By Wendy Lawrence, Inspire Contributor

Our Article about EPS Lifers always focuses on change, on how the senior year is different, but the Class of 2021 certainly takes the cake for experiencing a new way to be a senior!

Lidya Acar loves to chat with the person sitting next to her in class, so that was a lot harder this year. But on the plus side, she could focus better! Acar says she’s been learning about resilience throughout her whole journey at Eastside Prep. “Freshman and sophomore years were incredibly difficult for me personally. EPS gave me a lot of resources to help me through.”

Acar is excited to be a D1 athlete in college (she’ll be the coxswain on the men’s rowing team!) and after that, she would love to be an intellectual property lawyer for a biotech company. And not to be too specific, but she hopes to someday have two dogs and three cats.

Mattia Da Fieno loved everything about EPS when he arrived in fifth grade, mostly that it was so different. And he jumped right in, playing Ultimate, performing in theatre and Chamber Choir, and being a Peer Mentor. But in this year of virtual everything, Da Fieno actually got more involved. He joined Student Leadership Council (SLC), become a Grade Level Representative, and started working on the EPS podcast—and now he runs the whole show!

Da Fieno said it took resilience to keep up with online classes and college applications, but the school was always there to support him. In the future, Da Fieno hopes to discover a new species of sea creature and also learn to do a really good Donald Duck impersonation.

Despite a very different year than she expected, Panchali Dipankar is still actively involved in EPS as part of APIDA (a club for students of Asian, Pacific-Islander, and Desi American descent) and the student newspaper, The Eagle Eye. Panchali has been writing for the newspaper for four years and loves the freedom to write about topics she’s passionate about. EPS has always asked her to work hard. “Before EPS, I wasn’t a good student. EPS taught me to advocate for myself and ask for help. I can truly say I’ve become more confident and intelligent.”

Dipankar has many goals including being a lawyer who tackles sexual assault cases, owning a business, being an editor-in-chief of a newspaper, owning a farm, and starting a horseback riding nonprofit. “I’ve been a rider since I was thirteen and it’s made me a happier person. I want to show people that they can get a positive outlook on life through horses, too.”

Maxwell Feldman’s favorite fifth-grade memory was the ropes course on his fall overnight where he got to know many of his classmates. He was disappointed to miss out on the regular senior year experiences, but glad that the strong tech skills he learned at EPS came in handy to get him through.

One thing that always made him laugh was checking the OneNote page he shared with classmates that they would update with Dr. Scott quotes. One of his life goals is visiting all 195 countries.

Piper Hawley struggled in school before coming to EPS, but getting a laptop was a game-changer for her since it meant her handwriting no longer got in her way. She’s enjoyed learning how to work in a different environment this year, and describes it well: “It’s fast and slow at the same time—time feels
a little different.”

Hawley participates in several student clubs, including Allies for Equity, Chamber Choir, and the Fusor academic team. “I love how different each of these groups are, yet how they are united by the strong sense of community and excitement at EPS.” From the first day she grabbed that laptop to the small classes that encourage her to speak up, Hawley says EPS “gave me the tools to share my voice.” She’s excited to move on to college, where she wants to study medicine and neuroscience and also hopes to continue with her Spanish. “I’ll really miss everyone from EPS, but I know that my time here has prepared me well for the next part of my story.”

Sonia Lester loved getting her own laptop for fifth grade and decorating every inch of it, but she’s less excited about how much she’s on the computer for her senior year. She appreciates how the school has looked for moments of connection—she loved getting together (in a distanced way) to watch Wild
with her Lit class.

Lester is the co-head of the Allies for Equity club, leading discussions and presentations, and she’s also on the girls basketball team. One thing she will cherish about EPS is how it has taught her how to ask for help. “The supportive atmosphere has taught me to be resilient.”

Josh Miller says “walking downstairs to start first period is not as enjoyable as walking into class and seeing all your peers’ faces.” But overall, he says that this year has brought him closer to his friends. “Quarantine gave people a chance to open up and express themselves. Seeing and talking about a new part of you is enjoyable.”

Miller has played sports during all eight years at EPS, most recently joining Ultimate Frisbee. “One thing that has remained through quarantine is the Bread Club. My friends and I created a fun club where we socialize, play games, and most important, eat bread. I had a blast setting up shop in the TALI ground floor with a tent and toaster with enough bread to share.” EPS taught Miller that resilience means not giving up. “EPS taught me that one bad grade, one setback, is not the end. I learned that working hard to set yourself back on track is entirely worth it.” Miller’s goal for the future is to “bring the same energy I have with my friends into everyday life.”

Marisa Mulye loved the class trip to Camp Orkila during her first year at EPS. This year, it’s been hard to miss out on some similar school traditions. “However, it’s been really nice seeing traditions like Spirit Week and Winter Wars continue remotely.” Mulye’s been involved in a lot at EPS. She was co-captain of the Girls’ Ultimate Frisbee Team, a Peer Mentor, and a member of the Student Leadership Council. “It’s been cool to see how all the activities I’m involved in can function remotely.”

Mulye says she’s learned resilience at EPS by learning how to advocate for herself. “In Algebra 2, I needed to meet with Mr. Fassino often,” she says. “That taught me that it’s okay to ask for help.” She also learned how to adapt to pandemic learning. “I enjoy online classes now.” Mulye hopes to become a hospital pharmacist in an oncology pharmacy. And she also wants to visit all fifty states before she’s twenty-five. Only twenty-four to go!

“Well, I don’t really have a good frame of reference to how senior year would have played out were we not in a politically-infused pandemic,” says Emily Nikolai, “but I will say comedy dies in the digital space. I’ve made several incredible jokes on various Teams calls, and the most I’ve garnered are some polite sympathy laughs. Tragic.”

But there are some positives. “The best part of all this is now I can wake up at exactly 8:25 AM, pick up my computer, and be at school in no time. What a commute!” Still, she doesn’t always feel like it and therein lies her resilience. “I have resiliently continued attending school despite the crushing senioritis I have recently become victim to.”

Rather than the more traditional club route, Nikolai found a different way to be involved in the EPS community. “As the resident jester of this class, I have my hands far too full with making a fool out of myself and dancing at inopportune times to truly commit to an elective, or any extracurricular for that matter. Such is the curse of comedy.”

When she first joined in fifth grade, Natalie Rinker’s favorite thing was the food, having previously had to pack all her own lunches. Rinker has been a Peer Mentor since tenth grade and part of choir since ninth grade. “It was hard waking up so early for choir, but we created such a tight-knit community, it has stayed just as strong online.” She’s tried to carry that over to her sixth-grade mentees who she has so far only met virtually. “They always come in with such enthusiasm no matter what we have planned.”

Rinker has appreciated the way her grade has come together to learn online and create moments of joy. “EPS has taught me that resilience is rooted in community and support.” Rinker isn’t sure what career path she will take, but she knows one thing:
“I want to love it.”

“I felt really scared heading into fifth grade and trying to meet people,” says Colin Schaefer. But soon he had built close friendships that would last the next eight years. An online senior year was “a definite negative,” but he did finally win the Fantasy Football League!

Before COVID, Schaefer was involved in many sports, including Ultimate, basketball, and track, and most of the stories he remembers from his time at EPS are centered around basketball. “We spent so much time together—there’s too many moments to share.” A highlight was strolling through Disneyland during the last EBC Week. Schaefer’s current life goal is to be able to dunk a basketball. “I’ve been so close for so long!”

Ellie Sternitzky remembers being the only fifth grader in an all-school production of Twelfth Night. “It was really scary at first, but I learned how inclusive and warm the EPS theatre community is. Through this experience, I was able to ignite apassion that persists in my life today.” She is still involved in theatre, and has watched the department transition through several directors, multiple stages (literally), and “many interesting poster designs.” Now online, EPS theatre gives her a “constant sense of inclusion and support” she doesn’t find anywhere else.

As SLC Outreach Co-Chair, Sternitzky worked to recreate Spirit Week and other fun connections in the online world. “The best part has been watching everyone around me grow up. There is a level of maturity and wisdom in my classmates I haven’t noticed before. It really excited me that these are the people I will be graduating with.” As far as her own noteworthy accomplishments, Sternitzky is pretty sure she has tripped on or fallen down every single staircase at EPS. One good thing about that? “When you trip at EPS, there is always someone there; it’s always someone you don’t know really well, but they always ask if you are okay.”

Evan Suty knows he is missing out being a senior this year. Not getting to play basketball or go on a senior year EBC Week trip are his two biggest regrets. But he’s had many years of fun before this. “It would be hard to pick just one funny story from my time at EPS, simply because there are so many,” he says. Mostly, he just loves the loads of memories from EBC Week, basketball seasons, and everyday shenanigans with his friends. Evan hopes to find a job that he loves, probably related to sports, and definitely plans on staying in touch with his EPS friends.

Since joining EPS, Lauren Suty has seen schedules changed, classrooms created, and buildings demolished. It certainly has taught her how to adapt, a useful skill for her virtual senior year.

Lauren is a STEM-focused student who loves her science classes. She’s also been in Chamber Choir for four years. In the  future, she hopes to stay involved in biology, maybe in research or medicine.

One of Eliana Swai’s first EPS memories is a jingle she and a friend wrote called “Out of Elementary School!” They sang it while dancing around the fifth-grade building. “We felt so cool that we could call ourselves middle schoolers!” Eastside Prep gave her a new sense of herself. “I finally had a say in my  educational path. It was the first step to becoming the independent agent that I am today.”

“Having a senior year that has taken place in my bedroom has definitely not been all sunshine and rainbows, but it has reminded me of the core values I have developed during my time at EPS.” Watching EPS forge a new online path showed Swai how she, too, needs to practice “being audacious,” the lesson  embedded in EPS’ mission statement. “If we as students dare to create a better world, we have to realize it will not be something we have ever seen before.”

One of her biggest personal challenges over the years was learning that success isn’t about talent but resilience. Sometimes, resilience is a little bit funny, like the time in seventh grade when she was playing Cinderella’s evil stepmother. Dressed in a gown and train and four-inch stilettos, strutting on stage and  cackling, Swai tripped and rolled all the way down the stairs into the audience. And sometimes being resilient means being practical. “Needless to say, I wore flats for the rest of the show.”

Resilience isn’t learned in just one twelve-month period. But if our EPS Lifers are any indication, it can grow and flourish!