A Shining Star
By Shaikh A. Majeed
a banquet room of the LAX Marriott, three hundred seated
guests wait in anxious silence as the winners of the 2007
California Academic Decathlon are announced. As the presenter
calls out “Vanden High School”, a team dressed
in matching red and black stands up to bursts of cheers.
This team from Solano County in Northern California was
the first team from their area to win, a team that had come
close to winning in previous years. March of 2007 was a
time of redemption for the nine-student team.
Academic Decathlon is a highly comprehensive program that
truly tests how well rounded a student is. The nationwide
competition’s 10 categories — speech, interview,
essay, language and literature, economics, mathematics,
science, social science, art and music — comprise
the decathlon. Aleena Syed, born and raised in California
to Pakistani born parents, was a member of the winning team
from Solano County.
The 2007 state competition was Aleena’s second, she
had been part of the team the year prior when Vanden came
in a disappointing third. When asked what they had done
differently, Aleena responded, “We worked a lot harder.
We were lucky to have a group of students and supporters
that really took this competition seriously.” Seriously
indeed; the team put in 30 hours a week of studying after
school and on weekends, wrote and memorized speeches, highlighted
and read informational materials, and made flashcards. The
hard work truly paid off. At the Northbay Regional Competition
held in Solano County, Aleena brought home medals in every
But there was little time for celebration. “State
is more competitive than the Regionals competition”,
said Aleena. “The students at the state competition
are more competitive. We really want to win.” With
this mentality, Vanden’s team got back to work—they
reviewed speeches, practiced interviews, took practice tests,
listened to lectures, and continued studying. “It
was definitely difficult at times to stay focused, but we
certainly didn’t want to lose state again.”
The team not only won, but also shattered the state division
record. Aleena brought home individual medals in economics,
language and literature, science, interview, science, overall
county score and overall score. “The team medals definitely
meant the most,” said Aleena. “This was our
ultimate goal and it was incredible to be able to achieve
that. The only pressure is we have to try to do it again!”
Aleena, now a senior at Vanden High School, will return
to the competition as team captain.
Aleena has won four gold and five silver individual medals.
She also ranked among the top ten in the State, and top
20 in the nation.