The Blackhawks flew so low, he could feel the wind from the chopper blades as they went by. Then he watched in awe as air assault trainees jumped into the Hudson River.
That was just part of Jarrod Broussard’s introduction to life at West Point that cemented his decision to complete the application. The Summer Leaders Experience last year was a chance for prospective cadets like Jarrod to get a taste of what going to college at the U.S. Military Academy is like. He was one of 1,000 high school juniors selected for the opportunity out of 6,000 who applied.
During the experience, Jarrod stayed in a West Point dorm, met current cadets, took part in various military trainings, played intramural sports, and took sample classes with professors.
“I genuinely did not want to leave at the end of the week,” Jarrod said. “It was scary to walk away and think, ‘Gosh, I hope I get the chance to come back here.’”
Jarrod’s eagerness to attend West Point is surprising when one considers that the academy wouldn’t have crossed Jarrod’s radar in the college selection process if not for a survey he took as an 8th grader at Southside Middle School. The questions focused on students’ interests and strengths. West Point was on the list of colleges the survey results suggested he consider, but he really didn’t know much about it or what it had to offer.
It was only later, when Jarrod did some research and thought about it through his freshman and sophomore years at Memorial High School, that he figured applying to West Point could be a real possibility.
“I knew I liked sciences, engineering and math,” Jarrod said. “Those programs are really strong at West Point.”
But applying to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point is no simple task. While there are traditional elements to the process – submitting SAT scores, writing an essay, gathering letters of recommendation – there are additional requirements, including securing a nomination from a member of the applicant’s Congressional delegation.
“Requesting a nomination to a military academy from your senators or U.S. representative essentially means submitting a mini application,” Jarrod said.
Staff from the offices of Senators Shaheen and Ayotte and Representative Guinta interviewed Jarrod separately in the final step of the nomination process. While only one congressional nomination is required, Jarrod received nominations from all three.
Another part of the West Point application for admission is a physical test, which was administered by Memorial’s phys ed teacher. Jarrod knew what he was in for because he took the test during his visit last summer.
“The physical portion intimidated me the most,” he said. “I watched guys do 20 pull-ups while I struggled to do two or three. Other guys crushed the mile run when I was feeling sick to my stomach at the end.”
Still, Jarrod says the physical demands of being a cadet doesn’t keep him from wanting to attend West Point.
“It’s part of the experience. When you choose West Point, everything about you will be challenged. That will just my toughest challenge.”
Jarrod passed the physical test on the second try.
Once his full application had been submitted, like every other college applicant, Jarrod waited to hear if he would be accepted. Word came one evening in March.
“I got in the car after hockey practice and saw I had three missed calls,” he said.
One right after the other, voicemails from the offices of Shaheen, Ayotte and Guinta congratulated him on his admission to West Point.
“I couldn’t help tearing up,” Jarrod said. “It was a great moment, and you don’t get to feel that all the time.”
An important part of Jarrod’s life that shapes his perspective is martial arts, which he’s practiced for 11 years. He calls his instructor at Granite State Kenpo in Hudson the most consistently positive role model who has taught him so much as a person, including self-esteem, pride, self-control, and respect for others. Jarrod is a black belt.
“I can’t think of the person I’d be without it,” he said.
At Memorial, Jarrod plays the euphonium – “Think of it as a baby tuba” – for a fun, creative activity, but he admires his fellow student musicians with more serious talent.
“Kids who are top tier in music are amazing.”
He also plays hockey. This year he was the starting goalie, and while they didn’t get as far as they wanted in the playoffs, he’s proud of the Crusaders’ season.
Jarrod reports to West Point on June 27 where he’ll start basic training before the academic year begins.
“I teeter every day between ‘I can’t wait to get there’ and ‘What have I gotten into?’” Jarrod said. “But I know it’s the best place for me. It’s the right choice.”
Nermin Hasanovic will graduate from West High School with one of Manchester School District’s first-ever seals of multi-literacy. It’s a distinction that recognizes students’ proficiency in English and at least one other world language. For Nermin, those languages are Spanish and his first language, Bosnian.
Nermin came to New Hampshire from Bosnia as a young child in 2000 with a story familiar to so many in our city.
“Civil war eliminated economic opportunities for my family,” he said. “My uncle had moved here, so my parents followed.”
Sixteen years later, Nermin’s school transcript reads like any other well-rounded, scholastic and extra-curricular high achiever at an American high school.
“It’s hard to capture what a special student this young man is,” said Linda Thompson, Nermin’s Spanish teacher. “He is a truly unique and talented individual who is capable of great success.”
It was Senora Thompson who encouraged Nermin to apply for the school district’s multi-literacy award, which was designed to acknowledge the rich cultural and linguistic assets of Manchester’s students. He finished Spanish 5 at West and says he will continue with that language in college and also try German. Languages seem to come easily for Nermin, who sees their commonalities and recognizes the advantages being multi-lingual can have in the workforce. For students who receive a seal of multi-literacy award, it is an official verification of their fluency.
Nermin has challenged himself academically in other aspects during his four years at West. As a sophomore, he took honors chemistry, a course normally taken by juniors. He’s taken all three AP science classes (“I doubled up every year in science.”), and this year he was a lab assistant to chemistry teacher Cornelia Reisman, a teacher Nermin says helped influence his interest in science by balancing textbook information with engaging and innovative lab experiments.
Nermin didn’t stop when the school year ended, enrolling in various programs every summer, including UNH Project SMART and St. Paul's Advanced Studies Program.
“I like when I’m busy and productive,” he said. “I wanted more experience beyond the high school classes I was taking.”
There will be no summer school after graduation, however. Nermin is letting himself take a break and relax before heading to Harvard University, where he will study molecular and cellular biology.
“UNH gave me an inside look at what professors and scientists do,” Nermin said. “I love research. It’s fun to discover new things.”
His enjoyment for learning carried over into his role as president of West High School’s National Honor Society chapter. He developed the idea for SPRITZ, a day of free mini classes taught by NHS students on a Saturday in May. SPRITZ offered more than 40 fun courses in a variety of academic and creative subjects for students of all ages in the community to try out things they don’t experience in their classes at school every day.
The arts are just as important to Nermin as academics. He’s taken lessons at Manchester Community Music School for seven years, playing piano and violin. Nermin is a member of the West High School jazz ensemble and chamber orchestra, as well as the community music school’s NH Youth Symphony.
He also performed in eight productions over his four years with the West High School Theatre Knights, one of the most decorated youth theater troupes in New Hampshire.
“Aria da Capo was a favorite one act play we did,” Nermin said. “It was very musical, and I got to do some recorded music for it.”
His interest in the arts won’t end with high school. He plans to check out the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra and theatre opportunities when he gets to Cambridge.
As the first in his family to attend college, Nermin says he’s prepared to handle the rigor of higher education.
“I understand what my parents wanted for me. I’m always doing the best I can.”
Ali Long was already focused on a career track when it came time to enter high school. With an interest in health sciences, she chose to attend Manchester School of Technology for the program that would help her learn skills related to health professions.
“Then I took a video production class and said, ‘I want to do that!’” Ali said.
Adjusting her focus was as simple as that. And when she took an elective photography class under the instruction of a professional photographer sophomore year, she knew she’d really found her niche.
“I love taking pictures,” she said. “I’ve actually done three weddings for people I know.”
Like the photography teacher, the majority of MST teachers are experts in their fields with career backgrounds in the areas they have come to teach. They become mentors and advisors to the students pursuing an education in that career.
“It’s really hard for me to choose which teacher has been the most positive influence,” Ali said, before naming digital media production teacher Melissa Brayall as a big part of her school experience at MST. “Working together in small groups makes all of us close, and the dynamic with our teachers here is a little different than in a traditional high school.”
Brayall calls Ali is one of the kindest, most creative students she's ever had the pleasure to work with.
"She is self-motivated and hard working, two traits necessary for long-term success," she said. "Every picture Ali takes is well framed and truly tells a story. I expect her to excel in college."
Ali had completed enough credits to graduate after her junior year, but she decided to stay one more year and stick with MST High School’s very first graduating class. Having the flexibility in her schedule as a senior meant she could take the academic classes she really wanted to, including two courses – honors expository writing and intro to psychology – at Nashua Community College. Ali will bring those seven credits with her to Southern New Hampshire University in the fall. She’ll major in graphic design and media arts.
As for making that choice to attend MST instead of her neighborhood high school? Ali wouldn’t change a thing.
“I came here for the opportunities to try new things, and I really like being part of a small class where I can get to know everyone,” she said.
Principal Karen Hannigan Machado says that what MST offers can be a great fit for students looking for different ways to express themselves.
“Kids like Ali who have artistic abilities can incorporate those talents into their learning every day,” she said. “The project-based learning that all of our classes focus on means kids can create and add something they love into what they’re doing.”
But don’t assume MST students don’t have a lot of the same experiences as their peers at the other city high schools. Ali served on the yearbook staff and designed this year's cover, was a class officer, and is a member of the National Honor Society. The Class of 2016 also hosted a prom.
“I would tell eighth graders who are even slightly interested in MST to give it a shot.”
The car accident that severely injured Zainab Salih’s father was the best and worst thing that has ever happened to her. She was in third grade at the time, first at Smyth Road Elementary School, then Weston Elementary, after the family moved to a wheelchair-accessible house for her dad to heal. Immediately after the crash, her father was in a coma at a hospital more than an hour away from Manchester. For three months.
Life as Zainab knew it had changed dramatically. Understandably, her mother concentrated on caring for him in the hospital and at home on his long road to recovery. In some respects, Zainab felt like she was coping with everything on her own.
“I always enjoyed school,” said Zainab, a Central High School senior. “But during that time, I couldn’t focus on anything in class.”
Eventually, the stress became too much for a little girl to a bear, and Zainab describes the day months of emotions flooded out of her while she cried at her desk over a test she was unprepared to take.
“I told my teacher I didn’t know how to do it, and I couldn’t stop crying.”
Zainab met her school guidance counselor that day. After talking to her, Zainab says she felt relieved. It was the start of getting back on track in school and – as her father’s health continued to improve – at home.
Looking back on that experience, Zainab says it’s the reason she wants to be a psychologist.
“I want to be the person a kid or anyone can talk to for support.”
That’s why Zainab sees the silver lining in the trauma that nearly took her father’s life.
“It opened my eyes to knowing what I wanted at a young age. Now I’m setting my goals and pursuing it.”
Indeed, Zainab seems to have found her passion in connecting with people. She works part time at Mount Carmel Nursing Home as a dietary aide. But she doesn’t simply perform her duties and clock out.
“Not all of the patients have family who visit,” Zainab said. “So I had dinner with four ladies on Easter. I loved talking to them, and I discovered I had things in common with each one of them.”
Zainab will attend Thomas College in the fall. In deciding which school to attend, she says she wanted a small school and was impressed by what she saw at the Waterville, Maine, campus when she visited.
“I love one-on-one learning, and the professors there can provide that.”
Zainab says she’s ready for college, and her parents support her decision to attend a school more than a couple hours’ drive away.
“My mom told me a story about how she decided on the college she went to. My grandfather asked her, ‘Where do you feel most at home?’ When we toured Thomas, my mom asked me if I felt at home. I remembered her story, and realized that I really did feel at home there.”
Small town Maine might seem an unlikely choice for a girl who was born in Egypt and arrived in Manchester in 2000 as a toddler. Arabic is the family’s first language. Zainab’s older sister was 15 back then and learned to speak English at Central High School. She’s now a registered nurse and a married mother of two.
“My sister inspires me,” Zainab said. “I’ve learned a lot from her struggles, and she gives great advice.”
Zainab also credits teachers and other mentors for helping her grow into the confident young woman she is today.
“Guidance counselors are my saviors,” she said. “I’ve learned ways to cope with stress and have fun. Life is easy if you want it to be easy.”