In Korean, “freshwater” is 민물의. “Forest cycle” is 숲 주기. “Igneous rock” is 화성암.
This is how Seeun Jung taught herself Honors Earth Science sophomore year.
Jung, who transferred to Leesville from South Korea during the final months of freshman year, would record Dr. Stone’s lectures in class, translate parts of her recordings into Korean at home and then, at long last, be able to study the material.
“It was like a bomb — I knew he was saying something, but I couldn’t understand it. I had a hard time studying because my English was bad and I had to work twice as hard as everyone else,” says Jung, recalling her past struggles vividly even now.
“But I didn’t give up trying. I believed that one day, my English would be improved and constantly imagined myself studying freely like other American students.”
Jung eventually earned an “A” in Earth Science, as well as in every other class she took that year and 15 of 16 classes since.
And now, in less than two weeks, Jung will graduate from Leesville as the valedictorian of the Class of 2015.
Inspired by the perseverance of her role model Yuna Kim, a South Korean figure skater and gold medal-winner at the 2010 Olympics, Jung has risen to the top of the senior class through hard work, patience and an unwavering hunger to do better.
Jung was born in Seoul, South Korea, but spent a large portion of her childhood living in China. She returned to South Korea at age nine and learned some English in school, yet quickly learned that “living in an English-speaking country was a whole different story.”
After moving to Raleigh in March 2012 and enrolling at Leesville the following month, Jung absorbed some of the many confusing aspects of American language and culture in ESL class. Today, she also credits her friends and classmates for helping her better understand what was being said in those first semesters at the school.
Once Jung’s transition to the United States smoothed out, however, her ambition as a student and her genuine altruism as a person became wholly evident.
“Seeun is one of the most humble individuals I have ever met,” says Christin Kennedy, a senior and a classmate of Jung in Calculus classes. “She always gives 110 percent on anything…(and) she always has a smile on her face.”
And now Jung is returning the favor for the help she received sophomore year.
“Seeun has always been probably the nicest person I’ve [ever] met,” says Kate Hackim, junior. “If you need help with something, you can just text her and she’ll know the answer automatically. She’s awesome.”
Hackim met Jung in AP Biology, one of the two classes that the latter now names as her favorites of high school (the other being AP Chemistry). And indeed, Mrs. Dobbin, AP Biology teacher, describes Jung as a “wonderful student.”
“She’s the kind of student that teachers really appreciate: She works hard, and she’s always going that step beyond,” says Dobbin. “She’s really putting thought into why things are happening. She’s connecting what she’s doing in here to what she’s learned in…AP Chemistry and some of her other classes.”
In addition to her academic excellence, Jung relishes her role as first chair cello in the Leesville orchestra this year. She enjoys playing tennis or swimming during her free time and says that her extracurricular hobbies keep her “heart peaceful” during stressful times.
Jung will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill next year and plans to major – naturally – in biology. She passionately hopes to be a surgeon aiding the ill in a third-world country later on in her career. But she has one final responsibility to take care of at Leesville first.
The news that she was the official valedictorian of the senior class came as a shock to her. It also inspired a slightly bittersweet reaction because it meant she would have to deliver a speech in front of thousands at graduation.
When it comes time to speak the first word of that speech, however, Jung already knows from where her inspiration will come.
“I truly believe that [my] dream is the motivation that drives me to work hard everyday,” she says. “When I feel tired and exhausted, I imagine myself examining the poor and weak with a stethoscope, and that energizes me.”
In Korean, “valedictorian” is 졸업생 대표. But for valedictorian Seeun Jung, that translation is no longer needed.