Class Act 2019: Otago Girls’ High School

Rose Stevenson and Melissa Bonilla Casanas are the 2019 Class Act recipients for Otago Girls’ High School.

Rose Stevenson
Rose Stevenson
Rose Stevenson

Rose Stevenson is not one to be put in boxes.

The 17-year-old Otago Girls' High School head prefect is a high-achieving violinist in orchestral circles - an instrument which is traditionally excluded from jazz ensembles.

But that hasn't stopped her from pursuing jazz.

Two years ago, she decided to think outside the square and found that playing trumpet lines in the jazz band on her electric violin was a great way to fulfil her love of jazz and improvisation.

''I like pushing boundaries.''

Rose says jazz provides good balance to playing serious orchestral music.

She has been a member of the Dunedin Youth Orchestra since 2015, and for the past two years she has been selected as a violinist in the New Zealand Secondary Schools' Symphony Orchestra.

In addition, she won a bronze medal at the 2018 South Island Chamber Music Competition.

As a result of her successes in 2018, she was awarded the school's Poulter Prize for orchestral music, the school's Marchant Medal for music, and the Otago Girls' High School Board of Trustees Scholarship, a monetary award, which allowed her to further her involvement in cultural activities.

Across music and her school activities, Rose is a well-respected leader and her humble leadership style endears her to others.

''I like to treat people the way I would like to be treated - respectfully, kindly, thoughtfully.''

She also excels in the classroom, having gained NCEA levels 1 and 2 with excellence and the school prize for academic excellence in the 2018 prizegiving.

Next year, Rose plans to study music at the University of Otago.

Her dream is to become a professional violin soloist or a member of a professional orchestra.

However, she says a career as a professional musician is not guaranteed, and it is important to have a plan B.

To that end, she plans to study chemistry alongside music ''to keep my options open''.

Achievements: Head prefect (2019); NCEA levels 1 and 2 with excellence; school prize for academic excellence (2018); scholar blues (2017, 2018); music blues (2016-18); Marchant Medal for music achievement (2018); Otago Regional Chamber Music Competition finalist (2017); South Island Chamber Music Competition bronze medallist (2018); school cultural team of the year member (2018); New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Symphony Orchestra 2nd violin (2018), 1st violin (2019); Dunedin Youth Orchestra member (2015-19); school jazz band (2017-19); school celebration band (2018-19); school production band (2019); Futsal senior A team (2018-19).

Role model: My mum Kirsten McAuley.

Hopes for the future: To study music and chemistry at the University of Otago.


Melissa Bonilla Casanas
Melissa Bonilla Casanas
Melissa Bonilla Casanas

When opportunity knocks, Melissa Bonilla Casanas grabs it with both hands.

The 17-year-old Otago Girls' High School prefect was born in Colombia and brought to New Zealand when she was 5 years old by her mother, who wanted her to have more opportunities in life.

''Mum wanted a better quality of life for me. Everything that I've done here, I wouldn't have been able to do over there.''

Melissa has thrived in Dunedin by immersing herself in a variety of academic, sporting, cultural and humanitarian activities.

She is a founding member of the school's Sticks 'n Stones anti-bullying group, and this year she co-organised the school's 40 Hour Famine.

Her absolute diligence in all aspects of her academic work has led her to achieve NCEA levels 1 and 2 with excellence and scholar blues in 2017 and 2018.

She says academic success is not as sweet for her when others around her are struggling.

So she shares a lot of her learning - particularly in maths - with fellow pupils as a maths tutor and peer tutor.

''I like to help others to achieve.

''I get a lot of reward from helping others to do well.

''Their success is my success.''

Melissa's experiences in both Colombia and New Zealand have broadened her political views, and she has become a budding politician.

This year, she is a youth member of Parliament for Michael Woodhouse, and is the Dunedin Youth Council chairwoman.

She has also been an active member of the school council for the past three years.

Next year, she wants to study law and finance at the University of Otago.

But, ultimately, she would like to be a politician or a diplomat at the United Nations.

She hoped either career would give her an opportunity to help make positive change in society.

Achievements: House prefect (2019); NCEA levels 1 and 2 with excellence; scholar blue (2017, 2018); school maths tutor (2017-19); peer tutor (2019); youth member of Parliament for Michael Woodhouse (2019); Dunedin Youth Council member (2017-19), chairwoman (2019); school council member (2016-19); school Sticks ’n Stones Anti-Bullying group founding member (2016-19); school 40 Hour Famine  co-organiser (2019); school rowing team captain (2019); social basketball, netball and badminton.

Role model: My mum, Claudia Thomson.

Hopes for the future: To study law and finance at the University of Otago.

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