Turning the tassels: Rock Bridge

At Rock Bridge, student speakers prepare to inspire peers
Friday, June 1, 2007 | 12:02 a.m. CDT; updated 3:35 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nuzhat Chowdhury is waiting to see how her parents react when she stands at the podium at Rock Bridge High School’s graduation ceremony on Saturday.

“I didn’t tell my parents (that I was selected to speak),” she said. “I have no idea what their reaction will be.”


Rock Bridge High School graduation will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena.

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Eman Abdelhadi, Clay Minchew and Chowdhury were chosen by a student committee several weeks ago to speak at the graduation. The committee heard interested students read their speeches before making the final selection.

This week was “senior week” ­­­— a week free of classes and full of special events for seniors at Rock Bridge, and Minchew has been enjoying the experience. Walking near Peace Park, he starts to laugh as he describes how seniors participated in the unofficial tradition of throwing water balloons at underclassman at an assembly on Tuesday.

“People had (water balloons) in their pockets and wrapped up in their shirts underneath their robes,” he said.

Minchew, a three-year varsity football player, is the only one of his friends who tried out to be a speaker.

“My friends ask, ‘Why are you doing it?’” he said. “It’s not something I would normally do, but people I talk to think it’s cool.”

As Abdelhadi, an editor for the school newspaper The Rock, and Chowdhury, founder of the Harry Potter fan club “The Portkey,” sit at Panera Bread, it is obvious that they are old friends. After meeting in a seventh grade French class, the two girls found they had more in common than school.

“I realized, haven’t I seen you at the mosque?” Adbelhadi said, remembering the moment she discovered that her new friend shared her Muslim faith.

Although both girls say being Muslim has affected their experiences at Rock Bridge, Abdelhadi feels that because she wears a hijab, the religious head scarf worm by some Muslim women, she stands out more among her peers.

“I am very vocal about Islam,” she said. “Because I choose to wear the hijab, I am seen as a spokesperson in a way. It defines you, even if you don’t want it to. But I don’t mind.”

Abdelhadi said that her speech is centered around her experience at Rock Bridge.

“I love Rock Bridge,” she said. “I learned that you are defined by your contributions to the community. You have all these different groups of kids, but its all their accomplishments together that make the school what it is. I have a lot of Bruin pride.”

Chowdhury found writing the speech came easily.

“It’s all a metaphor about how life is like an unwritten novel,” she said.

Saturday will be Minchew’s first experience sharing his poetry.

During his speech, Minchew will read his poem “Life is short, life is sweet.” He was inspired to write the poem after attending the funeral of classmate Paige Siddall, who died in a car accident in November.

“I thought about what they would say if that happened to me,” said Minchew, who urges his fellow students to live each day to the fullest.

Minchew has written several poems, and writing runs in his family. Before she died, Minchew’s grandmother wrote a poem to help her family cope, which she put in a drawer with her will. Minchew will also read her poem, “Rainbows follow the rain,” during his speech.

Next year, Minchew plans to attend Missouri Western, majoring in construction engineering and playing football. Abdelhadi and Chowdhury will both attend MU, with Abdelhadi majoring in political science and journalism and Chowdhury majoring in political science and international affairs.

But for now, the students are focused on Saturday’s ceremony.

“It will be our very last time together,” said Chowdhury. “I hope everyone is united by what we say.”

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