Teen’s world view sends her soaring

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Civil unrest in Egypt once again has riveted U.S. attention beyond our borders and our own domestic concerns. American interest in international news certainly ebbs and flows but not so for this week's FOX 4 Young Achiever. And her global view has launched Claire Thomas to the heights of scholarships.

She loves to draw. And she's quite good at it. And because she is also very smart, well-informed and articulate with strong opinions and very reliable, Claire Thomas got the job the past two years as editorial cartoonist for The Patriot, the student newspaper at Shawnee Mission South High School.

"This," Claire says about the cartoon she was drawing as FOX 4 visited her at school, "is about teenagers, sort of the apathy of teenagers and how often they don't really care about anyone else or the big issues around the world."

Claire says it's important to care about the big issues around the world. And she does. And she produced numerous thought-provoking editorial cartoons on a variety of compelling topics bolstered by her strong world view.

"Life isn't just about the little things, the trivial things," she said. "These bigger issues affect all of us, and all of our daily lives. And we need to pay attention to them."

Claire has traveled and studied abroad, including six weeks in Russia last summer before her senior year at South. She and her family hosted an exchange student from Russia this past school year and Claire's been involved in Coalition, a school club focused on international issues and challenges. Her global focus has been Claire's foundation for a wide range of accomplishments in school and life.

"I think it's really expanded her interest in things," said longtime South High gifted teacher Stan Stern.

Stern saw that and much more in Claire as he taught her for four years, and especially the past two as he coached her on the school's Academic Decathlon team.

One of South's top five senior scholars, Claire was co-captain this year as the team won its thirteenth consecutive state championship and competed in the national tournament. And Claire won several individual high honors in various categories.

"And it's not just the achievements and the scores on tests but it's also the leadership that I really think has come out this year and added one more thing to her resume'," says Stern.

"Getting to know my team members and studying together and bonding together and spending time at the competitions has been so awesome," says Claire about the Academic Decathlon experience.

"I've gotten a lot closer to them and made a lot of new friends."

Claire really impressed the International Relations Council of Kansas City. She won this year's Eliot S. Berkley Award, the IRC's highest honor for high school students. The cash award recognizes Claire not only for her strong knowledge of global issues but also an outstanding essay she wrote about the role of technology in the Arab spring movement of the past three years.

"Basically the question was, 'How can the U.S. students foster human rights abroad?'," says Claire. "And so I talked about how schools really need to start fostering that relationship with other students."

"And that's what she talked about," says IRC executive director Linda Trout, "ways that we can have more internationalism in high schools everywhere. And she showed a great understanding for new programs, new ideas that we can use." Powerful ideas from a student of the world.

"I think it's opened my eyes to a lot of different things," says Claire. "It has expanded my perspective and showed me different views and different opinions and I guess different sides to every story and made me realize more that what I think or what I've grown up thinking or what people around me think might not be the only way to think about something and might not be the right way to think about something."

Claire is a National Merit Finalist, as well, and she is taking her wide-ranging intellect, knowledge and ambition -- and her world view -- to Yale University this fall.

Fox 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 5 p.m.

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