AMES–Rachel Kim considers research as something that’s fun to do in her downtime, speaks three languages fluently, has garnered a list of academic awards longer than most adults’ entire resumes, and recently learned she has been accepted to Harvard. But the 2015 Ames High School graduate considers starting an after-school tutoring program for an elementary school among her greatest accomplishments.

Kim’s dynamic set of academic achievements and community leadership attributes helped launch her become a national Coca-Cola Scholars Program winner. From a field of more than 102,000 applicants and nearly 2,200 semifinalists that narrowed to 250 regional finalists, Kim was selected for a rigorous final interview process that set her apart as one of the 150 national winners. She attended the Coca-Cola Scholars Weekend April 16-19 in Atlanta and received a $20,000 award to be used toward her college tuition.

In the midst of these accolades, Kim reached out to honor one of the teachers who helped her believe in her own potential. On Friday, May 24, Kim surprised Elise Wright, a Fellows Elementary fifth grade teacher, as the “distinguished educator” who made a difference in her academic and leadership choices.

2015 Ames High School graduate Rachel Kim, (L) and Fellows fifth grade teacher Elise Wright display their Coca-Cola Scholars program awards. Kim is a national Coca-Cola Scholars winner who named Wright as a Distinguished Educator.

2015 Ames High School graduate Rachel Kim, (L) and Fellows fifth grade teacher Elise Wright display their Coca-Cola Scholars program awards. Kim is a national Coca-Cola Scholars winner who named Wright as a Distinguished Educator.

Flanked by Coca Cola Scholars program officials who presented Wright with the award, Kim told Wright in a prepared statement, “It was because of your dedication that I realized that a great leader is one who can empathize with many individuals.”

Kim said she learned from Wright that it is the “willingness to hear others’ stories and take a momentary pause in life to help others surrounding you that distinguishes a notable leader.”

“Hearing stories from young kids who live a life of day-to-day survival and have insecure futures, my growing compassion for young children has allowed me to realize that a true leader does not simply emphasize self-improvement, but deeply contemplates reform for an entire society,” she said. “Through this opportunity, I would like to thank you for teaching me how to find a window in the walls placed in front of me and developing me to become the leader that you envisioned walking through your classroom door seven years ago.”

Fellows principal Carol Page said Kim and Wright both exemplify true leadership.

“You see, Rachel was always a good student, but Mrs. Wright pushed her to move beyond those comfortable zones,” Page said. “She pushed her to reach out with her leadership skills to help others! Empathy building was key—and leadership isn’t about promoting oneself, but reaching out to others to help them reach THEIR potential!”