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Young Trailblazer Nominee

Leslie Koffi

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Nominations

Nominated by Caity White, Overland High School

“Leslie was a top student in Overland High School’s award-winning yearbook program during her junior and now senior year, and she is one of the most interesting, talented, well-rounded people I’ve had the pleasure of teaching. When I met Leslie during yearbook interviews, her energy and magnetism filled the room as she introduced herself. Her ear-to-ear grin was contagious, but it wasn’t until I asked her teachers for recommendations that I learned about her leadership abilities. What I couldn’t have imagined when I met her was that this charismatic student would challenge me to be a better teacher, inspire me with her analytical insights, and teach me how to find joy in my daily life.

During one of our icebreakers at the beginning of her junior year, the yearbook class was going around the circle sharing “a rose and a thorn,” a positive and a negative from the first week of school. When it was Les’s turn, she said, “My rose is that I’m back in school with all of my friends,” and she leaned over to fist-bump her neighbor. “And my thorn sucks. I had to say goodbye to my dad, who’s moving to Japan today. He’ll be there for two years because he’s in the military.” While I thanked her for sharing, I had to choke back tears from hearing the sincerity in her voice. It was the first of many times that Leslie astounded me with her strength and positivity, vulnerability and honesty– she is never just one thing. Les would turn in essays that analyzed literature with originality and critical thinking, and her English teacher would brag to me about it, and then she would turn around and create a dynamic and yearbook spread like it was nothing, and talk about her future plans of becoming an architect.

Les would stay after class to talk to me about her work at a nearby fast-casual restaurant, or her participation in Student Council, if I hadn’t heard her in the hallway laughing and talking about music, or making plans to get food after varsity girls soccer tryouts, I would have worried she never took time for herself. By the end of her junior year, after her determination helped us finish a yearbook in quarantine, I was excited to have her back in class for her senior year. Once again I have the pleasure of teaching Les, the insightful and analytical thinker, and I continue to learn from and be impressed by the balance she brings to everything.

Leslie continues to share her ideas openly, moderate class discussions, and leads one of our yearbook teams. Les’s hard work planning prom with Student Council her junior year was no match for the pandemic. Like many graduating seniors, she likely won’t have prom this year either, but she has put the energy into making sure we have a yearbook that celebrates our seniors like never before. Leslie is a leader outside of school as well. She was a member of the local African Catholic society, and performed at festivals and fairs. She also won an award for a Karaoke competition at virtual yearbook camp this summer, proving that she deserves to be featured in your magazine for being an all-around amazing and inspiring person.”

My Black Colorado Interview

What school do you attend and what year are you in?

Leslie Koffi, senior (12th grade)

What do you think others would say that they like the most about you? explain why.

Others would say they like my personality. I think people like how easy going I am and how I can make people comfortable; I’m comfortable in any environment and I help people feel comfortable as well.

When you are not in a class, what are the things you enjoy being involved with? explain why.

When I’m not in school, I love being involved with my church. When I became a youth group leader, I took it upon myself to become their role model: be the one to give them advice and what to look for in the real world. During this experience, I realized the true value of leadership. These kids that felt so alone in the world finally had someone they could truly look up to and it was immensely validating to know that I had filled that position for them.

What is the best advice someone has given you recently?

Throughout my life I’ve learned the “hustle now, rest later” philosophy. A proven fact that hard work pays off indefinitely and that success is earned, but not given. My family learned this the hard way: migrating from West Africa to the United States with little to no money and one goal. A goal achieved through my mom’s long nights working at the hospital and my dad suiting up in his navy uniform and sailor cap, they worked tirelessly to transform their situation into their own perfectly imperfect dream and make it come true.

What is one thing you want to get better at?  explain why.

I want to get better at being a leader in my community.

What do you think is one piece of advice that you think adults need to hear, to help them connect with the younger generation better?

One piece of advice that I would give adults is to be patient with us and to listen. The younger generation is the most impacted, especially the younger black generation. In consideration of everything that has happened in the past year, teenagers had to process and deal with these events while growing into adulthood. Therefore, I would ask all adults if you want to connect better with us try listening, and see our point of view. Society has changed.

What accomplishments or awards are you most proud of? explain why? 

I’m most proud of is winning the Aurora Scholar award. I received this award during my junior year, and it was a sense of relief. My previous (sophomore) year was pretty rough, and I worked hard my entire junior year, so this award gave me satisfaction.

What impact have you made in the community that you are most proud of? explain why?

I’m a member of the student council and every winter, we’re in charge of putting together a ‘wish week’ for an assigned wish kid. Last year at the assembly, we granted a kid’s wish to have a quinceanera. As the whole student body was chanting her name, tears filled her eyes, and her smile melted everyone’s hearts. In that split second, I thought back to those weeks of hard work that my peers and I put in; the mornings of decorating hallways and endless stress – it all paid off. Everything else didn’t matter when we saw Destene and her family crying tears of joy and happiness.

What do you think you want to do for a career.  Explain why?

I want to be an architect because I want to create a type of art that makes people stare at it and think. Make things simplistic yet complex and elegant yet mesmerizing. The buildings we are in impact us subtly because surrounded by white brick walls during school, it can make you feel like you’re stuck in a box. So you want to reimagine buildings as more than just buildings; these are places where people feel safe, or not and feel inspired or not. I want to make sure people are feeling they belong in the buildings I design and make.

What role have your parents played in helping you excel in life?

It is too hard to pinpoint exactly how my family has helped because their role in my life is too great to minimize. They’ve always been my #1 supports and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for their constant support and encouragement.

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