Her spot in history as a member of the Class of 2000 is not lost on Binta Mamadou.
As the new millennium looms near, Mamadou, 17, a senior at Friendly High School in Fort Washington, is spending a lot of time thinking about the role she and people her age will play in the new millennium.
The year 2000, she said, was a nebulous concept for her as a child thinking about her graduation year. It seemed so far away, as if it would never come. Now, people her age are under microscopic study by everyone from psychologists to the media as the adults ponder how well the young will fare in the new century.
While it should be a time of great hope, Mamadou has a lot of trepidation.
"It's very difficult for my generation because there has been so much negative attention, especially from the media," she said. "Some of it has been from all those bad things that happened in schools, like the shootings and violence. There have been some [portrayals] that make it look like we are so carefree and uncaring. That and the violence makes us all look bad. We are all not like that, but it makes us all look bad."
Mamadou said she believes it is not only media misinterpretation and adult misunderstanding that has led to unpleasant stereotypes about teenagers, but the teens themselves. She sees how some students fritter away educational opportunities and how some young people disrespect themselves and others in public. At her church, she speaks to young women about carrying themselves in a respectful manner, a concept that was drilled into her as a child in Africa, where women are expected to behave in a manner that will allow them to be held in high esteem.
"I think some kids haven't been taught to respect themselves and have dignity," she said. "I think it is important to act in a way that shows you respect yourself and others."
But despite the negatives, most people her age are bright and hopeful and feel a responsibility to correct some of the wrongs adults have caused, such as violence, intolerance, poverty and ignorance.
"People say young people are the future, and that means we have a responsibility not only to ourselves but to the world," she said. "We have a responsibility to be the best that we can be, to get ourselves educated the best way we can, then to go out and give something back to the world. That is a big responsibility."
Mamadou, a native of Niger in West Africa, plans to give back by specializing in the treatment of tropical diseases as a physician. She wants to practice in a Third World country where she can work with people who find it more difficult to get quality medical care.
"Growing up in Africa, I saw how malaria and other diseases that take place in the tropics affect people," she said. "That's why it is important to me to go to a place with a tropical climate to work."
Mamadou has spent her high school career giving back. After moving to the United States with her mother, a State Department voucher checker, as a sixth-grader, Mamadou, who speaks three languages fluently, became involved in school government and other extracurricular activities. She is president of the Prince George's Regional Association of Student Governments and a member of her school's Student Government Association. She was sophomore and junior class president and freshman class treasurer at Friendly and is a member of the National, French and Spanish honor societies. She speaks to young people at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where she attends, about taking pride in themselves and their African heritage and talks to elementary school children "about staying abstinent from drugs, sex and alcohol." She also has served as a volunteer at the Holocaust Museum--all while maintaining a grade-point average of 4.09.
For her efforts, Mamadou was awarded the NAACP Youth Achiever Image Award this year. She has applied to four colleges and is awaiting word on scholarship offers before she makes final plans.
And she'll spend the first summer of the new year in Niamey, Niger, catching up with her African extended family and her father, who still lives there. She and her mother, who have permanent residency in the United States, will attend their citizenship interview this month. As that moment looms, she is pondering her responsibility to her adopted country.
And to her family, her school, her community and the world, as the calendar pages drop, bringing her closer to 2000.
"I guess I do think about responsibility a lot. All of us do, as part of human nature. But some take that responsibility to a greater extent," Mamadou said. "While the United States is a rich and advanced country and we are fortunate to live here, it is important that we remember there are people who live in countries and continents like South America and Africa and Asia who are dying of things people can't imagine here.
"We all have to work together to make the world a better place. I strongly believe that. You can't be the only one moving ahead. You have to make sure you bring up other people, too."
CAPTION: Prince George's County academic star Binta Mamadou, a native of West Africa, was awarded the NAACP Youth Achiever Image Award this year.