Student of the Week: Onni Barron


Ashley Hawkins

Senior Onni Barron is excited to pursue what he loves and find happiness wherever he lands.

Lillian Paugh, Editor

“A bit hectic,” is how senior Onni Barron described his experience growing up with three older siblings.

“A lot of my time was spent going to other places and being dragged along, so that was always fun,” Barron said.

Despite growing up in Portland and living there for most of his life, both of Barron’s parents were born and raised in Finland. While living there, they had his older sister before moving to the U.S. when she was around two or three years old for their dad’s job.

Initially planning to stay for only a year or two, his parents continuously extended their stay until ultimately deciding to remain in the U.S. for the long run. “Once they were here for ten years, they were like, ‘Yeah, well, we’re here.’ But they had always planned to go back,” he said. With the move, his parents left behind his extended family, including his cousins and grandparents, who still live there today.

“So there’s kind of always been that distance,” Barron said.

Still, his family tries to travel to Finland for visits as frequently as they can, but Barron hasn’t been able to make it back there for the past two years. When he and his siblings were younger, he said, they were able to go more often, going during the summer each year and staying for weeks or months at a time.

When they are able to go back, Barron and his family stay in a house that his dad’s family built, which they have been working to refurbish for the past 20 years or so. Sat in a more rural part of Finland, Barron said he appreciates the remoteness of it, saying, “It’s kind of nice to have a house that’s in the middle of nowhere, then you can just walk around, and you don’t see anybody.” 

The house, at this point, has been mostly built, he said. Now, they work on upkeep whenever they go back, and he remembered a time when he and his family took on the task of having to paint the entirety of the inside and outside of the house, which was “real fun,” Barron said. 

Up until recently, Barron’s family’s primary language at home has been Finnish, with his parents having strict rules about speaking English in the house for a couple of reasons. “There’s the family aspect,” he said, as it is more convenient for them to be able to communicate in Finnish when going to visit their extended family. Being able to speak and understand the language is also “one of the few ways that we can maintain the fact that we are Finnish,” he said.

Apart from the language, Barron’s family has other traditions at home that make them different from other Americans. For example, Thanksgiving is not something his family really celebrates, and a majority of their Christmas festivities take place on the twenty-fourth, rather than Christmas Day. 

In addition, his parents also gave him and his siblings Finnish names, each having its own unique meaning in the language. “I have certain feelings about my name,” he said. “And I’m not complaining to my parents because there are worse things they could have chosen.” 

His name, “Onni,” which he said means “luck,” or “happiness,” is one that, despite thinking fits him, he still has qualms with due to it often being butchered by those who try to say it for the first time. “I do like that my name has a kind of meaning to it,” he said. “But I would have also enjoyed having an easier-to-pronounce name.”

To describe himself, Barron said the word “dedicated” resonates with him the most, as the pressure he’s felt from a young age to keep up with his older siblings — primarily in school — has made his academics a priority in his life, describing the immense time and effort he puts forward into his schoolwork on a regular basis.

“I set my mind that I’m going to do well in school,” Barron said. “And I’ve kept that up.”

Though enthusiastic about his academics, Barron mentioned that going on Journey this fall was a much-needed escape from that part of his life and said that it was an experience that “stands out as one of the most memorable, not just in school, but in life generally.”

Not only was it an opportunity to get away from school for a couple of days, but it also allowed him the space and time to think about things other than grades and homework, like his future after La Salle. “I’m not going to be in high school in a couple months from now,” he said. “Being able to talk about and think about those more important topics, that was just really impactful.”

His dad and older sister are his leading forces in inspiring his hard work in school, with the former always working and exhibiting what Barron called “pure determination and work-ethic” to support his family — something Barron said he aspires to do himself.

His sister, however, inspires him in the contrary. While he acknowledges that she is also hardworking and determined to succeed, her honesty about her struggle to do so is what Barron admires most. 

“When I was younger, it was more my dad, but I think more recently, my older sister has become an inspiration,” Barron said. “[She’s] kind of like ‘Hey, you’re going to be okay, but there’s going to be challenges, and be prepared for that. Everything isn’t going to go perfectly, and that’s okay.”

Similarly, Barron feels grateful to have teachers in his senior year that are understanding of the difficulties and stresses that come along with balancing school and life. “It’s nice for teachers to be aware that we’re also people,” he said. “And we have responsibilities and our own things going on.” And, despite his senior year being “overwhelming at times,” he said. “It’s also been a lot of fun,” as he’s been happy to have classmates and teachers this year that he appreciates.

Still, he’s excited to get the first semester over with, finish his college applications, and take the rest of the school year to “focus on living,” he said.

With more time on his hands coming, Barron hopes that one thing he’ll be able to do is put more effort into presiding over La Salle’s Computer Science Club. Following the graduation last year of the club’s former leader, Lukas Werner, and the departure of former Director of Technology Mr. David Heineck, Barron said he feels the changes have made maintaining the club difficult.

But, he’s determined to get the club up and running again this year and get more people involved and interested in joining.

“I find it super interesting all the ways you could use computer science, and I feel like the way it’s often taught is, in my opinion, the most boring way,” Barron said. “So, I feel like a lot of people get turned away or a lot of people lose interest right off the bat, and I feel like, if I  ever were to do anything with the club, it would be to more show like, ‘Hey, there are more things that fall under computer science that you might be interested in.’”

Always having had an interest in math and science — something he attributes to his dad, who works in computer science, and his siblings, who are all math-oriented  — Barron has always known he wanted to make a career out of it, saying that taking Chemistry teacher Mr. Matt Owen’s AP Chemistry class last year was a pivotal point for him in his decision to apply this year to study chemical engineering at various universities across the country.

“I liked how the problems and situations or what we were learning felt like a puzzle that you had to solve, and ever since I was a kid, I’ve always loved solving puzzles,” Barron said. “So, compared to some other science classes I’ve taken…chemistry felt like it made a lot more sense and that the topics connected in meaningful ways.”

Career-wise, Barron hopes to do something environmentally-based, having debated for a while whether to study environmental sciences over chemical engineering, as he said he’s always been interested in learning about the environment and climate change. “But it always felt like this far-off, almost unreachable topic for me that I’m like, ‘Yeah, I can always learn about it, but there’s nothing I can really do about it or help it,’” Barron said. “Then, last year, I was like, ‘Wait, I can do something, I could have an impact.’ So, that kind of pushed me.”

Set on doing something related to math and the environment, Barron still believes in keeping his options open once he gets to college and doesn’t want to close any doors for himself if he ends up unhappy with the path he plans to take.

“I don’t know exactly what I want to do,” Barron said. “I’m interested in chemical engineering right now, but I also want to leave the chance open, I want to leave my options open in case I don’t like it.”

Outside of school — away from the math and science that rules much of his life — art, music, and movies take most of Barron’s extra time.

Recently, he’s begun shopping for art prints and hanging them all around his bedroom. “I will say, the timing isn’t great because I’m going to need to take them all down in like six months,” Barron said. When looking for prints, he said he tends to gravitate toward watercolor styles, vibrant colors, and sketches, and he’s “not really looking for super detailed pieces, more a general feel or a mood,” he said. And, while he said he’s not a person who’s ever had enough patience to shop for long periods of time for one thing, “it’s been fun to go looking for these art prints to put on my wall.”

Listening to music is another activity Barron has found himself immersed in, saying that “I listen to music almost constantly, and I love talking about it with people.”

From a young age, Barron was surrounded by the music of his older siblings, with his oldest sister singing, his oldest brother playing guitar, and his other brother playing the piano — which Barron himself took up when he was around five years old. Having been more into instrumental and classical music when he was younger, Barron has recently become more interested in Rap and Hip-Hop, naming Kendrick Lamar and his albums “To Pimp A Butterfly” and “good kid, m.A.Ad city” as his favorites.

“I really like music or albums that have story-telling, so I love how it has a story each song and builds on that,” Barron said. “It’s just really good music.”

Alongside his academics, art, and music, Barron also has a love of meaningful films that “have some sort of point to make,” he said and analyzing the point and how the filmmakers get it across — whether it be music, choreography, or camera work — is something he greatly enjoys.

Additionally, Barron feels strongly about one opinion in particular when it comes to movies — that animated movies are not just kids’ movies, and they can be as serious as something live-action. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is one example of an animated movie that Barron loves and that he thinks is deeper than just a fun superhero movie. 

“It’s a Spider-Man movie, but it also has a lot of undertones,” Barron said.

Looking ahead to college, Barron hopes to land in a city bigger than Portland, so he applied to schools in California, Boston, and Chicago to try to achieve that, as well as a few schools closer to home, like the University of Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington University.

“As much as I occasionally like to be in the middle of nowhere, where there are no people around,” Barron said, in reference to enjoying time at his family’s rural home in Finland. “I do not want to live there, and I just think there’s so much more interesting stuff going on in these big cities, compared to other places.”

But, despite being excited about going to college after hearing good things from his older siblings, he still has drawbacks about being in a new environment and away from home.

“It is scary, obviously,” Barron said. “I’ve really lived only in Portland, so I can’t, right now, imagine myself living anywhere else, but I want to live somewhere else.” 

When it comes to ultimately deciding which school is for him, Barron said he will be prioritizing how the school makes him feel over all else. He plans to visit each one he’s accepted into, ignore any ratings or rankings he sees, and “make sure that I feel like this is a place that I can be for multiple years and be happy,” he said.

In the realm of new year’s resolutions and future goals, he pointed to his journal, which has a unique system of setting broad “themes,” rather than specific goals for one’s life, which he appreciates for its non-committal aspect and room for change.

“I want to avoid setting those definite goals because I feel like my opinions and my life’s going to change a lot over even a year’s span. So, those types of specific goals kind of just set me up for failure.” 

Uncertain in ways but still excited, Barron is ready to begin the next chapter in his life next year.