Inspired by the questions that intrigue her (and with a nudge from Stephen King), aspiring writer and English teacher Ava ’23 appreciates the “close reading” in her Commonwealth Chemistry class as much as in English. She came to Commonwealth from her home in Brookline, Massachusetts, in search of students who loved learning as much as she did. Now, she’s surrounded by those who, like her, relish learning for the question and not the answer.
Getting to Know You
What is bringing you joy right now?
Every weekend, my family and I have been watching British comedy TV shows, like Black Adder and The Office. They are really funny and make me laugh a lot. Both of my parents grew up in the U.K., and these are shows they watched when they were younger, too, so it is nice that my siblings and I can share that with them.
What is your favorite book (or a book you’ve re-read)?
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I picked it up the first time when I was fourteen, and I had a hard time understanding it, but I was captivated by the prose and the internal worlds of the characters. I have read it three times now, and each time I have understood it in a new way.
What is your favorite literary device?
Symbols, because they are these tangible mysteries in a text, and it is so satisfying when I can understand a hidden meaning behind them. One of my favorites is in the final line of “Sonny’s Blues,” a short story by James Baldwin. It is just this cup of scotch and milk that the character drinks, but it connects to so many things, like the Bible, and frames the entire story perfectly.
Who do you consider an underappreciated author?
I haven’t read any other books by this author, but one book I think is underappreciated is Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières. It is a historical fiction/magical realism book about the Italian and German occupation of Greece during World War II.
What do you think is the most intriguing paradox?
Time-travel paradoxes, like the grandfather paradox and the bootstrap paradox, are really interesting. I watched Interstellar a few years ago, which has the bootstrap paradox in it, I think. Basically, one of the characters goes back in time and tries to influence future events, creating a time loop of cause and effect that has no point of origin.
What are your favorite comfort foods?
I love Thai curry and any kind of cereal, but especially granola.
What was/is your favorite class (at Commonwealth or elsewhere)?
That is a hard question because there are so many! I loved English last year, as well as this year. Something I find amazing about English classes at Commonwealth is that they teach you to read texts very deeply. At the beginning of this year, we were asked to focus on close reading, seeing how language informed our impressions of the text, which was something I struggled with. However, that challenge has proved rewarding, as we are now reading Dubliners and I feel like I can appreciate the intricacy of Joyce’s prose in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to before. The skills that I have learned through Commonwealth English have changed the way I read books outside of school, too.
Other classes I am really enjoying are Bible-as-History/Bible-as-Bible, where we are studying the Bible from both a historical and literary perspective, as well as French, where we are reading Baudelaire.
Life as a Commonwealth Student (and Beyond)
What was your first impression of Commonwealth and how has it mapped to your experience?
This is actually kind of a funny story. When I first toured Commonwealth, in sixth grade, I thought it was too nerdy so I didn’t apply! But as I grew older, I realized that I Iove learning and school, so I applied at the beginning of the pandemic. I was looking for somewhere I could be challenged and my interests in subjects like English and history could be deepened, which I definitely found at Commonwealth. Everyone here, both teachers and students, is passionate and curious, and it is very inspiring to be in that kind of environment.
How do you spend your time outside of Commonwealth?
I love to read and write. Besides that, I go on a lot of walks, spend time with friends and family, and cook. Also, I have recently started knitting.
Previously in school, I always thought there was one straightforward answer to an essay, a science lab, or a math problem. At Commonwealth, I’ve learned to become more comfortable with the process of thinking whether or not I will arrive at a definite answer.
How has Commonwealth colored the way you look at the world? How you plan for your future?
Commonwealth has made me think more deeply about what I’ve been learning and therefore about the world in general. Previously in school, I always thought there was one straightforward answer to an essay, a science lab, or a math problem. At Commonwealth, I’ve learned to become more comfortable with the process of thinking whether or not I will arrive at a definite answer. As I’ve tackled more complex ideas in my classes, especially those in humanities, I’ve realized that it is not about finding an answer but reaching a greater understanding. This approach is also something I have seen in my non-humanities classes as well. In Chemistry, for example, we were taught the origin of different ideas, tracing through their progression like we were the scientists rather than just learning them as rote facts. At first it was frustrating, but this thinking process is something I have come to love, which is why I want to keep studying for as long as I can. Ideally, I would like to study or teach English and write.
What inspires your writing? And what is your process like?
I would say my writing is usually inspired by questions I have, which are usually sparked by things I have read or experienced. Stephen King said, essentially, that every story starts with a question, and that has been true for me. Writing helps me explore things I am interested in so I can understand them better. I usually start with a lot of brainstorming, thinking around the initial idea, and then I sit down and write it, and revise until I get to the final draft.
What’s your advice for prospective students considering Commonwealth?
Try getting to know the school as best as you can, taking advantage of talking to students and teachers on your visit day. That way you will know if it is the right place for you—and if you have something you are really passionate about and enjoy learning, then it probably is! I’ve been to a few schools before this one, but Commonwealth is very special.