For 3 high school girls, seeing Kamala Harris speak in person was 'everything'

All have African heritage, and look up to the vice president as a role model.

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Students from St. Cloud Technical High School were excited to see Vice President Kamala Harris speak in St. Cloud on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, and hope to go to her alma mater, Howard University.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

ST. CLOUD — Nestled among the hundreds of union factory workers and community leaders waiting to hear from Vice President Kamala Harris at the New Flyer factory in St. Cloud on Thursday, Feb. 9, were three high school girls. They were missing school, but they had something important to do: see the vice president.

“It was a little bit of a hustle,” said Etenesh Bonitto, about getting out of school for the day. She’s a junior at St. Cloud Technical High School.

“But we had to do it anyway,” said Kowsar Ali, also a junior at Tech.

“It was worth everything,” Bonitto said.

Ali and Bonitto were joined by their friend Salma Abdullah, another junior at Tech. All three are students of color, so seeing Harris was a big deal.


“This is like a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Ali said. “So we had to seize it.”

Harris was in St. Cloud as part of an on-going promotion of electric vehicles by the Biden administration

The girls all have high ambitions. Ali and Abdullah want to go into the medical field, Ali as an OBGYN and Abdullah as a physician’s assistant. Bonitto wants to go into politics and law.

“I thought seeing somebody who looked like me and so high up,” Bonitto said. “That is such an inspiration”

She said she cried the night Harris was elected.

Abdullah agreed.

“She's a Black person who's a very good person and she just inspires me,” Abdullah said. “Hopefully, one day, I can be inspiring to other people as well. … I want to be able to inspire people like she inspires me.”

Ali agreed.

“Seeing the first ever woman actually get the position of vice president and, on top of that, being a woman of color, being half Indian, half Black — that just resonates with me so much.”


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Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris smiles while approaching the podium for a speech during a visit to New Flyer in St. Cloud on Thursday, February 9, 2023.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Abdullah and Ali are of Somali descent, the children of immigrants, and Bonitto was born in Ethiopia and adopted by a white American family.

“(Harris) understands the majority of the United States,” Ali said. “I feel like it's a breather for once, after what we've been through.”

Ali is from a first-generation Somali family, coming to U.S. as a child.

“I was about 4 years old at the time so I had to go through all of the obstacles of learning English, making new friends, trying to fit in,” Ali said. “At the same time, trying not to lose my culture. … There’s issues within me trying to be American and me still trying to find my true self as a Somali.”

For Bonitto, she seeks connection with her African heritage, and she looks up to Harris, especially as a graduate of Harris University, a historically Black college.

“The reason why I want to go to Howard University is to just stay in touch with being black and being truly who I am,” Bonitto said.

The girls do have a role model who is much closer to home, and who was was sitting next to them at the Harris visit: Their former teacher Ayan Omar. Omar taught at Tech High School, but is now the director of equity services for the St. Cloud Area School District. Omar is also a Somali-American and brought her daughter with her on Thursday to see the vice president. The girls said Omar has provided a great example for them.

“She doesn't realize how much of an impact she has on us and the whole community,” Ali said. “She's done so much. We gotta say thank you. … We love her.”

Stephanie Dickrell is a reporter with St. Cloud Live, a news website covering Central Minnesota and the St. Cloud area. Stephanie has covered the St. Cloud area for nearly a decade, covering everything from city government and arts and entertainment to health care and social justice issues.

Stephanie welcomes your story ideas and feedback. You can reach her at 320-763-1226 or
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