At the Class of 2021 graduation, Avi Sundaresan '21 shared the remarks below.
Parents, faculty, administrators, and of course, the Class of 2021—good afternoon.
I want you to imagine that it’s a cool August in the year 2017. You lie awake in bed, filled to the brim with burning questions about your new high school, Nueva. Are the kids nice? Will the teachers like me? And what in the heck is SOM? But what you’re most anxious about is the 9th grade retreat up to Donner Pass tomorrow. In a grade of 99 kids, you only know a single person (shout out to Vir!), who’s on a different bus.
So, the next day, you find the first open seat on the bus, and you—eventually—turn to the person sitting next to you. Her name’s Willow—you find yourself spending the next hour ranting with her about world history and national politics. A bit later, you turn across the aisle and see a new face—his name’s Luke. You end up discussing everything from the local geography to California college football.
With your new friends, the hours on the road become fleeting, trivial, gone before you even know it. By the end of the bus ride, the perturbations that once plagued your mind begin to dissipate. You step out into the crisp air of Donner Pass and just breathe.
The next few days are eventful. You join your first advisory, and go on hikes in search of the glorious vistas nestled in the Sierras. On your second day into the trip, in an effort to impress your friends on a hike, you attempt to jump from one massive boulder to another equally massive boulder. Now, the key word is “attempt”: you fail (miserably) and fall seven feet onto your back. Though you do not get to go rock climbing that day, through incessant teasing and laughter, the so-called “boulder incident” binds you closer with your advisory and your newfound friends.
The bus ride back home is similar to the one coming up, but also markedly different—and not only because your arms and back are horribly sore from falling off that boulder. Like last time, the hours whirl by: you gossip and giggle with your gaggle of friends in the back of the bus. But now, the joy is accompanied by that comforting warmth of surety that you belong.
Those three days up at Donner Pass were an introduction to a hope that I had held in my heart for my entire life: a hope for a community of dreamers, tinkerers, perfectionists, fun-loving people unafraid to forge beyond their boundaries.
Now, I didn’t share that lovey-dovey, kind of cliche story just for a trip down memory lane—I have a point to illustrate. Looking back nearly four years later, we must recall at Donner, the community of the Class of 2021 drew its first breaths together, in close quarters—and with the pandemic, the loss of that physicality, that closeness that had defined us from the very beginning, certainly placed a strain on our community.
In my time at Nueva, and especially in the past 14 months, I’ve learned two very valuable lessons about community. I’ll share the first with you all now—the hallmark of a truly powerful community is its ability to adapt to even the most bizarre and trying circumstances.
Our transition to remote learning forced us to give up many of the things we cherished: in-person trips, multiple internships, and most importantly, our proximity to the panini presses that our very own Cal fought so hard for in junior year.
But we *have* managed to preserve some core traditions that have illuminated our senior year. Needless to say, Hillary’s emails have retained the same pizzaz as they had when she was our 9th grade dean way back when. And the Student Council has so diligently continued to organize “21 Second Talents” at school assemblies, showcasing the amazing expertise of our gifted Nueva seniors in everything from identifying obscure world locations in GeoGuessr to just eating chicken nuggets.
We’ve also forged some new traditions, too. Among the most memorable were the Senior Trivia nights in March, graciously hosted by Rachel Freeman (my team didn’t win, but we did earn the far superior and coveted title of “most average”—I’m sure you all are jealous of those 5 dollar Chipotle gift cards). And of course, we all admire Ishir and Nikhil as they greet each other with such love and tenderness in the Zoom chat in every school and grade-wide meeting.
It’s clear that our grade, and Nueva at large, has thrived in the face of the pandemic. This is in large part because of our wonderful teachers, who’ve worked so painstakingly to ensure that our online classrooms are as riveting and enriching as they were in-person. We also must thank our fantastic parents, who’ve probably spent far too much time cooped up at home with their kids—I know mine certainly have.
Now, the second lesson about community I’ve learned over the past few years: finding the ideal community is hard! As seniors, we’ll all be headed to join and create our own communities next year. I recognize that my success in finding such an amazing community at Nueva can be attributed to pure luck—maybe falling off that boulder was the best case scenario to begin my time here. But perhaps it’s also the sheer scarcity of these perfect communities that makes finally finding one all the more magical.
I wanted to end with not one, but two quotes. The first is by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who I definitely had heard of before I found this quote on the Internet: “A healthy social life is found only when, in the mirror of each soul, the whole community finds its reflection”.
The second quote about “community” is from one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Community. Pierce Hawthorne (who, by the way, is played by Chevy Chase, for those on the, well, aged end of the spectrum) says, "That thing some call failure, I call living. Breakfast. And I'm not leaving until I've cleaned out the buffet."
So, seniors: Take chances! Meet new people! Find your perfect community! And take it from me: even if you manage to fall off a boulder or two, you’re still probably off to a great start. To the Class of 2021, it’s been an honor and a privilege to learn and laugh with you all over the past few years. Thank you.