Class of 2020: Ziyao "Jasmine" Zhang

By: Mr. Scott McGraw, Upper School History
Jasmine Zhang came to Cape Henry from Nanjing, China in the ninth grade because she wanted a better education in the humanities than the one she was receiving at home. The Chinese education system focuses strongly on mathematics and the hard sciences, and Jasmine knew that those were not the fields for her.

As she would have predicted, her favorite classes so far have been in the History and English departments. She has particularly enjoyed Mrs. Cabreros’ AP Literature class because she appreciates the freewheeling in-class discussions where student opinion is not limited in any way. She has also enjoyed the three history classes she has taken from Mr. Palmer - AP US History, Asian Studies, and AP European History – because he has a fantastic sense of humor and because his lectures are so informative and engaging. Lastly, she has loved her two government classes: AP US Government and AP Comparative Government. While many bemoan the current divisive political climate, Jasmine sees a country’s political system as a reflection of its character and believes that the sometimes adversarial nature of American politics is actually a sign of its strength, as people who have the right to disagree are ultimately better off than those who are unified under an enforced nationalism.

Jasmine has truly found her calling, however, in the field of law. Two summers ago, she attended a mock trial competition in Shanghai and then she attended another competition in San Francisco last October. While there, she realized the profound impact an American lawyer can have on policy. One of the issues she and her teammates argued about in San Francisco (the free speech rights of white supremacists) became real when an unfortunate incident raising similar issues occurred a few weeks later in North Carolina. While she was taught in China that law is inviolable and unchanging, she has learned here that the law is full of gray areas and can be used to make change. She was so inspired by the competitions that she started a mock trial team at Cape Henry, and she and her fellow students are participating in a competition in Virginia in late March.

Jasmine was also one of five students selected to be a “lawyer” in a Cape Henry moot court competition last year. Specifically, she argued last year’s Supreme Court case of Rehaif v United States, a highly technical case about how to interpret a federal statute that criminalizes the possession of firearms by illegal aliens, to a group of local lawyers and community leaders. At the argument, she had ten minutes to convince the panel of “Justices” to interpret the law in favor of her client: the US Government. The local lawyers / “Justices” frequently interrupted her with questions about the facts of the case, previous case law, and the effect of a certain ruling on future cases. Jasmine handled these questions flawlessly despite presenting her case and answering the questions in a second language (she was the first “international” student to participate in this competition in the eleven years it has existed).

When it came time to choose a college, she knew that she wanted to stay on the East Coast (California is too dry) and that she wanted to build upon the liberal arts education she has received at Cape Henry so she decided that Vassar College is the perfect fit for her. The small school in Poughkeepsie, New York, imposes very few graduation requirements on its students, allowing them to follow their passion on day one. The school also allows students to take pass-fail classes in certain subjects so students can learn without the pressure of getting a high grade. While there, she plans to major in political science (with a possible focus on gender studies), minor in Spanish and, perhaps, after graduation, go to law school. Whatever route she chooses, Vassar is lucky to have her.
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