Senior took roundabout path to Urbana graduation

Senior took roundabout path to Urbana graduation

For her senior year, Cara Cazier had one injured ankle, two proms on separate continents and one very big senior trip.

Not necessarily the way she'd planned it, but this daughter of missionaries seems to enjoy a bit of unpredictability.

Cazier, 17, is a Bement native who moved with her parents and two older sisters to Kenya when she was 7. Her dad took a construction job with the Christian Missionary Fellowship there. Cara enrolled in an international Christian school in Nairobi.

She loved Kenya, and it soon felt like home. Moving back to the U.S. at age 17, in fact, was a much tougher transition.

During her sophomore year of high school, she was injured in a soccer game and "it was not fixed properly," she said.

So after her junior year, she came back to the Midwest for surgery last summer at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. She wasn't able to fly back to Africa because of the risk of blood clots, so she moved in with her sister in Urbana and enrolled at Urbana High School. Crystal Cazier, 26, had moved back to Urbana to attend the University of Illinois (as did her parents, Dori and Lynn Cazier, and grandparents) and then settled here.

Cara spent the entire first semester at Urbana in a cast or surgical boot — not to mention adjusting to a different country and a school where she knew no one.

"It was an experience," she said, laughing. "Yeah."

She wasn't nervous, exactly. She had a strong support system of friends in Kenya and was determined not to be negative.

"I just wanted to have a good senior year," she said.

But pretty much everything was different. Rosslyn Academy, her school in Kenya, is a Christian college-prep school, "a mix between Uni High and Judah Christian," she said.

Compared to Urbana High, it's smaller (about the size of Urbana High's senior class); more fluid (a very international enrollment and lots of new students each year), and more diverse (her class of 60 had just a half-dozen white Americans).

"The rest were from everywhere else in the world," mostly India, Korea and Africa, she said. "I was used to being the minority, but that's not the really the case at Urbana."

In Kenya, she was a member of the National Honor Society and Student Council, and played volleyball, basketball and soccer. She was also elected a senior class leader, sort of a character role model. And she played violin.

Cazier did perform with Urbana High's orchestra this year, but her ankle surgery dialed down other activities.

Still, once it healed, she decided to stay for the second semester, and she's glad she did.

She had formed friendships quickly in Kenya, as students were constantly moving and didn't always have extended families nearby. At Urbana, where many students grow up in one city, it took a little longer. But by the end of the year she'd formed a close group of friends.

"I liked that it was a bigger school. There's lots of people to get to know," Cazier said.

Another plus: Urbana teens have more freedom than in Kenya, where students don't get a driver's license until age 18.

Cazier did go back to Kenya for a month in March because she didn't want to miss the big Rosslyn senior class trip — a week at the beach on the Indian Ocean. She also went to the junior-senior prom. Luckily, it didn't conflict with Urbana's prom on April 28. She hit both.

"I love to dance," she said.

Did she wear the same dress? "Oh no." She borrowed a black and gold velvet number for the Kenyan prom, and wore a simple black dress for Urbana's — "nothing too extravagant."

Her parents made the trip from Africa for today's graduation, but Cazier will stay in the U.S. for college. She's headed to Northern Illinois University, where she will study kinesiology and possibly physical therapy, an interest piqued by her ankle surgery.

"This year has grown me as a person a lot. Even though it wasn't expected, I wouldn't go back and change it," she said.

Science teacher Shanda Goodrum said Cazier was always upbeat, even when she had to use a scooter to support her leg while she moved through the halls.

"She had a ready smile for anyone around," said Goodrum, who called her a "studious and focused" student.

"She was a pleasure to teach. I see her succeeding at anything she puts her mind to doing — now and five years from now."

Missing 'home'

Four things Cara Cazier loves about Kenya:

1 People are very relational and personable

2 It's less materialistic

3 They appreciate education

4 Summer is year-round.

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