Updated: Jul 22, 2019
Vistamar School graduate Sabrina Chwalek, a local Kinecta scholarship winner, on her activism and her vision for her future.
Interview edited by Maureen Kingsley
Locally based federal credit union Kinecta recently awarded a number of scholarships to South Bay-area high-school graduating seniors, including El Segundo’s own Sabrina Chwalek. On the evening of May 21, 2019, at Kinecta’s 2019 Scholarships and Teaching Grants for Growth Reception, Sabrina and 13 other accomplished students were awarded certificates and swag bags by Kinecta leadership, including Keith Sultemeier, president and CEO, and Mary Yasui-Yamabe, board chair of Kinecta and board vice chair of Consumers Cooperative Society of Santa Monica (pictured below). Board Chair of Consumers Cooperative Society of Santa Monica Bert Fallon was present as well.
Sabrina’s high-school career has been a remarkable one. Here, she answers questions about her interests and activism before heading off to Brown University in the fall.
The El Segundo Scene (TESS): Of all your high-school accomplishments, which has been the most rewarding?
Sabrina Chwalek (SC): My position as editor-in-chief of the Vistamar View. I didn’t start writing for the paper until my junior year, but I ultimately dedicated countless hours of my time to organizing, editing, writing, and formatting for the paper. I loved what student journalism offered both me and my peers: a chance to express our opinions, to draw attention to issues of importance, and to spark discussions. Although in the few days before each paper’s release I was always running around taking care of unexpected issues, passing out printed papers on Friday mornings offered me an immense sense of gratification. It made me so happy to see when particular articles resonated with my school community and when people truly cared about reading their classmates’ writing.
I also became a much better organizer, leader, and decision-maker as a consequence of running the paper. I had to learn on the job how to respond to backlash, disagreement, and other students’ procrastination. Nothing ever went as expected, particularly when it came to the printing company we worked with, so I became more adept at finding creative solutions to problems.
TESS: Please share some details about the Never Again Vistamar group you helped to create.
SC: After the Parkland, Florida school shooting in the spring of my junior year, a group of students and I got together to discuss what we could do to raise awareness around gun violence. We created a student group on campus called Never Again Vistamar and began an on-campus discussion surrounding gun violence. We ran our school’s walk-out and later coordinated running a town hall with our local congressional representative, Ted Lieu. We continued to meet my senior year and talk about various forms of violence, such as sexual violence following the Kavanaugh hearings, but we weren’t able to sustain enough student participation in the club to truly carry it forward. We also reached a point where we realized that as noble as activism is, we don’t have the capacity to change the minds of NRA-funded members of Congress who adamantly oppose gun control.
TESS: What individuals have most inspired you during your four years of high school?
SC: A couple of my high school teachers have been incredibly influential in both my personal and academic pursuits. I took three different classes—Honors Contemporary World Issues, Honors US History, and Law & Society—with one of my favorite teachers, Mr. Federle. He pushed me intellectually more than any of my teachers had before, helping me to hone my writing and rhetoric. He’s also the teacher that sparked my passion for studying international relations and global affairs. In Contemporary World Issues, we covered issues from maritime disputes in the South China Sea to the political, economic, and social crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and that’s where I truly fell in love with learning about global issues and how to analyze and develop comprehensive solutions to these incredibly complex issues.
Another one of my teachers, Dr. Sweatlock, meant the world to me in high school. She was my math teacher for two years and expanded my preexisting love of math. She taught me to appreciate the process of finding solutions in math and not to appreciate only obtaining the correct answer. Dr. Sweatlock’s enthusiasm for math and desire to share that with her students was immensely contagious.
TESS: Now that you’ve graduated, what are you most looking forward to?
SC: I’m really looking forward to the change of living in a different part of the United States and meeting new people from all across the country and the world in college. I’m excited to experience something entirely different from what my life is like right now.
I’m also really looking forward to the academic freedom I’ll have in college to explore what I love. Brown University has something called the Open Curriculum, which doesn’t require students to take any mandatory classes or fulfill liberal arts breadth requirements. Instead, I can essentially take whatever classes I’m interested in as long as I complete the requirements for a concentration.
The El Segundo Scene is inspired by Sabrina’s energy and wishes her the best of luck as she pursues her dreams on the East Coast.
This story appears in the July 2019 issue of The El Segundo Scene.