The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

Taking college classes while in high school was eye-opening for Demetra Risner who found herself exploring new topics and finding passions that influenced what she plans to study in college.

Risner, an 18-year-old from San Mateo, grew up all around the Peninsula. She started school in Daly City then went through San Mateo schools before deciding to take part in the Middle College program at the College of San Mateo. Taking classes not offered at Hillsdale High School — like criminal justice, philosophy and sociology — opened Risner up to the possibilities after high school. Now, she’s preparing to explore international development and social change at Clark University in Massachusetts. Risner isn’t sure what she’ll do with her degree but has a keen interest in being involved in politics and advocacy work for women, particularly in other countries.

“Demetra makes use of every opportunity she is given and uses them to not only better herself but better the world around her,” said English teacher Greg Lance.

Lance recalled Risner excelling in a variety of difficult situations like cracking jokes while dealing with heat exhaustion on a school backpacking trip and playing a major role in making public presentations on topics about which she’s passionate on short notice.

Before starting at Hillsdale, Risner took part in a trip to Japan with the People to People organization. With the help of her mom, Risner held fundraisers and they asked family for help to take the trip. She fell in love.

Risner didn’t really fit in with high school. She was eager to learn more about the opportunities of Middle College when a friend proposed the program. It was a clean start for Risner who started hanging out with new people and exploring new topics in school. It was her English teacher, Greg Lance, who introduced Risner to the Hillsdale Effect — a club at the school that raises funds to provide microloans for impoverished women in Guatemala. Risner has become an active member helping with the cause. This summer, she’ll be among the students who travel to Guatemala to see the impact of the microloans.

Those interested in international issues at school helped take part in a fundraiser to cover the cost for girls to attend school in Afghanistan. Risner’s contribution included a request for donations. She’s proud to report the group raised $1,500 in scholarships for the Afghan Friends Network.

During her time at Middle College, Risner also had a requirement of a number of hours spent at an internship. She originally applied to work in the office of U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, but had applied late. Instead, she spent time volunteering at the San Mateo County Democratic Headquarters. After completing her hours, she was called by Speier’s office to see if she was still interested in interning. Over the last six months, she learned about the constituents and the possibilities of helping others through politics.

Through the Hillsdale Effect and interning at Speier’s office, Risner solidified her interest in studying politics, possibly minoring in women and gender studies, and continuing to explore the various ways she can help others.

The graduation for the Middle College program at College of San Mateo will be held 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 28 at the College of San Mateo Theater, 1700 W. Hillsdale Blvd., San Mateo.

Great Grads is in its eighth year profiling one graduating senior from each of our local schools. Schools have the option to participate. Those that choose to participate are asked to nominate one student who deserves recognition.