Growing up in a developing country, Beatrice Kariuki often worried about children who were dying of preventable diseases. She and her family moved here from Kenya three years ago for better opportunities.

Last week, Kariuki graduated from Broadmoor High, earning her school’s second highest academic honor.

Now, the 17 year old wants to learn about medicine and cultural relations so she can do more for children facing illnesses and be a voice for the misunderstood.

Another graduate, Scotlandville Magnet High valedictorian Tyneeka Dyson, 18, is also convinced she must achieve her academic goals in order to make a difference in her field of study.

Both young women have raised the bar for themselves and others in the Class of 2014.

They are driven, engaged, focused and readying themselves to confront and solve problems.

For Dyson, that means a career in engineering. She joined her school’s engineering program and last summer did an internship at ExxonMobil.

“I feel like I have a head start about what an engineering career is like,” she told me.

Kariuki plans to study international relations and to one day work in pediatrics to tackle global health, an issue that she witnessed first hand in Africa.

“A lot of kids are dying from preventable deaths,” she said. “A lack of doctors and medicine in some countries can leave children vulnerable.”

Graduating high school was important, she told me.

“It means I just completed the first phase of my life,” Kariuki said.

She plans to attend Emory University in Atlanta where she will take international studies “and learn about all cultures.”

“Understanding helps us find ways to solve the problems, and it helps us know what’s going on,” she said.

Kariuki said social networking can be used as a tool for international relations. The kidnapping of more than 200 girls from a Nigerian school last month, which she described as “a senseless crime,” was barely publicized or discussed until social media outlets and first lady Michelle Obama weighed in.

For Dyson, staying at the top of her class throughout most of high school wasn’t always easy. She was sometimes teased for not having a lot of friends or for being a loner. But Dyson said she was busy preparing herself for her lifelong dream to become an engineer.

Similar to her father, a mechanic, she loves machines and wants to one day design electronic circuits and power systems. She plans to study at the University of Virginia this fall.

I think Dyson’s attitude sums it up for this year’s crop of graduates. “I want to get out and learn a trade and make a difference,” she said.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at