Willa Mei Kurland of Ukiah High School. Press Democrat photo by Jeff Kan Lee


The summer before Willa Kurland started kindergarten, she decided she wanted to read and write. With quiet determination, she notified her parents, who helped her accomplish her goal.
“It was pretty cute. She has always been extremely bright,” said Tashe Kurland, one of Willa’s mothers who adopted her from China when she was 2.
Willa continued to exhibit that early determination, and it has paid off.
The 17-year-old Ukiah High School graduate is headed to UC Davis on a Gates Millennium scholarship that will pay all of her college expenses through graduate school.
“The scholarship is just amazing,” said Tashe Kurland, a massage therapist whose partner, Terri Grover, is an artist.
Willa also qualified for state and federal scholarships, Kurland said.
The Gates scholarship is offered to academically accomplished minority students who display leadership qualities.
Willa fits the bill, said Ukiah High School Principal Dennis Willeford.
She was student body president last year, a member of the Environmental Club and has been an active participant in the school’s leadership class for the past three years.
“She facilitated a very active student leadership,” Willeford said.
The class organized a retreat for younger students, a Christmas book drive, blood drives, various other fund-raisers and school events that included Homecoming, Winterfest, graduation and school elections.
Willa also found time for mentoring children through a Big Brothers, Big Sisters program; working with the Environmental Club on an effort to ban disposable shopping bags; and horseback riding, her longtime passion.
She has been riding horses since she was about 7, Kurland said.
“As soon as she met a horse, she knew that’s what she wanted to do.”
Willa doesn’t just ride in a saddle. She vaults, a kind of gymnastics done on horseback, and is teaching horse camp at a Redwood Valley stable this summer before heading off to college.
She admits to juggling her busy schedule to make time for friends, probably good training for college, but it means she runs on five or six hours of sleep each night.
Willa is undecided on a college major. Possibilities currently include international relations, psychology and global studies.
“I’m interested in how people relate to each other,” she said.
One thing is certain. College will include continued leadership training, a component of the Gates scholarship.
Whatever she does, Willa no doubt will be someone in charge, Willeford said.
“She’ll continue being a leader somewhere,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or Glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com.

Name: Willa Mei Kurland
Birthplace: Altay, China
Lives with: Parents and 10-year-old sister near Potter Valley
What’s on her iPod: Everything from Taylor Swift to the Beatles
Favorite hobby: Horseback riding
Dream job: FBI agent
Favorite TV show: “Chuck”
Favorite food: Caesar salad
Quote: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”