She’s up to the task

Published 9:52 am Friday, June 5, 2009

The transition from high school life — friends, activities, dependence on family — to college can be overwhelming for some students. Sijin Ojullu, 17, is up to the task.

“I’m looking forward to the future, and that really overrides the sadness,” the Austin High School senior said Thursday. “Last year I really prepared myself for this year — mentally and emotionally. I think I’m just going to miss the friend aspect.”

Classmates and teachers in Austin have been a large part of Ojullu’s life since she moved here in third grade from Worthington, Minn. Prior to that, she lived in Texas.

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Ojullu immigrated with her family from Sudan, Africa when she was about 4 years old as a war refugee. She said she recalls little about the move but has seen videos and heard stories.

Today, she lives with her mother, Martha Oman, in Austin.

She has four brothers.

Although she has plans to “take it easy” this summer, Ojullu’s schedule has been full throughout high school. A top student, she was active in the music department, mock trial, various sports, Knowledge Bowl and many other extracurriculars. She’s also been involved in music and youth group at Faith Evangelical Free Church.

“I think that the more things you are in, the more opportunities you open up for yourself,” she said. “My life is pretty much engulfed in school.”

Music, however, is one of her biggest interests. A flute and piccolo student, she particularly enjoyed spending time in that environment and with teacher Brian Johnson.

“I really enjoy the music department when I was there,” Ojullu said. “It was pretty much like my family. Mr. Johnson’s just a phenomenal teacher.”

Ojullu’s other passion is political science, which she became involved with in mock trial and will major in during college. Teachers Rayce Hardy and Jeff Anderson, a former state representative in the Minnesota House, provided guidance and inspiration at AHS. Ojullu has also talked with Rep. Jeanne Poppe of Austin about a possible internship.

“I just feel like you can really make a change anywhere you go,” she said of politics. “I feel like you can make a change in people’s lives.”

Ojullu will begin college at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities this fall. She will live on campus, home to more than 40,000 undergraduates.

“It’s a lot different than Austin,” she said of the metro area. “I’m just ready to meet new people. I kind of want to travel, but right now I want to get the basic educational skills down.”

The skyrocketing price of tuition at the U of M and being in the middle of a recession have not deterred Ojullu from her future goals.

She is one of three Austin High School students to receive the prestigious $20,000 Horatio Alger Hormel State Scholarship, in addition to other smaller scholarships.

“I think the financial part will even out in the end,” she said. “The university I’m going to offers a lot of (on campus) job opportunities for people.”

Ojullu said most students she knows want to attend college, but the type of higher education they pursue at this time might be different than before.

“I don’t really think money was really a factor with my friends, but I know a lot of kids were going to college at Riverland Community College,” she said. “I think everyone’s just trying to be smart about it.”

As her excitement builds about moving on with her life and into a different community and school, Ojullu isn’t without some fears. She performed high on placement tests for some of her courses at the U, so she knows there will be some challenging classes.

“I’m just a little afraid of the classes,” she admitted, adding, “I want to be challenged academically.”

Before she crosses the stage for her diploma tonight at commencement, Ojullu has some words for the wise.

“I think people take it for granted a lot,” she said of the high school experience.

And, she added with a laugh, “Don’t procrastinate. Just don’t do it.”