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Country Day’s French, Wilson took different paths

Editor’s note: We asked officials at our local high schools to identify two seniors who are good representatives of the Class of 2010. Next week we will feature La Jolla High’s selections.

BY EMILY DeRUY

Contributor

La Jolla Country Day School senior Ryan French lives and breathes sports. He has played on three varsity teams in high school, namely soccer, water polo, and track and field. Accruing a host of titles throughout his high school career, Ryan has been named Most Valuable Player and Most Improved Player for varsity water polo. He has also played junior varsity tennis, and last year he formed a ping-pong club at school because none existed and he thought his classmates might enjoy it. This year, he took up Ultimate Frisbee, helping the team win the league championships.

No matter what else his life involves, Ryan is certain of one thing: He’s got to be active at all times — even better if he can channel that athletic energy into a team activity. “I grew up playing sports,” he said. “Soccer, baseball, basketball ... I fell in love with it. I was engulfed in sports. I wanted to keep it going, so every single semester, I’ve played on a team.”

Why have organized sports played such a prominent role in Ryan’s life? “I love the relationships you build with a team,” the senior said. “And it’s a great way to stay fit.” He also likes the uncertainty and the thrill of trying something new.

“Picking up a new sport is always a challenge, but I like giving it a shot.”

His impressive athletic background and natural talent belie the fact that he works at it — a lot.

As a freshman, the water polo program was in its infancy, and Ryan had never played. By senior year, he had gleaned enough experience to captain his team to the first league championship in the history of the school. The go-getter attitude Ryan applies to sports has filtered into other facets of his life as well. When he and some friends formed a band, he played guitar. However, when they found themselves lacking a drummer, Ryan saw a simple solution. He took up the drums — problem solved.

Ryan approaches new experiences with confidence and exuberance, and his peers and teachers notice. His classmates voted him onto the Ethics Council for all but one year of high school, and faculty members nominated him to be a peer leader, which involves mentoring a group of freshmen.

“I can bond better with people because of sports. I’m able to communicate,” he said.

Ryan is adamant that after he graduates, he will continue his involvement in sports. So which sport is the multitalented student most interested in pursuing at the collegiate level? “Soccer is my favorite,” he said. “I’ve been playing it the longest.”

In the fall, Ryan will attend Loyola Marymount University, where he plans to try to walk on to the Division III team. If that doesn’t pan out, he’ll join one of the club teams.

Jessica Wilson

Jessica Wilson, who exudes confidence and warmth, is an avid community service volunteer who moved from her native Egypt to the United States in 1999 and began attending La Jolla Country Day as a freshman. It was during her admissions interview with the Community Service Board director that she became interested in volunteering.

“I wasn’t that involved in it during middle school, but when I looked around her office, I saw all of the volunteering opportunities and I wanted to be a part of it,” Jessica said.

And become a part of it she did. Over the course of her career at Country Day, Jessica has served as president of numerous organizations, including Teens Responding to AIDS with Care and Education and the Student Diversity Leadership Club. She was named California Ambassador for the American Cancer Society, and interned with WorldLink, where she joined other San Diego and Baja California students in developing a magazine focused on religious conflicts and xenophobia.

Attending a Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Boston during her sophomore year proved pivotal to the teen.

“It really opened my eyes to what’s out there,” she said. “I created the Diversity Club after that, and it ended up being the biggest club on campus.”

She says it’s her greatest accomplishment at Country Day. “Before, the school never really discussed diversity, but now, the faculty are really into it. We have the Diversity Assembly, and students say it’s the best one all year.”

She has successfully founded student organizations, and her peers have elected her class president the last three years running. But it hasn’t always been easy for Jessica.

“The school has opened lots of doors for me, presented lots of opportunities. But freshman year, everyone’s trying to make a name for themselves on campus, the students are so smart, they’re always pushing you ... at first I couldn’t do it.”

One of the things that helped Jessica carve a niche for herself was looking beyond her own situation. She’s always searching for ways to relate to others, a skill she’s perfected not just at school but in her community service endeavors, as well. In her freshman year, she began tutoring refugees from Sudan.

“At first, I was uncomfortable with them being older than me,” Jessica said. “Then I found a way to relate. We both spoke Arabic, and I loved it!”

Nicknamed Oprah by fellow classmates for her willingness to listen with openness and compassion, Jessica plans to continue honing those skills in the fall at Tufts University in Boston.

“They’re all about civic duty and civic responsibility,” she said. Jessica intends to study international relations and Middle Eastern studies, as well as diplomacy and peace and justice studies.