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Two ‘true leaders’ at Newton North High School receive prestigious award

Yurika Tarui and Aiden Wright, the two recipients of the Meserve Award. Photos by Ryan Davis and Seamus WebsterRyan Davis and Seamus Webster

Newton North High School presented the Charles Dana Meserve Award, one of the school’s most prestigious honors, to two graduating seniors last month. One of the students, Aiden Wright, is the first Black student to win since the award was created in 1923.

The Meserve Award is North’s oldest running award, founded shortly after its namesake, Charles Dana Meserve, died in 1921. Students who merit it not only have displayed a high standard of academic excellence, but have also made significant contributions to the community.

In an interview, Wright, 18, said his favorite classes were Advanced Placement Chemistry, AP Biology, and AP United States History. He is planning to study biochemistry at Yale University in the fall.

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“I just like how, with STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math], once you find the answer to a question, it leads you to even more questions,” Wright said. “It’s like a never-ending kind of thing. I just feel like since I’m very curious about the world and how things work, STEM helps me answer questions.”

Yurika Tarui, 18, who also won the award this year, said the pandemic inspired her to pursue justice in public health. Tarui plans to study biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University in the fall.

“I was really excited by the opportunities that existed specifically within the [area of] advancing health equity,” Tarui said. “So that was a really big factor in me deciding to attend Johns Hopkins.”

Principal Henry Turner said he is proud of Wright and Tarui’s achievements and commitment to the school community.

“They were true leaders in helping the rest of our school community to know what it meant to be a Newton North student,” he said.

Turner also said Wright’s achievement was both a recognition of the strides the school has made, as well as a signal of the work still needed to be done.

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“I think it was pretty eye-opening to many members of our community that we haven’t had a Black recipient for that long of our history,” Turner said. “We’re really proud of our history as a school so I think that provided a lot of shock.

“I think it’s a great way to celebrate our community and at the same time a great acknowledgement of the work that we’ve got to do.”

Wright said he learned he was the first Black recipient of the award when Turner told him during a graduation rehearsal.

“I was just surprised that in 99 years of the award, I was the first [Black] person to win it,” Wright said. “I think that kind of speaks to something at North, like having an achievement gap between Black students and the rest of the school.”

In the summer going into his senior year, Wright said he participated in Summer Science Program, through which talented high school students gain hands-on research experience, where he helped design inhibitors for diseases. During his junior year he was part of a mentorship program, reading and conducting science projects with younger children in the Newton community.

“It was nice to be the teacher — because I’m used to being in the student’s position — to see how it is to teach other people,” Wright said.

Isongesit Ibokette, who taught Wright in AP United States History, also had him in an elective course called “Africa and the New World.” A presentation Wright gave in that class on the Belgian colonization of the Congo was so outstanding, Ibokette said, he had to postpone the rest of the presentations for the day so that other students could tweak their own projects.

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“When I wrote his letter of recommendation I just didn’t know where to stop,” Ibokette said. “Because this is a student that I know Yale University is just going to be very lucky to have on their campus.”

David Bennett, a teacher at North who had Tarui for AP Chemistry and was a faculty adviser for a new student-led, faculty-facilitated group at the school called the Human Rights Council, said he was impressed by Tarui’s level of involvement in the school community.

“It’s hard to imagine where she even had the time,” Bennett said. “She’s truly a wonderful individual. She’s one of those students who you’ll never forget because they’re such good people.”

As part of the Human Rights Council, Tarui worked to address issues of inequality within the school.

Principal Turner said the program came about as a result of several incidents of racism the school dealt with over social media in 2020. One step the administration took at that time was to reach out to students to hear their concerns on the issue.

“One of the things that [students] felt like we needed to do a better job as an administration was to really make sure that students had a voice when those kinds of incidents occur, and to give feedback to administrators like myself,” Turner said. “They wanted more empowerment to be able to create change in their schools.”

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This year the group created an initiative to provide SAT Prep tutoring to students who may not have had access to private tutoring.

Tarui, who is the first person in her family to attend a United States university, said her own experience applying to schools inspired her participation in the tutoring program.

“I gained a lot of awareness around the various inequities that exist within higher education and the college application process in general,” she said. “So I became really motivated to want to do something to address those inequities to ensure that students from all backgrounds had access to higher education especially.”

The Meserve Award was announced during a breakfast ceremony held in honor of the graduating class. Wright and Tarui both said, thankfully, they didn’t have to give a speech.

“I had known about the Charles Dana Meserve Award because I had seen the plaque in the hallways,” Tarui said. “But I wasn’t expecting to get it at all, so I was really surprised when they announced my name.”

Seamus Webster can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.

Recipients of the Meserve Award have their names added to the plaque which hangs in the main hallway at North, "Main St." Seamus Webster