As far as Stillwater Area High School (SAHS) Principal Rob Bach knows, seniors Abdulaziz Mohamed and Nikhil Kumaran are the first students of color to serve as student council presidents.
Bach added, however, their story isn’t just about two young black men leading a student governing body.
“The story is about two young men that are unbelievably impressive and want to make a difference in their school,” Bach said. “These guys have done an amazing job.”
As student council presidents, Mohamed and Kumaran not only hope to run an effective council but they also aim to amplify the voices of their peers.
Even outside of student council, the presidents are fairly inseparable. They participate in most school activities together including debate team, orchestra (both play violin, Kumaran also plays guitar), and soccer, prior to their senior year. Both volunteer outside of school. Kumaran said he also works at Culver’s Restaurant and is working to become an Eagle Scout.
“We’ve been best friends since second grade,” Mohamed added. The duo attended Lake Elmo Elementary School.
According to Mohamed, Kumaran is structured, laid-back, kind and funny — but knows when to be serious as well. To Kumaran, Mohamed is motivated, hard-working and deeply invested.
“You don’t have anything else for me?” Mohamed joked.
At the end of their sophomore year, Mohamed convinced Kumaran to run for student council with him. When the pair decided to run for president seats, Kumaran said he saw it as an opportunity to make meaningful change, like hitting a “refresh button.”
“We wanted to represent the minority population that’s in Stillwater,” Mohamed said. “I think just how two African-Americans that are presidents is breaking barriers...not just for ourselves but for other minority students.”
“I think it’s dope,” Kumaran added.
Kumaran said part of the duo’s ability to be effective student leaders lies in their connections with a wide variety of students. Students from the Black Student Union, the Asian Student Union and various other school groups have an increased presence on the student council this year, Mohamed added.
The 25 students on the council are responsible for planning school-related events, like dances and the Homecoming Pep Fest. Additionally, Kumaran said he and Mohamed want to run the council efficiently, delegate more responsibility and engage more students across the board. After the freshman student council elections in October, Mohamed said there will be 30 total students on council.
“The people who join student council are the ones that are motivated and willing to put in the work,” Mohamed said. “Sometimes [delegating] just happens because we’re leaders.”
“It needs structure and it needs direction,” Kumaran added.
The council presidents also sit on the Stillwater Area Public School board, participating in discussions about school policy. To Kumaran, participating in school board meetings is an opportunity to represent the student body at a higher administrative level.
“We know what it’s like to not feel fully represented,” Kumaran said. “We can dig. We can look. We know who to ask.”
Bach said Kumaran and Mohamed are two students he thinks of first when seeking student input for broader school issues.
“They want inclusion into stuff that matters, not just activities stuff but stuff that defines who we are,” he said.
Mohamed and Kumaran seem to be most focused on amplifying other student voices and perspectives.
The student council presidents are working to host a student forum once per month during flex time by the end of October. The forum is a response to the student body’s desire “to have more of an outlet for their voices,” Mohamed said. For example, if another school shooting occurred, Mohamed said the forum would be the perfect space for students to bring questions and concerns.
“That’s a big deal,” Bach added. “This stuff affects students. Students want to talk about this stuff now.”
“We want to leave a legacy behind that will hopefully motivate others,” Mohamed said. “They can take from that platform and move it forward.”
Mohamed said he derives motivation from his parents, Somali immigrants who emphasize education over everything. Kumaran said he is motivated by “being the best at what I can do to my own accord.” Neither student knows where he might end up after graduating from SAHS in 2019, but Mohamed said he’s interested in pursuing a medical degree to work with Doctors Without Borders. Kumaran said he’s interested in business as well as music education or performance.
Kumaran added he’s not sure what direction he’ll take, but he knows he has to enjoy it and excel at it.
“Once I find that, we’re hopping on it,” he said.
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