It began with Svetlana Musheyeva just needing something to do. It ended with a good deed, a check in her name and an incredible amount of self-reflection.
For the past year, Svetlana, 17, a senior at Forest Hills High School, has worked tirelessly to raise money and attract new blood donors to the American Red Cross.
She helped increase the number of pints donated at the high school from 150 in the 2008-2009 school year to 220 this year. Because of her impressive achievements, she was awarded a $3,000 scholarship by the Red Cross recently at a ceremony at the high school
Svetlana was originally attracted to the Red Cross because “I love to organize things and this opportunity was really great,” she said.
Svetlana’s need to help, however, stems from an appreciation of where she came from.
Her parents fled Uzbekistan to the sizeable Bukharian Jewish community of Rego Park 10 years ago. Svetlana was eight years old when she moved to New York. “It’s been amazing,” she said. “I’m glad my parents decided to come here.”
She grew up speaking Russian, although her parents are also fluent in Farsi. Their linguistic flair encouraged her to explore her natural love of languages.
Loving languages inspired loving words and loving words inspired a life-long love of books. This passion solidified when she moved to New York.
It was only through her middle school’s ESL program that she discovered her love for a specific class of written word — Shakespeare.
“In Uzbekistan, my class had staged “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet,” but I never got to read his work and I never really understood his depth.” Her favorite play has always been “Much Ado About Nothing.”
“It contains everything,” she said. “Comedy, tragedy, pain, happiness.”
These potent emotions have both pained her and caused her great happiness.
Svetlana is attending St. John’s University in the fall where she will double-major in political science and English. She plans to attend law school, but that wasn’t always the case. “I was unsure of myself or anything I wanted to do until my senior year in high school,” she said.
She had difficulties adjusting to her classes when she came to the United States. She accepted taking classes in junior high school that did not challenge her. Her peers jaded her. Svetlana took that attitude to high school until something within her fundamentally changed.
“When I came into high school I initially had the misconception that every school was the same way. I accepted the remedial classes that I was given throughout my high school career and would not have striven for better unless I talked to the people I did.”
As senior year came around, she gained more friends and grew curious about what colleges her close friends were applying to and what careers they wanted to explore.“I expected them to apply to the best schools, but I realized that some of them lacked the will to take risks,” she said. She knew this was not her path.
“I realized that I am different in a certain way. I like challenges and taking risks because without them I will never appreciate what I have. I’ll never know what I'm truly capable of doing without trying,” Svetlana said.
People at school told her she was delusional for applying to impressive colleges. Some of them even told her she had little chance of getting into the places she wished for.
“They may have been right, but I knew that if I was given the opportunity, I would take advantage of it.”
This powerful determination and sense of modesty can be found in every word she methodically speaks, every line she painstakingly and self-consciously writes.
For example, Svetlana opened her college personal statement with the following humbling line, “I am just another ordinary girl that is applying to your school. I am no genius and I do not have astronomical grades, but what I do have is confidence and self determination.”
Although her future looks brilliant, Svetlana has bittersweet memories of her past. “Part of me misses my hometown, but honestly, women are not part of society there. I wouldn’t have had much of a future,” she said.
She knows her life would have been significantly different in Uzbekistan. “Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to go to college, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to get a job,” Svetlana added. “At some point, I would’ve reached a limit.”
This simple and gratified life perspective affects everything she aspires to see and become. She has plans to visit Yellowstone Park. She wants to bask in the beauty of Ireland’s coast. She wants to travel to places she’s “never heard of.” She wants to learn more about Alexander Hamilton. She wants to know her life “meant something.”
“I realize that 10 years from now it won’t matter what I got on my AP biology exam or what rank I was in high school. What will matter is how I contributed to society.”