That achievement puts her in the Top 1 percentile of all students who take this college entrance exam.
You may recall that Yang is also one of the school’s four National Merit SemiFinalists announced earlier. That honor is a result of her scoring so high on the PSAT college entrance exam. Like many others, Yang took both the ACT and PSAT multiple times and said she was “definitely surprised” to learn she had scored a 36.
“It’s very crazy how life turns out sometimes,” she said, “especially because I was iffy on taking the ACT again and almost didn’t take it.”
SMMHS teachers were not surprised to hear of Yang’s achievements. “Yoonie is an amazing student. She is always looking for ways to challenge herself and grow as a learner,” said Tracy Haydon, who chairs the Language Acquisition Department.
Yang is an avid believer that “the SAT/ACT doesn’t necessarily test intelligence in the way that people think it does.
“So for me, it was more being accustomed to the style of the test,” she said. “My study process involved a lot of training, training my mind to think the way the ACT test writers wanted me to think.
“I was constantly taking previously administered practice tests and just working through them diligently. It was all about practicing within the given time frame, developing a system of time management that worked, and conditioning my brain to respond when presented with a specific type of question.”
Yang advised other students to prioritize ACT prep.
“The ACT is not an unbeatable test; it was built to be a calculated and predictable system,” she said. “Thus, everyone can improve if they put their mind to it and practice continuously and habitually.”
Her biggest tips were to have confidence, stay optimistic, and “know that sometimes there is a little bit of luck involved with the ACT. You may be more compatible with one version than another. You might have a bad day. You might get distracted. Don’t beat yourself up out of the things that are out of your control.”
Haydon is impressed Yang “has become a leader in our school and made invaluable contributions to the SMMHS community in the three short years that she has been here.”
Yang grew up in South Florida and had attended Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach as a communications major before moving to Signal Mountain.
All her teachers helped Yang to adjust to SMMHS and pursue various interests, but she credits Haydon with helping as she started her sophomore year in an International Baccalaureate school that requires all students to take a second language in grades 6-10.
“I had a unstable foundation for Spanish,” Yang said, adding that language wasn’t a priority at an arts school. “But this year, I’m taking IB Spanish with Ms. (Denise) Stricklin at the higher level.”
In his praise, Principal Shane Harwood said, “Yoonie continues to serve as a model of the great things that can happen with hard work, preparation, and dedication.”
Teachers also note Yang’s advocacy in things happening in the country and world. “Yoonie is an example of how students can use what they have learned throughout their education to make a difference in the world right now, while they are still in school,” said Nancy Baxley, who chairs the school’s Individuals and Societies department that includes history and global politics.
“She uses her intellect and compassion to guide her in actions that affect change both locally and globally, and she encourages her peers to do the same,” Baxley said. “I am continually impressed by what she manages to accomplish each day.”
Her activism is one of many things that SMMHS Math Chair Kathy McCormack admires most.
Yang organized a school assembly to commemorate the first anniversary of the school shooting at Parkland, where some of her friends attended, followed by a Climate Change Walkout event last December.
“Yoonie has a contagious positive vibe,” McCormack noted. “She is a highly intelligent woman who has and will continue to create positive change.”
Yang is passionate about advocacy, international relations, and government.
She helped found the first Students Demand Action group in Tennessee, now the largest of three, and serves on the national advisory board for that group. She worked as an intern this past summer at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, where her job included creating an activist program for children.
This fall, Yang is an an intern with the Amercian Civil Liberties Union and is helping research ACLU statewide campaigns.
Last summer, Yang was one of 50 students selected to attend the first Summer Youth Institute at John Hopkins University whose focus was “Reducing Gun Violence in America: Evidence for Change.” She also was selected for and attended an ACLU summer advocacy program with workshops on issues from minority representation in media to abortion rights.
In Chattanooga, she volunteers for a few hours every Saturday teaching Korean (her native language) to young students and also serves on Mayor Andy Berke’s Youth Council.
At school, Yang participates in Student Council, Mock Trial, Model UN, Youth in Government, theatre, and the yearbook for which she served as editor in chief her sophomore year.
She has earned lots of awards individually and on teams at YIG, Mock Trial, and Model UN and is now serving as the director-general for the Southeastern High School Model United Nations Conference and the Red Senate Floor Leader for YIG 2021.
Not surprisingly, Yang aspires for a career in global relations.
“I am very excited of getting out of Tennessee and the South, meeting new people and learning about different cultures in other parts of the country and world,” she said.
Yang plans to major in International Relations/Global Affairs in college. After that, she’d love to serve in foreign diplomacy or go back to school and study international law.
“As a National Merit Semi-Finalist with a perfect 36 on the ACT,” Harwood said, “we’re excited to see the opportunities that continue to be available for Yoonie!”
Yang encourages other students to “Make opportunities for yourself. If you’re really passionate about something or you want to make a change, don’t accept no as an option.”
“Make connections. Reach out. Create relationships,” she advised. You’d be surprised by how many people are willing to help you be successful in this world.”
by Melissa Barrett