When Eden Prairie’s class of 2019 walks across the stage at Mariucci Arena on June 7, they’ll take their first steps as graduates toward future careers, education, exploration and adventures.
Philippe Schwob, 17, will be among them. He’ll attend Duke University in the fall to study biology and economics, after transforming from an elementary schooler who struggled with reading to a mock trial competitor and deep sea enthusiast. Schwob reflected on his educational experience one week before graduating, from kindergarten to the stage at Mariucci.
“It’s transformative,” he said. “I can’t say I’m the same person I was freshman year.”
Schwob was born in Florida and moved to Minnesota when he was 3, after his father — also named Philippe, who received his MBA from Duke — accepted a job offer here. His parents had moved to the United States from Venezuela in 1998, and Schwob had spent his first few years speaking mainly Spanish with his family and neighbors.
“I was very far behind when I was younger,” he recalled. “I came to Minnesota only really knowing Spanish.”
His mother, Gaby, took note and began to help him with English by reading learn-to-read books together every day after school. With her help, he quickly caught on and began to look around to see what his friends were doing. In school, he saw them participating in activities like Key Club and taking advanced courses, and he grew determined to join them.
After mastering English, by age 10 he was taking enriched math and climbing the academic ladder. It was his sixth grade English teacher, Tim Fulford, who helped Schwob discover the joy of discovery and learning for himself.
“The only real incentive I had to catch up was the people around me,” Schwob remembered. “I feel like he unknowingly showed me I was somebody who has worth it.”
By the time he hit high school, Schwob was charging forward academically at full speed, so much so that he skipped a few things along the way. He plowed through honors and academic courses without pausing to take classes for fun.
“I made the dumb decision of not taking a single elective until my senior year,” he laughed.
It was a biology class that sparked Schwob’s interest in the ocean and led him to take a summer class about deep sea life at — where else? — Duke University. By combining biology with economics, Schwob hopes to work for the government or a mining company and help preserve marine ecosystems while still using the resources that the ocean provides.
“By melding economics and biology, you’re able to determine what value it has for humanity,” he explained.
One creature, the vampire squid, fascinated Schwob so much that he wrote his college essay about what he and the squid have in common.
“It was one of the coolest creatures I’ve ever learned about,” he said. “The vampire squid lives in one of the harshest environments on the planet and it’s constantly having to adapt.”
Outside of academics, Schwob takes pride in his mock trial team, where he learned to dismantle an opposing team’s argument and sway a group with his rebuttal. Even outside of a case, he’ll catch himself transitioning into mock trial-mode when explaining a concept or working on a team project.
“It’s something that my friends describe as my lawyer voice,” Schwob admitted. “I’ll just unconsciously go into this lawyer-voice mode.”
As the school year wound to a close, Schwob took some time for fun with a few electives — on politics in the Middle East and a course on camping, canoeing and climbing — and found himself leaning into the ties he’d built after four years of learning alongside his peers.
“They’re more of a family to me than anything else,” he said of his school community. “Saying goodbye will be the toughest thing.”
Schwob has a summer packed with exploration before he starts college in August. After graduating, he’ll return to Florida to visit his cousins, some of whom are also graduating high school this year; soon after that, he’s traveling to Europe to backpack through several countries with friends before returning to the U.S. in time to road trip to North Carolina, and Duke, with his family. And Schwob’s family isn’t done with EPHS yet: He has two younger sisters, Sophia and Victoria, who will be in ninth and tenth grade, respectively, next year.
Of his friend group, Schwob is among those flying the furthest from home. Leaving Eden Prairie behind brings up a tangle of emotions: excitement for a new adventure; nerves about starting over in a new place; sadness about leaving his friends behind, too far away for spontaneous hangouts or trips to the lake. But Schwob is confident that despite the distance, he’ll stay in touch with the people who’ve been his community in high school.
“I’m always going to have my friends, have these people in my life,” he said. “It’s a group of people that I love.”