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South Eugene High Grads Talk Diversity, Future Plans

Black students made up only 2.4 percent of the student body population at South Eugene High School at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. Five young African-American women will graduate from South on June 5, and EW caught up with three of them to discuss their plans for the future, their quests for diversity and their advice for young women of color growing up in Eugene.

Lena Schulz, Mati Chikawa and Maya Agapito (Left to right).
Photo Credit left: Rachel Monninger. center/right: Vince Radostitz – JVRSpirits.com

Mati Chikawa and her family moved to Eugene from Zimbabwe when she was 3 years old. She’s a hip-hop dancer and aspiring doctor. 

“My big passion is Doctors without Borders,” she says, adding that she wrote her senior paper on malnutrition in Africa. “It’s something I have a big heart for. People deserve to have food, a home and easy access to hospitals.”

She’s attending Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, next fall, where she’ll major in biology with a pre-med option, and she says she’s excited to experience the culture of the women’s college. Spelman is a historically black college, and Chikawa says she’s looking forward to seeing diversity that’s lacking in Eugene’s predominantly white schools. 

Chikawa’s classmate, Maya Agapito, is headed for Virginia Commonwealth University next school year, where she plans to study art. In April, she won a gold medal in the painting category during the NAACP Eugene Springfield ACT-SO (Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics) competition, a yearlong enrichment program, and she says she’s explored various art mediums throughout high school. She’s also a secretary for the local chapter of the NAACP. 

At Virginia Commonwealth, Agapito says, “I want to try animation and media.” She says she chose the college because it’s the number four arts school in the country, and “it’s super diverse, especially compared to here. I think it will give me a lot of choices.”

Another classmate, Lena Schulz, says she’s excited to start at Loyola University Maryland next fall. During high school, she volunteered at Sacred Heart RiverBend and took a 10-week trip to Ghana to volunteer in an orphanage. 

She says she recently began considering political science as a major and may pursue a law degree after her undergraduate studies. 

All three girls grew up in Eugene, and Schulz says she encourages young women of color to explore their communities. “Growing up, I was usually one of the only African-American people in the entire school, especially when I was younger,” she says. 

“It didn’t stop me from making a lot of friends, but it’s important to branch out. I think it’s also important to reach outside of Oregon — I really wanted to go to the East Coast in search of the diversity that’s missing here.”

Chikawa says it’s important for young women of color in Eugene to embrace their differences. “Don’t try to fit in,” she says. “Just be yourself and do what makes you happy, not what people in our society think you should do. It’s OK to be different and it’s OK to be with people like yourself. A lot of times we try to blend in, and I think you need to be your own person.”

SEHS’s graduation ceremony is 7 pm Friday, June 5, at the Hult Center.