Senior Story: Overcoming Shyness

Last year, seniors started delivering Senior Speeches at Morning Meeting. This Senior Speech is by Julie Qian ’20 and was delivered in early September.

Julie Qian ’20

A few days ago, my friend and I were talking and he asked me, “What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you?” I could easily respond because there has been this one mortifying memory that’s haunted me for the longest time.

This story took place three years ago, when I was a new 9th grader at Athenian and let me tell you, I was painfully shy. You can ask any senior right now what they thought of me at that time, and they would tell you that I was either really quiet or that they didn’t know who I was because I was so quiet. Besides this, I joined the Athenian swim team even though I was incredibly nervous to go into a sport without knowing a single person.

The swim team has a wonderful long-standing tradition where we have a specific chant at the first home meet of the year. A 9th grader is selected to help perform part of the chant, and for some reason even though I was a quiet little thing, I was chosen to do so. I was really nervous, which only made things go downhill because I completely butchered the chant. I’m in front of my team, the other team, a second swim team, a ton of parents, and some students watching the meet when I just mess up the chant. I thought about this event for quite a few days after.

Me speaking to you right now shows how different I am as a senior now. I’m not sure if it’s clear to you all, but I’m not really super nervous speaking right here. This change isn’t that I used to be shy and now I’m no longer shy, but rather that I’m confident in who I am and the kind of person I want to be. Math classrooms forced me to accept that I’m going to be wrong a lot—honestly, maybe the majority of the time—and it doesn’t matter if the entire class hears me give a wrong answer. In lit classrooms, I was forced to present my ideas even if I thought they weren’t worth hearing. I held more responsibilities running clubs and helping as an ambassador or working on The Pillar newspaper.

This time you have here at Athenian is the perfect time to find your confidence and your growth, in whatever avenue you choose to do so.

To those of you who are really confident, you have the opportunity to be the one to reach out to others in your grade. I hope you haven’t judged shy people to be someone who isn’t worth knowing because some of them turn out to be the wittiest, kindest, and most wonderful people. You’re missing out.

I’m Julie Qian and that’s my senior story.

Concussed: Learning for Living


The moment the soccer ball slammed into my head, everything went white and then black. When I first opened my eyes, a blurry, light, and dizzy world surrounded me. I will never forget that view of the world. – Emma Cottrill ’17

At Athenian, we believe the best way to master academic subjects is to experience their application firsthand. Our academic program resonates and sticks with students because we all learn by doing, by applying what is learned to real world situations. Whether in or out of the classroom, this approach allows our students to incorporate their learning with their living, laying a strong foundation for a life of intellectual exploration and meaningful contribution.

Inspired by a freshmen Interim trip where Emma Cottrill ’17 bonded with classmates and teachers over photography, she continued to study photography throughout her Athenian experience.  Emma’s final photography project created a digital gallery of photographs and reflections on her recovery from a traumatic concussion. Emma begins her piece with the following:

My life changed forever the night I was hit in the back of the head with an over-inflated soccer ball. The impact from the ball caused my head to whip forward. Simultaneously, the momentum forced me to the ground, where my head violently slammed into the turf. Concussion was the immediate diagnosis, but the two-week normal recovery morphed into months. Isolated. Bored. Angry. Initially, I hated that this happened to me, but eventually, I recognized that I could resent the accident or embrace it.

My approach to the world altered after I got hurt. Before my injury, my life was black and white. Numbers and science drove my beliefs, and I required proof for acceptance. However, after my injury, the gray areas became more interesting to me. Less rigid, more whimsical, I embraced the magic in the daily simplicities. I found energy and inspiration in the imperfect.

In Concussed, I photograph all aspects associated with my concussion: the way I see the world, my view of soccer, the doctors, the medicine, my brain, and who I became.

Emma describes herself on her project’s website, “In addition to the creativity that comes with photography, I also enjoy structure and procedure and a rigid schedule. I love my Chemistry and Math classes, and I am a competitive swimmer who is training intensely with a goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials.” Emma’s work reveals a mastery of photographic theory, a comprehensive understanding of concussion science and medicine, a facility with meaning-making, and a great capacity for self-reflection. As a senior, Emma applied her many skills learned through years of scaffolded Athenian experiences to conceptualize an independent, self-expressive project, applying her usual rigorous and creative approach.

This is just one example of what is possible here. Each one of Emma’s 83 senior classmates could tell their own Athenian story revealing how they have discovered “there is more in you than you know.” We could not be more proud of our students.


From Texas to Athenian: What I’ve Learned from Four Years in the Dorms

by Garrett Vaughn ’16

IMG_3325The words ‘senior’ and ‘graduation’ still seem so foreign to me, but pausing for a moment to consider that it’s already April, and with every college letter that slowly trickles in, it should be hard to deny these two words. I’ve been boarding at Athenian for four years, and while watching the boarding community grow in both students and on-campus faculty has been great, I am also struck by the small, insular, and thoughtful community I joined three years ago.

Freshman year was a year of transitions: moving from a small, quiet town in Texas to Danville, California was quite a change in pace, and the world I knew expanded. As an only child for fourteen years, suddenly I had a roommate and seventeen other brothers all with their own patterns and routines. Communal living was challenging and required a different sort of patience then I was used to. I had to be patient with my roommate and came to the conclusion that sometimes when I wanted to go to bed, the lights might be left on for another hour as he completed his homework. Several years later, I considered that maybe I should have been more patient when talking to Dorm Assistants (Dorm Prefects as they are now called) and not have been so combative when I thought they were being unreasonable to make me work dish crew on my day off.

I also had to learn to be patient with myself. One of the hardest transitions was going from a public school to Athenian’s experiential academics. I had to give myself space to grow as a learner and to go easy on myself when I fell below my personal expectations. Likewise, I also learned to be proactive and to seek help when I needed it.

I’m thankful for that small community I found when I first came to Athenian. I am still struck by the friends that I’ve made these last four years. And while our relationships haven’t always been perfect, I don’t know who I would be without these people. I’ve lived with Paula now for four years at Athenian, and her room is still a place where I unwind and decompress, go through a thousand or more flashcards on Anatomy terms before a test, or go to watch movies on the weekends. These are the kinds of simple experiences that highlight my Athenian career.  Athenian has molded me into a critical thinker, a pursuer of truth, and a questioner of the world. But what I’m most thankful for is this wonderful community that has pushed me and given me support and the small family that has grown around me.

What Drives My Success? A Student Perspective

By Sajia Bidar ’16

2013-09-25 15.20.19Once upon a time, there were only a few things in my life that I really, truly cared about: my family, my friends and occasionally, school.

When I first came to Athenian, I looked to thrive and grow as a person, not only academically, but also socially and physically. I figured Athenian is the place for this. Halfway through my second year here, I am proud to say Athenian has been everything I hoped for, and more. From the academic, social, mental and physical challenges that I have faced during my time here, I can truly believe in the fact that I have indeed grown as a person, and into a thriving young woman.

For the first fourteen years of my life, I attended public school. During these years, school was simply a place I went to hangout with my friends. With classrooms overflowing with students and more than four hundred kids per grade, my individuality was not important to my teachers. Now, not to say that I didn’t like being in the shadows, I was a very shy person. However, I believe that in order for one to mature as a person, individualism and personal attention are a necessity

The many interactions that I have had with students and teachers here are those that have helped me thrive. You may have heard of the challenging academics that transpire throughout the Athenian campus, however, the long nights and countless essays and projects have helped me to procrastinate less and be more responsible. The amount of attention that is paid to ones’ academic, social and individual performance at Athenian is remarkable. I am  grateful for the teachers who have given up their lunch breaks and afternoons working with me to make sure I was on the right track.

Athenian has pushed me exceptionally far out of my comfort zone, and for this I am grateful. I am not the shy and timid Sajia I once was and I have Athenian to thank for this.  Because of Athenian, school is not just a place to hang out with friends anymore.

School has become a passion of mine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’m crazy about the homework, but the feeling of accomplishing a challenging task and thriving academically gives me a feeling I cannot describe.  A feeling which ignites me with the passion to push forward in life, and to keep fighting, no matter how strong the current is against me.

Simone ’15: Taking Museum Advocacy to Capitol Hill


Simone in an astronaut suit at Chabot.

On February 24, Simone Batiste ’15 will travel to Washington, D.C. to tell Congress why museums are important. One of two nationwide selected by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), Simone will join more than 300 museum leaders from around the country for the 6th annual Museum Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. Appointed as a Great American Museum Advocate, Simone will meet with our local California representatives and speak to a join session of Congress to make the case for federal support of America’s museums. Simone will be engaging directly in the embodiment of the Constitutional right of citizens to petition the government, sharing her first-hand experience of the powerful impact museums can have on the life of an individual.


Galaxy Explorers in Hong Kong

Simone has been a regular volunteer at Chabot Space and Science Center through their Galaxy Explorers program, doing live public science demonstrations and explaining interactive exhibits. This past summer, she participated in a science exchange with the Hong Kong Space Museum. Cross-cultural teams explored differences in Western and Chinese astronomy in both Hong Kong and at Chabot. In September, Simone delivered a speech at Chabot’s fundraising gala outlining the value and personal impact the trip had on her: 

I have been a part of [the Chabot] community since the age of 5 when I attended science camp and learned how to make ice cream from just dry ice….Little did I know that my experience at Chabot Space and Science would lead me to travel to the Hong Kong Space Museum as a member of the peer-to-peer digital sky student partnership. During this adventure, I had an opportunity to meet and interact with students from across the world who shared similar passions and interests as I….I gained so much more than just learning about the stars in our universe. I developed life-long friendships, extensive new skills with technology, and personal growth and development.

Helping Chinese students with an experiment at Chabot.

Helping Chinese students with an experiment at a school in Hong Kong.

My experience with Galaxy Explorers has been truly beneficial and applicable to my life and activities beyond the museum. For instance, the knowledge that I acquire when I show demonstrations to the public, I can use in my physics, biology, and chemistry classes….Due to my love for life sciences, I would like to extend my passion in biology, study at Stanford, and become a doctor…I applaud each of you in this room and countless others, who inspire me to start by starting, do by doing, so that I and others can see our dreams become realities.

Simone and Mayor of Oakland Jean Quan

Simone and Mayor of Oakland Jean Quan at a Chabot event.

Simone does not actually know who nominated her to be a Great Museum Advocate. AAM received a video of her speech and found her experiences to be a perfect fit for a Museum Advocate–an individual whose life was changed by their involvement with a museum. Simone’s experiences at Chabot, combined with her opportunities to further her science exploration at Athenian, have positioned Simone well to be a poised and articulate representative of the cause.

Good luck in D.C., Simone! We look forward to sharing your report of the experience upon your return.