Black excellence at West: Wesal Haroun and Bashir Elteyb

In the fifth installment of the Black excellence at West series, Wesal Haroun ’24 and Bashir Eltyeb ’25 are highlighted for their achievements at West and beyond.
Bashir Eltyeb 25 and Wesal Haroun 24 pose with their acheivements.
Bashir Eltyeb ’25 and Wesal Haroun ’24 pose with their acheivements.
Josephine Schwartz

As of 2024, West High School has been ranked the number one public high school in Iowa by U.S. News and World Report. For years, its motto has been “Where Excellence is Tradition.” The outstanding achievements of Black students at West High have significantly bolstered this tradition of excellence.

Black students comprise 24.1% of the student body, the second largest demographic after White students. Their achievements have propelled West High to its current status and represent the breaking of barriers set by systemic racism.

To celebrate their accomplishments and highlight their contributions, West Side Story initiated a series to showcase the excellence of Black students at West High. In the fifth installment of this series, Wesal Haroun ’24 and Bashir Eltyeb ’25 are highlighted for their remarkable achievements at West High and beyond.

Wesal Haroun ’24 poses for a Black excellence portrait. (Josephine Schwartz)

Wesal Haroun ’24

Wesal Haroun is a senior at West and has set a high standard for excellence. Haroun embodies resilience, intellect, and leadership. She is the president of West High’s Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), and with her hard work, she revived the club. Next year, Haroun is planning to attend Harvard University, the first Black and Muslim woman from West High to do so.

Her journey speaks volumes about her ambition and drive to break barriers, especially as a black Muslim woman. Haroun can balance academic rigor with extracurricular commitments seamlessly. Her role as Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Trojan Epic Yearbook showcases her creativity and dedication to capturing different voices in her school community.

Haroun started journalism during her freshman year and then went on to join the Trojan Epic Yearbook staff during her sophomore year. Her hard work throughout those years was able to secure her a Free Spirit Scholarship and was able to attend an all-expenses paid trip to D.C. her junior year.

“The Al Neuharth Free Spirit & Journalism Conference selects one high school junior from each state to attend a conference where they learn about Al’s legacy, gain journalistic insight from the nation’s best journalists, and network with like-minded students while exploring D.C, ” Haroun said.

This scholarship was one of the many other awards she has received from journalism, illustrating her ability to excel wherever she works.

“In yearbook, I won several first, second and third place design and photography awards at the IHSPA (Iowa High School Press Association) conferences over the past three years. My biggest accomplishments in journalism are being selected as Iowa’s 2023 Free Spirit Representative for the Al Neuharth Journalism Conference, named 2022 IHSPA Emerging Journalist Top 10, 2024 IHSPA Scholar, and Quill & Scroll Journalism Honors Society,” Haroun explained.

Although she was in HOSA her whole high school career, Haroun was only able to take the club to state her senior year due to funding. However, it was a successful year, and she has set a precedent for the following years. Seven West High students qualified for the HOSA national tournament in Houston, Texas, from June 26-29.

“This year I was able to take our HOSA chapter to the state conference for the first time and I placed first in Cultural Diversity & Disparities,” Haroun said.

During her junior year, Haroun decided to join Business Professionals of America, and it was a good decision as it has brought her a lot of success.

“Last year in BPA I placed 1st at state for both Health Research Presentation and Podcast Production Team and then at nationals I placed fourth and fifth respectively. This year in BPA I placed first at state in both Health Research Presentation and Presentation Team. I placed second at nationals for Health Research Presentation,” she explained.

Placing second at nationals isn’t easy, but Haroun was able to do it, showcasing her dedication to her work.

“Placing second was very rewarding. Although first place was my goal, I am still extremely proud of placing second because competing on the national level is challenging and it took a lot of hard work and time to get there,” Haroun emphasized.

Although Haroun is very successful in all she does it is difficult at times for her due to her race, however, this doesn’t stop her, in fact, it encourages her.

“Sometimes it feels like I’m an outsider, or I don’t fit in with the rest of the class or club but at the same time, I also feel motivated because representation is important. I’m hoping that it inspires other students with similar backgrounds to start joining clubs with a lack of diversity and taking challenging classes,” she explained.

Being Black is very important to Haroun; to her, it’s more than just her identity. Although it is a challenge at times due to stereotypes, Haroun doesn’t take this to heart, and she strives to be the best version of herself to represent her people positively.

“To me being Black isn’t just an identity it’s a source of empowerment. I try to excel because in a world where stereotypes and microaggressions exist, I feel the need to prove others wrong and inspire younger generations that we have the potential to do great things in life; we just have to believe in ourselves,” Haroun said.

This mindset has allowed Haroun to be where she is today, and she encourages others to try their hardest no matter what the world may throw at them.

Don’t ever let other people judge what you can and can’t do. If you have a dream or goal in mind, work towards it. All that matters is that you believe in you.

— Wesal Haroun '24

Not only is Haroun able to excel in school and her extracurriculars, she can find time to do what she likes most which is photography. This year, she even started a business for it, and it has been successful due to her affordable pricing and great-quality photos.

“I’m passionate about photography. This year I started a small photography business where I take senior portraits and any other kinds of headshots/portraits. I’ve always loved photography. I do three outfits and three locations. My pricing is very affordable because I think it’s important for all seniors to be able to experience taking senior portraits and keeping the photos as a memory. Also, I believe all people should be able to get quality photos for an affordable price,” Haroun said.

In every aspect of her high school career, Wesal Haroun has demonstrated exceptional resilience, leadership, and dedication. From her groundbreaking achievements in HOSA and BPA to her editorial work in journalism and her entrepreneurial spirit in photography, Haroun embodies the essence of excellence. As she prepares to attend Harvard University, she leaves behind a legacy of inspiration and empowerment for her peers at West High.

Bashir Eltyeb ’25 poses for a Black Excellence portrait. (Josephine Schwartz)

Bashir Eltyeb ’25

When it comes to Black excellence, Bashir Eltyeb, a junior at West High, is a great illustration of it. Despite moving to the United States from Sudan only two years ago, Eltyeb seamlessly integrated into his new environment and excelled in every aspect of his academic and extracurricular pursuits.

Although Eltyeb has adjusted well with his move to the United States, he admits it was still hard at first.

“It was challenging. West High was welcoming but it was a big change culturally and socially that I had to take time to adapt to. I found my way slowly and found my place in the culture here and high school life,” Eltyeb said.

While Eltyeb initially didn’t plan to join the debate team, he was convinced by Camille Crosset, an American Studies teacher here at West. His decision to join debate has positively impacted him, and he has been excelling ever since.

“I had an argument with Ms. Crossett and she told me that I should join the speech and debate team. I immediately found a passion in debate. I won my first tournament and consistently won rounds in other tournaments. I have done well nationally but the most valuable thing I have earned from debate is my ability to communicate with others and to think on the spot,” he said.

By joining debate, Bashir Eltyeb achieved unprecedented success. In just his second year, he qualified for the Tournament of Champions (TOC) with his partner Ben Kleimen ’24. To reach the TOC, Eltyeb participated in several national tournaments throughout the year, securing three bids. Eltyeb made it to the semifinals at the TOC, being the first Black man in history to do so.

During the competition, he shifted the focus from the main argument to discuss antiblackness, using the platform to raise awareness about this critical issue within the debate space.

“The tournament was stressful. Going into the TOC, I knew we were facing good teams every round. We slowly gained confidence round after round and eventually became confident enough to believe that we were the favorites against the best teams. I was just happy to be in a stage like semifinals where I could spread arguments about antiblackness in the debate space. People lose to me and start whining about how debate isn’t fair. It makes me so happy to know that these people get a small taste of what it’s like to be Black,” Eltyeb explained.

Besides being involved in debate, Eltyeb isn’t afraid to participate in many other activities at school that also involve public speaking and putting yourself out there.

“I’m involved in many other activities outside of debate, mainly ones that involve speaking or performance. Debate is where I have found the most success but I am heavily involved in Mock Trial, Theater and BPA where I find joy in public speaking,” he said.

Eltyeb is not only excellent in his academics and extracurriculars but with people as well. Whoever you may ask in the halls of West knows Eltyeb and only has good things to say. Faizaan Ahmed ’27 knows Eltyeb from debate and explains how his personality makes him a likable and insightful person.

“He knows how to bring the mood up and is overall a great guy. He’s extremely insightful and helps anyone get past hardship and struggle. Bahsir’s leadership skills are also another great quality of his and his communication makes him such a likable and comfortable guy to be around,” Ahmed said.

When asked who his greatest mentor has been Elyteb had a lot of great things to say about his debate coach Sophia Gustafson.

“My greatest mentor is easily my debate coach, Sophia Gustafson. She’s taught me a bunch about how to navigate the debate space as a minority and find my voice, as well as how to actually debate,” he said.

Eltyeb has used his platform as a debater throughout these two years to spread awareness about antiblackness. When asked what it means to be Black and why it’s important to do great things as a Black person, Eltyeb had quite a lot to say.

“Being Black is a fundamental part of my identity. In debate, I like to argue that it’s “ontological” or in other words a part of your being that cannot be erased or changed. It’s more than just your skin color, it’s the way you treat others, the way you appreciate culture, the way you handle racism. Being Black is not about being dark-skinned, it’s about being culturally diverse and appreciating your differences,” he emphasized

When it comes to Black excellence, Eltyeb believes it’s important because it sets a precedent and demonstrates that, despite challenges, striving to excel is crucial for breaking barriers.

“Precedent. Black Excellence is more common than people think it is, it just isn’t documented. Black achievements are consistently underplayed and that is exactly why articles like this are important. It is a celebration not necessarily of me but of Black accomplishments. A celebration for those who weren’t given the chance to be celebrated. Winning and succeeding while Black shows young Black kids that you don’t necessarily have to join the football team for extracurriculars, you can do whatever sounds interesting to you. Even the academic clubs,” he said.

If you are Black, stick with the hard activities you’re doing. Continue to be you and excel even when the odds are against you. If a mountain was smooth, you wouldn’t be able to climb it.

— Bashir Eltyeb '25

Eltyeb’s success in debate, particularly his historic achievement at the TOC, illustrates his dedication to excellence and his commitment to raising awareness about critical issues like antiblackness. His involvement in various activities has positively impacted his peers and set a powerful example for future generations. Eltyeb’s story inspires others to strive for greatness, regardless of the obstacles they may face.

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