Graham Kupsaw works with second graders at Pinecrest Elementary in Immokalee through a summer program offered by the STEM program of Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers. (COURTESY)

New challenges await grad who tacked Model U.N., served in Immokalee

ORLANDO  |  If high schoolers had resumes, Graham Kupsaw would have a couple of interesting, if not diverse, entries.

• Represented the African nation of Djibouti, and chaired a committee in a mock Roman Senate.

• Built bridges with first and second graders in Immokalee.

• Explored relationship with God during Live Jesus retreat.

• Ranked personal favorite national flags because of their simplicity, such as Japan and China, and Uganda, which, while simple, it also displays a chicken.

Those experiences grew out of Graham’s four years as a student of Bishop Verot High School. The second oldest of six children, Graham was honored as one of the top 10 graduates of the Fort Myers Catholic high school. While Graham hadn’t attended Catholic school before Verot, he said he was blessed to be a part of the community where his academic achievements intertwined with memorable and enlightening community service and spiritual experiences.

“I feel like when people think of Catholic school, they think of a closed-minded atmosphere with no other opinions,” Graham said, adding that is not at all the atmosphere reflected at Bishop Verot. “Definitely one of the big things I would highlight about the school is how smoothly Verot integrates religion and education in an accepting atmosphere. The faculty are open to hearing different opinions, and that’s true especially through Model UN where we are discussing different world opinions.”

When Graham first attended Verot, he knew little to nothing about the Model United Nations program. But since diving into the program during his sophomore year, he made his way through the rank of vice president of the club, which included 30 to 35 students. Through the Model U.N., members represent different nations to discuss and debate topics as would be done in the actual United Nations. 

“My favorite part of it is to strategize and figure out each nation’s policy and see what matches the nation you represent,” Graham said. “Thanks to the program, I’ve been exposed to much international problems and issues that we might not have been exposed to or discussed in the U.S.A.”

Along with representing Djibouti, Graham said he had served on counsels for the United Kingdom and the United States, and at one time portrayed the defense minister of Russia. Meets have been held in the high school, but the group also travels to local events as well as the National Model U.N. held in Washington, D.C. in November. 

“When you are representing a country, you aren’t representing your own beliefs and point of view; it is the nation’s point of view, which might be different than your own,” Graham said. “When I represented Russia, a lot of other nations were advocating for denuclearization, but I had to speak for Russia, which would want to keep nuclear arms and stuff. I might see that as a backwards way of thinking and not agree with it, but it opened me up to another point of view that was different from my own. The Model U.N. opened me up to eye-opening problems. Last February in a Model U.N. conference in Boston, we talked about how a Muslim minority in China were being sent to reeducation camps and how the U.N. is investigating what the Chinese are doing to them. That’s something I hadn’t heard before, and might not have without the Model U.N.”

Working closer to home, Graham’s bridge building experience comes out of a Verot volunteer program — STEM 4 Students. He and seven other top students volunteered to teach STEM projects (which focus on science, technology, engineering and math) to first and second graders at Pinecrest Elementary in Immokalee during the summer.  

“There are a lot of migrant farmworker children who don’t have a lot of adequate education during the school year,” Graham said. “They attend Pinecrest for the summer to give them to get extra schooling.”

For two hours every day the teens paired up with two first and second graders to do a variety of STEM projects — from using geometry to show how triangles might support objects better than squares, to using engineering know-how to build bridges. But while his STEM project focused on engineering, Graham said his favorite branch of science is biology. 

“I’ve had three years of biology and anatomy. I was blessed to have a passionate teacher who makes sure you understand the material. I feel like that attributed to why I like biology so much,” he said.

He hopes to learn more about biology and chemistry as he embarks on a new chapter of his educational career. Like his older brother, Graham will attend Brown University, an Ivy League school in Providence, Rhode Island. 

“What I care about the most is science, and as of now, I’m looking to be a doctor. But Brown’s curriculum is very flexible, so I can concentrate in different fields. I’m interested in biology and chemistry, but I want to study foreign policy as well,” Graham said. “I would like a job where I could influence global health policy, like the World Health Organization where I can combine my two subjects of interest.”

Graham admits it will be hard to leave his tight-knit family, but he looks forward to all the new experiences Brown will open up for him. 

“My mom told me to pack warm,” he said with a laugh. “They all give me the advice that they will always be there for me if I ever need anything.”

Along with knowing his brother will be 10 minutes away from the freshman dorm helps ease Graham’s nerves. And so does his faith. When Graham attended a Live Jesus three-day retreat led by juniors and seniors at Verot, he discovered how reflection through adoration of the Blessed Sacrament can offer peace.

“It is just like this great time to reflect on yourself, especially at the end of the high school,” he said. “I think Verot has provided me with a great support system to have a spiritual connection with God. I feel like going to Church reminds me of that. And Mass at Verot fostered a relationship with God that I wouldn’t have gotten if I went to another high school.”