Alumni Profiles

List of 24 items.

  • Amanda Malachesky '94: California Homesteading

    “Along the length of California coastline, there is a small section, about a 25-mile stretch, that has defied human ambition and contains no roads. It is called the Lost Coast.” This is where Amanda Malachesky ’94 and her family are living off the grid on 50 acres of land, gardening, raising chickens, growing wheat and grasses, tending salmon, and building their passive-solar dream home. 
    “What is the appropriate relationship between people and nature?” asks Amanda. “Can we live in a way that has a positive effect on the environment?” Deeply committed to answering these questions for herselfAmanda, along with her husband, Drew, and daughter Ella, lives two hours away from the nearest city in a valley of about 280 residents. To get there, one must drive “a windy and twisting, car-sick-producing road, over ridges, through mossy forests, across rivers and creeks, and along spectacular ocean and mountain vistas.” 
    The home they are building is surrounded by soft, rolling hills and faces south to take advantage of the sun for heating. The walls are made out of insulated concrete forms called “FasWall,” composed of cement and mill waste wood chips, designed to keep their home cool in the summer and warm in the winter. “I do admit to feeling a little conflicted over the use of all this concrete, not only in the foundation and slab, but in the walls as well,” says Amanda. “We did some calculations regarding the embodied energy, and as near as we can determine, if the slab performs as intendedas an insulated thermal massthen we will save many times the btus in firewood that were expended in its creation. Amortized over the life of the house, we consider it to be a regenerative use of concrete.” 
    Right now, all their electricity comes from eight solar panels, but as they live in a windy area, they hope to install a wind generator in the future. As backup for heating, they have included hydronic tubing in the floor, which can be powered via hot water solar panels, propane, or heat from the wood stove. House plans also include the use of energy-saving LED lighting, energy-efficient windows and appliances, solar hot water, recycled redwood and locally harvested fir logs for finish details, water-saving fixtures and natural clay plasters. 
    Only someone who has degrees in Environmental Studies, with a focus in Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture, and Ecological Design would think in terms of “embodied energy. Putting her studies and experience to work, Amanda truly embodies her beliefs and convictions in the way she has chosen to live her life. While at Athenian, Amanda conducted a year-long independent project with science instructor Bruce Hamren, in which she studied and devised methods to assess the health of wetlands. She also took part in a Navajo exchange on a Round Square trip and credits her AWE experience as “good training for not having showers.” 
    She spent a good deal of her time at Athenian hiking and being outdoors, and says that the beautiful campus supported her spirit. In addition to building a solar home, caring for a toddler, and encouraging her massage therapy practice, Amanda experiments with mulch pits, compost piles, graywater systems, natural dyes for Easter eggs, pear butter recipes, and being part of a small community. Living where she does now, she “enjoys an anomalous community-based lifestyle and livelihoodI like what I have going hereit feels alive with connection.”  
    You can read more about Amanda’s life and connections, at her blog,“a mix of family journal, natural history log, thoughts on living off-the-grid, and descriptions of varied homestead projects at our rural, northern California land.” 
  • Andrea Ross ’96: The Andreas

    By Andrea Ross ’96

    When I first met Andrea Marshall ’97, I immediately liked her – she had my name, after all. We were instant friends and known around school as “The Andreas.” Now, almost 20 years later, Andrea and I are still friends, but our lives have been going in completely different directions – until now.
    Andrea Marshall went on to get her biology degree, then her PhD on Manta Rays, and moved to Mozambique where she founded the Institute for Marine Megafauna Association and Ray of Hope Expeditions. I went on to get an English degree, moved to Cambodia, and founded Journeys Within Tour Company & Boutique Hotel and Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC), our nonprofit. We’ve both received some accolades – I am a Conde Nast Traveler World's Top Travel Specialist, and Andrea Marshall was featured in an amazing BBC documentary, Andrea: Queen of the Mantas.
    It would seem that our lives were not destined to touch again – until Andrea did an around-the-world tour studying and tagging mantas and came through Thailand and Myanmar. Since I was in Cambodia, I met her in Phuket. There we caught up on our very different lives, but also realized that we both still shared the same core values: passion for what we do, a deep commitment to conservation and community, and a true spirit of adventure. On a night out in Phuket we hatched a plan to develop and run a tour to Myanmar.
    At the end of February, 2012, we will meet up in Yangon and I will lead a week-long trip through Myanmar, sharing the culture, communities and amazing highlights of this beautiful country. We will visit the orphanage that JWOC supports, as well as meet the scholarship students attending university. At the end of that week, I will hand the reins over to Andrea Marshall and she will lead a week-long trip on a dive boat out to the Burma Banks where we will dive each day on some of the more untouched reefs in the world. We will meet the Moken Island people and Andrea will give talks at night about her conservation efforts, manta rays and their plight, and we will then dive with her amazing creatures during the day.
    Back in high school Andrea and I had a special bond, shared values and a deep sense that we wanted adventure in our lives. It's so exciting to see that we haven't lost these core values and that we can now offer a trip that celebrates everything we've become in the last 20 years. We are looking for 12 travelers to join us on this adventure to show them Myanmar land and sea! If you would like to join us, please visit It would be great to travel with some Athenian alumni!
  • Ashley Montgomery ’04: Artist, Prop Maker and Dog Rescuer

    When I'm creating new work, I tend to get inspired by the world around me,” says Ashley Montgomery ’04. “Films I'm watching, games I'm playing, books, people, fashion, or my pets' antics. From there I develop the work in my mind before sketching thumbnails and full drawings. I like working with mechanical pencils, because I like that they're always consistent in their width and I never have to sharpen them. I'm oddly lazy in really random things, haha.”  
    Ashley doubled majored in Digital Media and Fine Arts at Otis College of Art and Design and is an illustrator for film and video games. She is also an avid cosplayer and prop maker. “I really enjoy making my props – every project is a unique puzzle for me to figure out, trying to turn fantasy into reality.” 
    Ashley is a 7-year Athenian and says that teachers Vikki, Judy and Nikki coached and supported her work back when she was a student. (She once brought in a 65-page piece of fiction she had written in her spare time.) She says, “These fantastic women were always happy to preview and critique my work for me, giving me the confidence and knowledge I needed when I was growing up.” 
    Of her drawing on this page, she says, “While working on this project, I was inspired by a Japanese movie called Azumi where a group of young insurgents gang together to fight cruel overlords. The character I created is Prince Rumire, a well-educated and well-spoken young man who will inherit his kingdom from his violent and tyrannical father. He will act as the new hope, bringing the kingdom into a new age of peace and knowledge. Ashley herself is a rescue-prince, who also works at The Dog Spot Rescue nonprofit in Vacaville, CA, saving dogs that would otherwise be euthanized in a shelter. 
    Ashley advises any aspiring artists that their sketchbook is their best friend. “Bring your sketchbook everywhere you go,” she says, just in case a surge of inspiration hits you, even if all you can do at the time is write a quick note before the moment leavesTry to fill at least one every year. Draw everything, push yourself, and be willing to tackle the subjects that you wouldn't normally think of. Don't be afraid to fail. Don't compare yourself to other artists, especially if they have a completely different style than you. Aspire to be the best artist you can be, and push yourself to be stronger. 
    Visit Ashley’s website at; and her dog rescue site at 
  • Colette Ankenman ’11: Blankets for Babies

    Colette Ankenman ’11 has always loved babies. Her first word was “baby.” When she heard through a family friend about conditions at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, where babies were sent home wrapped in plastic or newspaper, she decided to take action.
    She knew how to knit and set to work knitting hats and sewing blankets for newborns at the hospital. Over the course of a year, she knitted 200 hats and sewed 200 blankets for the babies. Colette then learned there were many babies and children around the world who needed help, so in 2008 she founded a nonprofit organization called Baragwanath Blessings Inc. ( to help them.
    In 2009, Colette traveled to Soweto to personally deliver the blanket and hats. She learned how the blankets she made were physically and emotionally helpful, as studies show that babies in blankets are picked up and held more. Colette also took supplies to an orphanage nearby where many of the abandoned babies end up.
    Colette’s trip to South Africa strengthened her resolve to help babies and children around the world. Soon after an article about her organization appeared in a local newspaper, other community groups began to get involved. Church groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Rotary Clubs, businesses, mothers groups and elementary school students have contributed to the effort. To date, over 300 volunteers have been involved in the work of Baragwanath Blessings.
    In 2010 Colette made two trips to Mayan villages in Guatemala where she and her family conducted medical clinics seeing 1,200 patients (her mother is a pediatrician). They provided public health and nutrition education, supplied text books and other materials for local schools, delivered handmade hats and blankets for babies, and distributed vitamins, clothing, shoes, toys, baby formula and food.
    Unfortunately, Baragwanath Hospital in South Africa has banned all donations and volunteer groups, so Colette’s organization is not currently able to get hats and blankets to babies at this hospital. Undaunted, Colette expanded her work to 17 other countries, including Guatemala, Uganda, Iraq, Algeria, Kenya, Cambodia, Venezuela, China, Haiti and Afghanistan. The projects include supplying clothes, caps, and tooth brushes for African boys’ homes; providing jerseys for soccer uniforms (for an entire new league) in Kenya; and funding the renovation of an orphanage nursery in South Africa.
    One person can truly make a difference. Colette’s efforts have delivered messages of love and support and improved the health and quality of life for thousands of children and families around the world.
  • Courtney Keefe '00: Keeping the Homeland Secure

    When you hear of the Department of Homeland Security, you might imagine an ominous sounding fog-horn that protects the United States from terrorist attacks. What you might not imagine is a hive of busy bees offering actionable intelligence and strategic preparedness plans for disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and yes – oil spills. Courtney Keefe ’00 is one such bee and it’s her job as Homeland Security consultant to gather and analyze data to make policy recommendations to government clients, such as individual states and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 
    “After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA was hit pretty hard with criticism,” she states. “People were asking where were you guys? Where were your resources? How are you going to be prepared in the event of another disaster?” Her conversation is sprinkled with a dizzying array of terms such as “unified standards,” “performance measures,” “regulatory compliance,” and “policy initiatives,” but what that boils down to is helping the federal government and individual states be more prepared in the case of natural and man-made disasters.  
    Courtney and her team of consultants collect data from various federal agencies and put together briefings, fact sheets and recommendations for Congress. “The government has a huge mandate to fill the preparedness gap that Katrina illustrated,” she says. “So it’s our job to analyze what went wrong and help the government develop strategies to fix it.” 
    Of the recent oil spill she says that the events will most likely appear in the Gulf States annual preparedness reports, leading to an in-depth assessment of their response capabilities and needs. In other words, what was done and what could be done better. Another ongoing project she works on is an annual evaluation of state’s preparedness in order to identify how best to assign federal resources in the future. 
    It’s the ever-changing nature of projects that drew her to Homeland Security work after earning her graduate degree in International Security at Georgetown University. Originally she was interested in arms control policy but quickly realized that the issues were the same over and over again. She states that Homeland Security is pretty fascinating and the breadth and scope of issues is unmatched in any other field. This fascination can only come from someone who wrote her senior thesis at Tufts University on the missile defense policy of the U.S. 
    If you didn’t know Courtney in high school, you might be intimidated by her sharp intelligence and quick patter. “I’m sure if you spoke to my classmates that graduated with me, they’d say I was immature and outspoken,” she confesses. “I never shut up at Town Meetings.”  
    She was the one who petitioned to reinstate Reading Day after it had been taken away due to a certain frowned-upon water gun exploit by a group of students. “The actions of a few impacted the rest of us, so I gave an impassioned speech about the rights of the many, which I had learned in my history class.” The proposal passed and students of today have Courtney to thank.
  • Craig Fraser ’87: Service with a Grateful Heart

    Craig Fraser ’87 overcame a lot while attending Athenian, and struggled with depression, dyslexia, anxiety and addiction. “Athenian counselors noted that I was an A student, active in student government, sports and community service, but they were concerned for me,” he says. “Their intervention was key to my recovery.” One teacher, Art Bacon, encouraged him to write a paper based on his rehab experience, which turned into Burnt, a book published by Penguin, which led, at the age of 18, to a national lecture tour where he appeared on several national TV talk shows. After college, he traveled the world to study religions in their places of origin, and 
    worked for a nonprofit, Choices for Change. 
    Life led him to his life’s work. “My deep struggle turned into positive and lasting work,” he says. “Recovery is possible and serving others is the foundation of it.” For over 12 years, Craig has been a Substance Abuse Caseworker/Therapist at Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma, CA, a residential treatment facility for troubled youth ranging in age from 12-19. He oversees all drug and alcohol education, testing, discipline, and treatment and also provides individual and family counseling, staff training and community outreach. “Athenian taught me a great deal about community, interdependence and friendship. Without Athenian helping me and Art Bacon directing me towards writing a book, none of this would have been possible.”  
    He also coordinates week-long wilderness backpacking trips (like mini-AWE) and has just started a mountain bike program. “There is simply no greater joy for me than seeing adolescents with multiple placement failures succeed and thrive under our care at Hanna Boys Center,” he says. “I am very grateful to have been given the life lessons, support and education that allows me to have solid results on a very consistent basis.”  
    Craig loves spending time with his wife and 10-year-old son on their ranch where they grow apples and host large gatherings to celebrate the different seasons. Once a month, he and his family volunteer at Open Closet, run by the Redwood Covenant Church, which provides fresh produce, dry goods and clothes to 600 families and up to 1,200 at Christmas. “There is joy in this work,” he says.” I believe that service is a gift received, not given.”  
  • Daniel Wiener ’72: Guggenheim Fellowship Winner for Art

    Sculpture is silent. 
    Sculpture is still. 
    Sculpture has multiple views. 
    Daniel Wiener’s abstract sculpture has been called “ugly beautiful and “viscerally arresting.” It undulates and curves, twists and turns, playing with the notion and humor of the grotesque. “I am interested in the emotional component of the physical,” he says. How can sculpture contribute in the cacophony of a media-saturated world? Exactly because it does not do what other media does. Sculpture is mute and physical. It addresses an area of human knowledge outside the realm of language and images.” 
    Daniel works with feelings, colors, shapes and impressions in a medium called Apoxie-Sculpt. “It creates the sensation of a frozen moment, something stilled, like a single frame of an animation,” he says. “It makes an object seemingly caught in the middle of a change. 
    There is never one view of a sculpture,” he continues. You need to walk around it to see it and understand it. One person looks at this side first and believes it is the ‘front’ and another starts from another place. I am also interested in parts of the sculpture that are hidden or hard to see. The viewer needs to move their body, neck and head and eyes in order to see parts of a piece. Seeing behind and around. In painting you cannot see what is behind. And I am interested in what is literally obscure. Parts of a piece that you cannot see. A hole that is too deep to see the end.”  
    Daniel credits his Athenian experience with opening up his cultural and intellectual world. “I studied existentialism, and read James Joyce in Tom Swope’s class, both of which were very important to me.” He also notes that the nice sense of community and energy loomed large in my inner biography for a long time.   
    One of the strongest underlying notions of his work is to re-value the physical. “Humans are physical. Our emotions are physical. Meaning is physical,” he says. The physical is not just the substrata of meaning, but is both the source and end-point of meaning as well. And for me that is one of things that artmaking is for  to keep us aware of complexity and difficulty and the messiness of it all – and so highlights uncertainty and doubt and all those sorts of things visceral and passionate.  
    Visit Daniel’s website at
  • David Gaines ’83: Saving the Wilderness One Project at a Time

    by David Gaines

    I became involved with the Sierra Club during my high school days at Athenian when, in the summers of my sophomore and junior years, I volunteered my blood, sweat and strength to build and maintain trails in the deep wilderness of Montana and Washington. From those summer experiences grew a life-long passion for volunteering and hard work.
    The other Athenian experience that showed me the true fragility of the wilderness was my Death Valley AWE. In 1982 we were unable to even pack toilet paper because it did not belong there. It was the first time I thought in terms of “leave no trace.” Carrying our own water up and over the mountains of Death Valley gave me an appreciation for water conservation.
    I remember that the temperature would drop so low at night that a few of us would drink cooking oil for the extra calories to burn. Rattlesnakes are loud and that’s a good thing. Wild burros are smart and they are territorial—while I was on solo they tried to squash me by pushing rocks down on my tent! I love to talk about my AWE experience even today because it was a very lasting experience that trumps most others.
    I am currently a volunteer-activist for the Miami Group chapter of the Sierra Club in Ohio. For the past two summers I traveled south to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky where I helped build an articulating staircase as part of a hiking trail and a bridge from a tree that the US Forest Service had cut down. The next service trip I hope to work on is extracting barbed wire fencing from newly acquired Bureau of Land Management land. I find the work hard yet rewarding, especially because I am working with like-minded people for a common goal.
    While I deeply enjoy the service trips, I have come to understand that so much more is involved in saving our wilderness. As an activist, I was the Ohio spokesperson for the Red Rock Wilderness Act, legislation designed to save a large piece of delicate land in Utah. As a lobbyist, I quickly learned that my often-idealistic environmental values are not always shared by others and that sadly, compromise is how things get done.
    So while I will continue to work diligently—and perhaps more wisely—to raise awareness about the environment, what I enjoy most is spending a day in the fresh air of a peaceful forest, working with others on a Sierra Club project.
  • David Liebenberg ’10: Going for the Gold

    “So there you are, 700 miles out in the middle of the ocean in a boat and all you have is you. No helicopters are coming to the rescue – all you have is a life raft if your boat sinks. You convince yourself there’s land just over the horizon. But if you go to the top of the mast, which is about 80 feet high, and look around – it’s just blue. As far as you can see. And you are just one tiny speck – it’s a very surreal experience.”  
    So describes David Liebenberg ’10, about a time he was sailing in a race to Hawaii and heard a loud thunk as his boat hit a piece of debris, causing a crack in the bow. With ingenuity and resourcefulness, the crew was able to make a quick patch by removing a piece of the fake flooring, hacksawing it into the shape of the bow, and temporarily gluing it in place. They had been in 2nd or 3rd place, but slowed their pace so as not to sink, and actually ended up placing 11th out of 40 boats, even with the damage. 
    David is part of the D & D Racing team, and is competing in regattas around the world in a 49er boat in order to qualify for the US Sailing team, compete in the 2016 Olympics, and earn a gold medal in the 2020 Olympics. “We are very confident we are going to do this, and failure is not an option,” he says. “An Olympic campaign entails fundraising, putting in the time and effort, sacrificing personal relationships, and traveling all of the time,” he says. David has teamed up with Dan Morris, who he’s known most of his life, and with whom he’s been sailing for five years. “Dan and I became very good friends because of how much we love sailing and we could tell how dedicated we both are, so that drew us together.” 
    “I’ve been sailing my entire life and dreamed of doing an Olympic campaign for 10 years now – but I needed to go to school first.” David earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering at Tufts University, which came in handy when repairing that cracked bow.  
    “I enjoy everything in regards to sailing,” he remarks. “To be out on the water is like home to me. It’s relaxing, it lets me focus just on the moment and let everything else go. Conditions can change in an instant, which requires mental and physical concentration. You are always challenged to get better, always improve, and that’s why I love sailing so much.” 
    You can follow David’s progress at
  • Hansol Hong ’06: Educational Entrepreneur

    At the age of fiveHansol Hong ’06 knew he wanted to be a businessmanMy brother, Sulbum “Stephen” Hong ’05, and I have been talking about business since we were very young, he remarks. “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and now I am enjoying my life working hard for my robotics education company,” he says. “My father is a serial entrepreneur, so it’s in the family.”  
    Today he is founder of Robolink, a global company that teaches robotics and smartphone app development to students in grades 4-12. His company makes robotic kits and teaches students how to build and code robots using the kits. (Kits are for sale on his website, Hansol earned a BS in Management Science from UC San Diego, and also runs the San Diego Robotics club every week for local robotics hobbyists and professionals. He says he is working hard to assist Robolink students to become the Steve Jobs of the robotics industry. 
    Hansol was born in Korea, came to Athenian in 2002 and did not speak any English. “Athenian helped shape me to where I am now,” he says. “Smart teachers, welcoming American friends, and Athenian families helped me settle in to America and opened my eyes to becoming a more global citizen.” Hansol’s first entrepreneurial experience was Hanoma, a car-washing endeavor he and his dormmateOmar Mahmood ’05, started at Athenian. “We called it a company and many faculty members helped us earn a little money and get some entrepreneurial experience,” he says. “We did a horrible job in both sales and car washing, but faculty still supported us by being great customers.” (He gives a special shout-out to Michelle Park, JC (James Cloontz) and Stephen Herrick.) 
    He says his company is going great. They completed a Kickstarter campaign that raised $53,000 in a month, will be expanding their offices to Austin this fall, will be attending the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2016, and best of all, one of their 7th grade students placed 2nd in the World Robotics competition. “The best moments are when our students and parents thank us for doing what we do,” he says. “Although, we should thank them. It’s so fun and rewarding!” 
  • Holiday Phelan-Johnson ’88: Activism Through Environmental Filmmaking

    As redwood trees are logged, the salmon population becomes endangered. As the practice of shark finning increases, the health of coral reefs declines. Holiday Phelan-Johnson ’88, a documentary filmmaker and producer of environmental films, has been ahead of the curve on these issues. The Last Stand: Ancient Redwoods and the Bottom Line is a compelling film about the tragic ramifications of the battle between environmentalists and the timber industry over the fate of ancient coastal redwoods in Northern California. Sharks: Stewards of the Reef examines escalating threats to the Pacific reef shark through the practice of finning for shark fin soup, and how the plummeting population affects the habitat destruction of coral reef ecosystems. Her company, Trillium Films, named after a wildflower that grows in the redwood forest, examines the forces shaping the future of the Earth’s last wild places and presents solutions to sustainably protect our natural resources. 
    We sat down with Holiday to talk about her work and her life since Athenian. 
    Q. When you think back to your Athenian experience, what stands out for you or what influenced your direction? 
    A. Certainly I was influenced by the Athenian Wilderness Experience. I thought it was great that part of the required education was to have an understanding of the natural world. went on the Sierra trip and was introduced to rock climbing, which I loved. 
    The other piece that influenced me was the mandatory community service, which was my first experience with activism. When I was at Athenian, every Wednesday afternoon was spent with whatever group you wanted to join. It didn’t have to be environmental, but it did have to be an advocacy nonprofit in which you actively participatedI joined the Greenpeace group and I remember going to Berkeley to have people sign petitions—it was interesting being out there doing activism. 
    Q. What led you into filmmaking? 
    A. I started getting into it when the whole thing was happening. Technology was changing and it was at the point where you could own your own equipment and edit your own stuff. I saw the ability of film to fill the void in activism from an educational point of view, so I started my own film company.  
    Part of what I want the audience to learn in my films is that it doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending. I don’t want to be fatalistic, but I really want people to become jazzed about the beauty of nature, get informed about the issues, and prompt them to get involved. 
    Q. Tell us about your experiences while making The Last Stand. 
    A. There was a huge movement to save the Headwaters forest up in Humboldt County in Northern California, so we spearheaded that whole struggle of saving that forest as the “character.” I actually climbed up the tree to interview Julia Butterly, the activist who lived in a redwood tree for two years so that it wouldn’t be logged. My Athenian experience with rock climbing really paid off, because I knew I could do it. I had never climbed as high as an old growth redwood, but it was an amazing experience—getting to experience the canopy, seeing the lichen and the ecosystem. 
    Making the film was intense because there was war going on between the loggers and the conservationists. It was a rollercoaster experience, as one day we would be interviewing Julia Butterfly, this visionary, courageous person who is very eloquent; and then the next day, entering the lion’s den to interview the PR person for the Pacific Lumber company. 
    Q. Tell us about making Sharks. 
    A. After I made The Last Stand, my husband and I and we were ready to take a bit of a break. We went out sailing, always with the idea that we would be collecting material for the next documentary. While we were anchored at this little atoll, I went swimming off the boat and saw a shark and was terrified. But I became educated about their feeding habits (most are not man-eaters) and learned to relax. They are just exquisite, these animals. It became clear that shark conservation was going to become the subject for our next film. 
    While diving, I began to observe that where there were not as many sharks, the coral seemed to suffer. I began to wonder if there was a correlation between the health of the coral and the abundance of sharks. It turns out there is, as the food chain is affected when there is a decrease in the shark population. Overfishing and the practice of finning for shark fin soup has a direct repercussion not only on the shark population, but on the health of coral reefs as wellThis news is only two years old and we were the first ones getting that information out there to the public. 
    Q. Any last thoughts? 
    For me, Athenian was a really positive experience that influencemy approach as to what I could do in the world. I believe that we all should give back to our community in whatever ways we can. Students should know that they can have an impact on the world, whether it’s recycling or getting involved in advocacy work. 
    Check out Holiday’s website at to learn more about her film projects. To obtain copies of her film, visit 
  • Jackie Thomas ’82: From Corporate to Entrepreneur

    Jackie Thomas ’82 and her spouseDeeAnn McCoy, had very busy corporate jobs in marketing and advertising – Jackie was the Global Brand Director for basketball at NIKE and DeeAnn owned and operated her own advertising agencyBut there was very little work-life balance and as they approached their 50s, they knew they wanted more for themselves. So they “retired” and moved to Palm Springs – not only to relax and golf – but to start a new business linked to their passion of midcentury architecture and design. 
    “It was amazingly easy to start a company,” says Jackie about founding Thomboy PropertiesSince we both come for marketing and advertising, we had both spent many years writing strategic plans and briefs for creative concepts, so we were able to easily carry over those skills. In addition, we are both good at creating a vision where none exists and putting a plan in place to execute that vision, whether it's a marketing campaign for a product or a house that is in disrepair. Our skills proved to be very transferable. 
    The company specializes in restoring mid-century modern homes to their original design, and has developed a reputation for putting out premium, beautifully designed productsThe company’s philosophy is simple: respect the beauty and simplicity of design from the past and re-imagine it for the way people live today. Ensure that work which was authentic then, remains authentic now. It has surpassed our wildest expectations and we are truly humbled by our success,” says Jackie. 
    Reflecting on how her Athenian experience influenced her, Jackie says, “One of the greatest gifts Athenian bestowed upon me, in addition to the importance of community service and what it truly means to be a global citizen, would have to be my entrepreneurial skills. Athenian definitely taught me to be a self starter. I learned how to think for myself and to believe I could achieve anything I set out to achieve. Even though I worked in the corporate world for many years, the entrepreneurial skills I developed before going to NIKE and now subsequently, have served me well.” 
    When asked what advice she would give to those wanting to start an enterprise, she says, “Chase your passion, trust your instincts, and appreciate that diverse teams are high performing teams. As the world continues to become more diverse, the ability for today’s entrepreneurs to create a culture that reinforces that everyone is welcome and all talents are appreciated and respected is not only powerful, but ultimately will lead to breakthrough ideas in all fields from science to technology to arts. I can’t think of anything more important.” 
    Jackie served on Athenian’s Board of Trustees from 2002-2008. Visit to see what Jackie and DeeAnn are now doing.
  • Johnna Arnold ’91: Idealism, Community and Photography

    For most of us, freeways are seen as means to an end of getting one place to another really fast. But for Johnna Arnold ’91, freeways are art. The curves of onramps, the shadows of underpasses, the tangle of overpasses, their frenetic pace, their stillness. “I have been doing freeway-based art for a long time,” she says. “I have a love/hate relationship with them. It’s a structure that connects us all, but at the same time is problematic and toxic.” 
    Johnna is a photographer who lives in Oakland, California. Her studio is a converted garage and in front of her bright orange house is a garden, resplendent with huge artichokes, flowering zucchini and blooming sunflowers. Her freeway photographs reflect her concerns with the environment and the awkward relationship a person has with these gigantic industrial landscapes. In her latest work, you can spot a small human figure in each of her photos – crouching in the bushes below a huge overpass, standing on a rock to the side of a freeway tunnel, folded into a shopping cart in an empty parking lot with the freeway above. She is that human figure and you have to search for her in the photo, like looking for Waldo. “These huge structures are created for our utilization, but not created for us to hang out in,” she says. “I like thinking about that.” 
    Johnna did not intend to become a photographer when she came to Athenian in her junior year. But it was here that she met Tom Swope and discovered her ability with the camera. “I am a visual thinker,” she says. “Athenian was just what I needed. Before Athenian, I pretty much hated school, hated trying to fit into a learning style that didn’t match mine.” At Athenian, she suddenly felt embraced and accepted, nourished by the passionate teachers and the students she met. “The core values of Athenian – the sense of community, learning to work together, caring for the environment – have influenced who I am and what I do in my art.” 
    Tom’s influence was key, as he encouraged her photography and her writing. In her first few weeks here, she didn’t realize that the classrooms were connected to the teacher’s houses and was shocked one day when Tom entered and offered cereal to everyone and came back with 12 bowls and cartons of milk. “He was so human, and genuine, and friendly. There’s something special about a teacher’s willingness to share themselves with high school students.” 
    After Athenian, Johnna attended Bard College where she majored in photography, spent her summers as a camp counselor at Sprout Creek Farm, an educational farm in upstate New York, did a stint with a traveling political puppet theater, and finally returned to the Bay Area. It’s the sense of community that touched her the most while at Athenian. “I still miss it,” she says. “I still seek that sort of environment where people truly care about each another, care about the land, and care about how we all connect.”  
    Visit Johnna’s website at
  • Julia Bleckner '06: Working at the United Nations

    Julia Bleckner ’06 was the one who proposed the sick day amendment at Town Meeting, so that students had time to make up their homework. (The proposal passed.) She was also part of the Model United Nations club and represented Pakistan, investigating international issues, debating, deliberating, consulting, and developing solutions to world problems. “It was the coolest thing ever,” she says. “What I care about in education is dialogue. That’s what Model UN and the UN should be – common understanding through dialogue and empathy.” And that’s what she believed when she began study at Occidental College, where she majored in Diplomacy and World Affairs and minored in Film. 
    “I saw the UN as the champion of human rights, doing the right thing and fixing the world,” she states. But when she accepted an internship at the UN, her ideals were tempered. “I lost faith in the ability of member states to work together based on a moral conscience rather than their political issues. When it comes down to it, each country’s sovereignty is their first priority. 
    Julia worked in the Advocacy and Visual Media Unit in the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and began to see a different side of the UN. “I gained faith in other parts of the UN that work in the humanitarian field – the people who are not associated with a specific country, but work on getting food to people in crises, dealing with crises all over the world, and even peacekeeping.” 
    While at the UN, she helped write, film and edit the Stop Rape Now PSA that features Academy Award winner Charlize Theron. The UN Action PSA, which has been airing in many countries, hopes to raise public awareness and generate political will to address sexual violence in conflict. “I believe in the power of the media to incite change,” she says. “That’s why I like documentary film especially, as it gives a chance to those who often don’t get their voices heard.”  
    She says she ultimately enjoyed working at the UN and felt that “people were constantly asking questions, asking countries why they are doing what they are doing, pressing them for the tougher answers.” 
    Her experience at Athenian fostered and encouraged asking the tough questions and having challenging dialogue“Education should be this democratic dialogue that everyone grows from. It’s important that every single person, as well as every single country, has the ability to be listened to, heard and understood. That’s the only time there is progress.” 
    For her next venture, Julia would like to combine film and diplomacy and has plans to work with a film production company in Rwanda, teaching film to students who have lost their parents in the genocide. “I believe in the ability of organizations that are not tied to a specific country or political agenda to get things done.”
  • Khorshied Samad ’81: Empowering in Women Afghanistan

    Daughter of an Afghan exile, Khorshied Samad ’81 is passionate about improving the situation and rights of Afghan women and the creation of a modern, democratic society in a nation scarred by 30 years of war, invasion, civil strife and immeasurable poverty.  
    “Actively working to improve the rights of Afghan women is not idealistic,” she says. “It is also pragmatic. Improving the situation of women in Afghanistan is one of the most cost-effective ways to ensure sustainable development and progress. Lasting peace cannot come without the participation and representation of Afghan women in its developing society.” 
    Khorshied first traveled to Afghanistan in 2002, six months after the Taliban were driven from power. “My life was inextricably changed,” she says. “I went originally for two weeks, working as a freelance reporter for ABC News in New York, and stayed for three years, becoming the Kabul Bureau Chief for Fox News Channel.” It’s also where she met her husband, Omar Samad, the Afghanistan Ambassador to France. 
    “I blossomed personally and professionally as the journey and direction of my life unfolded while I lived and worked in Kabul, the birthplace of my father, she remarks. “There was so much to do, so much to fix. I just got so swept up by what I saw and thought that if I could help these people, this is what I wanted to do.”  She became involved in various projects helping to support Afghan women with sustainable income and literacy training. She founded the Artists for Afghanistan Foundation ( with the aim of raising funds for cultural and educational projects in Afghanistan, helping Afghan women and children with literacy, and promoting Afghan arts and crafts. She started a small co-op where Afghan women learned how to hand-weave silk shawls for income while receiving daily literacy classes, which allowed them to become self-sufficient citizens.  
    Recently she helped curate “Voices on the Rise: Afghan Women Making the News,” a photo exhibit that provides a look into the lives of Afghan women journalists, producers, managers, writers, photographers, filmmakers, human rights activists and parliamentarians. It was first exhibited in Canada in October 2006 and more recently in France in celebration of International Women’s Day 2010.  
    “From 1991 until late 2001, women were not allowed on television or represented in any form of media, “she explains. “Today, women are once again being seen, heard and read about in the media. It is estimated that more than 1,000 women are working today throughout Afghanistan as journalists for radio, television or print publications.” Korshied’s book, Afghan Women, Media and Emerging Democracy: Social Evolution in Post-Taliban Afghanistan, explores the complex role of media within society, its impact on the development of democracy and its relationship to the empowerment of women.  
    Korshied knows the task is not easy but feels that “it is of great importance to support the young and fragile democratic process in Afghanistan. Otherwise, this poor, war-torn nation may stumble back into “failed state” status. Hopefully, with the continued support if the international community, the Afghan people can become truly self-sufficient, living in peace, security and with hope for their future.”  
  • Liz Minot ’95: To The Rescue

    I started working the entertainment field in 2000. I have been everything over the years – from Intern and Production Assistant to Prop Master and Set Decorator. I noticed item after beautiful item being thrown away after every shoot and thought it was ridiculous! The wastefulness is amazing, whether it is a 3-day commercial, or months on a feature film. Perfectly good ‘set dressing’ (furniture, housewares, window treatments, etc.) gets tossed into giant dumpsters at the end of a shoot. My mentor, Eva Radke, and I thought that there had to be a better way to deal with those items that were in good repair and could be reused and donated. So in 2008 we founded Film Biz Recycling ( to divert set materials to local charities. We also operate a retail store, prop shop and a creative reuse center located in Brooklyn, NY.
    We accept donations exclusively from the entertainment industry. This includes everything from couches and other furniture to housewares, animal carriers and paper products. We do the sorting, so that what we give our charitable partners matches their specific needs. We get in all sorts of crazy and eclectic stuff, so often times it’s a case by case basis for how we laterally donate. One we received a donation that consisted of an entire set of perfectly usable gym equipment! Of course, they had all been painted white for a "heavenly" feel for a commercial for a large hotel chain. We accepted the donation with no clue where we were going to place the items. It took an afternoon of cold calling different organizations before I found a local Brooklyn organization that ran some retirement homes. They had a Physical Ed program, even a trainer that volunteered, but no gym to speak of! It was a perfect match.
    These kismet moments have been initiated by the donee as well. Last year, a probation officer called us up and asked if, by the smallest chance, we had graduation caps and gowns. She was asking on behalf of their 2013 graduating class – the first of its kind in the South Bronx, probationers who had just achieved their GED’s. She wanted the graduates to really FEEL like graduates, with proper caps and gowns. As a matter of fact – we DID have some caps and gowns that had been sitting around in a huge box, kinda underfoot for a while…lying in wait.
    My favorite part of my job is simply, giving things away. We have a large list of charitable partners that we work with on a weekly basis, such as Materials for the Arts, Camba Women’s and Men’s Shelters, Sean Casey Animal Shelter, Dress for Success and Hour Children. I cannot express how wonderful it is to be able to provide necessary items to organizations that are doing such crucial, vital work. I am very proud to be able to participate in the community of New York City in this way. In addition, it makes me feel like a badass, as all worthy things should do!
  • Lizzie Miskovetz ’10: Tesla Engineer

    If you happen to visit the Athenian Robotics team during build season, you just might see Lizzie Miskovetz ’10 pitching in just as she did when she was a student here. “The Robotics program is one of the most valuable experiences I had at Athenian. The technical skills, in addition to crucial soft skills like organization, team leadership, scheduling, and written and verbal communication, have served me well.”  
    After majoring in Mechanical Engineering at Colorado School of Mines, Lizzie is now a Mechanical Design Engineer at Tesla Motors in Fremont, California. “It’s incredibly inspiring (and fun!) to work in such an innovative and fast-paced environment,” she says. “The best part about my first week was getting to jump right into important projects. I didn’t waste any time learning new skills, getting to know my team, and accepting new tasks and projects for myself or to help others with. It really made me feel like a valued engineer, and like a part of a larger team, which I appreciate.” 
    Describing her work environment, Lizzie says, “Our workspace is very open – we all sit in the same area to help promote collaboration and teamwork.” She is part of the 12V Wire Harness Group, and since she works at the factory, she gets to see cars being manufactured every day. She spends her time designing parts, using software tools like CATIA (a 3D modeling CAD program) and says that one of the most useful benefits is being able to see exactly what she is working on by looking at cars on the production line. 
    “There aren’t many women in a lot of the technical areas of the company,” she notes. “My group has three full time women, and one female intern. The women who work here are just like everyone else – they work hard and exercise their knowledge to the fullest every day. They are immensely successful and I admire all of them.”  
    With regards to women in particular, she says, “Be confident and be dedicated! We need people like you in the field: people who can think big-picture, provide creative ideas, and be excited about their work. Never forget that you are as qualified as anyone to change the world, and if you work hard, people will show you the respect you deserve.”
  • Margaret (Maggie) Rowland ’10: A Letter to Athenian

    by Maggie Rowland

    Hi Athenian, I've missed you! I am currently attending Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, and will graduate in 2014. As an Anthropology major, with minors in French and International Studies, I have been lucky enough to spend three terms abroad during my time at college – one in Paris, France, studying French; one in Auckland, New Zealand, studying Anthropology; and one in Salmiya, Kuwait, working in the Public Relations Department at the American University of Kuwait (AUK), and helping to teach ESL English classes as well.
    On campus, I run the photography section of The Dartmouth, the oldest university daily newspaper. I also serve as an Emergency Medical Technician for Dartmouth EMS, and am the social chair of Epsilon Kappa Theta sorority. Next year, I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve as the Student Director for the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life at Dartmouth.
    While I attend school full time, I am also the owner and director of Margaret Rowland Photography, a business founded in 2010 that is based wherever I am! ( My passion for photography began at age 14 when Tom Swope, former beloved Athenian teacher, gave me a key to Athenian’s darkroom because I spent so much time in it developing black and white photos taken on my father’s old 1980’s Pentax camera. I still carry around the key.
    Today, I shoot on professional Canon DSLRs, and have traveled the US and the world to capture marvels of nature, political events, and meaningful moments in life. This summer, I interned in New York City for Kevin Michael Reed, internationally published fashion and beauty photographer, and have been pursuing wedding and portrait photography in my own work. After my graduation from Dartmouth College, I want to pursue my love of the international – but am not sure yet whether this will be through editorial journalism or international affairs work. I credit Athenian with giving me the bravery to pursue a diversity of dreams.
    If you are interested in booking a photo shoot (senior portraits, weddings, etc.) contact Margaret at
  • Michael Connolly ’71: The Political Dance

    Trustee Michael Connolly ’71 had no ambition to be a corporate lawyer when he attended Athenian during his junior and senior year back in the early days of the School. “I loved my classes but I certainly could have worked harder during my first year,” he says. “There was just so much else to do! I was involved theater and worked at a local hospital and  helped set up the School’s first recycling programs  and that was the first year we did Outward Bound [which later became AWE]. There were hiking trips, war protests, trips to the City to listen to music and all kinds of things. And, for the first time in my life, I felt I was part of a real community.” It was his Athenian experience that sparked his interest in the arts, particularly modern dance and graphic arts, and instilled in him the value of giving back to society, whether through community or political service.  
    After studying hard his senior year, he made it into Bennington College, which he was attracted to because he could study humanities and continue taking dance classesIt turned out, however, that “you really had to want to be a professional dancer, not just take classes, to be in the dance department.” Instead, he decided pursue his interest in politics as the focus of his coursework.  He wrote his senior thesis on Hannah Arendt and her ideas about the Athenian form of government, under which it was the responsibility of citizens to get involved in the marketplace and act politically. After college he “happened” to get a job as paralegal, found the work interesting and went on to law school. 
    Flash forward to 9/11. Michael had lived in New York for many years and was home when the attack occurred  he lives just 10 blocks from the World Trade Center. A year later he decided to get involved in local politics and became a member of the Community Board in Lower ManhattanHe currently serves as co-chair of the World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee and is engaged in the herculean effort to design and construct a memorial and museum on the site. “We represent the community and it’s been a lesson in representative government and the challenges that come with it,” he remarks. “I have my own opinion and at the same time I have an obligation to determine how people feel about the issues and to be responsive to them. It’s a balancing act, as political action almost always is.” He’s disappointed that a cultural center fell out of the plan, but is still hopeful that a performing arts center will be built as part of the site. 
    Beginning with the 2004 election, he’s also become involved in national politics, helping to raise money for senate, congressional and presidential campaigns. “National politics is the opposite extreme from local politics,” he says. “At the national level it’s almost entirely about the power and influence of money.” He notes that it’s hard not to be cynical and cites the recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case in which the Supreme Court ruled that Congress may not limit corporate and union funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections. “While election law and contributions made by corporations will certainly have an effect on the outcome of elections in the future, the real money that corporations spend is in the form of lobbying. There is no restriction on lobbying, and until that changes, it’s hard to imagine you or me actually having a chance to express our views in a political dialogue  much less have them represented in Congress.” 
    However, that doesn’t stop him being involved in politics. “I encourage people to get involved, to give to political campaigns and to vote,” he declares. “It’s essential to confront the gridlock that exists today and to elect thoughtful, rational people who are capable of participating in an honest political process  and, frankly, who believe in science and education and human rights.  That goes for both sides of the aisle. So get involved  and vote!” 
  • Musadiq Bidar ’10: 60 Minutes Intern

    by Musadiq Bidar

    I am majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication. After graduation I want to begin working in the media industry and continue building my network. My experience at 60 Minutes and CBS News has been very rewarding – one of the stories I worked on earlier in the semester recently aired on CBS. The story was about businessman, Bill Browder, and his fight to expose corruption in Russia. Through my research I learned a great deal about modern Russian history. It was really exciting to see the story I worked on air on television. The best part about the internship is all the experience I am getting – it's a great opportunity to see the process and work that goes into a story. The challenge is to find stories that are fresh, stories that give off that "WOW" factor, stories that haven't been explored by others in the past. I am constantly thinking about story ideas that I can pitch to my superiors, so I have to keep all of this mind. 
    One of my favorite days while at CBS News was watching Scott Pelly anchor the live evening news from a small, make shift-studio on top a law firm building across the street from the Capitol. I found myself helping one of the producers edit scripts during the day and by the time 6 pm rolled around, I managed to make my way inside the studio. I sat in amazement and watched as Scott Pelly and the rest of the team carried out a flawless broadcast. It was truly inspiring to watch professionals in my field conduct their duties under the pressure of live television so effortlessly.  
    Studying abroad in the Spring of 2013 has definitely been a highlight of college. I've always wanted to see Sydney, Australia, and I was fortunate enough to live there for six months. Also, being in DC is a highlight in itself. Hearing President Obama speak, going to a White House press briefing, and attending FBI Director James Comey's swearing in ceremony have been among the memorable days.  
    The first time I went to a press briefing in the White House, my boss gave me a tour of the press area. Under the briefing room, there used to be an indoor swimming pool during the Reagan Administration. Now it's just a storage area that holds a lot of computer equipment. But the walls and floors of the room are signed by everyone who has ever been down there. I signed my name on the floor that day. It's pretty cool to know my signature will always be in the White House (even if it's somewhere very few people will actually see.)
  • Pendarvis Harshaw ’05: New Guard Meets Old Guard

    An elderly man leans on a rail at a track meet, left hand on his hip, gazing at the sky. His expression says he has experience and he knows what’s up. He is Tommie Smith who gave a black-leathered glove-fisted salute from the winner’s circle at the 1968 Olympics. “If you keep living, you have to keep changing with times,” he says. 
    Another man, in graying dreadlocks, smiles as he looks down at a photograph from the 60s. He points to a young, lanky kid in the photo and says, “That’s me.” He is Ronald Freeman and was once a member of the Black Panther Party. “Just look around,” he says. “Figure out how to impact the situation and make it better.” 
    Two men sit on a sidewalk and crack jokes over a game of chess. Their bare, muscled arms are poised over the game pieces as they concentrate on their next move. They are David Ruffin and Philly Fred, fixtures on the street in Washington, DC’s Uptown. David says, “Follow your heart. Stay close to your mother.” 
    All of these remarkable photos and words of wisdom are featured on a photo-journalistic website called OG Told Me (, created by Pendarvis Harshaw ’05. “It’s an ode to the elder men in the community who gave me tidbits of wisdom as I moved though society as a child,” he says. “They taught me what to do and what not to do. Sometimes it’d be a neighborhood big shot standing in front of his car. Sometimes it’d be a homeless person at a bus stop.”  
    The OG project is a replica of what Pendarvis did growing up, now told with a camera and a blog site instead of a pen and a notebook. (OG is a term for elders and means original gangster, but now has multiple meanings: old guy, old guard, original grio (storyteller.) He travels around Oakland asking elders the question: Given your life experience, if you had the chance to talk to your people, what would you say? “In a world were so many die young, you have to be doing something right in order to live that long,” he explains. 
    Pendarvis is currently a grad student at UC Berkeley studying documentary filmmaking, and is also an Oakland free-lance journalist. “I’m drawn to journalism and the art of storytelling because poetry is the basis of all good writing,” he remarks. “I choose to focus on the overlap of education and violence/justice because that’s where I think I can make an immediate impact.” 
    When asked what Athenian experience has influenced his life the most, he says, “Mannnnnn…That trip to Death Valley! I think about that so often! Greatest lesson ever learned has to be the lesson of the Hero’s Journey. Experiencing it through hiking across the hottest place in the Western Hemisphere, only to return home – a complete hero’s journey.” 
    And his words of wisdom to others? “Pack light,” he says. That’s all I tell myself.” 
    Visit Pendarvis at, catch him on twitter: @ogpenn, or find him on Facebook.
  • Sarah Carson Cloud ’97: Making Things by Hand

    “Making a handmade garment is gratifying,” says Sarah Carson Cloud ’97. “There are no shortcuts. You have to take your time and make every stitch count. Most people don’t stop to think about the fact that a real-live person sewed your outfit for you.” 
    Three years ago, Sarah was an investment banker at UBS and sewed her own clothes as a hobby. After receiving countless compliments, she wondered if she could make dresses for a living and in 2010, took the plunge and launched her own clothing line. “My love of retro glamour didn’t quite jive with the corporate world, so I left Wall Street to pursue my true niche: designing the perfect dress,” she explains. “Inspired by the classic luxury of a more glamorous era, I set out to design a clothing line for the woman who wants a little bit of glamour in her life without a lot of fuss. The result is Leota, a collection of magically flattering dresses in limited edition prints. Each dress is handmade in a family-owned factory in Brooklyn.” Her great-grandmother, Leota, was the inspiration behind the brand’s namesake, who dressed as though every day was a special occasion. 

    Sarah’s background in finance has contributed to her company’s success. Still, it was a leap. “I realized this was my one chance at life, and I had 
    to take control of my future,” she declares. “Athenian set the standard for me and nurtured the belief that if you want to make a change, you can.” The risk was worth it. Now Leota is sold in over 300 boutiques in the US and Canada. 

    Her company’s mission statement echoes some of Athenian’s core values: the belief that a vibrant life starts with good values, the commitment to forging trusting relationships, and approaching every interaction with integrity. Sarah loves being an entrepreneur. “It’s tough,” she admits. “But so much fun. Having a vision and seeing it come to life is deeply meaningful.”  

    You can visit Sarah’s website at
  • Serena Brewer '94: Down the Slope with Down’s Children

    By Serena Brewer ’94 
    I have always loved the commitment to service that Athenian tries to instill in its students and when the opportunity arose for this project, I simply couldn’t pass it up. I didn’t set out with a prize in mind. In fact, I had no idea about the Kurt Hahn prize until after it had been awarded to me.  
    At the time, my Dad was a school principle-superintendent for a small school district just outside of Yosemite. The school had quite an extensive special education program, including a class dedicated entirely to students with Down’s syndrome. The school also offered ski trips during the winter months as PE credit for all of its 4th, 5th and 6th  graders. Having spent time in the pool and in other environments with students with developmental disabilities, I got to wondering if those students with Down’s were included in the ski trips. I called my Dad to ask and his response was a heavy sigh, "No. And I know where you’re going with this." And with that my senior service project was born. 
    I contacted the family that had adopted four of the students and asked if they would be willing to let me give ski lessons to their kids. After that, we worked with the local ski hill to donate equipment and allow us free access to the bunny slopes and teaching areas. I spent the winter weekends that year driving over to Yosemite to teach two of these kids at a time how to ski. In the end, their skiing skills weren’t great. But they got the opportunity to experience an outdoor activity that previously no one had thought to include them in. I learned to appreciate their great delight in the simplest of activities, like sliding through the snow in ski boots or being pulled up the hill on your back by a rope tow, giggling all the way. 
    One of the greatest things I learned from this was the unique opportunity that nature and physical activity can afford to those who we label as “different.” For brief moments, a blind student, a person with Down’s, or a person with a physical disability can slip out of the label or limitations we’ve placed on them and simply be a swimmer, a skier, a rock climber. For some, it allows time for their mind to be calm and their pain to cease.  
    In the end, it was these phenomenal service projects and their lessons that led me to medicine. I still believe strongly in service – it keeps me active in my local community and is in part why I practice in a community health center. 
    As for the Kurt Hahn Prize, it wasn’t until our final days as seniors at Athenian that I was informed of the prize’s existence and that it had been awarded to me! It was a great delight to know that someone on the board found my service project worthy enough to be considered. Up until then, the prize had always been awarded for heroic acts. My Dad gave me a small framed print in honor of the prize and it hangs in my office as a daily reminder of the importance of service as a part of being a successful human being. 
  • Susan Fine ’83: Reflections on Athenian

    Athenian will always be important for me because it’s one of the first places where I felt, as a teenager, that adults took kids seriously. The adults knew us well and didn’t shy away from identifying where we needed to grow and develop and then helping us do so. My advisor, Tom Swope, was particularly good at that, but always did so in the most respectful way, which made me want to do whatever he was suggesting.
    AWE was the hardest thing I did in high school. That experience challenged me in ways that were outside of what was comfortable for me and outside of my passions and interests and strengths. I remember my patrol well, and none of the members were close friends of mine at school. Most were kids I didn’t know well, and one was someone I didn’t think I liked. I know that this was all intentional and part of how the patrols were organized. And, as Arlene Ustin, who ran the program, anticipated, I came to respect and appreciate everyone in the patrol, and we all figured out how to work together regardless of whether or not we wanted to be close friends. I should also add that my AWE instructors were extraordinary people – Paul and Elizabeth – I still remember them vividly. It was so helpful, at 17, to have adults in my life who weren’t my parents and were such gifted teachers. They didn’t shy away from pushing me to think about who I wanted to be, how my actions toward others affected them, and who showed me by example what it means to act with integrity, to push yourself, to have high standards, to love the outdoors and the simple, magical life offered off the grid, and to be ethical and committed.
    Athenian made me feel important and valued and smart. That didn’t come from some empty self-esteem rhetoric, but came from being listened to and questioned in class discussions, given real responsibility to organize and run things, and pushed harder than I’d ever been pushed before on AWE. One of my favorite Kurt Hahn sayings is “There is more in you than you think.” Athenian led me to understand what that means. I still reflect on that saying now, as a 48-year-old adult, and it encourages me to dig deep, to push myself harder, and to show up and do the hard work necessary to persevere and succeed with challenges that might at first seem daunting.
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