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Steilacoom student strives to make every classmate feel welcome

Taylan Swift (top right) and friends head for WE Day at Seattle Center earlier this year. (Photo courtesy Taylan Swift)

If you go to school at Steilacoom High, you’re virtually guaranteed to meet Taylan Swift, whether you like it or night. That’s because the student body president has made it his mission to make as many students feel welcome at the Pierce County school.

It’s a mission inspired by his own experience when he first moved to Steilacoom as a first grader and didn’t know a single kid.

“You know, I was alone, it was a little scary. And right off the bat I had a few kids walk up to me and make friends with me. Looking back it’s definitely something that’s unique to our community,” he says.

With its proximity to Joint Base Lewis McChord, families move frequently. Taylan says on average, 150 new students arrive at the school each year. And when he remembered his own experience as a first grader, he wanted to make sure the new students got a similar reception.

“I’m just really driven to make sure that my community members are looked after and feel cared for. It’s one thing to move to a whole new community. But if that community is not accepting of who you are and you’re not able to make friends right off the bat, then you’re really going to struggle with school and everything.”

Taylan volunteers with Student2Student, a club founded to help transitioning students from the military community. Thanks to his dedication, he was chosen to attend a national training seminar in Washington D.C., where he had the honor of presenting to three and four-star general, admirals, the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Defense.

Taylan has also served in the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership program, helping young people make a difference in school and the community. And he was selected to be one of only 10 students from around the world to attend the prestigious Francis Hesselbein Student Leadership Conference at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

But it’s Taylan’s smallest gestures that might make the biggest impacts. During his junior year, he realized a smile or simple greeting could go a long way. So he started holding the door every morning, saying “good morning” to students entering school, offering a smile or a handshake.

“I’ve had so many people tell me what a big difference it makes in their day,” he gushes. “Mornings used to be really depressing, so it’s nice to know I could make them a little brighter.”

Taylan and his friends also started a new tradition called “Freshman Fridays.” Every week, the upperclassmen change lunch tables and sit with younger students to help break down barriers.

“I did not know a single one of them when we started and that really helped us get to know our school better and really cement the cohesion among the classes.”

Despite logging over 540 hours of community service the last two years alone, Taylan always makes time to take care of his own business. He sports a 3.9 grade point average while taking advanced placement classes, and is bound for Washington State University where he plans to study engineering this fall.

Going to Pullman will be a big change for this standout student. and he admits he’ll miss being so close to his classmates, since he won’t be able to stand outside and great each one as he’s done in Steilacoom.

“They have like 40,000 kids. I would be there all day,” he laughs.

KIRO Radio 97.3 FM and Comprehensive Wealth Management are proud to select Taylan Swift as a Standout Student of the month.

Taylan is one of nine exceptional students who will be selected for a $1,000 scholarship. One of the recipients will also receive a $10,000 grand prize scholarship.

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