Everyone Has a Story to Tell: Umar Hassan


Eva Shellabarger

South senior Umar Hassan sits peacefully on the South lawn. He won the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which will give him a full ride through college and graduate school.

Eva Shellabarger, Staff Writer

Winner of the prestigious Gates Millennium scholarship, which fully covers the recipient’s college tuition, room and board, and graduate school, Umar Hassan has attained many accomplishments already in his life.

Umar has the events of his high school career memorized, categorizing each year by the mindset he was in at the time. He has written many essays that told his story for scholarships and college applications.

Throughout his four years of high school, Hassan has maintained a strict focus on academics and involvement in his community. “I started using other people as a motivation to say ‘if they can do it, I will be able to do it too,’” said Hassan about his method for success.

Hassan started to get involved with his community when he joined a youth group called Oromo Youth Association (OYA), which brought awareness to issues that specifically affected Oromo students. In meetings with OYA, Hassan had discussions about cultural heritage and youth empowerment, and started developing an interest in social justice.

“I always had wondered, what causes this, why does it remain to be an issue, why haven’t things changed despite the economic growth that you see… nothing seems to change and you wonder,” said Hassan.

Hassan became a member of the Oromo Youth Association board, where he led fundraisers for Books for Africa, a St. Paul-based organization that collects books and sends them to students in Africa.

Hassan also worked in collaboration with OYA on an Oromo cultural  presentation at the American Swedish Institute that highlighted Oromo culture, and was displayed for two months.

“Knowing that I was being somewhat of a change and an impact in my community just kept making me want to do more and more,” said Hassan. He continued his involvement within the Cedar-Riverside community through a group called Public Achievement. “We were able to work with some of the city officials to bring tangible changes to the community, so that the community would have a better environment for all people,” continued Hassan.

Hassan’s consistent activism always conveys his desire to help other people. “He wants to work at making the world better for everybody. He’s always trying to figure out how to fix a problem and how he can help facilitate that happening,” said science teacher Susan Peterson, one of Hassan’s mentors. 

He wants to work at making the world better for everybody,”

— Susan Peterson

Peterson has gotten to know Hassan since tenth grade, and was one of his recommenders for the Gates-Millennium scholarship. “He is so open to talking to people about what he feels strongly about, and he’s also very respectful. He has his opinions about things, and his beliefs about things, but he’s willing to be open to hearing what other people have to say,” continued Peterson.

Winning the Gates-Millennium will allow Hassan to continue his high-valued education, and to pursue leadership opportunities in ways that would not be possible without it. The application process required him to write 8 essays and to find a nominator that would advocate for him.

“This scholarship grants me the opportunity not to just go to school but to go to school without worrying about financial burdens, and come back and give back to my community. That’s what I hope and aspire to do, and use this scholarship as a tool to reach that next step,” said Hassan.

Hassan plans to attend Macalester College this fall, with his study interests lying along the lines of political studies and international studies.