To bring you this special 2016 New Year’s issue of City Pulse, we sat down with nine interesting people who are doing interesting things in the Lansing area. We invite you to sit down with them, too. Grab a coffee, an herbal tea or a pint of Angry Mayor IPA, depending on your mood and the time of day.

We added a brief introduction to each interview and edited them all for length and clarity, but that's it. We wanted to put their faces and their words in front of you, like an early spring bouquet of humanity, with as little commentary as possible. These people are able to speak for themselves.

This is not a top-nine or most influential list, or even a list of people to “watch out for.” Labels like that sound authoritative, but don't mean much. Today's hot young politician, thinker or entrepreneur is tomorrow's cold pizza. Not that cold pizza is so bad. If we could, we'd sit down with everyone in the city, wherever they are in their life's journey, take a beautiful picture of them and find out what makes them tick.

But we can't, so we limited the bouquet to nine — two comfortable handfuls.

How did we pick? Once we decided not to hype the “best” or “most” anything, we simply looked for nine people worth sitting down and talking with. Our only real guideline was to try for diversity along as many axes as possible, from walk of life to gender, race and age.

If there's anything all nine have in common, it's that they are inspiring — but not like the people in those billboards, who climbed Everest blind, raised 100 foster kids or graduated college at age 95. These people are inspiring in a realistic way, maybe as role models, but also for the comfort of knowing they're out there, doing their thing as do-gooders, musicians, doctors, scholars and artists.

To help bring them to life for you, we arranged with an outstanding local photographer, Khalid Ibrahim, to take portraits of them in his Lansing studio, Eat Pomegranate Photography.

Get to know them a little. We enjoyed it.

— Lawrence Cosentino

Sarah Kovan
Rhodes scholar

In November, Sarah Kovan, 21, of Okemos, was selected as one of 32 Rhodes scholars representing the United States. She is a senior at Michigan State University, where she will earn a B.A. in comparative cultures and politics and a B.S. in human biology. She is also a starting midfielder for MSU’s varsity soccer team, and she is a musician. At Oxford she will pursue an advanced degree in development studies and

plans a career in medicine.

— Mickey Hirten

What made you stand out from all of the hundreds of other excellent candidates to be a Rhodes scholar?

They are looking for a well-rounded candidate, someone who not only does a lot within academics, but also has other leadership experience, is involved with athletics, is involved with community service. Once you get to the interviews, it’s just your genuineness. When you speak on the stuff you are doing, do you seem passionate about it. Do you want to make a difference in the world.

How do you think your experience at Oxford might change you?

It will open my perspective. People at Oxford, similar to Michigan State, are doing research that is changing the world, research that is across disciplines in a lot of different fields. It’s the scope that is really intriguing.

In what ways are you like your mom? And in what ways like your dad?

With my mom (artist Jessica Kovan), I would say her intellect and the way that she thinks about issues is similar to how I think about them. When she goes after something she’s curious about, her mind just never stops, always keeps working and working until she solves the problem. That kind of drive and curiosity is something that carries me through my education.

For my dad (sports medicine physician Jeff Kovan), I’m incredibly interested in medicine and health. Seeing the impact that a physician can have on people locally is really inspiring.

And in what ways like neither?

Well neither of them is interested in soccer.

Can you reflect on your MSU experience?

I went into college knowing I was really interested in medicine and health, but the comparative cultures and politics majors that I’m in as well opened health into a broader perspective for me.

What about MSU would you change?

Just to make sure that all of the students are getting the opportunities that I have. I’d make study abroad even more of a priority. Research opportunities and things you get out of the classroom are so important for the development of a student. MSU has a great start there, and they can even push it further.

How have sports helped shape your life?

It’s really given me a sense of working with a team and allowed me to understand how you take a group of people and move them in a direction that uses your leadership to reach the goals that you want to reach.

You are an accomplished pianist. Tell me about what you play when you just have to play something?

I’ll play Chopin’s Waltz in A Minor. For me that ‘s really soothing. Also, I always find myself going to "Porcelain," by Helen Jane Long. Both wonderful composers. I use piano as an outlet away from everything else I’m doing. Before I have a big test, before I have a soccer game, I sit down and play. So that type of comforting slow music is perfect for me and how I use the piano. I also love singing, Broadway musicals, show tunes where I can play the piano and sing along. It’s a really different kind of outlet. Right now I’ve been playing a lot of “In the Heights,” a rap-type musical — a lot of fun to play and sing along. It’s a different vibe than the Chopin.

What will you bring with you to Oxford to remind you of home?

Probably a soccer ball. I’m hoping I’ll be able to play soccer over there.

Anything you want to add?

It’s really important to mention how important the support of the Michigan State and Okemos community have been through this process. I think sometimes it’s overlooked. The support I’ve gotten along the way, even when I first started the application, has been so continuous and understanding. People have reached out, have written me letters of recommendation. You can see the effect of growing up in the local community and then going to school in the same place. It has made the whole thing so much easier.

Next up: Ryan Claytor, comic book artist

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