WILLMAR - Four years ago, Muna Abdulahi was in seventh-grade English Language Learner classes at Willmar Middle School when it hit her that “this is important.”

“I was a very quiet person,” she said, and ELL teacher Cathy Nilles helped her overcome some of her shyness. “She would pull me out of my comfort zone,” Muna said in a recent interview at Willmar Senior High.

A combination of the influence of teachers like Nilles and Muna’s own determination has brought her to this point - a confident high school junior preparing to leave June 7 to spend part of her summer as a page for U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

These days, she speaks English fluently with barely a hint of an accent and is consistently on the school’s honor roll. She is a mentor/tutor for other students.

In the past school year, she became the first Somali student to be chosen for Willmar Senior High’s National Honor Society, and she has placed highly in speech tournaments for her poetry interpretation. She was recently honored by the American Association of University of Women.

Her parents are both very excited about her opportunity to go to Washington, she said. She expects that her mother is “probably going to call me every day.”

Muna’s mother Lul Yusuf said she and her husband Abdi Noor are proud and excited about their daughter’s opportunity. She is the second oldest of their four daughters.

Yusuf said she’s not worried about her daughter making the trip. “If she is comfortable, I’m comfortable,” she said. When Muna applied, “I told her she can go to the interview; if you win, you can go.”

She hopes Muna is able to visit the White House.

Muna said she’s still adjusting to being chosen as a page. “I’m still in the stage where I’m still shocked that I’m actually going. … I never actually thought I was going.”

Muna found out about the opportunity from Principal Paul Schmitz, who urged her to apply and wrote a letter of recommendation.

“Muna is a talented, unique individual who would not only benefit greatly from being a part of this program, she would be an asset to all others that are a part of this program,” Schmitz wrote in his letter.

Tollefson said Muna is her first student to participate in the page program. In her letter, she added comments from several teachers in addition to her own recommendation that the program “would be fortunate to have her working for you as a page.”

Schmitz said he’s never recommended a student for the program before.

He called Muna a “bridge builder.” He pointed out that “Muna rises above those differences and helps bring students together” in the school’s diverse student body.

Schmitz described Muna’s introducing herself to him as a ninth-grader and asking for his advice on how she could get the most out of high school. “I have seen her mature from a ninth-grader interested in learning about the world to an 11th-grader who is ready to make a difference in the world,” he wrote.

Her parents are both from Somalia. They met while living in Atlanta, which has a significant Somali community. Many of their relatives remain in Atlanta.

The family moved from Atlanta to Seattle for several years before coming to Willmar about eight years ago, Muna said. When she was a young child, the family spoke Somali, but now, everyone speaks English. Her mother, a registered nurse in Somalia, is a medical interpreter and a day care provider. Her father works in the information technology department at Jennie-O Turkey Store.

Muna was in fourth grade when the family moved here. She said she likes having friends from many different backgrounds, something she didn’t have in Seattle.

“I don’t think I would have come out how I am right now if I hadn’t been in Willmar,” she said. “I’m friends with almost anyone; we learn to respect each other.”

Muna said one of her goals in entering speech competition was to improve her English, and she’s learned she really enjoys it.

“I’ve always had a passion for poetry, but I never thought I’d be the one out there,” she said. “Poetry can be beautiful.” Her interpretation this year was on bullying. She also did a duo presentation with friend Laura Norling using an excerpt from the novel “The Help.”

“It had such great meaning to it,” she said. “I thought it was incredible to share it.”

Muna participated in sports in her freshman year and was on the basketball team. When she turned 16, she went to work at Target. In her spare time, she likes to read, watch movies and go to the YMCA to play basketball and hang out with her friends.

Muna said their parents are supportive of her and of her sisters and want them to get good educations. “I’m so lucky to have parents like them.”

She is motivated to move beyond the stereotypes some people have of her community, to “get out of that bubble of low expectations and do what I want to do.”

The University of Minnesota is her school of choice, and she hopes to major in political science. “I have a lot of different ideas,” she said. “My long-term goal is law.”