Oak Harbor's tops in their class
July 3, 2008 · Updated 1:38 PM
"They offer hope for the future of American society, city leaders say. In this day and age of school shootings, gangs, drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy and disease, it is hard for many to imagine that there is a bright future ahead for today's young people.There are youths out there that leaders say are actually restoring their faith in humanity. And a bunch of them are right here in Oak Harbor.The Rotary Club of Oak Harbor on May 10 honored the top 50 graduating seniors at Oak Harbor High School with an awards banquet. The students are ranked by academic performance, that is grade point average, and assigned a class ranking. With the class of 2001 consisting of more than 425 students, being in the top 50 represents quite an achievement.While congratulations are in order for all graduating seniors, the top 5 students are representative of the best and the brightest of Oak Harbor. Three of the top five are tied for first in class ranking, and two more occupy positions second and third. All five students are the top 1 percent of their graduating class.Aziel EpilepsiaTied for first in class with 4.0 grade point averageIt comes as no surprise when Epilepsia says he doesn't have much time to hang out with friends. Less than two weeks away from his 18th birthday, Epilepsia maintains a schedule that can tire out the average adult just by hearing about it.He is always in school by about 6:30 a.m., practicing his saxophone with the jazz band. Playing the sax is one of his passions, punctuated by the fact that Epilepsia worked two jobs last summer, saved up $3,000, and spent it all on his prized Dave Guardala black sax.But playing the sax for the past six years is just one of Epilepsia's extracurricular activities. He was on the varsity tennis team for two years and the varsity swim team for two years. Epilepsia also runs and lifts weights.Three days a week for three hours each day Epilepsia tutors other high school students in math subjects, up to calculus. He has taken all the advance placement classes and he speaks Japanese. In addition he maintains a part-time job.How does he do it?I have a high tolerance for stress, Epilepsia said.In the fall, Epilepsia will begin to attend the University of Washington in the honors program, where he was awarded a scholarship. The university has accepted him into the engineering program as a freshman. Normally a student isn't eligible to enroll in the engineering program until their junior year in college, and then they have to apply for it, Epilepsia said.It apparently pays off to maintain a 4.0 grade point average and to score 1460 on the SATs.Epilepsia said he plans to pursue master's and doctorate's degrees in nanotechnology, which is engineering using miscroscopic robots.Epilepsia is the oldest child of Efren and Cionette Epilepsia, a retired U.S. Navy master chief and a registered nurse, respectively. He has two sisters and a brother, Athena, 15; Avram, 14; and Alyssa, 4.Epilepsia recognizes that he has set an impressive example for his siblings to follow.There is a huge precedent set for them, he said.Epilepsia has an apparent soft spot for his baby-sister, Alyssa.I take her everywhere, he said. She is so cute.Indeed there may be advantages to a guy having a baby-sister.Said Epilepsia: I'll bring her to college with me to pick up girls he joked. They like babies.Jessica JewellTied for first in class with 4.0 grade point averageJewell has known all her life that she wants to become a veterinarian. This fall she will be on her way to attaining that goal, with enrollment in Gonzaga University's pre-veterinary medicine program.But Jewell hopes to make her veterinary career a different experience, she said. She'd like to specialize in exotic animals.Jewell has extended family living in San Diego, and her family has gone on many trips to visit the southern California city. The San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park are two of Jewell's favorite places, and her visits there have inspired her to want to become a doctor for tigers and polar bears and the like.But if I end up just working with dogs and cats, I won't be disappointed, Jewell said.In preparation for the pre-veterinary program, Jewell has studied most of the science courses offered at the high school, including sports medicine. Her 4.0 grade point average was achieved in a succession of advanced placement classes.Jewell credits her family with her success.My parents, undoubtedly, have been a driving force, she said. In addition, Jewell has three sisters and one brother. Strong family bonds have provided a secure environment, enabling her to succeed.We've never been a family that fought - the siblings get along, she said.Jewell is the daughter of Gregory and Claire Jewell. Her dad is a civilian simulator instructor at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, and her mother is a graduate of the U.S Naval Academy, who chose to end her naval career and be at home for her children, Jewell said. Jewell's siblings include Kristin, 19, who is majoring in secondary education at Gonzaga; Heather, 15; Erin, 12; and Paul 10.One of Jewell's favorite activities is going for long walks with her family, or with Chin-Le, the family's Chow Chow dog.Part of Jewell's lifelong interest in animals included horseback riding.Between sixth grade and eighth grade I had an obsession with horseback riding, she said. Jewell read book after book about riding.I became essentially an expert without ever having done it, she said. When she finally had the chance to ride a horse she knew exactly what to do, from saddling to bridling. The other young people she was with that day couldn't believe that she'd never been on a horse before.But this sort of determination seems to be part of Jewell's character. Whenever she has decided she has wanted to do something, she has succeeded.This attitude is reflected in her advice to younger students: You have to be determined to do things. Don't let frustration or failure get in your way. Don't give up.Audra MendelsohnTied for first in class with 4.0 grade point averageDr. Mendelsohn is the way Mendelsohn hopes to be addressed someday.Mendelsohn has amassed about $13,000 in scholarships, but she is going to save that for a while by starting out at Skagit Valley College, studying nursing. She said she then hopes to transfer to the University of Washington to study pre-medicine and medicine, to become an obstetrician.Mendelsohn has spent her four years at Oak Harbor High School in the Navy Junior ROTC program. She originally joined NJROTC because she had an interest in the military, but stayed in the program even after she realized she did not want to pursue a military career.Mendelsohn said NJROTC helped her get over her natural shyness.I'm not as shy as I used to be. I'm a more positive person, she said. Mendelsohn credits the NJROTC program and instructors for instilling in her leadership skills, responsibility, self-discipline and organization. In addition, she is learning flexibility, she said.Mendelsohn joined the NJROTC drill team during her freshman year, and the other students on the team have become like family to her, she said. She's been on the drill team all four years.I love the drill team, she said.Mendelsohn is the daughter of Jeff and Laureen Mendelsohn, and is one of five children. Her dad is a U.S. Navy sonar technician and her mom is a homemaker who also cares for the family's farm animals. Mendelsohn is exactly the middle child, with two older and two younger siblings.For fun Mendelsohn likes to play the flute, draw, and spend time with animals. She and her friends hang out and watch movies, go bowling or go hiking.Steve Marshall is a retired U.S. Navy master chief and has instructed Mendolsohn in NJROTC all four years of her high school career. Marshall has a very high opinion of Mendelsohn.Said Marshall: There's no doubt in my mind that she will be successful. She will be a doctor.Susie Eggen Eggen is a bright, bubbly young women who is proud to be part of the Oak Harbor High School varsity cheerleading squad.We placed sixth in the Nationals, Eggen said.She also wants to help dispel the myth that cheerleaders aren't smart. The example she has set is sure to break through any stereotypes about intelligence.With a class ranking just below the three students tied for first, Eggen has brain power of at least the magnitude of her personality.She has been in the high school health careers program, and will be attending the University of Washington in the fall, the start of her formal education to become a doctor. Through her involvement in the heath careers curriculum, Eggen has had the opportunity to job shadow at the naval hospital at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.I'm having fun, with the job shadowing, Eggen said. I've always been interested in (medicine).Eggen said she thinks her ability to relate to people will assist her in a medical career.You have to reach out to people to have them reach out to you, she said. When people isolate themselves, other people will isolate them.Eggen is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Eggen. Her dad is the manager at Les Schwab Tires and her mom is an instructional aide for a kindergarten class at Oak Harbor Elementary School. Eggen is three years older than her brother, Randy, which is enough of an age difference to feel responsible for him, she said.Three years is enough of a difference where someone could look up to you, Eggen said.Eggen played softball and is Associated Student Body treasurer. For elective courses she has studied advanced writing and editing.Eggen has a boyfriend and the two plan to go to the prom on June 2. She spends her spare time hanging out with her friends and working at her part-time job.Eggen's advice to younger students fits in well with her philosophy on life in general: The more involved you are, the more people you will meet. It's not what you know, it's who you know.Shelley CookShelley Cook is more passionate about swimming than academics. The four-year member of the high school swim team is also a member of the city's swim team, and she teaches lessons at the community pool. Cook spends most afternoons at the pool.Cook tried a number of different activities throughtout her youth before discovering her niche in swimming. She tried ballet, tap, jazz, basketball, and track.Swimming just clicked, Cook said.Cook has always gotten A's in school as far back as she can remember. Schoolwork has come easy to her, but she said she has also always tried to do her best.I just like to do well, Cook said.Cook's academic coursework throughout high school has included all advanced placement courses, except senior English. She also studied three years worth of Japanese in two years.Shelley's sixth-grade teacher was the first one who really impressed upon us Shelley's capabilites, said Colleen Hamblin, Cook's mom, who was present at the interview. Hamblin is a secretary at Oak Harbor Middle School.Graduating with a 3.991 grade point average, Cook will begin classes at the University of Puget Sound in the fall, where she has received an academic scholarship and grant. She plans to study math or science and go pre-med. Cook will also be on the University's Division III swim team.After completion of her undergraduate degree, Cook plans to go to medical school, and she has her sights set high.The ultimate would be Stanford, she said.A young woman who describes science as fun, Cook also tutors students in math. Not only has she tutored elementary and high school students, but has even tutored college students in calculus.For fun Cook likes to watch comedy movies and sometimes action flicks. However, she doesn't watch sad movies or movies about animals.They make me cry, she said.Described by her mother as always having had her nose in a book, Cook said she loves to read but now I'm just busy. She also likes to go shopping.Cook also spends a lot of time with the family's beagle dog, Chip. They went all the way to Idaho to get Chip, Cook said, as they couldn't find a beagle puppy locally. Therefore, Cook named the dog Idaho Potato Chip.Cook's advice to younger children is to try new things, because that is the way to figure out what it is one loves to do.Cook will look back favorably on her years at Oak Harbor High School.Said Cook: There are so many caring teachers and many opportunities. "