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Graduate 2019: Rachel Mei Lanting

Finding Compassion, Challenges, and Choices at K-Central

Rachel Mei Lanting was curious what life might be like outside of the small private middle school she attended.

What would it be like to try a big school with more choices in classes, more people, more variety in activities?

So, she enrolled in Kalamazoo Central when she was a freshman.

“I ended up falling in love with it,” said Lanting, who goes by Mei. “It’s so many new opportunities and new people. Even now in my senior year, I’m meeting new people in all of my classes, which I think is pretty amazing. I still have the small school feel with KAMSC (the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center), so it’s a very nice balance.”

She’s turned into quite an advocate for Kalamazoo Central, from which she graduated this spring.

“I feel like the people are so genuinely kind and compassionate,” Lanting said. “Before I wasn’t used to people greeting me in the hallways or saying ‘Hi,’ which is a very small thing. Going to Kalamazoo Central, I just felt like the vast majority of the students were really open and accepting even though I didn’t know anyone.”

Lanting said she wasn’t aware of it at the time, but she felt alone and isolated in middle school. Everyone struggles with their identity at that age, she said, but for her that was complicated by being one of the few minority students in her middle school.

“Going to Kalamazoo Central, it was culture shock being surrounded by such diverse students, but it made me feel so much better about myself,” she said. “In a big school, you can always find a place to fit in. So I was able to find other Asian students to connect with, other students of color to connect with.

“And, I was able to overcome some of the prejudices I had unintentionally formed. I didn’t realize I had them until I came into a big school. Then, I started thinking about the way I think about my classmates and it was like, ‘Wait, that isn’t right.’ I feel like pushing me out of my comfort zone made me a better person because I wasn’t relying on my immediate snap judgments that I could rely on in middle school. So, my maturity in high school wasn’t just academic, it was also personal growth.”

It wasn’t just the other students who made the high school experience special, it was the teachers too.

“I had amazing teachers all around,” she said. “You can tell they’re very passionate about their students. These amazing teachers care so much about their students.”

Now, Lanting’s younger sister Lee plans to follow in her footsteps and attend Kalamazoo Central, starting as a freshman next year. Her parents are Ashley and Steve Lanting.

Her advice to her sister, and any student as they start high school: Get involved in something right away.

For Lanting, that was choir and eventually the school musicals.

“I did mainly choir my first year, and I did the musical and it was crazy. It’s like a huge group of 60 kids singing mixed chorus. Being able to sit next to someone in that musical group experience, you bond very quickly. I have so many friends from choir, even though I haven’t done it since my sophomore year.”

She had to drop choir because she was busy with other musical endeavors, her church, Westwood Christian Reformed Church, and KAMSC, the Kalamazoo County advanced math and science program that is administered by KPS. She plays oboe with the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra, and was the winner of the 2019 concerto competition. She performs with the KJSO’s woodwind ensemble. Lanting is also an accomplished pianist, winning an honorable mention in this year’s Gene Marcus Competition at Purdue University and attending the finals of the Michigan Music Teachers Association at Michigan State University in the spring.

The KJSO is known for its demanding schedule and challenging repertoire for young performers — and that’s part of what Lanting has enjoyed about the experience.

“We play the same repertoire as the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra,” she said. “We don’t take it at a slower tempo or cut it in any way. There’s this atmosphere of encouragement that in nine to 10 weeks we’re going to do it, and it’s going to be amazing.”

KJSO Maestro Andrew Koehler remembers Lanting arriving for her first rehearsal — as a fifth grader. Lanting remembers that day too, and says she “sucked.”

Koeher says different. “She was barely a middle schooler at that time; I couldn’t even see her above the stand. But the sound that emanated from behind that stand was already astonishingly mature. The quality of her playing lifts all those around her. She has a preternatural, professional-level calm and presence of mind in performance as well.”

As demanding as it was, her music has served as a needed respite from some of the academic challenges she faced taking AP classes at K-Central and attending KAMSC, where again she seems to have thrived on the pressure.

There were times she says she struggled “to survive” — such as in calculus — but there were other moments she loved such as doing higher level research and computer coding. The math and science took. Lanting will be attending Kalamazoo College on a prestigious Heyl Scholarship, which provides a full ride to study math or science.

“I appreciated KAMSC because you don’t have to lock yourself into doing the math tract or the physics tract or the chemistry tract. They let you get a broad experience of the subjects.”

But more than the academics, she appreciates what KAMSC taught her about balance and being a good student. She learned to talk to her teachers, to ask questions, to seek their help when she was stuck. She realized the value in having a bond with her teachers and building trust based on hard work.

KAMSC physics and math teacher Mike Sinclair said Lanting is one of the smartest students he’s had over the years.

“She loves her music, but she’s really good at math and computer science,” he said. “When you meet someone who’s so multi-talented, you have two choices: You can be incredibly jealous — or angry that you’re not as talented. She’s just incredibly bright. And she has a good sense of herself. She’s very humble, very self-possessed. I just love that young lady.”

Lanting is excited about starting Kalamazoo College in the fall. As she looks back at her high school years, she has only one regret: that she didn’t do more. “I was talking to a friend,” she said. “We decided if we could do high school multiple times, it would be nice to focus on different experiences. If I had time, I would have gotten involved with soccer or robotics.”

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