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Woodbury High School seniors Aaliyah and Isaiah Danielson, who are twins, have both received prestigious scholarship awards as they head to college. (Staff photo by Amber Kispert-Smith)

Danielsons double the honors

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Having grown up in a single-parent home, Woodbury High School seniors Aaliyah and Isaiah Danielson, who are twins, always worried about how to pay for college.

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“College has always been in the back of our minds as a major concern,” Aaliyah said. “How are we going to get there? How are we going to pay for it?”

“Splitting it between twins is not easy,” Isaiah said.

Things have gotten a little bit easier for the Danielsons now, though.

Aaliyah was awarded a $20,000 scholarship from Foot Locker on April 22.

Meanwhile, Isaiah was recently awarded the Gates Millennium Scholar award, which is a full ride through graduate school.

“College is so expensive,” Isaiah said, “so this is a big relief for us – it’s life changing.”

Fighting back

In the winter of 2008, Aaliyah, who plays soccer for WHS, was in the car with her mom when they were hit head on by an oncoming car.

Aaliyah sustained substantial injury: she shattered her vertebrate, received a concussion, broke two ribs, her kidney split into two, her liver was damaged and she had a hole in her intestines.

She was told she may never walk again.

“I had these dreams of being a college athlete,” Aaliyah said, “and my dreams were pretty much crushed.”

Aaliyah turned to her family for support while in the hospital, specifically her uncle who always said “tough times don’t last, but people do.”

“That kind of got me through,” she said. “It inspired me to be more than I was.”

Aaliyah fought back. Two years later, she was back on the soccer field.

“I was doing something that someone said I couldn’t,” she said. “You’re determined, you’re going to do anything you can to get back to where you were.”

The Foot Locker Scholar Athlete award recognized 20 students out of 27,000 applicants who have demonstrated characteristics like good sportsmanship, high character, leadership and academic excellence.

Overcoming obstacles

Isaiah is no stranger to overcoming obstacles either, having been in and out of hospitals throughout his life with medical conditions and growing up without a father.

“I’ve had to kind of father myself almost,” he said.

It was his ability to overcome that earned him the Gates Millennium Scholar award.

Isaiah is one of 1,000 students, out of 52,000 applicants, who received the scholarship.

The goal of Gates Millennium Scholar award is “to promote academic excellence and to provide an opportunity for outstanding minority students with significant financial need to reach their highest potential,” according to the scholarship website.

Isaiah had to go through a fairly extensive application process for the grant, including writing eight essays, which were required to be 500 to 1,000 words each.

The essay topics included examples of overcoming adversity, future goals, subjects where students excel or struggle, demonstration of leadership and community involvement.

Aaliyah and Isaiah not only share a birthday, but they also share a love of helping others.

After graduation, both Aaliyah and Isaiah will be pursuing degrees in the medical field.

Isaiah, who is debating between the University of Notre Dame and the University of Southern California, plans to attend medical school and become a doctor whereas Aaliyah, who will attend the University of North Dakota, plans to study  nursing.

For Isaiah, becoming a doctor has always been a lifelong dream.

“I love volunteering and helping other people and seeing a smile on someone else,” he said. “One of my main principles is putting others before myself, so being a doctor would mean the world to me.”

Aaliyah’s desire to become a nurse came out of her experiences following her accident.

“After the accident, that’s when I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “You would think I would not want to be in a hospital again, but the experience of it all inspired me.

“The nurses were so caring and there was always someone there smiling at you every day and that made me want to be that for someone else.”

Both Aaliyah and Isaiah said they are excited to start the next chapters of their lives.

“We’re excited about just starting our futures,” Aaliyah said. “We’ve worked so hard to get to this point and things are finally starting to fall together.

“We’re excited to see where life takes us and excited to get to where we want to be.”

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
(651) 702-0976
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