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Ledyard senior sharing her love of reading and writing

Ledyard — Mhret Wondmagegne's American story begins at the Bill Library.

A native of Ethiopia, she came to Ledyard at age 9 with her mother and her two sisters to join her father, who had moved here five years earlier. To acclimate her to the new country and culture, he'd bring her to the library in Ledyard Center.

"Obviously, it helped me learn English, but it also kind of helped me find my passion (as a writer)," she said. "I think (reading) is really important for everyone because you can just escape and be in a different world. I'm a pretty shy person, but when I'm reading books, I find myself being that person in the book so it helps me be confident."

For Wondmagegne, reading and writing are inseparable; when asked about her writing schedule, she prefaced her answer by saying she tries to read every day. She said she often gets inspiration for her own works by reading, with some of her favorite authors including Jenny Han, Sarah Dessen and Angie Thomas. She also led a book club at Ledyard High School this year.

Her writing career began in middle school with an after-school group and continued with classes at the high school and on her own; she's currently working on three novels, and also wrote a children's book in her junior year creative writing class. She said she likes the creativity that fiction writing provides, and that her English classes continued to inform her craft by providing examples of good literature and forcing her to get past writer's block.

"I don't think anyone is a bad writer. I feel like everyone is good in their own way, and it depends on what you like," she said. "I feel you have a voice when you write."

English teacher Leon Palmieri, who had Wondmagegne when she was a junior, described her as a quiet, determined and thoughtful person, and he enjoyed having her in class. He commended her ability to take something positive out of every learning experience, whether it be accolades or criticism.

"When the hand goes up, I know she has something thoughtful to say that's going to add to the discussion," he said, noting that she would think through opposing viewpoints her classmates presented rather than react immediately. He said she was more confident in sharing her thoughts by the end of the semester, and all of her work, whether it was a paper or presentation, displayed careful analysis.

Wondmagegne said she struggled with confidence when she was younger; she was more outgoing in Ethiopia, but when she moved here, she became more quiet and felt like she didn't fit in. Learning English was also a struggle, since she had spoken primarily Amharic, but she said her experience has made her appreciate her creative writing skills.

"Technical things like tenses were really hard for me, but it makes me value it more," she said. "I'm more proud of myself knowing that I just did it and that I can do it now."

While she plans to continue creative writing in her spare time or possibly as a minor, Wondmagegne will go to the University of Connecticut in the fall for the school's journalism program. She's most interested in political and international journalism. She said her dream assignment is to travel to a developing country and report on education access for girls.

She said she may also consider taking courses in elementary education, inspired by her volunteer work with the summer reading program and her after-school job at Little Learners in Ledyard. Director Debbie Campagna said Wondmagegne has worked with all ages at the center and does especially well with the preschool kids, engaging them and encouraging them to read.

"The kids in there absolutely adore her," she said. "They love it and she interacts with them really well."

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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