverfront Park on March 20.
“Rosie is a true young scholar and community servant who leads with humility and grace,” social studies teacher Scott Ward said.
Zhou also showed self-discipline during the limitations of the pandemic.
“I just had to make the best of the situation,” Zhou said. “I really had to stay up to date with class and engage – not just turn the camera off but be actively asking questions.”
Her AP Spanish teacher, Tamara Gower, rose to the occasion by assigning poems and other readings.
“I have to say that I definitely got a lot of help from all my great teachers – they are all so encouraging,” said Zhou, who also drew strength from an older brother, and her parents: father Duanning, mother Ping Ping.
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