Oak Forest teen cultivates cultural awareness
BY CHERYL DANGEL BARTOLINI Correspondent August 24, 2014 3:14PM
Sara Valente is pictured on a ferry headed to Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, where the late Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. “It was an extremely educational experience,” Valente said. | Supplied photo by Andrew Goldblatt
Updated: September 26, 2014 1:45PM
Sara Valente, a senior at Oak Forest High School, has always enjoyed music. And her voice is impacting her future these days.
Valente remembers first becoming interested in music while in fifth grade. She joined the choir and found herself singing along to songs on the radio.
Kyle Grace, her music director during sixth grade at Jack Hille Middle School in Oak Forest, suggested she join the Chicago Children’s Choir.
“Every day I would walk into his classroom and he would be encouraging and he lit a flame under me. I always wanted to be better. He is a tough teacher and I knew he meant well,” said Valente, 16.
She joined the Chicago Children’s Choir when she was in seventh grade.
“It was formed during the Civil Rights Movement. Its mission statement is to bring people of diverse backgrounds together through music,” she said. “It exposes me to so many people from different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. I think it is important because I go there twice a week for rehearsals and we perform once every two weeks.”
Now it isn’t just her voice she raises in song that is getting noticed. She also is using her voice to increase cultural awareness of events outside of the United States.
As a member of the Chicago Children’s Choir, she performed in India in January 2013 for 13 days. The group was showcased at the Jaipur Literature Festival in Jaipur and performed at the Salaam Baalak Trust, a home for children with parents who don’t have steady jobs.
“It was definitely an eyeopener and a culture shock,” Valente said. “As Americans, we are typically ignorant to other cultures. The reason I love the CCC is that we break that barrier, and it made it me realize how fortunate I am. I am now more culturally aware of what is going on outside of the U.S.”
In June, she traveled with the choir for two weeks to South Africa, where the group performed at Oprah’s School for Children in Cape Town. In addition, the group worked with Broadway in South Africa, a nonprofit.
“We participated in workshops with underprivileged kids and teens from the township of Kwamashu, right outside of Durban,” Valente said.
She also had some field trips, including a ferry ride to Robben Island, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. It is also the place the late Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years.
Back at school, Valente, the daughter of Cindy and Neal Valente, of Oak Forest, enjoys performing in choir, Madrigals, Harmony Ensemble and various school plays.
She ranked fourth in her class as a junior, was her junior class representative and is a member of the speech team, National Honor Society, Group Interpretation, Gay Straight Alliance, Ecology Club and Thespians Honor Society. She also plays soccer.
After high school, she is looking to attend a small college or university but hasn’t settled on a career just yet.
“I am interested in so many things, so the decision to commit to one thing is overwhelming,” she said. “Right now, I love physics and science and math in general. I also love astronomy but I also love learning about culture and languages, so maybe I’ll do something in international relations.”
She said being surrounded by motivated people such as her family, friends and teachers keeps her going.
“I find inspiration in them and I’m very self-motivated,” she said. “Even if someone isn’t telling me what to do, I do it myself.”