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Student of the Month | December 2023 | Leila Perjes

Leila Perjes is what her teacher Seth Stallings describes as a dream student.

“She is valedictorian-smart, but she is also humble and socially adept,” Stallings said. “She is the consummate peer to her classmates, and she is an able leader and teammate in her athletic endeavors.

That humility and care for others shines through when Perjes talks about her experiences at school and her plans for the future.

“I am motivated by the people that surround me. It is really inspiring to see my friends pursue the passions and interests that they have, and the accomplishments that they receive along the way,” Perjes said. “I may not pursue the same things as them, but witnessing their successes in doing what they love motivates me to want to succeed in the things that I love.”

Thanks to her passion for so many things, there are several possible paths before Perjes when she graduates Riverside High School in the spring. She is currently waiting on a decision from N.C. State University, where she hopes to attend and major in textile engineering. However, she has also applied to a couple of other colleges, and she has alternate career plans based on where she ultimately attends. If she goes to Appalachian State University, she’ll major in industrial design, but if she goes to UNC Charlotte, she’ll major in electrical engineering. She has been accepted to both.

“If I earn a degree in textile engineering, I hope to work with an apparel company, specifically one that is constantly working to sustainably improve the fabrics that their clothes are made of while simultaneously being environmentally-conscious,” Perjes said. “I am currently really interested in working with the athletic-wear sector of the industry. I really like the idea of getting to be a part of a process that designs and creates fabrics/materials that will eventually be used or worn by people.”

But no matter where she attends, or what she majors in, Perjes said she would possibly like to minor in dance to maintain some sports and a creative outlet in her life. 

A long-time dancer, Perjes said she took a year off during her sophomore year so that she could prioritize her studies. But even though she started out the break feeling a little tired of dance, she started to feel “kind of empty” without dance in her life.

“I’ve been dancing since the age of four, and then all of a sudden, it was gone,” she said. “I missed the challenge of expressing through movement, the eagerness to learn more and be better, and my dance friends.”

But, she added, “The break was definitely worth it because it was my own example of having to lose something in order for me to love it again. I came back to my dance studio last year with a greater passion to dance than before.”

Still, Perjes said she finds it challenging to manage all the areas of life and give time to all of them, including spending time with family and friends, meeting her school responsibilities, and attending extracurricular events.

Being home during the COVID pandemic helped Perjes achieve that balance, she said, because it was a forced “reset that I never knew I needed.” She used the time to develop organizational skills, to re-teach herself academic content, and to explore new hobbies. She said that journaling also helped, as it gave her time to reflect and relax.

Perjes is active in and outside her school community. She is a co-officer and co-founder of Riverside’s Asian-American Student Association, a member of the Student Government Association, a member of the Environmental Club, a member of the National Honor Society, and member of the National Technical Honor Society. She also volunteers with the Durham Food Bank. In what there is of her spare time, she likes to read and do arts and crafts. She said, “I cycle through crocheting, friendship bracelet-making, and sewing.”

But her biggest accomplishment so far, Perjes said, has been getting accepted to and attending the Governor’s School for dance the summer before senior year started. She found the experience highly motivating, as well.

“It was a really cool experience getting to meet people who wanted to continue learning and challenging themselves in the discipline they applied for,” she said.

But one of the most inspiring people in Perjes’ life, she said, is her mother.

“She has such a big heart, and with that, I hope to successfully emulate the kindness and positivity that she carries. I am beyond lucky to be able to call such a strong, resilient, supportive, and thoughtful woman my mom.”