Chantilly alumni thrive in life after high school

Kyndall Hubbard, copy editor

Every year, a group of highly qualified and prepared seniors leave Chantilly’s halls to embark on new opportunities and adventures that await them in the outside world. Many recent graduates have been finding success in what they enjoy while positively influencing others along the way.

One of the biggest shows in recent years inspired Chantilly alumnus and YouTuber Tora Crank, who graduated in 2017, to study screenwriting at the New York Film Academy.

“If it weren’t for ‘Stranger Things,’ I wouldn’t be studying film right now. I used to have a fan account for the show on Twitter and that’s where people started asking me to make videos of my theories on YouTube,” Crank said. “It took off about eight months ago. One of my videos titled ‘The IT Trailer But I Scream Every Word’ blew up, and is now at 400,000 views.”

One notable opportunity was an invitation to an interview with Caleb McLaughlin, the actor who plays Lucas on “Stranger Things.”

“I got to ask him a question, but before I could even ask it, he stopped me and said he knew who I was,” Crank said. “It’s the coolest and weirdest thing to know that your favorite cast watches your YouTube channel.”

Crank’s experiences have helped her discover her deep passion, indicating a clear career choice.

“I would love to make a career in entertainment,” Crank said. “Studying at the New York Film Academy and keeping up with my channel is getting me there. Every day I get to spend my day focusing on what I’m interested in.”

Since graduating in 2015, Chantilly alumnus Yahya Abou-Ghazala has impacted multiple lives through giving back.  

“About a year ago, I came to the decision that I wanted to provide some sort of relief for Syrian refugees in the Middle East,” Abou-Ghazala said. “I knew how big the refugee crisis was, and I wanted to focus my effort on something that I was good at.”

Abou-Ghazala was able to use family ties to obtain information on how to help.

“I reached out to some family friends and they put me in touch with a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Sawa for Development and Aid,” Abou-Ghazala said. “They told me that their youth soccer team was underfunded and had to be canceled.”

Raising money for the team, Abou-Ghazala traveled to Lebanon with soccer equipment and a bigger vision for himself and the young players.

“The goal of this team was to use soccer for character development and to build a sense of brotherhood and purpose among the players,” Abou-Ghazala said. “The most important thing to come out of the training sessions was that they understood what the real purpose behind the team was.”

His interests and familial origin initially compelled him to take action.

“I’ve been playing soccer since I was eight years old, played competitively all through high school, and now I’m on the club soccer team at UVA,” Abou-Ghazala said. “My family is half-Syrian and half-Palestinian, so the Syrian refugee crisis hits really close to home. I felt like it was my own family and I had a personal connection to everyone.”

This experience marked the beginning of what Abou-Ghazala intends to be a lifelong philanthropic pursuit.  

“I know that my long-term career path wants to benefit the rebuilding of Syria, and this was a really humbling first step to see how much impact a small project like mine can have,” Abou-Ghazala said.

Alumnus Pooja Trivedi, who graduated in 2016, engages in philanthropy with a scientific approach by participating in the program Projects with Underserved Communities (PUC) at the University of Texas at Austin. This year-long course allows students to design research projects in response to community needs.

“We are building a sanitation station in the village of Don Kang, Thailand. The elementary school students in that village have limited access to clean water for handwashing and toothbrushing,” Trivedi said. “Throughout this academic year, we will design, research and fundraise, and over the summer, we will travel to Don Kang and construct the hygiene station for the elementary school.”

Trivedi’s motivations to participate in this project stem from her values as well as her career goals.

“I am a strong believer in paying it forward. I had a great childhood and education and I want to use that to help out this community,” Trivedi said. “As a biomedical engineer, I hope to work in imaging and instrumentation, particularly medical devices. After that, I would like to take my career in a philanthropic direction by bettering medicine and health in underserved areas.”

The success of these alumni is validation that future graduates will attain similar accomplishments.