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Nitika Johri: Breaking the stereotype of a high school


stress because I took a lot of AP classes and was involved in a lot of activities — but I kind of accepted it, to be honest,” Johri said. “I thought, ‘This is what I want to do to get where I want to go.’ It’s very hard and tedious at times, but I think it turned out for the better, and I think there are a lot of people who can attest to that.” The stress comes from “having such a high-achieving and successful community,” she said. “Because we have parents like that backing their kids, it kind of fosters that mentality among the kids” in spite of the school’s many programs to offer support and relief. She cited several teachers at Gunn who “do an incredible job of reaching out to students and opening the class to different opinions.” Johri thrived at Gunn by choosing activities and classes that she loved, and she advises others to do the same. “Happiness has been my key motivator through high school,” she said. “I took classes or got involved in activities that I loved doing. “Of course there are periods where I’m very stressed and things seem like they’re never going to work out, but I always keep doing what makes me happy, and it has worked out for the better.” N Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly. com.

SEE MORE ONLINE More photographs of graduation and the lists of graduates from local high schools have been posted on www.

A new Gunn graduate screams in excitement as she and fellow classmates rise to receive their diplomas on May 29. “There are tragedies and there are miracles. But every change and everything unchanged is beautiful,” Steinberg said. “As I stand here tonight in 2013, I know that our lives will take turns that we would be foolish even to guess.” But the one thing that’s for sure, Steinberg said, is that the Gunn community will always be with them. Thirty years down the line, the same group of students will gather again as 40-somethingyear-olds in the same place, still connected by their high school. Guest speaker Mathai, who graduated from Los Altos High School in 1989 and had many family members who attended Gunn, gave three pieces of advice to the graduates: Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your lives, so seize it; appreciate your parents or whoever raised you; and live in the moment. “To the Class of 2013: Go get it!” he ended emphatically. The two awards given on Wednesday night, the Faculty Cup and Principal’s Cup, recognized exemplary students and faculty. The Faculty Cup, established in 1966, is awarded each year to one male and one female student who exemplify certain traits. “Since its formation, Gunn has viewed education as richer and a

lot more complex than test scores and percentile rankings, and our mission statement lists traits having to do with confidence, creative thinking, adaptability, resilience, respect for one’s self and others and social and ethical responsibility,” said Carole Stroud, a Spanish teacher retiring this year who has worked at Gunn since 1988. Stroud presented silver cups to Andrew Duffy — described by staff as “the calm within the storm” — and Jennifer Mota Melville, a distinguished leader who is also Henry M. Gunn’s granddaughter. The Principal’s Cup, presented by Villalobos, was given to Kristy Blackburn, an English teacher who also advises the school newspaper, The Oracle. After the tassels were moved to the left and caps thrown into the air, Schectman reflected. “It’s about time,” she said with a laugh. She said she plans to study marine science at Boston University next year. “It’s bittersweet,” said Schectman’s father, Hal, in between snapping photos of his daughter. “This is what you work for, and then you don’t want it to happen.” N Staff Writer Elena Kadvany can be emailed at ekadvany@

Vivian Wong

devastating string of student suicides in 2009 and 2010 has made Gunn a different kind of high school, said Nitika Johri, who graduated Wednesday. “Our school has gone through a lot together, and therefore we approach situations in certain ways and try to create a community that breaks the stereotype of a high school community,” said Johri, a volleyball player and yearbook editor, senior class president and co-president of Youth Community Service. “My class wasn’t there for the majority (of the suicides) — it didn’t affect us personally as much — but I think it affects the community and makes us more aware and more kind.” Teachers and staff, she said, “go out of their way to make students feel at home. Instead of being kind of exclusive, everyone is brought together, and there aren’t that many separate friend groups that can’t talk to each other.” It’s that sense of community that Johri said she’ll miss the most when she heads to the University of Southern California this fall, planning to major in psychology with an eye toward a business career. She’ll spend the summer traveling and reading things she just didn’t have time for during the academic year. “I definitely felt the academic

Vivian Wong

Veronica Weber

Nitika Johri, Gunn High School

colored for her chosen college, Boston University, spoke second. She said after months of questions about what college she would attend and uncertainty about graduation, the one question that remains is, “What am I leaving behind?” She said Gunn is set apart from other schools in the area not only by its programs and special events — birthday-grams, Spring Fling, the “Not In Our School” campaign — but also by the individuals who make up the Gunn community. “Gunn is made up of pieces. There’s a piece for every person, every individual. There’s a piece for every friendship made and every lesson taught. When you put these pieces together, they create a picture of the Class of 2013. So I guess the real questions is not ‘What are we leaving behind?’ but ‘What are we taking with us?’” She ended with the sentiment that each student will take a piece of his or her personal and academic experiences at Gunn with them, wherever they go. The third and final student speaker, Benjy Steinberg, chose to fast-forward to the year 2043 instead of reflect on the last four years. The focus of his speech: the class of 2013’s 30th high school reunion, where the “middle-aged counterparts” of his classmates would surely have gained weight, been married and divorced three times, served in the Peace Corps, found God, lost a leg in a car accident or dropped out of Harvard University to become an artisan cheesemaker.

Dana Tom, president of the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education, presents Gunn graduate Spencer Miner with his high school diploma. ÜÜÜ°*>œÌœ"˜ˆ˜i°Vœ“ÊUÊ*>œÊÌœÊ7iiŽÞÊUÊ>ÞÊΣ]ÊÓä£ÎÊU Page 7

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2013 05 31 paw section1