Lab School class leaders have big plans for college

University High School senior class president Saige Porter (left to right), student graduation speaker Jordyn Mahome and student body president Shiva Menta. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff writer

The leaders of the University High School class of 2019 are looking forward to bright futures.

Student body president Shiva Menta, who lives in southwest suburban Burr Ridge, will attend Northwestern University; senior class president Saige Porter, who lives in south suburban Matteson, will attend the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; and Jordyn Mahome, who lives in Bronzeville and is set to attend the U. of C., won the competition to give the speech at the graduation ceremony.

Menta started at Lab in seventh grade; it was bigger than his previous school but “still somewhat contained,” which he liked. “I think it’s definitely one of the parts I like the best about Lab, that I’m able to get to know everybody — not just in our grade, but also communicate thoroughly with the kids in other grades.” Heavy extracurricular involvement – student council, as a student ambassador with the Key Society, in Model United Nations and as the varsity golf team captain (he has a 10 to 13 handicap)) – has led to many interpersonal relationships.

He was class president from 8th through 11th grades before getting elected to lead the student body; he was one of four or five students to attend a January strategic planning initiative. “There were teachers and administrators, staff, faculty — all the different stakeholders in the schools,” Menta said. “It was really cool as a student to share my perspective with all these higher-ups but be able to come down to a table where everybody was on an equal playing field and sharing what they believe is happening in the school and what direction we want to look forward.”

Menta wants to see more school cohesion and enjoyed the opportunity to share students’ perspectives with faculty and administration. “I think there needs to be more of that communication to build a strong, tightly knit community,” he said. “I would say that’s the direction we need to go: to have a strong process for making sure everyone’s voices are included, to ensue that whatever initiatives that are being pushed throughout the school are actually successful and there are fewer conflicts.”

At Northwestern, Menta is signed up to major in economics. “I started investing in the stock market in eighth grade. I wasn’t entirely successful,” he said. “I know it’s not necessarily the best thing, but money kind of makes the world go around, and that’s something that I’ve always understood.” Though Northwestern does not have an undergraduate business program, he hopes to take classes at the Kellogg School of Management. He looks forward to studying alongside his sister, who is also in Evanston, and to the Wildcats’ school spirit.

Porter, who is also in Key Society and the Diversity Advising Council, said her biggest accomplishment on student council has been driving up seniors’ attendance at the events she has planned. “There was this one time in December — it was like freezing, so cold — and it was a three-hour event,” she remembered. “I felt like people would get pizza, cook a marshmallow, get some cocoa and leave, and there were people still there the entire three hours, when it was pitch black and freezing. My fingers were about to fall off.”

“And I just really admired that, that you could bring people together that much,” Porter said. At a school like Lab, where some students started in elementary school and others arrived only in ninth grade, cliques can form. “For people to come together, still in their friend groups, and intermingle, that was really cool to me, that we could do that, said Porter.

A desire to bring a different perspective to Lab and its student council as a Black woman drove Porter, who started at University High, to seek her office. “Compared with other schools, our school is very diverse, but it’s still predominantly White,” she said. Before getting on student council, Porter, who also leads the Black Student Association, often found herself advocating for other Black students. “I couldn’t imagine how disgusting it must feel to have to struggle in an environment that’s already hard educationally,” she said. “When I have an opinion, I’m not afraid to say it.”

Mahome agreed. “I think that students at Lab as a whole tend to think, ‘Oh, we’re leaders of the future. There’s no racism here!’ And they get so stuck in that mindset that people think that it’s impossible for themselves to act in a discriminatory way, which is just not true,” she said. “There’s a sort of unwillingness, I think at Lab, to recognize that it could or has been you, at some point, who is harming someone else.”

Nevertheless, Porter said that Lab is very good at discussing race and identity in general, which she appreciates and applauds — especially after her experience at her last school. “Being in an oppressive environment at a Catholic school, where it was just White and Black with all White female teachers and uniforms, I have seen the difference in the two extremes,” Porter said. And Lab, where she said students freely discuss race, sex and religion, “has done a very good job, but it could always be better.”

With family in Detroit, Porter grew up in a family of Wolverine fans. “I like the rah-rah atmosphere; I like the spirit,” she said of the U. of M. “Even though it stresses me out because it’s bigger — I’ve never been to a large school — there’s so many opportunities that it blows your mind.” She is a declared Biology, Health and Society major and plans to apply to its School of Public Health her sophomore year; she is interested in living and working in underdeveloped regions, “anywhere that needs the most attention.”

Judges chose Mahome’s speech in a blind competition. “I’m just going to talk about the memories that most remind me of this class and what makes our class most unique,” she said. “I didn’t want to make it general about Lab: I wanted it to be more specific about our class.”

Mahome, who is also a member of the Black Student Association, has gone to the Lab Schools for her entire academic career. Though she thought of going to California during her college choice process, she was ultimately glad to pick the U. of C. “It’s the environment I like to be around, where people can have deep discussions,” she said. She is interested in studying chemistry and Law, Letters and Society, a program focused on the cross-historical analysis of civilian and customary legal systems, and public policy, in which she is currently taking a class.

Mahome’s experience on Lab’s debate team inspired her interest in jurisprudence, but she is also a fan of chemistry’s procedural lab work. “The process of doing it is just fun for me,” she said. “The approach that you take, that it’s more hands-on and hands-off, and you can observe all the rules you learn in action when you do labs.”

a.gettinger@hpherald.com