State Stories


Buffalo Grove's Sabrina Kenoun Named IHSA Nominee For NFHS Heart of the Arts Award

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Sabrina Kenoun is the 2016-17 IHSA nominee for the NFHS Heart of the Arts Award:

When Buffalo Grove High School teacher Stefanie McCleish received an email seeking nominees for the NFHS Heart of the Arts Award, one student immediately came to mind.

“The title of the award made me think of her,” McCleish said. “She is the perfect person because she lives and breathes the arts. The arts are in everything she does.”

“She” is Buffalo Grove senior Sabrina Kenoun (right), and to be fair, when it comes to the arts, the heart really isn’t even the half of it. For this talented writer and musician, the arts also consume her mind, body, and soul.

Sabrina fell in love with reading as a child, using books as her “sleeping pill” when she couldn’t doze off on her own. At five years old she was beginning to write original stories on the computer and by twelve knew that she wanted writing to be her eventual career.

“As long as I can remember, there has never really been a question that I wanted to be a writer,” Sabrina said. “I write what I am feeling, it’s the best way to calm me down and channel emotion. Give me a sentence or a subject and I can build a story around it.”

Sabrina channeled her emotion at Buffalo Grove High School into the school newspaper, The Charger, where she has worked for four years under McCleish’s guidance. Sabrina has taken on a leadership role with The Charger, writing news, features, and opinions, among other topics, while also starting a recurring book review entitled “Sabrina’s Book Nook.” A Northern Illinois Scholastic Press Association blue ribbon award winner, she will also compete in the IHSA Journalism State Series alongside her fellow senior newspaper staff members this spring.

“Sabrina is so authentic and comfortable with who she is,” McCleish said. “She is a refreshing type of student, one you love to have in class and see parts of yourself in. You see her passion, and as a teacher, you want to take those embers and create a full-blown fire.”

Sabrina’s burning passion for the arts isn’t limited just to writing. Of course, she is President of the school Book Club, volunteers at her local library, and is too embarrassed to reveal how many times she has read Harry Potter, but she is also a musician, having played violin in the school orchestra throughout her high school career.

“My dad plays guitar and I started to play it a little when I was young,” Sabrina said. “I began to play violin in fourth grade. Sometimes it can feel like work, but seeing my younger sisters start to play violin has made me remember why I did it in the first place. Because I love it.”

While Sabrina’s love for the arts is impressive, the Heart of the Arts Award has traditionally recognized students who not only excel in the arts, but who have also overcome adversity in their lives to do so.

Ironically, the girl who has penned enough compelling narratives on the website to garner over 800,000 followers will likely reduce overcoming Spastic Diplegia to just a sentence or two in her own life story. Due in part to being born 10 weeks premature, Sabrina was diagnosed with the form of Cerebral Palsy as a child. She was in and out of casting as a child and had two surgeries to help aid her mobility.

“Sure I walk funny because of it (Spastic Diplegia),” Sabrina said. “But it’s really only ever prevented me from playing sports. I am aware of it, but I don’t let it affect me. If someone was giving me special attention every day because of it, that would be much worse. I am fortunate to have such a good group of friends and teachers. They are accepting and treat me exactly the same.”

Not surprisingly, the arts have been a catalyst for Sabrina’s core group of friends coming together at Buffalo Grove High School, and remain a constant.

“Our friendship is rooted in journalism,” fellow senior Nikki Piamonte, who has been friends with Sabrina since sixth grade said. “When we first met, everything we talked about was related to books or writing or music. She has been passionate about the arts her whole life. She is going to go so far.”

While overcoming Spastic Diplegia remains an afterthought for Sabrina, her teachers and her friends, disparaging the arts is something that won’t soon be forgotten.

Sabrina recently penned an op-ed entitled “Why no one should judge you for following your dreams” in The Charger, addressing what she feels is a growing narrative against arts-based careers due to a perceived lack of prestige, glamour and a big paycheck.

“I think there is a stereotype that if you go to college to become an artist, musician or writer that you are going to be starving in 10 years," Sabrina said. "The other side of that is you could be wildly successful. It doesn’t matter as long as you are happy and enjoying what you are doing. I am going to live my ideal life no matter if it makes me rich or not. I want to live my life.”

How’s that for heart?