Avery Selk '23, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a creative force. Perhaps you caught her performing myriad roles in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (Commonwealth's fall play) or delivering an original monologue during our annual Acting Assembly. Or maybe you're one of the students in Creative Writing class with her, privy to early drafts of short stories and comic books and even librettos. In any event, this sophomore has big plans for senior year, and she's not throwing away her shot.
Getting to Know You
What is bringing you joy right now?
Being able to connect with people. I use technology to stay in touch. My friend group wanted to replicate the experience of sitting together at lunch so we used to video chat during lunch back in the spring when we were fully virtual. This year we moved to Discord, and it's a nice way to hang out or study.
I've also been watching a few TV shows in the afternoon with my family after both me and my brother finish our homework, which has been nice. Having things outside of school that bring me joy makes it easier to focus on school work.
What are you doing to recharge?
Sticking to commitments and a schedule. I have blocks where I do work and blocks where I'm talking to people and unwinding. Having a balance has been really helpful to reduce burnout.
What is your favorite book (or a book you've re-read)?
Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert. It has some mystery and some identity work. It's one of those books where you can spend a long time thinking about it. It's just a really nice depiction of the complexities of a person in his senior year who's learning stuff about himself, right as he's transitioning from being a student to going out into the world.
What do you think is the most intriguing paradox?
I'm not sure if this is intriguing or just what gets on my nerves the most, but any paradox that involves time travel. I'm someone who really likes the fantasy genre but is also really focused on good world building—and I'm sort of a perfectionist. I'm always excited when I see time travel done well, because it's hard to do.
What are your favorite comfort foods?
Any chance I get, I have to praise the kitchen staff at school and anything they make that's gluten free, like bread or pasta. They make it so I don't have to worry about making my own food for school. It's just so nice.
When it comes to what my family eats at home, it's probably chicken and rice, or veggie burgers. Things that are warm and tasty and have lots of different elements. Thanksgiving food is just perfect!
What was/is your favorite class (at Commonwealth or elsewhere)?
My favorite class at Commonwealth was the beautiful City of Boston class last year. So fun. I really liked talking to Ms. Haber and the other people in my class. We were the last block of the day, so we'd stay and just continue talking after class.
This year Creative Writing has helped me get out of my writer's block, which was something that was annoying me for two years.
One class I really wish I could take again is Health and Community. Mr. Benedict redid the class after talking to the GSA [Gender and Sexuality Alliance student group]. He met with me and other GSA heads and came to one of our GSA meetings with other students. It was really great. The whole time, he just listened to what we were saying and was really open about everything. And I really appreciated that.
Pen or pencil?
It depends. I'm generally someone who likes the freedom of getting to erase. But there's something about a really good pen, especially for drawing. It's nicer looking back at your work if it's written neatly in pen rather than pencil, because with pencil it'll eventually smudge.
Life as a Commonwealth Student (and Beyond)
How has Commonwealth compared to your expectations?
When I was looking at high schools, I heard three main things about Commonwealth: the community is small, students want to learn, and people don't like sports! I've learned the first two are very true, but some people here do like sports! But in general, the vibe is similar to what I was expecting.
The further I got into the admissions process, with the interview and visit days, the more I was able to see what school was like, what the people were like, and I think that was very helpful. The final few steps of getting to meet people in your classes and having orientation were really, really exciting. A good chunk of the people I hang out with now were in my orientation group or from Revisit Day [for admitted students].
What has your extracurricular experience been like?
I've been very involved with GSA. It helped me meet people in other grades last year, and it's been very important to me this year.
I want to do Game Design club more; I didn't have time this fall because of the play. I think Game Design made me more comfortable running a club, since it was started by someone in my grade. I was very much like, "Oh, wow, people just start clubs because they want to and it's fun!"
The extracurricular I'm missing most right now is fencing. It has its own community within it. And it was also just like a nice way to be active, because I'm not usually a "sports person" but something about fencing really clicked.
I also take piano lessons outside of school. Piano isn't the easiest for me, but it's fun and I think it lends well to my other interests. And it's a nice thing I can collaborate on with my brother, who is very into music. We did a song together for virtual Hancock last spring.
You're heavily involved in Commonwealth's theater program; can you elaborate on that?
While I'm deeply missing getting to be onstage, the online format has given the theater program new opportunities to explore. For example in our fall production of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, we were able to work with several faculty members, an alumnus, and two guest artists. Working with guest artist/assistant director Shanelle Villegas on my monologues was one of the highlights of the first semester. Rehearsing through Zoom was a barrier in many ways, but we were able to hold on to our sense of community, which is one of the core aspects of what makes theater so special.
Theater and the arts in general are definitely really important to me. I remember when I showed my mom my courses for this year, she was very much like, "You're taking how many arts? How many writing classes?" I definitely appreciate getting to take two art classes this year. I started Drawing and Painting, and I like the group of people I'm with.
Acting was probably my favorite class in the second half of last year [after the school went fully virtual due to the pandemic]. I really appreciated the fact that we were able to be very creative about what we were working on and what we were writing, and then getting to share it with each other. I think it was one of the lighter moments of last year.
How has Commonwealth colored the way you learn and look at the world?
Commonwealth taught me how to interact with different people, and I think I've learned a lot of skills regarding meeting new people.
One of my biggest challenges coming to Commonwealth was writing in an essay format. I'd have lots of ideas I wanted to put in a paper, but I didn't know how. Looking at what I wrote in middle school versus what I'm writing now, it's definitely a big improvement. And even though writing is still difficult, it's one of the things I know I can do, and I don't think younger me had that same mindset.
Generally, I've learned how to be okay with being uncomfortable. I can reach out to people via email, which is always kind of a stressful thing. Or I can take a harder class or do something I'm not as familiar with. I'll be like, "Okay, this is a new thing, but this is gonna be okay." And I feel like that's helpful and a skill that will be especially needed later on in life.
It's having that safe space, where I can make myself uncomfortable, but I also have my advisor and I have friends who support me.
You've mentioned writing a few times; can you elaborate on your writing experience?
I had writer's block for about two years, but because of the small prompts in Creative Writing, I've gotten back into the habit. I've actually started writing more short stories, and I have a fanfiction that I've been trying to update monthly, so I'm getting back into the swing of things. I like plugging into different creative outlets at once. At the moment, I'm focused on comics, songwriting, and theater writing.
My dream goal for senior year is put on a musical with people from inside and outside of school. I've been working on that for a while. It's hard to put on a musical; it really needs to be all or nothing. But then you find people who are interested in it—I'll shyly bring it up and they'll go, "Oh, my gosh, I want to work on this too." And it's like, "Ah! This is a thing that could actually happen!"
What's your advice for prospective students considering Commonwealth?
Before you even start looking at schools, think about the things you're interested in and the support you need.
When I started the application process, I was very used to my old school and a little anxious about leaving. But I think it helps to try to find a school that can support you with programs you can look forward to. Have a mindset of "this is a place that will help me learn and grow."
Also, just try to enjoy it. Yes, picking a school is a big thing, and I think it's okay to be a little anxious. But at the same time, focus on the things you're looking forward to, focus on what you need, and focus on finding a place with classes or extracurriculars that will make you grow as much as you possibly can. Isn't that the point?
What's your advice for incoming students hoping to make the most of their first year at Commonwealth?
At first I had some trouble accepting the idea that people here want to talk to you and are excited to get to know you. Now I'm in the same position as people who I used to be a little intimidated by, and I'm like, "I'm not intimidating!" When someone seems interesting to you in your classes, just talk to them.
Find a place where you can be comfortable enough to take risks, and just trust that there'll be someone, like your advisor, who will support you. And that, I think, is generally my advice.