Nancy Mahmoud has both changed and been changed by Berkeley High School (BHS).
Mahmoud has grown a lot during her time at BHS. “[During] my first two years, I was just a little bit lost. I didn't know what to do, what I wanted to do in the future, how I could get more involved at [BHS],” said Mahmoud. However, through the Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS), she was able to develop close relationships with students and teachers, as well as eventually snag an internship at the Community Health and Adolescent Mentoring Program for Success (CHAMPS) at Oakland Children’s Hospital. The program involved a lot of in-hospital experience, and was where she discovered her passion for public health.
Mahmoud will continue to pursue this passion at the University of Miami, where she will major in biology on the pre-med track. Mahmoud said she wants to “get rid of injustice in the healthcare system,” and become a doctor.
Mahhoud made community service a priority throughout her time in high school. As a member of the National Honor Society (NHS) and the California Scholarship Federation (CSF), she has participated in beach cleanups, provided public health services to those in need, and served on the clubs’ leadership boards, encouraging others to get involved.
While Mahmoud has greatly valued her time in AMPS, she also sometimes felt uncomfortable with the attitudes surrounding her small school. “There was always ... a weird stigma around it and I was always just so confused as to why. Like, what’s wrong with AMPS? Just because it doesn’t have a lot of white people, it’s a bad school? I definitely experienced a lot of racism in that sense,” said Mahmoud.
She felt inspired as others in AMPS spoke out about the same issue. “I think that’s a lesson going forward — that I’m not going to let myself be stepped all over, but that I’m going to make a change because, if I want to see change, I have to be a part of that,” said Mahmoud.
When she stepped on campus as a high school freshman, Melani Garcia was sure that she was going to major in history or philosophy in college. She had had a negative experience with math in the past, so she thought that high school would be no different. However, Berkeley High School (BHS) math teacher Gideon Goldman convinced her otherwise. “He made me feel like I'm competent and that I can actually do math,” said Garcia. Now, as a senior in BHS’s Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS), Garcia’s interests have taken a turn in the other direction as she proceeds to obtain her nursing major at California State University (CSU) Long Beach
Garcia has cheered on BHS for four years now, continuing even after knee surgery. Her favorite aspect of cheerleading was stunting, the gravity-defying spectacle where teammates cast one another into the air to rile up the crowd. However, both the physical and emotional closeness that cheerleading offered was lowered because of health guidelines. “As this year's captain, I tried really hard to try to make it feel like it was a regular year for my team, but the reality is, it’s just not,” she said.
During her time at BHS, Garcia also spoke at the student-led walkout against sexual harassment. Though one of her best friends had been organizing the event and asked her to speak, Garcia was unsure if she could do so. “This is a lot of emotional baggage that I'm about to unpack in front of the entire school and I don't know if I personally can handle it,” she had thought. Eventually, she was convinced that she needed to be courageous for others. After years of performing in front of crowds, Garcia stepped up to the podium on the steps of the A-Building. Once she began, her words flew out.
The pandemic served as a time to heal “mentally and physically” for Garcia, as the year off from school gave her a much needed reset. “My knee is perfectly healed, my mental health is doing pretty solid; emotionally and spiritually, I'm good,” Garcia said.
For Sadie Aurora, a graduating senior from Berkeley International High School (BIHS), high school is a story of early morning crew practices, dance choreography, sunsets in Wyoming, and empowerment. A rower for the Berkeley High School (BHS) Crew Team since freshman year, Aurora recounted some of her most memorable moments: “I’ll never forget late nights loading the boats onto the trailer, how everyone was so incredibly exhausted but knew they were doing something insane and were going to have fun.”
In addition to the water, Aurora can be found on the stage. She’s been dancing since she was 5, and plans to continue in college. “It’s grounding: a way to express myself and get my frustration out without having to think,” she explained.
Aurora noted that navigating the many perspectives at BHS helped her discover her own identity. “I used to always want to have the same opinion as everyone else, but now I'm willing to be the one that raises their hand and says ‘Actually, I have a different idea,’” she said. Her International Baccalaureate (IB) Economics class was also integral to her empowerment in the classroom. “It’s more than just the money, it’s about how people and governments make choices that trickle down to all levels. It’s about interactions and current events, and that’s where we come in,” Aurora explained.
After realizing that classes would be online, Aurora switched into Independent Study (IS) and spent three months hiking in Wyoming as part of the National Outdoors Leadership Program. “We spent the first three weeks exploring the Wind Rivers, a chain off of the Rocky Mountains. Once we transitioned into canyons and snow we learned skills to survive in different environments; how to read clouds to predict weather, and how to live independently,” she explained. The trip showed Aurora a different side of empowerment: how to be a strong leader. “You don't always have to be loud. Sometimes it’s [about] being the quiet one who nudges everyone in the right direction,” Aurora said.
Aurora will be attending Smith College this fall, where she wants to further explore her interest in economics and public policy. When explaining her decision to attend a women’s college, Aurora said, “The idea of joining a network where women are doing really amazing projects and changing the world sounded so cool. I wanted to feel empowered to be a big voice in my community.”
When reflecting on her time at Berkeley High School (BHS), Amanda Sieu describes how her various endeavors connected her to her community and herself. Since freshman year, Sieu has been a part of both the field hockey team and the Asian and Pacific Islander Club (APIC), of which she is now president. Multiple of Sieu’s family members were heavily involved in APIC before her, and Sieu was able to continue the tradition.
“APIC has connected me with the [BHS] and [Asian/Pacific Islander (API)] community at school more. … I think it’s impacted my high school experience a lot,” Sieu said. She described how hard she worked to recruit students for the club, hoping to bring people together. “[APIC] has always been a passion of mine,” she said.
Even though Sieu was sad to miss field hockey as it was pushed online by the pandemic, she found this year a time of growth. “[Online school] has brought me to be more comfortable with myself. … I don’t really care what people think, I’m in my own zone, which is nice,” she said. She has watched herself become more outgoing, which she also partly attributes to her role in APIC.
Next fall, Sieu plans to attend the University of California (UC) Berkeley, majoring in architecture. She said her interest in architecture was actually inspired by a project she did for her Mandarin class, which was the creation of a model house. “I spent way too long on that project, but I actually really enjoyed it, and it led me into thinking about architecture and design,” she said.
Sieu said she didn’t plan to go to college in the Bay Area. She wanted to leave Berkeley for a change of scenery, but once she applied to UC Berkeley and got in, she decided to go. “I was like, ‘Wow I got into Berkeley! That's a huge accomplishment.’ And they have a really good architecture program. It's not a huge change … but I think it'll be like a new perspective,” Sieu said.
Kai Kai Spencer, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), has been an active participant in a host of extracurricular activities throughout her time at Berkeley High School (BHS). As a member of the YMCA Youth and Government program, Spencer developed a passion for political affairs by serving in model governments. “I did Youth and Government all four years and that was definitely one of the most influential things in my life because I found my love for politics and government,” said Spencer.
A strong proponent of activism, Spencer was able to make tangible improvements during her time as a treasurer and policy coordinator for BHS Stop Harassing. Her junior year, Spencer interned with the League of Women Voters, where she focused on affordable housing and homelessness issues. She reflects on these experiences as points of personal growth. “It was taking the things that I am passionate about and actually acting on them,” said Spencer.
Among the expansive list of achievements she has amassed over the past four years, Spencer recounts her work on a Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) campaign as her biggest accomplishment. The campaign created measures that increased funding for BUSD and secured the salary raises demanded by BUSD teachers. “Working on that as the only student on their main committee, running the whole thing, was something that I am very proud of,” said Spencer.
Spencer credits her diligence and independence to BHS. She said, “[BHS] taught me a lot about accountability.” Spencer discovered a close-knit community in BIHS, where she pursued the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, a rigorous academic feat.
Post-graduation, Spencer looks forward to attending Brown University in the fall. Whilst there, she plans on majoring in political science or international and public affairs.
When reflecting on the impact of the pandemic on her high school experience, Spencer said, “When you have the opportunity to do something, just do it. … Go hang out with your friends, or go see the concert, because you never know, next year there might be a global pandemic.” Spencer is deeply grateful for the plethora of resources at BHS and recommends that all students “take advantage of the opportunities you have at [BHS].”
After a big car accident during her first month of freshman year, Desiree Solis, a senior in Academic Choice (AC), pushed herself to reassess what she was doing with her life. The event served as a “catalyst” that moved her to try out many things during her time at Berkeley High School (BHS).
Ever since first grade, Solis had been inspired by her teacher to work with children. So, the summer after freshman year, Solis dove into work as a teacher’s assistant at Ruth Acty Elementary. The next year, Solis wanted to focus on community service, so she helped organize BHS’s holiday meal; on top of that, she also ran for chief of service. Later on, Solis joined the Multicultural Student Association (MCSA) as a participating member, as well as AC leadership, whose activity later plateaued. Seeing the potential of the team and its possible leaders, Solis worked with John Villavicencio and her friends to resurrect it the summer of her junior year. Unstoppable, Solis applied to be co-president of the MCSA, her position in the club today.
When the pandemic hit, Solis felt the loss of a certain feeling of independence. Suddenly, she couldn’t do the little things she had been putting off until senior year, like skipping a class or two. Seniors didn’t get to attend their last Jacket football and basketball games, Rally Day, or Senior Prom. “Now I’m realizing, don’t wait until some year, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Solis and Suhera Nuru, another senior at BHS, MCed the in-person graduation event for the class of ‘21 — an upgrade from last year’s drive-through. “I'm really excited to see everyone in their cap and gown,” said Solis.
Looking forward, Solis will attend the University of California (UC), Merced, and plans to major in cognitive science, with a minor in education. Right after college, she wants to dive into the workforce in the psychology sector, whether that be as a clinical psychologist or a therapist for children. Offering up some words of wisdom, Solis said, “Just try it. Whatever you're thinking about, even if it's something you're totally not experienced in, just do it.”
When Rabiah Kabir, a graduating senior from Academic Choice (AC), first entered Berkeley High School (BHS) in her freshman year, she immediately bonded with the jazz community. “It’s really great to play with them because you form these relationships that are a lot deeper through musical connection,” Kabir said.
In addition to it being her musical outlet, the jazz band has given Kabir some of her most memorable moments at BHS, such as the trip to Cuba prior to the pandemic, or her first ensemble concert. “It was really cool to be playing with so many incredible musicians. Having people who wanted to hear good music come and see us was really great,” Kabir said.
Throughout her four years at BHS, Kabir also ran track. When she wasn’t running some of the fastest times on the team, she was able to make strong friendships and bond with the track community. As a freshman, Kabir was “like any other 14-year-old, I was really insecure.” However, the jazz and track communities helped her grow to be more comfortable in her own skin.
Next on Kabir’s agenda is Stanford University. Kabir has yet to decide upon a specific major, but she knows that she wants to build on her interest in jazz through her studies in the fall. “I want to take some classes in composing as well as ethnomusicology, which is kind of the study of music in relation to culture,” she said. In her free time, Kabir composes her own music for solo piano and jazz band.
To any incoming BHS students, Kabir emphasizes the importance of the “fake it ‘till you make it” rhetoric. “I would say, when you're younger and you're coming into high school, it’s a really big place. For me, there was a lot of insecurity and social anxiety. Be more comfortable in yourself, because people gravitate toward other people who are comfortable and confident in themselves,” Kabir advised.
Mexica Greco, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), sees the past four years of her life as a period of self-discovery. Having previously been homeschooled, Berkeley High School was Greco’s first introduction to the traditional classroom environment. “Going into [BHS], I had no idea what to expect,” Greco said. “I already knew I was outgoing and social, but I didn’t really have a sense of what I enjoyed doing and what communities I wanted to be a part of,” she added. Greco joined BIHS Leadership in her sophomore year, and has since found that she enjoys leading the communities she’s a part of.
Drawing on her leadership skills, Greco has challenged BHS to become more inclusive of people of color. She created a committee on BIHS leadership to diversify the school’s humanities curriculum. Greco also helped organize the recent Oakland demonstration in support of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community.
Greco’s leadership work has already paid off; she was one of two BHS students selected to receive the Posse Foundation Scholarship, an award given to aspiring student leaders. She plans to attend St. Olaf College next year, pursuing a degree in sociology. She hopes to attend law school and become a practicing attorney, continuing to address injustices in her community.
Looking back, she has appreciated BHS’s unique culture. “There’s not so much of a social divide at BHS,” she said. “It’s not the popular kids in one corner and the nerdy kids in another; there’s a real sense of unity.” Greco encourages incoming students to seek out friends in unexpected places, and in social groups they might not think to look. “Don’t worry too much about having one friend group for four years. Just make friends with as many kinds of people as you can, and be adventurous,” Greco said.
Since the moment she arrived at Berkeley High School (BHS), Emiko Rohn has devoted her time and energy to expanding opportunities for her peers. Her freshman year, she created the website TeensVolunteer after struggling to find volunteer positions geared towards teenagers. The website now displays hundreds of volunteer openings, and helps over 12,000 teens connect with nonprofits across California.
Frustrated by the lack of female representation in STEM classes at BHS, Rohn, a student in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), became president of the STEMinists Club. The club works to empower women to pursue careers in STEM by hosting guest speakers and interactive activities. “Being a part of the STEMinists Club really helped me gain confidence in the field and shape my interests,” she said.
Rohn holds the BHS Chief of Service position as her highest accomplishment. “Becoming Chief of Service was a really big hurdle for me, because I’m a pretty introverted person,” said Rohn. The chief of service typically helps organize and oversee community service events, though that’s become a much more difficult feat to pull off during the pandemic. “I’ve been trying to promote virtual opportunities through my social media and morning announcements, as well as working with leadership on other projects,” explained Rohn. “[Overall my job] definitely hasn’t gone as planned,” she added.
After graduation, Rohn has plans to attend Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where she hopes to major in environmental sciences and minor in human centered design. Rohn attributes much of her success to the supportive community at BHS. Coming from a smaller middle school, Rohn was originally overwhelmed by BHS’s size, but she grew to love the welcoming environment. “[BHS] did a great job of accommodating me,” she said. “I’d be a totally different person had I not gone to this school, and I’m really grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had here,” Rohn added.
After four years at Berkeley High School (BHS), graduating Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) Senior Ximena Mandujano can confidently say, “I’ve grown to love who I am and be confident in my vision and place.” Initially drawn to CAS for it’s small class sizes and opportunities for strong teacher relationships, Mandujano has discovered a community at BHS that she will never forget. Some of her best memories have been made on the CAS overnight retreats. “One time, past midnight in an overcast night, we went on a night hike to this beautiful beach and this huge wave came in and we all just got soaked,” Mandujano reminisced. In moments like these, Mandujano felt that the group transitioned from being students in CAS to being a true family.
Since she was little, dance has been the center of her life, and BHS has encouraged her to grow and flourish as an artist. After taking modern dance freshman year and working with Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company, Mandujano joined Dance Production during her junior year, continuing as part of the group for her senior year as well. This summer, Mandujano wants to focus on her dancing and continue to put herself out there.
Her experience at BHS inspired her passion for activism. In her words, “If we want something to change, we have to get in there and change it ourselves.” As co-president of Latinx Unidos, Mandujano does just that. Through fundraisers on campus and school wide protests against the Trump administration’s plan to abolish DACA, they fought to “keep our dreamers here.” As a politics major with a minor in dance at University of Santa Cruz, Mandujano plans to keep fighting for social justice. “I’m really interested in foreign policy and how the US intervenes in Latin American countries so that their government systems benefit the US instead of the people that live there,” she explained. ““I live in the US and am of Latin descent... We need people who can relate to the people in both positions to work on foreign policy.”
Through BHS, Mandujano has discovered who she is: “After four years, I’m able to say, ‘I am Ximena, I like to dance, these are the issues I care about, and these are the people I love.’”
Shayla Avery’s experience of Berkeley High School (BHS) has been one of growth, change, and discovery. Avery attributes much of this change to BHS’s Bridge program, a class intended to help Black, Brown, and low-income students bridge the divide from middle school to high school, and eventually to college. For Avery, this program offered a tight-knit community she felt she was lacking in Academic Choice (AC). Now, Avery is using the techniques she learned in Bridge to advocate for the program itself, as she thinks it lacks sufficient funding.
Throughout her high school career, Avery was a part of the dance community at BHS. She has taken Afro-Haitian dance classes for four years, and additionally participated in Destiny Arts, a program that combines dance with social justice work. Similarly, Avery has been an integral member of the Black Student Union, and currently serves as the group’s secretary and treasurer.
Avery combined her passions in the summer of 2020 when she organized multiple Black Lives Matter protests and worked with the Berkeley School District to implement students’ racial equity demands. The protests dealt with gentrification, redlining, systemic racism in education, and the prison system. “I also incorporated art with [the protests],” Avery said. “There were performances. There was spoken word. There was dance. There was singing. There were just people expressing themselves and being free and really just being vulnerable and saying what they needed to say at that time.”
Avery will continue pursuing her many interests next year as she majors in World Arts and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles. “When I first came [to BHS] as a freshman I had a very rough start... my dad passed away the first day of freshman year,” Avery explained. “But since then I've kind of had an upwards streak in the sense that I've kept moving forward and I kept discovering new things that I love. [My] communities really did push me through my hardest times at Berkeley High to keep me striving.”
According to Daniel Esler, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), the BHS Ultimate Frisbee Team and diverse student body of BHS have made him the person he is. Coming from a private school, Esler made friends with upperclassmen on the Ultimate team, and they became his closest friends at BHS.
“Now I really appreciate that time, because it helped me determine who I want to be,” Esler said. BHS has also helped him say yes to more things and push himself to explore, something that he was reluctant to do earlier in his education. That determination has certainly paid off, as Esler and the Ultimate Team won nationals in his junior year, an experience he said was one of the defining moments of his high school experience.
Esler added that BHS has helped him discover more interests. “In private schools, everyone’s thing is academics, but at Berkeley High, everyone has their different thing. Going to Berkeley High has really helped me realize that what really matters is how you’re taking advantage of your time to learn and explore, outside of the classroom.”
Esler says that his “say yes” attitude has taken him to places he never would have gone to before, including a bike-packing trip with friends. “It was really fun! Was I fully prepared? No. But did we have a blast? Yeah!” he said.
Daniel’s advice to younger students is: “Appreciate those moments of stress. Whenever you’re doing anything, it’s an opportunity to do it really well, and I think that’s what really helped me grow as a student, and as a person.” He also advises students to take more risks. He said, “If you’re thinking about doing something, and it’s not dangerous, do it! You can only learn from it.”
This fall, Esler plans to study architecture at Columbia University. He also plans to “get outside, ride bikes, play guitar, and make cool art.” Esler would like to thank his brothers for their patience, his friends for the laughs they’ve shared, and his teachers for their dedication.
When Nayezca Guzman-Jubb, a senior in Communication Arts and Science (CAS), reflects on her past years at Berkeley High School (BHS), she remembers the strong community she found. “Overall, I have had a very positive experience at BHS, I’ve met a lot of really great people, and the teachers I had have been so helpful,” she said. At first, Guzman-Jubb struggled in joining BHS extracurriculars, never finding a club that interested her. However in sophomore year, she made the women’s varsity softball team, and found her people and her passion.
During her years at BHS, Guzman-Jubb has served as a major player on women's varsity softball. “I have met a lot of my friends at [softball], and the teammates and team environment have been really great,” she said. She loves to reminisce on memorable moments. “Practices were always really fun, and I always had such a great time with the people on the team.” Beyond giving her all on the softball field, Guzman-Jubb put effort into each class she took at BHS and proudly looks back on her academic success.
While Guzman-Jubb has enjoyed the years she has spent at BHS, there is no doubt that senior year online hit hard. “This [year] has been very challenging, and there have been a lot of ups and downs,” she explained. In the beginning, it was difficult for her to accept the reality of the pandemic, but eventually, she learned not to dwell on what could have been. “I do not do well with distanced learning, so there was a lot for me to figure out, but as the year has gone on, I have accepted that I won't have a [normal] senior year, and realized that the loss won't change much,” she said. Guzman-Jubb is looking forward to an exciting gap year before she heads to college, where she plans to travel, pick up new hobbies, and learn more about herself.
During her four years at Berkeley High School (BHS), Susanne Goldstein’s welcoming attitude has positively impacted everyone around her — peers and teammates alike. Goldstein was fairly shy as a freshman, but her experiences at BHS helped her grow into an energetic and passionate leader. She was co-president of the Latin Club and a Sexual Health Information From Teens (SHIFT) volunteer, and these positions helped her gain more confidence. “I’ve definitely gotten a lot better at dealing with people, making new friends, and just kind of breaking out of my shell a little bit [during my time at BHS],” Goldstein said.
Throughout her four years in high school, Goldstein connected most to the BHS cross-country and track and field team community. A strong runner and teammate, Goldstein made sure to support BHS runners at every meet. “[Being on the team] was a bonding experience [and] even if I’m injured, I’m still going to go cheer my friends on,” she said. “[The environment] was very supportive.”
In the fall, Goldstein plans to attend Oberlin, a liberal arts college in Ohio. She described her decision as “a bit of a risk” as she was originally looking at colleges in bustling cities. However, Goldstein was drawn to Oberlin’s thriving student co-op and unique communal living system, and the benefits outweighed her concerns. Though she isn’t sure which direction her career will take, she’s excited to try something new by joining the Oberlin community.
When reflecting on her favorite memories at BHS, Goldstein recalled congregating with others in the library to chat and study, biking home from cross-country practice, and lying on the grass in the sun with friends before class. “I’ve made a lot of really good friends at Berkeley High,” she said. “[The welcoming community] is definitely something I’ll miss in college, because it’s one of my favorite things here.”
Ryan Marienthal, a senior in Academic Choice (AC), has used his time at Berkeley High School (BHS) to explore. From social groups to academics and career plans, Marienthal believes he will leave high school prepared for the broader world. He credits this preparation to BHS’s many resources and offerings: “Berkeley High is an enormous school, which has allowed me to meet a huge variety of people and try out so many different clubs and groups.”
In his time at BHS, Marienthal dedicated much of his time to the robotics team. “Robotics has been the most rewarding experience I’ve had in all of high school,” Marienthal said. “It can be so challenging, but that makes it all the more satisfying when you’re successful.” Prior to the pandemic, for two years in a row, the BHS team qualified to compete at the Robotics World Championship. Marienthal thinks back on this as his favorite moment in high school, when months of hard work culminated in success.
When formal competitions were canceled due to the pandemic, Marienthal and the robotics team made the most of what they had. “The pandemic showed me that I had the capacity to adapt to a tough situation,” Marienthal said. “The team kept working on our projects, and we accomplished quite a lot.” Through his robotics work, Marienthal even discovered his passion and career path; in the fall, he plans to study electrical engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Marienthal recommends that incoming students attempt to embrace BHS’s culture by trying new things and not shying away from the unfamiliar. While it can be easy to stay within one’s comfort zone, Marienthal encourages underclassmen to take risks. “Through all my experiences, I’ve become a lot more outgoing, curious, and ambitious,” he said. “In freshman year, I didn’t realize how much I could do with my life … but there are a lot of interesting things going on in the world.”
During her four years at Berkeley High School (BHS), graduating Academic Choice (AC) senior Fernanda Padilla Colin utilised the range of activities BHS offers to display her own identity and passion for change. She emphasized, “Berkeley [High] is an amazing school and… we are fortunate to have this safe and nurturing environment.”
A member of YMCA’s Youth and Government (Y&G) program, Padilla Colin joined the leadership team as treasurer her senior year. Due to COVID, she didn’t have to raise funding, choosing to instead use her platform to found the Delegates of Color (DOC) caucus, “a safe space for POC [People of Color] within the program where we talked about our own experiences being POC… and how we could work to make the program more inclusive.” With a passion for racial justice and equality, Padilla Colin is also a part of the BHS Asian Pacific Islander Club (APIC), a club geared towards Asian empowerment.
Her senior year, like many others her age, was dramatically changed by the pandemic. While she was disappointed about “missed” experiences, she reiterated, “It’s also what you make of it… I dedicated my time to things that were important to me and worked on the relationships that I wanted to strengthen.”
Next year, Padilla Colin will attend Rice University with a full-ride. After recently acquiring her U.S. residency during high school, the college applications process was made infinitely smoother. She didn’t have her residency all throughout high school, however, preventing her from accessing certain opportunities due to her immigration status. “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster getting to this point,” she concluded, “but knowing I’ve put in the work for years and years… I’m very proud of what I’ve done so far and what I’ve accomplished, and what I’m going to keep doing in the future.”
Aaron Rumph, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS) known for his jovial personality, described his Berkeley High School (BHS) experience as a period of transformation, both socially and academically. He appreciates how everyone at BHS is comfortable with doing their own unique thing. “People don’t just tolerate weird, but they embrace it,” he said.
Rumph noted that his time at BHS made him much more outgoing. “I went from a very small school to a very big school, so just the change I’ve seen the most in myself was like just going up and meeting people, and talking to people I never would have met before,” he reflected.
Next year, Rumph will attend the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, working towards a dual degree in Economics and Philosophy. He says that BHS pointed him towards these topics, despite having different interests when he arrived. Rumph said, “If you had asked me five years ago what I was going to do in twenty years, I probably would have said, ‘I don’t know, but something related to STEM.’ ” However, by the end of his freshman year, he started discovering new subjects. “By the time I got into Mr. Parker’s Econ class, I had gotten very far ahead in Econ because I’m a nerd and I liked reading about it, but then Mr. Parker’s class was really fun for me because he always did interesting stuff in class, so that made me want to do more Econ,” Rumph explained.
As far as moving five thousand miles away from home, Rumph is both excited and a bit apprehensive. “It’s a lot, it’s kind of weird,” he said. Rumph said he is only a bit worried about the Scottish accents he will encounter. Rumph described an orientation he went to, saying “Half the time, I was like, ‘What is he saying? Is he speaking English? Oh I guess he is, okay.’ ”
Finally, Rumph recommends that other Yellowjackets try to put themselves out there and meet new people. He said, “Definitely make friends with the people you’re in class with, and go out of your way to become friends with those people, because … they’ll end up becoming one of your closest friends.”
When looking back at her time at Berkeley High School (BHS), Yuuki Hayashi highlights the invaluable teachers that helped shape her high school experience. After seeing most of her friends put in Academic Choice, Hayashi was frustrated with her placement in Berkeley International High School (BIHS). But despite her initial anxieties about being separated from her friends, Hayashi quickly found her new small school to be far less daunting than she anticipated, saying, “As much as BIHS is one of the bigger schools, it's a pretty tight-knit community, and I was able to easily make friends.” Moreover, Hayashi appreciates that the warmth of the community extends to teachers as well, explaining that the close relationships she formed with her teachers helped her “grow as a person and as a student.”
Hayashi mentioned Ms. Mckee, her IB economics teacher, was particularly impactful on her academic development. Going into the class, Hayashi didn’t think she had a passion for economics, but she says “I kind of just fell in love with this subject I never thought I would be interested in… Ms. Mckee made it really fun, and easy to understand these complex concepts and diagrams.”
One of Hayashi’s fondest memories at BHS was spending her lunches and class periods in the photography darkroom, commenting, “It was really fun to get to know people, even though I can’t see their faces… It was such a nice class and I feel like everyone was super supportive of each other.” Going back to the darkroom more recently as a part of Photography Club, Hayashi described “It made me feel really nostalgic for freshman year… that was when I realized how special the darkroom was to me.”
After graduation, Hayashi will be majoring in film at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where she plans to explore a new medium of visual art. Though she is sad to leave Berkeley behind, Hayashi says she’s “excited to meet new people, get to be a part of a different community, and live in this city I have no connections in… and make a home out of it.”
Community is at the heart of Tamiko Hancox’s Berkeley High School (BHS) experience. The graduating senior describes her small school, Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA), as a second family, and cites her bonds with teachers as essential to her success.
Hancox’s communities have been damaged by the pandemic, but as she reflects on the past year, she is able to see the good and bad. She feels sorrow about the fracturing of her community bonds but also sees triumph in how her teachers have stepped up to the challenge and how she improved in her schoolwork.
When Hancox thinks back on the impressions she has made on BHS, she hopes to be remembered for her willingness to help. If described in one word, Hancox imagines ‘helpful’ to be top of the list. Hancox’s willingness to help others is evident in her future intentions. She plans to attend college and major in business management, and hopes to become a consultant for up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Hancox says that her desire to become an entrepreneur herself is low in comparison to her desire to help others on their way.
Throughout her time at BHS, Hancox most fondly remembers her experience in dance productions. Other achievements include her academic triumphs- perseverance and a shift in mindset allowed her to truly succeed in classes she had previously struggled with.
Hancox shared words of advice to the incoming class, cautioning against overloading on work: The most important thing for new students to know, she said, is that breaks are not a cause for embarrassment. Proper time structuring is one of the most useful things for a student at BHS to know how to do. She has learned that reaching out to teachers, confiding in them, and asking them for help are vital skills to learn.
Xander Levitt, a senior in Communications Arts and Sciences (CAS), finds the heart of his high school experience to be the communities he is a part of. Whether it be his classmates, teachers, parkour teammates, or Best Buddies Leadership partners, he makes efforts to engage with and aid the people in his communities.
At the early age of six, he discovered his passion for parkour, a style of martial arts in which one tries to maneuver from one location to another in the fastest manner possible. In his elementary school classroom, he attempted to do a backflip, and soon found himself thrilled by this exhilarating physical activity, so he decided to pursue parkour. Later on, he joined a parkour team, called Sqvadron, and trained with teammates and a coach.
Since then, he has taken BART to Concord three or four times a week to take classes, and made many friends. “The community is super,” he exclaimed. “All the athletes are rooting for each other and training together, and it's a really nice environment.”
Parkour has also allowed him to explore another interest of his, filmmaking. Upon filming him and his teammates training, he realized his desire to investigate videography. Subsequently, he has filmed and edited many CAS field trips and retreats, including one to the Exploratorium, and even his math teacher’s wedding.
Levitt additionally dedicates his time to Best Buddies, a nonprofit working towards developing the communication skills of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He has made lasting friendships, as well as planned fundraisers.
Levitt plans to start his college journey at Diablo Valley College next year. Fascinated by the complexity of people, he intends to study psychology. He advises incoming high school students to build their communities, like he did. “Try to reach out to people you want to be around,” he suggested.
Moses Abrahamson, a senior in Academic Choice (AC), characterizes himself as “someone who has always pursued what he is passionate about.” Dedicating his time to ballet, an activity he truly enjoys, Abrahamson attributes his success in part to following his heart.
Abrahamson first enrolled in ballet classes at age six, and started dancing competitively by age 11. In his high school years, he danced at the Berkeley Ballet Theater in the Studio Company, the highest level of training offered.
Abrahamson would practice 25 hours a week, entering the studio day after day, repeating the same movements. “It could sometimes feel a little bit repetitive, but at the same time, it taught [me] perseverance and the value of hard work,” he explained.
Abrahamson was accepted into several prestigious summer ballet programs, including intensives at the Royal Ballet School in London, the Royal Danish Ballet School in Copenhagen, and the Houston Ballet Academy.
While he has participated in many ballet performances, he is most proud of his performance at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a professional performance, which around 700 people attended.
In Abrahamson’s sophomore year, he studied in France through the American Field Service program. Living with a host family and attending a French high school there, he honed his French speaking and writing skills.
Following high school, Abrahamson will be entering Princeton as a prospective French major considering certificates in African American Studies and musical performance. He advises all students to enjoy their high school experience: “Pursue what you actually like to do, and find those things that your heart is most drawn to because at the end of the day, I think that will bring you the most fulfillment.”
Juliana Harrison, a senior graduating from the Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS), is extremely proud to be graduating and on her way to college at Sonoma State University. She’s had to grow and adjust to get through some really difficult circumstances to get to where she is today, but feels that she hasn’t been changed too much by her Berkeley High School (BHS) experience. “I’ve gone through a lot, my father passed away from cancer the summer before senior year," she said. "I lost my home. I’m now a foster kid. Even through all that, I still made it.” She feels her biggest accomplishment at BHS has been applying to college. “I’ve planned for that moment for such a long time. When it finally came to it, I was extremely proud of myself," she said. Wading through systems that fail so many, Harrison managed to persevere.
Harrison's favorite part of BHS was her small school. Her teachers and peers within AMPS brought out the very best parts of high school for her and formed her community. Besides being an active community member of AMPS, Harrison also participated in Green Dot, a bystander intervention training program at BHS that equips students with specific strategies to intervene in and prevent acts of sexual harassment or assault, bullying, and relationship violence. She found that her busy school and home schedules made it difficult to join many clubs, but she was glad she found a place in Green Dot. As a seasoned BHS veteran, she leaves future graduating classes with some wisdom and advice: “Always stay true to yourself; never let anyone dictate who you want to be."
During her time in high school, Camille Collins, a senior in Independent Study (IS) at Berkeley High School (BHS), has made incredible achievements as a jazz musician and inspired those around her. Collins transferred from Oakland School of the Arts to BHS in her sophomore year, and she soon found a community with other jazz musicians. She has played saxophone in the BHS jazz ensemble and jazz combos as well as with SFJAZZ High School All-Stars. She’s also worked with other students of color to form a jazz students of color group to increase diversity in BHS jazz. During the pandemic, Collins founded her own group called Young Musician's Collective, which seeks to increase access to free music education.
Through jazz, Collins had the opportunity to travel around the world and increase her musical knowledge. “Having the opportunity to go to Cuba and to Brazil [with SFJAZZ] and hearing music from other countries really expanded the way that I think about and play music,” she said. Collins has also travelled around the Bay Area and the United States to perform.
During the pandemic, Collins took the opportunity to explore her other interests, such as writing and art. “At the beginning of quarantine, I started a blog because I really love writing. And I felt like I never really had the chance to go into that in recent years. But I just started writing essays for fun,” she said.
Since starting high school, Collins has become more open to exploring different paths than what she had initially planned for herself. In the fall, she will be attending University of California, Los Angeles on a Regents Scholarship, and she plans on double majoring in global jazz studies and english. “When I started high school, I was pretty rigid in my beliefs and what I wanted out of my life. And I think that both going to a big school like BHS and living through a global pandemic has really just made me be ok with uncertainty and open to change in my life,” she said.
One would be hard-pressed to find a student more emblematic of Berkeley High School (BHS) and its multifaceted community than Connor Wrubel. Wrubel came to BHS four years ago as a self-described “chubby young boy,” knowing not a single person, and is now leaving as a handsome young man with a wealth of confidence and community to boot.
The unique culture and diverse makeup of BHS has allowed Wrubel to “not be constrained by any one group of people” and contributed to his becoming the distinct and idiosyncratic man he is today. Wrubel has interacted and collaborated with a plethora of different folks throughout his four years in the BHS community, participating in the track team, backpacking and ski trips, and roles in many musical theater productions.
Connor describes musical theater as his “main passion.” If you are lucky enough to have seen him perform, you would understand why. Appearing in many of Youth Musical Theater Company’s (YMTC) excellent shows, Connor has made a name for himself with his frequent and dazzling use of the singing technique known as riffing. A Wrubel performance is not something to be missed.
Connor will be leaving for Wesleyan University next fall, where he will be taking full advantage of the university’s open curriculum and continuing his journey of collaboration, discovery and study of the arts. Connor leaves the class of ‘21 with some parting words: “It’s been a wild ride for sure, I really love having grown and developed in such a spirited and enthusiastic class.”
When Max Vargas started freshman year at Berkeley High School (BHS) as an Academy of Arts and Humanities (AHA) student, they weren’t sure what was going to happen. But looking back on their high school experience four years later, “I wouldn’t change it, even if I had the opportunity to,” Vargas said.
Vargas, while initially engaging in many activities such as trying out for theater shows and joining the BHS acapella group, ended up signing up for the technical theater class near the end of their ninth grade year. “And that kind of took up all of my time for the next three years,” Vargas said. As part of the small group of lighting technicians, they worked on the lighting board, and even designed the lighting for one of the theater shows, Carrie: The Musical.
“Working on the tech crew taught me a lot about how to work better in a group setting, and how to properly communicate and schedule things,” Vargas said. “In theater, you can't procrastinate doing things, which was a hard lesson to learn.”
The future looks bright for Vargas, who will be attending the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles next year. Fashion design has been a lifelong dream for Vargas, who decided at age six what they wanted to do in the future. “I expected this time to be coming but I didn't expect it to happen so fast,” they said, expressing their gratitude for those who have been supportive and understanding along the way. Vargas thanked their AHA teachers, their mom, and their best friends Charlotte and Ari, who “helped make high school fun, even when times were really bad.”
While they look back fondly on their high school experience, Vargas said they would have advised their younger self to “Do your work. Don’t procrastinate.” Beyond that, “Trust other people, but make sure to trust yourself.”
Rose Hurd (she/they) is a senior graduating from Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA). While in AHA at Berkeley High School (BHS), Rose learned about activism through art and looks forward to bringing that with her into the world. Hurd was active in AHA leadership and enjoyed their time being a member. She loved taking art classes at BHS: “I had the same art teacher all four years and art class has always been my favorite class,” they said. Even though junior year was cut short, Hurd had the most fun that year and will remember it as their favorite.
“Receiving an education at BHS [is something] I see as such a privilege,” Hurd explained. Hurd’s main take away was learning to grow and be in a community with different types of people.
Hurd was a leader within the activist community at BHS. In this community, Hurd used what she learned in AHA to use art as a tool for activism and social justice. They said, “I’ve gained a better sense of who I am as an activist and as an artist as well and how those two things work together.” Last year, Hurd organized the painting of the Black Lives Matter mural outside BHS.
Hurd describes the switch to online learning and life in COVID-19 as “crazy.” They said, “The experience of applying to college in such an isolated way was very intense.” However, instead of reflecting on things lost, Hurd is looking forward to the future. They are deferring for a semester and then will be attending Pace University in Manhattan. Hurd said she is excited for what comes next.
To BHS freshmen, Hurd said, “Be open to other people’s perspective, try to get in other people’s shoes. I think our education system is something that’s very flawed and doesn’t work for everyone, so when you're in a school environment, it can be hard for some people. Giving others grace and understanding is super important in high school.”
As Berkeley International High School (BIHS) senior Isadora De Liberty reflected on her time at Berkeley High School (BHS), last year’s sexual assault walkouts and her hand in organizing them stood out to her. “To see that something I had helped make actually caught the attention of students and was a school-wide thing was moving,” De Liberty said.
What began as a grief group grew into change as De Liberty and others channeled their anger into action, carefully crafting a protest that would stand out from the civil disobedience Berkeley is known for. “We didn’t want this to be just another protest the school essentially sanctions. There was a sense that we had gotten away from real protest culture at Berkeley High,” De Liberty explained.
She points out a phenomenon that occurs when people get comfortable in the “Berkeley bubble”: “There is an issue with people parroting information rather than doing critical thinking for themselves, and that brings me to the most important thing I learned from actual school at Berkeley High: historical context and source evaluation.”
However, BHS has given De Liberty more than source evaluation skills. As a four-year member of the track team, senior class vice president, and part of the Multicultural Student Association and Green Dot, De Liberty has found her place in many communities. De Liberty also worked on a peer-led consent curriculum which will be implemented as she graduates.
Moving forward, she plans to build on her organizing and activism experience, saying, “That is what I hope to be able to do, honestly with my entire life: [organize] groups of people towards a common goal that is going to better society in some way.” She is certain that “issues are going to arise that I care about, and I’m going to naturally get involved with them.”
“I’m really grateful to be in this school,” reflected Anna Dua, a graduating Berkeley International High School (BIHS) senior. “[Berkeley High School] was the best place for me. It exposed me to so much and it pushed me to become who I am and become more capable of advocating for myself and learning and growing,” she said.
Throughout her time at Berkeley High School (BHS), Dua took on many leadership positions, building up strong skills as a leader. An active member of YMCA’s Youth and Government program, a student-led mock government that educates students on statewide politics, Dua gained more practice in debate and public speaking, ultimately rising to the post of delegation president in her senior year.
In addition to Youth and Government, Dua has been part of BIHS leadership, a sector of the BIHS community whose job it is to amplify students’ voices within the International Baccalaureate program. As a senior, she was a member of advisory, a group of teachers, parents, and students who gather monthly to discuss issues faced by the community.
Like many other graduating seniors, the pandemic threw a wrench into her senior year, combining the feeling of readiness to leave Berkeley High with the disappointment of a missed senior year. “I do wish I had that year to kind of close it out, and it feels like I’m … not prepared for college, but also, [I] have missed out on some experiences,” she said. Despite not having had “normal” senior experiences, she has found ways to connect and build relationships, making the most of an unconventional year.
Post-graduation, Dua hopes to acquire a job in the restaurant business during the summer, before attending New York University (NYU) in the fall. Having thoroughly enjoyed her time at BHS, she would tell an incoming student, “It’s okay to be uncomfortable. It’s actually really good to be uncomfortable.” In a school rich with vast and immense resources, Dua would also encourage students “to not be afraid of going for opportunities.”
Committed and passionate are two words that come to mind when describing Elizabeth Partee, a senior in Academic Choice (AC) at Berkeley High School (BHS). Despite being shy during her freshman year, Partee formed strong connections with many of the teachers at BHS and, with their guidance, was able to break out of her shell. “I started off as a shy, quiet person who never spoke out,” she remembered. However, when Partee stepped into her first day of beginning dance class freshman year and met Linda Carr, the modern dance teacher, she knew she had found her space to shine. “Over the years, [Ms. Carr] watched me become more outgoing and outspoken,” she remembered. “Taking dance gave me confidence.” Partee was especially committed to her dance classes, working her way from the beginning level to advanced over her four years attending BHS.
When Partee looks back at her high school career, she feels proud of the effort she put into her studies and the obstacles she overcame. Partee credits much of her academic success to Spencer Pritchard, the lead teacher of the African American studies department at BHS. “Mr. Pritchard has helped me through all four years of high school … he has been like a mentor, support system, and someone I could always go to … Without him, I would never be where I am today,” she said. After senior year comes to a close, Partee will attend San Jose State University to study business management. “I will hopefully graduate with a degree, so I can manage my own business, be independent, and in a leadership role after [college].”
Partee is grateful for the hard work she put into her classes and for the time she spent preparing for college. However, when she looks back at the past four years, she wishes she spent more time living in the moment. “Enjoy as much as you can because [high school] goes by really fast,” she advised younger students. “You blink and in a second, you are a senior leaving for college.”
For many teenagers, having a passion and a goal is the only way to get through high school and make something out of their future. For Donte Searcy, a senior in Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS), that motivator is football. Searcy has been playing since he was seven years old, and he told the Jacket, “The expectation going into high school was no different. I knew what I wanted to do since I was little. And that's still my goal, to play football.” More specifically, Searcy wants to be in the NFL. This isn’t some far-fetched dream either. Searcy has worked hard the past four years to make this dream a possible reality. When he talks about football, his determination and clear-mindedness are apparent to everyone around him. Even in freshman year, he said, he took playing football and getting good grades very seriously. “A lot of people going into high school, they was like ‘You don't have to take freshman year so serious, you know, lay off.’ Knowing me, I don't lay off of nothing, anything I do I go hard.”
It was no different in Searcy’s later years at BHS; besides the occasional spirited Rally Day, Searcy continued to become more focused and locked down on what he wanted to do in life. “[Football] helps me stay motivated, motivated with school, and you know, just staying out of the streets,” Searcy said. “When you got people that you know that are in the streets, they try to bring you in. Football, it just brought me away from that. I ain’t gonna lie, I lost a lot of friends; it wasn't because they did anything to me, but we was just on different journeys.”
Next year, Searcy will be attending Eastern New Mexico University with a full ride football scholarship. His younger brother will be starting as a freshman at BHS. When asked what advice he would give to his brother, Searcy said, “Have fun. Stay focused because you only get one chance at high school, so take advantage of opportunities.”
You would be hard-pressed to find a Berkeley High School (BHS) senior who has loved their last four years as much as Charlotte Thornton, who says that she has thrived at BHS as a student in Academic Choice (AC). She attributes this partly to the vast range of organizations that are available for BHS students to join. Thornton has personally taken full advantage of the availability of these groups, participating in lacrosse and a vast array of clubs.
Thornton said that captaining the lacrosse team was the most formative experience for her, as before this she hadn’t really been a “team person.” She felt that the team environment nurtured long-lasting friendships between her teammates: “It’s a bigger commitment than it seems, but it works out because the people are so great,” she said.
As senior class president during the pandemic, Thornton acknowledged that it hasn’t always been easy. Though the pandemic presented challenges in unifying the senior class, Thornton viewed it as a “really positive experience.” The position taught her that “It’s never going to be perfect, and you kind of have to plan for the unknown.”
Next year, Charlotte is taking a gap year with one of her best friends, Bella McClintock, and they hope to travel somewhere sunny, with Hawaii, Mexico, Greece, Thailand, and Bali making the bucket list.
Thornton feels that BHS is unique because of how everyone is independent and “prepared for the real world.” It was inspiring to see so many of her peers with such strong work ethics, and this has rubbed off on her as well.
Finally, Thornton left some parting advice for younger BHS students: “I literally remember the day [when] my proctor in freshman year was like, ‘It goes really fast, enjoy your time here,’ and I would say the exact same thing,” she said.
Loren Breidenbach, a Berkeley High School (BHS) senior in Academic Choice (AC), has spent her time in high school spreading body positivity and growing her own self-confidence. Breidenbach is a co-president of the BHS Body Positivity Club, which creates a space for students to learn about diet-culture and body positivity, and discuss their feelings with other members. “We will read a lot of articles or watch a lot of videos and kind of debrief after, and it is just really special. It’s great to have a community where everybody kind of gets what you’re saying and feels equally passionate about what you are talking about as you do,” she explained. One of Breidenbach’s favorite activities the club did was putting up signs and post-its with positive affirmations around the BHS campus.
Coming from a smaller school before attending BHS, Breidenbach had to learn to advocate for herself, and was inspired by other students and teachers doing the same. “I’m really just so struck by how much the community, whether it be teachers or students at BHS, is willing to stand up and do what they think is best for what they believe in,” she said.
While the pandemic has been a curveball in Breidenbach’s high school experience, it has also been a period of growth for her. “It has definitely made me realize which friends I’m closest with. … It’s really strengthened a lot of my relationships, it’s strengthened my relationship with myself,'' she said.
Next year, Breidenbach will be attending Miami University in Ohio, and plans to major in history. She’s also interested in pursuing pre-law and one day advocating for children in a legal setting. “I’m mostly just [looking forward to] enjoying college, getting involved, and hopefully starting a Body Positivity Club at my college,” she said.
Xochitl Gonzales, a senior in Academy of Medicine and Public Service, remembers her experience at Berkeley High School (BHS) as a time of great growth, both academically and socially. Throughout her junior and senior years, Gonzales became more confident and began to embrace her natural leadership skills, taking on roles as president of the Hispanic Engineering and Scientist Club and an intern at the Children’s Hospital. “My first two years at Berkeley High, I actually really didn't do many extracurriculars. Then by the start of junior year, I really wanted to push myself more out of my comfort zone… I think all of that really helped me grow as a leader,” she said.
Outside of school, Gonzales participated in the three-year CHAMPs internship program at the Children’s Hospital. There, she shadowed a hematologist and oncologist, helping out by checking on patients and learning from hands-on experience.
The pandemic certainly had an impact on Gonzales’ high school career. Her senior year became a stream of long work hours with no breaks for seeing friends. “It was mostly just like, work, work, study, work, work, study, and there was no socializing,” she said. But she also added, “I got to spend a lot of time with my family, and I think something that constantly made me happy was my dog.”
Next year, Gonzales will be attending the University of California, Berkeley as a psychology major, and she is looking forward to campus life. She wants to remind younger students that they will find their passion. In her words, students should “Try out anything that mildly interests you and then from there on, decide if you want to continue to pursue an interest in that.”
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