Mateus Burns and Oluoma Obi given North Star awards, among highest academic honors for SM North students

Mateus Burns and Oluoma Obi, the 2017 North Star honorees.
Mateus Burns and Oluoma Obi, the 2017 North Star honorees.

For years now, Shawnee Mission North seniors Mateus Burns and Oluoma Obi have walked past a trophy case in the school’s main hall honoring some of the most promising students in North history.

Recently, they found out they’d be joining their ranks.

Burns and Obi are the recipients of this year’s North Star awards, which honor one senior boy and one senior girl each year who demonstrate a commitment to academic excellence, leadership, school and community involvement, teamwork, and respect for others. As part of the honor, each will receive a $2,000 college scholarship as well as a North Star trophy.

The program is the brainchild of 1979 SM North graduate Steve Sears, who went on to a notable career as a top executive with Pepsi-Cola and Frito-Lay Australia. Sears said the North Star award “is a simple way to give back to an institution that did a lot for me, and I hope it encourages current and future students to take advantage of all that North has to offer.”

Burns and Obi said they were both surprised and honored when they found out they’d won — though they were a bit apprehensive when they were unexpectedly called to the counselor’s office.

“I thought, my grades are fine. What are they calling me down here for?” Burns said. When the counselor told him that he was this year’s North Star winner, Burns “felt a wave of emotion. I was tearing up, because it was so good to hear that my teachers thought I was deserving of such an award. It felt really good.”

Sears was waiting for Obi and Burns in the counselors office to deliver the good news himself.

“In my head I was thinking, I’ve walked by that case multiple times. And I remember that when it first went up, I thought it would be so cool to have that award,” Obi said. “To have them put that honor on you, it makes you take a moment to think. There are so many great kids at this school.”

Next year, Burns will be heading to Wichita State University where he plans to study aerospace engineering. Obi, who moved to the US with her family from Nigeria when she was in seventh grade, will be attending the University of Iowa and starting a pre-med track.