“Lema,” in Amharic, means “cultivated,” invoking the spirit of a loamy, fertile field ripe with opportunity. When Bethlehem Lema inherited her family name, she also inherited the literal meaning that came along with it – she inherited the unyielding tenacity that comes with coming from an immigrant family. While born and raised in San Diego, California, her family home was certainly always a vestige of traditional Ethiopia. It is this blend of cultures that has defined her. It is this blend of cultures that has provided the lush field that has allowed her to blossom.
In middle school, Bethlehem immediately began to explore her interests in government and education. She joined her school’s inaugural Model United Nations team, an involvement that has led to a seven year long commitment, including two years of Co-Presidency over her high school’s Model United Nations club. As a voracious reader, her accumulation of facts and trivia led to an appearance on the Kids Week edition of Jeopardy!, an experience that would lead her to a three year long position as Captain of her school’s Academic League Team.
At Scripps Ranch High School, Bethlehem emerged as one of her school’s top students. She achieved a perfect score of 36 on her ACT, as well as five different scores of “5” on her AP tests. In the summer before her junior year, Bethlehem attended the Telluride Association Sophomore Seminar, a six-week long seminar at the University of Michigan. Its focus on ethnic studies solidified her devotion to social issues, both in and out of immigrant communities. Her internship on the Nathan Fletcher campaign during the 2012 San Diego mayoral race confirmed her love of politics, a field she hopes to pursue. Other honors that she has received include the Rotary Youth Leadership Award, the Distinguished Young Women’s “Be Your Best Self” Kathryn Harris Badua Award, and membership in both the National Honor Society and French Honor Society. Bethlehem has had a long commitment to community service, and as a high school student, she serves as CEO of the Young Scholars Academic Fair, a student-run nonprofit organization that sponsors academic competition for local middle school students.
Bethlehem Lema will attend Harvard University, where she plans to study Government and Economics, leading to a future career in public policy and international relations.