What makes a Commonwealth student tick? From the classes that capture their attention to their favorite books, foods, and even paradoxes, their interests are hampered only by their imaginations—and, perhaps, the hours in a day.
Alex Li '22, of Belmont, Massachusetts, is a fixture in Commonwealth's daily recess announcements, encouraging his fellow students to join him for phone banking or lobbying Governor Charlie Baker for police reform or sharing opportunities to advocate for social justice, especially for students too young to vote. Keep reading to get to know him better...
Getting to Know You
What is bringing you joy right now?
We got a dog over the summer, a Rottweiler named Denali. He's really cute, and he's a lot bigger now. But I like walking and playing with him every day. It's a nice break off screen.
What are you doing to recharge?
I read in my spare time, especially The New Yorker. Or I'll talk with friends; that's always a nice way to recharge.
What is your favorite book (or a book you've re-read)?
That's a hard question. There are a lot of books out there, and I love reading. I've been trying to pick up older books lately. I read The Joy Luck Club over the summer and really liked it and the way Amy Tan was able to blend narrative and history.
What is your favorite comfort food?
Congee. Because I live in a Chinese American household, I have this every day. It's just rice and water, and sometimes, we'll add some kimchi. Simple to make and always nice to have.
What was/is your favorite class (at Commonwealth or elsewhere)?
There are a lot of really interesting classes at Commonwealth, so it's hard to choose. I really enjoy our history classes: Ancient and Medieval and U.S. I find it really interesting how our teachers can talk about all the different groups of people within all these time periods and how they interacted. And they're really good at getting conversations up and running. I just came from a U.S. History class, and we were talking about Ralph Waldo Emerson's transcendentalism and his belief that you can find a part of God within yourself.
Pen or pencil?
Pencil. It's nice to be able to change things.
Life as a Commonwealth Student (and Beyond)
How has Commonwealth compared to your expectations?
When I first came to Commonwealth, I was excited for all the classes, even though geometry was kind of intimidating! I was also really into the close-knit community, and that definitely still holds true. I remember walking around the building my first few days at school and seeing lots of people—this was pre-COVID—sitting together in the hallways. The coffee station was always packed in the morning, and it's nice to be able to talk with so many people at once. Another great thing about having such a small community is you feel a lot less pressure when stepping out of your comfort zone.
The classes and teachers have also just been amazing. My teachers are always really helpful talking through concepts, and they're willing to do a lot of work with you outside of class. Over the summer, I wrote a personal essay about my grandparents and their lives in China. I was honestly really surprised and grateful when a lot of teachers said they'd look at it and offer suggestions, even though it was summertime.
But we also learn how to do more on our own, how to self-improve and gain independence, and I think that's really important too.
You're heavily involved in Commonwealth's chapter of the ACLU; what drew you to this work?
The George Floyd protests rang a bell for me. I was like, Oh, I should do something. And even if police brutality doesn't affect me, specifically, I still think it's something you have to fight against. Honestly, it was the work of alumni/ae and students petitioning for racial justice that inspired me to think about ways in which I could get involved. The ACLU came to mind because they're an established organization, and they've already worked on a bunch of cases. So that's why I got involved, but I'm still learning.
I was really interested in our assembly with the Boston Police Commissioner (William Gross), and I'm learning more about the bill state representatives recently passed about qualified immunity. I've been getting my friends to hand out pamphlets and call on Charlie Baker to sign the bill into law, because I think it's really important to make sure Black Lives Matter. Personally, I don't think I've been doing enough, and I'm trying to learn ways in which I can be a better ally to the Black community.
How has Commonwealth changed the way you learn and look at the world?
I came to Commonwealth thinking, "Oh, you can be a science person or you can be a history person or a this or that person." But what's nice about Commonwealth is that you learn a lot of interdisciplinary skills and see how all your classes are interrelated. I realized that what I was learning in biology and chemistry and even English were all interconnected in ways I hadn't thought about before.
You see it in our alumni/ae and teachers too, how they pursue a broad variety of things. Now I'm less stuck in a mindset of, say, in order to be a scientist, you have to have a certain background and white lab coat and do specific things. I know it's a cliché, but Commonwealth has broadened my horizons a lot.
What's your advice for prospective students considering Commonwealth?
I would honestly highly encourage coming here. If you're looking for a rather academically rigorous or invigorating space, this is definitely the place to be.
Like, right now we're reading Dubliners (by James Joyce) in English class, and the energy the teachers and the students bring is something I didn't see in other schools. You can just feel it, when you have a bunch of people really interested in the same thing, and everyone's raising their hands and chiming in. I don't even know how to describe it. It's almost unreal.