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Class of 2021: Zhikai “Gary” Sheng

By: Mr. Scott McGraw, Upper School History
It should not be surprising to anyone that Zhikai “Gary” Sheng is considering law school. 

Growing up in Shanghai, Zhikai decided early on that he wanted to study in the U.S. because he liked the American educational system’s focus on the humanities. While the Chinese educational system favors subjects like math and physics, Zhikai believed that coming to America would offer him more of an opportunity to study the social sciences and to speak his mind on controversial issues–a freedom he never felt in China. When he mentioned his plan to his mom (a pharmacist) and his dad (a businessman), they were very encouraging, and after interviewing with Cape Henry’s Head of Upper School, Mr. Paul Horgan in Shanghai, Zhikai moved to Virginia Beach in Ninth Grade. 

Once at Cape Henry, Zhikai stuck to his plan and found his true calling when he began to learn about the law and discuss issues of social justice. Because he is from China, Zhikai was particularly interested in American democratic processes and how they work when he entered his AP U.S. Government class at the beginning of his junior year, and he soon found himself asking questions about everything from the Electoral College to the role of interest groups. As Zhikai put it, “coming from a communist country, I realize how important a democratic government is. My government class showed me what a democratic government should look like.”

Zhikai took his passion for government and the law to the next level when he participated in the Cape Henry’s Supreme Court program. As a junior, Zhikai was selected to participate as a student lawyer in the case of Torres v. Madrid, which raised the question of whether a person who is shot by the police but keeps running has been “seized” under the Fourth Amendment. Acting as a lawyer required him to argue the case on behalf of the police to a panel of lawyers and other community leaders who consistently interrupted his argument with questions about the facts of the case, the relevant case law, and the consequences of potential decisions. With an online audience watching, Zhikai answered all the questions and made his point effectively. 

Perhaps more important than arguing his case well, Zhikai came to an important realization about the American governmental system, particularly our judicial system. As he put it, “participating in the Supreme Court program showed me how everyday, ordinary people, the parties and lawyers for both sides, can participate in government and policymaking and maybe even change the meaning of the Constitution. Everyone has their chance to advocate for their rights and express their needs.” Zhikai also learned during the tryout process (when he was required to argue both sides of the case) that you can argue your own case more effectively if you truly understand the argument on the other side. 

Zhikai now intends to further his study of the humanities at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. He liked the progressive vibe of the school when he visited and, once there, plans to focus on gender studies with an eye towards becoming an attorney focusing on social justice issues and being a voice for the voiceless.

When asked about the best thing about his Cape Henry experience, Zhikai immediately mentioned the faculty. In fact, he has taken four classes - AP U.S. History, AP European History, Honors Asian Studies, and Economics–with his favorite teacher, Mr. Steve Palmer. While Zhikai and Mr. Palmer do not see eye to eye on every political issue, Zhikai admires Mr. Palmer’s intelligence, his willingness to dialogue, and his ability to make every lecture fascinating, no matter the topic. Zhikai also mentioned how much he appreciated his AP Statistics teacher, Dr. Cori Perkins, who always supported him and was his advocate whenever he needed one. 

Zhikai returned to China recently and will be finishing his final semester at Cape Henry via Zoom. We are all excited, however, to see what great things he achieves when he returns to the States next fall. Good luck, Zhikai! 
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