Junior spreads rays of sunshine at HHS

IMG_6788By Staff Writer: Jada Boprie

Few people are lucky enough in life to have a friend like Janice Kwan. Aside from her talents for singing and academics, this Howell High School junior is known around the school for her ever-present smile and her rare sense of kindness.

Even as we start the interview, she cheerfully greets a few students walking by, who all respond with, “Hey, Janice!” What’s interesting is the unpredictability of who her friends are. Sophomores, seniors, drama kids, academic kids, Kwan can easily be friends with them all.

For someone who is so well-liked, she is surprisingly down-to-earth, especially when it comes to school. Kwan not only takes a handful of AP classes, she’s also involved in National Honor Society, is a member of A Cappella choir and sings in school musicals, including the productions of Brigadoon, Fiddler on the Roof, and Footloose.

“I’m grateful for school (most of the time). On the deep side, I know a lot of people don’t get to go to school,” she smiles.

In addition to singing, Kwan also has a talent for acting. She nailed the audition for the HHS Advanced Drama class, which she likes partly because of the friends she’s made.

“It’s not set up like normal classes. You get to show your opinions and get to know each other more. You’re not judged as much and everyone is really supportive,” Kwan says.

Surprisingly, some of the older students at HHS still only know Kwan as “Claire’s sister”. Claire Kwan, an HHS grad of 2012, is a popular, academic legend who scored a perfect 36 on the ACTs and attends the prestigious Northwestern University on full scholarship. Janice Kwan is completely aware of her older sister’s achievements, and the resulting overshadowing it puts on her.

“It really doesn’t bother me that much, because Claire is known for something good. And I still feel like an individual. I feel like once people meet me they know I’m different from her,” Kwan says.

While most people would be jealous, at the least, Kwan is just the opposite. Kwan’s friends recognize her optimistic and caring personality, especially her close friend, HHS junior Rachel Cichon.

“Having Janice as a friend is always satisfying. She will always text you back, she’s always there for you. She’s incredible,” Cichon says.

Kwan seems to be one of those remarkable friends who always put the happiness of others before themselves. For instance, she always makes it a point to remember a person’s birthday, even if they are just a casual classroom acquaintance. Off the top of her head, Cichon can list many similar examples of Kwan’s kindness.

“She knows I don’t like Thursdays, and this one Thursday, out of the blue, she just came up to me, handed me a box of Sour Patch Kids and said, ‘Rachel, I want you to have a good Thursday,’” Cichon says.

One reason Kwan relates to so many people may be her ability to accept people for who they are, which is a trait she learned as a young child.

Kwan’s parents were both born in Taiwan and speak Chinese. When they moved to California and had children, they gave Kwan and her sisters traditional, Chinese names.

“Chang-Shing, that’s the official birth-certificate name . . . the truth is out,” she smiles.

Today, anyone who has had Kwan in their class has seen a poor substitute teacher trying to pronounce her given name. Years before, Kwan’s sister had the same problem.

“My sister went to school and no one could pronounce her name, so my parents just decided, ‘Okay, we need to give them English names,’” Kwan says.

While she now goes by “Janice”, Kwan is proud of her Taiwanese heritage and speaks the language fluently. Even when her mom calls her at school, she will switch easily from speaking English with her friends to speaking Chinese with her mom on her phone.

“It’s not weird for me, but I feel like it’s weird for other people,” she laughs.

These experiences with being different only add to her capacity for friendship, but her mature ability to put others before herself may be why she attracts friends like a flower attracts butterflies. Kwan’s selfless nature also extends to her family, where she is especially close with her mother and younger sister.

Last summer, Kwan’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent the summer in Taiwan (halfway around the world) for treatment, taking Kwan’s father with her for the first month.

At the age of 15, Janice spent a part of summer living with a family friend, trying to keep up with schoolwork assigned over break and NHS volunteer hours, while taking on adult responsibilities like grocery shopping, taking care of her younger sister, and paying the bills, all without the convenience of a car or driver’s license.

“It was really emotionally tolling,” Kwan admits.

Even through times as rough as these, Kwan tried to keep thinking optimistically and accept her situation as a solemn experience for what it is really like to be an adult.

“It was my first taste of the real world,” she says.

As such a likeable person, Kwan is constantly looked up to for her kindness and optimism by her friends. But she still looks to her mother as her influence and inspiration. Kwan’s motivation for working hard and treating other people right comes from her mom, who she considers to be one of her best friends.

“She puts up with so much and works so hard, and when she comes home she doesn’t take any of it out on us. She’s always there for us,” Kwan says.