Q & A: Class of 2020 Valedictorian and Salutatorian
SJND is pleased to announce the Class of 2020 Valedictorian and Salutatorian:
“Zavier is an intellectually brilliant student, a generous person, and a natural-born leader. His academic aptitude and achievements are truly incredible—100 percent correct answers on the PSAT, a 36 on the ACT and straight As (not a single A-) in the most demanding academic program of courses that is possible at our school, plus some outside of SJND that he took on his own. In addition, Zavier has pursued and excelled in many other interests throughout his high school career, from Track & Field, to Pep Band and Student Leadership. His 'Soles4Souls' project, collecting and shipping shoes for the poor, manifested 4,387 pairs in 167 hours of work. That’s typical for Zavier; he works hard and dedicates himself fully to everything he commits to, and his efforts are often a big benefit to others.” - Mr. John Gunty, Director of Counseling
“Andrew is a dedicated, hardworking and engaged student. Andrew has constantly challenged himself during his time at SJND, taking rigorous classes and learning multiple languages. Teachers have noted Andrew’s inquisitive nature, diverse interests and consistent contribution to class discussions. With such great talent as a writer, it is no surprise that Andrew has been involved with the Prisms literary magazine and was named this year’s Poet Laureate. Andrew has also established himself as a leader across the SJND campus. He has served on CLT every year, including as class president as a senior. In addition, Andrew is a co-founder of the Youth Environmental Activities (YEA!) Club and president of the Us’s Club.” - Ms. Allison Yee, College Counselor
Zavier and Andrew will address their class at the 2020 Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement Ceremony, which have been postponed until July 30 and August 1, respectively. In the meantime, we asked Zavier and Andrew to share favorite memories at SJND, learnings from the past two months sheltering in place, and advice for the next generation of Pilots.
1) What is your favorite memory from your time at SJND?
Zavier: “Of course, it’s super difficult to pick a single favorite; I’ve got too many unforgettable SJND memories to count. But there is one that sticks in my mind. Freshman year, less than a week after school started, I had just hopped on my bike to head home for the day. Then, out of the blue, three classmates pulled up behind me on their bikes, goofy grins on their faces, and enthusiastically told me, ‘we’re following you home.’ I was momentarily confused, but then just said what the heck and rode away with them in a group. I had never met these people before, but we raced on our bikes, went to the beach, and shot baskets on an empty blacktop. They even entertained me with crazy stories from their old school that had me cracking up with laughter. I think it really encapsulates the social spirit of SJND—how, even though we didn’t go on to become super-close friends, I still treasure the memory of my time with them.”
Andrew: “My favorite memory at SJND was my time at Kairos. So as not to give too much away for incoming Kairos retreatants, I won't get into specifics. However, I will say that it was amazing to be in a space where everyone was so authentic and respectful. It also helped me realize that everyone has a story and deserves empathy and respect, however hard it may be to reconcile the past.”
2) What was your favorite class and why?
Zavier: “Not sure if I’m allowed to do this, but I have to mention four classes: AP Biology, AP English Language, AP Physics 1, and AP Calculus BC, taught spectacularly well by Mrs. Taylor, Ms. Rodriguez, Dr. Desai, and Mr. Rhatigan, respectively. These courses all had an extremely high impact on my general, everyday perception of the world right in front of me. In other words, I pretty much automatically apply the concepts I learned in these courses to all my thoughts and reasoning. It’s incredibly satisfying to know why the grass in the backyard is green, or what my calculator is actually doing when I graph a function, or why it’s way easier to push a door further away from its hinges (try it!), or even how my own successes are greatly aided by the privileges I’ve been blessed to receive throughout my life. There are many other classes that have also been exceptionally valuable to my development for other reasons—AP Spanish, Honors English 10, and Symphonic Band, to name a few—but those first four have so far been most directly applicable to my everyday pondering.”
Andrew: “My favorite class was probably AP English Language and Composition, or ‘AP Lang,’ with Ms. Rodriquez. I almost didn’t take AP Lang because everyone told me that it was impossible to get an A, but Ms. Rodriguez encouraged me to sign up, and I’m so glad I did. AP Lang was revolutionary for me as a writer, helping me to become significantly more creative, efficient, and effective at communicating my thoughts. Furthermore, AP Lang opened my eyes to the gaps between the American rhetoric of equality and the reality faced by many in our country as they struggle to make ends meet. AP Lang had a huge impact on my worldview, thought-process, and the way I approach writing.”
3) What will you miss most about SJND?
Zavier: “I think there’s one fact that represents most of what I’ll miss about SJND: I’ve gotten to learn every single one of my classmates’ names. That’s definitely not something I’ll be able to do at a large public university next year, nor at almost any other high school. Being able to know every classmate on a minimum first-name basis provides a powerful base of social and emotional support—even though, of course, some people are much closer to me than others. That sense of small, warm, welcoming community has been an incredible blessing in my high school career. I knew without hesitation, from the beginning, that I could confide in just about anyone and they would be there for me with an open heart and mind. I will greatly miss that in future years.”
Andrew: “As cliché as this is, the community is what I'll miss most about SJND. Having been quarantined now for about two months straight, it's safe to say that I miss many of the people that would normally be a part of my life—friends, faculty and teachers. I already miss my early morning classes with Ms. Lee, Ms. Fitz's witty repartee, Ms. GG's poetic inspirations, Ms. V's passionate leadership every day in homeroom, Ms. Capulong's greetings every time I walk into Marianist, and Charlie's kind words of comfort, to name only a few of the marvelous leaders that make up the SJND community. Further, I miss the laughter of friends in the hallway; lunches shared together outside in the Parish courtyard; and Larry's new, vibrant additions to the SJND landscape. I will miss most everyone who has been a part of my journey here at SJND, but after this is all over, I look forward to seeing you all again!”
4) You have had a unique senior year - to say the least - due to COVID-19. What has this experience taught you personally, and how do you think it has changed or prepared the Class of 2020 as you embark on this next chapter?
Zavier: “I’m pretty sure I speak for most of my classmates when I say that it was way harder to fight off senioritis while also being stuck at home. Having special events cancelled or moved to virtual platforms, plus my entire track season getting cancelled, was very disappointing. But I have to say, if anything has doubly reinforced my sense of perseverance—putting my head down and staying on that grind—it’s this situation. Not only has it taught me and my classmates to adapt and keep up the energy as we continue to work hard in our challenging classes, but it’s also tested us ethically as we make significant social sacrifices for the good of others. Personally, I am sure that we’ll all emerge from this crisis more durable, selfless, and creative, and that will serve us well in college and beyond.”
Andrew: “Before I begin, I recognize that I am in a privileged position—both of my parents have kept their jobs and no one in my family has fallen ill with COVID-19. Therefore, it has certainly been easier for me to find meaning and joy in these troubled times than it has been for many who have been less fortunate through no fault of their own.
Nevertheless, my quarantine experience has taught me many things, or more accurately, given me the time to more fully realize the importance of lessons previously learned, but not effectively integrated into my life. These lessons include the importance of mental agility and family time, enjoyment of the little things in life, and the power of staying present. By mental agility, I mean the ability to toss away plans that are now impossible and find ways to spark joy in these strange, new circumstances. If COVID-19 has taught me anything, it's that certainty in the future is an illusion and that we have less control than we like to admit. Next, I think family time is self-explanatory, but sometimes, the simplest things can offer profound meaning. Increased family time has been far and away the most positive part of quarantine for me, personally. My last two lessons were also pretty self-explanatory, but I'll add that it has been remarkable for me to have the opportunity to fully appreciate the little aspects of my life and home that are so beautiful, which often go unnoticed in my normal routine, such as the many birds in my neighborhood which I've started a journal about.”
5) What is the best thing you've read or watched while sheltering in place?
Zavier: “The best thing I’ve watched has got to be The Shawshank Redemption. I know it’s not a super unique choice, being the number-one rated movie on IMDb, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The messaging was clear, straightforward, and beautiful, and the plot was just realistic enough to be believable. I’ve rarely seen a movie with such an artful combination of lifelike brutality and uplifting hope.”
Andrew: “Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey by Jane Goodall has been my favorite book I've read during shelter in place. Before reading her autobiography, all I knew about Jane Goodall is that she worked with chimpanzees in Gombe. I had no idea that she was an environmental activist long before it was all the rage or had worked to stop the crippling cycle of poverty in developing nations. Reason for Hope is brilliantly written and incredibly inspiring, revealing how Jane Goodall went into the jungle to make her dreams a reality and emerged from the jungle with a mission to save humanity and our planet from their destruction. Also, as the title has already given away, it details Jane Goodall's reasons for hope and her spiritual development, both of which are especially poignant in today's world, which remains marred by political controversy and irresponsibility, economic hardship, and the rapid deaths of hundreds of thousands of our world's most vulnerable people.”
6) What is one piece of advice you would like to leave with younger Pilots?
Zavier: “This is something I tell to every younger student I meet who asks about my classes, high school life, et cetera: challenge yourself from the beginning. Four years go by very quickly, and there is no time to waste in growing to your maximum potential and having an amazing time while you’re at it. SJND is practically built around the principle that you should get to participate as much as you want. So, from the first day you step back onto campus: take that honors class, join that club or activity, play that new sport, and keep at it if you love it. Take risks and don’t give things up easily. Also, don’t get too wrapped up in how busy you think you are. If you use your weekends wisely, you have more time than you think! And, if you do this, at the end of high school you’ll feel incredibly satisfied and fulfilled with your SJND experience. I know I do!”
Andrew: “As ‘woo woo’ and preachy as I may sound, the piece of advice I would give to younger Pilots is to do your best to stay present. By that, I mean do your best to not get dragged into what the future may hold and to not get bogged down in regret from past decisions. The former has been more difficult for me, but I'll just say your time with your family and at SJND is not unlimited. In a few years, it will be over. Do your best to make this part of your journey as fun and inspiring as possible, while also doing your best to contribute to your community. Even in these trying times, try to stay present and find joy in whatever it may be that sparks your curiosity. As Dumbledore reminds us, ‘Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.’”
7) What are your plans for the future?
Zavier: “At UCSD (University of California, San Diego), I will major in Human Biology in the pre-medical academic track. This year, I’m pursuing a position on the varsity track and field team, and will also most likely participate in mentored research, tutoring, and hospital volunteering. I may pursue work as an EMT during summers. Then, I will apply to medical schools and hopefully attend a prestigious institution at a reasonable, low-debt cost. I’m certainly very open to discovery of new medical-field passions during my third year in medical school. However, my current highest ambition—after four years of medical school, minimum five years of residency, and a two-year fellowship—is to become a pediatric surgeon, synthesizing my fascination for science and medicine with my love for working with kids.”
Andrew: “In terms of where I will begin the next step of my academic journey, I'm not completely sure, as SIR deadlines have been extended for many universities, and I'm waiting on a litany of college waitlists. My life goals are in a similar state...There are several options that seem appealing, but I haven't honed in on one definitively (yet). My academic interests include International Relations, International Development, Anthropology, and Linguistics. The more I think about it, the more interested I become in solutions to problems faced by the third world, as helping to ameliorate global poverty and access gaps could solve a number of additional problems, including environmental destruction, uncontrolled population growth, and the social injustices faced by the poor everywhere. For a long time, I've wanted to join the Peace Corps, which I hope to do after college. I also hope to get fluent in at least Mandarin and German and live in both of those countries for a while. Beyond that, I'm truthfully uncertain what will become of my life.
Some days, I have dreams of setting off into the unknown to research and publish about minority and Indigenous cultures who are threatened by globalization and industrialization. Other days, I think working at an NGO, international company, or maybe teaching could bring me fulfillment. As a wise person once told me, the great thing about having my whole life ahead of me is that I have my whole life ahead of me (or at least I hope)! As I head into the wild blue yonder, I'll be hoping that kismet and the cosmos, combined with some hard work and intuition, will lead me in the right direction.”