Cousins, early college graduates share passion for mental health, service to others

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Rawan Ajeen learned through her high school experience how to embrace both her American and Palestinian roots. Photo courtesy Rawan Ajeen.
Rawan Ajeen learned through her high school experience how to embrace both her American and Palestinian roots. Photo courtesy Rawan Ajeen.

Ahead of traditional commencement ceremonies this weekend, Port City Daily is honoring the Class of 2015 with a look at some area graduates–their achievements, challenges and plans for the future.

Today, we take a look at two students, Rawan and Dana Ajeen–cousins who share many similarities.

Both graduated from Wilmington Early College High School with honors. Both hope to pursue a career in mental health, And both have a shared desire for serving others. Yet, each has her own unique perspective and passions, struggles and hopes for success.

Rawan Ajeen

What do you plan to do after high school?

I plan on attending UNC-Chapel Hill and pursing a bachelor of science degree in psychology, with a pre-med track, and a minor in Arabic. I also plan on applying to medical school after my undergraduate studies and specialize in psychiatric medicine to become a general psychiatrist.

What led you to that choice? How long have you known it was what you wanted to do?

I have always been interested in the healthcare field and knew I wanted a career in service. It wasn’t until high school that I realized how interested I am in mental health and human behavior. I love the idea of creating a positive and judgement-free atmosphere for others while also crushing the stigma of mental health. I think how underrated mental health is in our community has been a motivator for me in choosing this career path because I know that I will be able to provide excellent patient care and make innovative advancement in how mental health support services are carried out.

What are some of your proudest moments in high school? Some of your hardest challenges?

My proudest moment in high school has to be graduation. Graduation wrapped up high school for me because it hadn’t hit me that I was actually done with high school until I walked the stage and received my diploma. On that day I finally gave myself credit for all that I have worked for because I got to see how far my accomplishments had gotten me.

One of the hardest challenges for me was not academic, but rather personal. As an Arab American I hold two different cultures. I am very in touch with my Palestinian and American roots. During my high school period, I finally came to realize that I should not have to choose between either two and that a balance is attainable.

What is one of your fondest memories from high school?

I really enjoyed my first year of high school, especially the first day of school, because I meet some amazing people that year that I am proud to have had by my side for the rest of my high school career.

What are you most looking forward to in this next stage of your life?

I am really looking forward to contributing something positive in my community. I know it sounds cliche, but I think that shedding positive light in any shape or form makes a huge difference in someone’s life, and I guess I feel as though that is my purpose in life. I would love to see some things change socially and politically, and I hope that in the next stage of my life I would have the resources and credibility to do so.

Dana Ajeen

What do you plan to do after high school?

In the fall of 2015, I plan on attending UNC-Wilmington in the hopes of obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in neuroscience. I want to continue on and pursue a graduate degree and a PhD in order to become a neuropsychologist.

What led you to that choice? How long have you known it was what you wanted to do?

The choice of pursuing a career in neuropsychology didn’t come as easily as most would expect. I constantly went back and forth on what it was that I truly wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had to find what I was truly passionate about. I had always known that no matter what I did, I wanted to help people and work in a field that truly impacted people’s lives.

Watching her grandfather's struggle with Alzheimer's disease further motivated Dana Ajeen to pursue a career in neuropsychology. Photo courtesy Dana Ajeen.
Watching her grandfather’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease further motivated Dana Ajeen to pursue a career in neuropsychology. Photo courtesy Dana Ajeen.

As a child, I was extremely fascinated by people’s personal lives, what was going on and why people exhibited certain behaviors. This is where the psychology aspect of my career came in. At the age of 16, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and for the past couple years I have watched him struggle and lose touch with reality. I was fascinated how a bright, healthy man could slowly deteriorate mentally right in front of my eyes. It was then where I found a passion for neurology and the brain.

The stigma from society and the media causes me to be extremely passionate about the topic of mental illness. Hopefully with my future career path, I can help people [who are] struggling but also provide others the knowledge to break barriers on the topic of mental illness.

What are some of your proudest moments in high school? Some of your hardest challenges?

Some of my proudest moments in high school would have to be moments where I was recognized for my hard work, receiving National Honor Society and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society invitations. Overcoming academic hardships, and growing immensely from my freshman to senior year.

Finally graduating was also a big moment in my life. As a freshman, the idea of graduation and finally going off to college seems so far-fetched. Even now after I have graduated, it is still surreal. Some of my hardest challenges were going from a middle school setting where I didn’t have to apply myself as much to having to take seven honors classes a semester my freshman year and completely belittling any form of a social life I once had. It was [those] moments…that made me question whether I had made the right choice in pursuing an early college high school.

What is one of your fondest memories from high school?

Walking in the first day of school and being super excited to officially have the opportunity to call myself a high-schooler. Meeting friends that made huge impacts in my life. Taking my first college class at Cape Fear Community College at the age of 16. Getting my acceptance letters from universities in the mail. Being able to have two graduation ceremonies at the end of the year. Making my parents proud are some of the fondest moments I have had in high school and they will be memories I will cherish forever.

What are you most looking forward to in this next stage of your life?

I am most looking forward to watching my dreams unfold into a reality. Attending UNC-Wilmington is my next step in life, where I hope to be immersed into the school, fuel my passions and create new lasting memories. I hope to make an impactful difference in the world we live in and, if not, at least spark the mind of an individual who will.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com.