with students smallDuring a recent assembly, Lower and Middle School students were eager to ask questions of alumni speakers Naldo Peliks ’92 and Nate Levine ’05 who shared about their work as social entrepreneurs at Centro Community Partners in Oakland and OpenGov in Redwood City, respectively.

Naldo is COO at Centro Community Partners, which educates and supports entrepreneurs from low-income and minority backgrounds to build and grow their own businesses. These budding entrepreneurs receive on-going education, mentorship, and opportunities to promote their business.

Nate is co-founder and Director of Strategic Accounts at OpenGov, which provides state and local governments with a data platform to better manage their budgeting, make data-driven decisions, and increase financial transparency within their communities.

After the alumni panelists introduced themselves and their organizations, they answered a series of questions created by our seventh-grade SEL students. The questions attempted to explore what they do professionally and their educational journey up to this point.

72dpi Laena at MIALaena Wilder ‘79 is a professional photographer, oral historian, and artist whose work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in Toronto, Russia, and Hong Kong, among other places.

Her most recent photography project, Origins and Destinations, is a large-scale portrait collection that celebrates the beauty and diversity of people traveling through the Miami International Airport, where her exhibition debuted earlier this fall.

The idea for Origins and Destinations was born out of Laena’s own trip to Miami.

“As I sat waiting for my flight I fell in love with the cross-section of individuals surrounding me," said Laena. "I became curious about the people who were sharing the complex crossroads of North, South, East, and West.”

Laena then photographed and interviewed more than 200 airport travelers over the course of six different trips to Miami. The final collection of portraits and stories brings nameless faces to life and makes visible the tapestry of fellow airport travelers who would otherwise appear unfamiliar and their stories unknown.

HeatherAmong the many moments Heather Keane Leonard ’98 remembers from her days at The Nueva School, the most vivid are the times she spent outside exploring the natural beauty of Nueva’s Hillsborough campus. Whether she was studying the shallow root systems of redwoods, playing the xylophone under the willow tree, eating miner’s lettuce along the Crocker Road fire trail, learning about Native Americans, or acting out Billy Goats Gruff on the “Billy Goat Bridge,” Heather understood that the outdoors were not only her playground at Nueva but also her principal classroom.

“I remember the shock of visiting a friend at a school in San Francisco and seeing that their recess was held on a fenced-in concrete rooftop,” said Heather. “I began to realize how lucky I was.”

Another favorite memory was the “Take Apart” elective where students dismantled old computers (donated by classmate Aza Raskin’s father Jef Raskin) and spread out all the pieces across the Ballroom floor. These knee-deep, hands-on adventures framed Heather’s perspective of the world at a very foundational level and influenced her decision to pursue a master's degree in industrial design and most recently to work as the Store Designer for Philz Coffee.

head shotWhen Brandon Stephens ’85 graduated from London Business School he had an idea for a quality Mexican restaurant, a business plan, zero experience in the food service industry, a mountain of student debt, and a thin network of local British contacts. Despite the demanding challenge ahead of him, Brandon started assembling the ingredients to launch his first restaurant, Tortilla, a California-style Mexican restaurant specializing in burritos.

“At the beginning it was terrifying,” said Brandon about the prospect of building his business from the ground up. “And in hindsight somewhat foolhardy. So it becomes a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, keeping your head down, and not looking at the fact that there are cliffs all around you.”

Thankfully Brandon had a lot of help from his friends, who connected him to lawyers, accountants, recruiters, builders, and a host of other key players. Because he had no prior professional experience with the restaurant industry, Brandon knew he had to build a solid team of experts if his venture was going to work.

In spite of the looming uncertainty ahead, Brandon was also motivated by the philosophy that failure was not an option.

Jesse ThornFast Company recently wrote about Nueva’s own Jesse Thorn ’95 — “The Most Important Person in Entertainment You’ve Never Heard Of” — who’s making quite the name for himself in the world of podcasting and radio broadcasting. You can read the article and the details of his career here.

As for Nueva, Jesse still has lots of memories of his middle school years, especially the kind staff who were his advisors and the class trip to Japan. Like many middle school memories, not all of Jesse’s are happy ones. Even so, this now-seasoned entertainer first tried his hand at performing comedy at Nueva. Jesse was cast in several plays and his teacher Carla Newton wrote cheesy jokes for Jesse to tell while emceeing the Greek Festival.

“I learned to write clearly and organize my ideas at Nueva, which remains the main way I make my living,” said Jesse.

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