Meet Commonwealth Students: Eliza ’24, Beyond the Big Picture

The world shifts when you see it through a camera lens, Eliza ’24 says. “You can make the smallest things seem really big and important.” She’s accustomed to capturing life’s delicate details, whether it’s with the camera that rarely leaves her side or her recording equipment, as she chronicles her grandmother’s life story for her capstone project. Other things that make this Texas transplant tick? (She transferred to Commonwealth her sophomore year.) Baking, biology, calculus, Gilmore Girls, and more. Keep reading to learn more about the evolution of her photography and baking practices (including the weirdest photo she ever took), her tips for transfer students, and the surprising time she feels most connected to the Commonwealth community. 

Getting to Know You

What is bringing you joy right now? 

Definitely my dog. Her name is Laika, which means “barker” in Russian. It also is the name of the first dog in space. She reminds me that nothing is as serious as I think it is.

What is your favorite book, TV show, or movie (or one you’ve revisited)? 

Well, my favorite TV show is definitely Gilmore Girls. I'm obsessed with it. I feel like I've learned so much from the characters. And then for books, gosh, that’s so hard. I've been reading so much recently—it's so fun, you know? I joined Ms. Haber’s book club, and I love all the books we read for that. We just read The Things They Carried, which was really beautiful. It's a series of short stories about a soldier in the Vietnam War. 

What are your favorite comfort foods? 

Definitely pizza. 

What never fails to make you laugh?

I laugh really easily at everything, but probably my friends. You know, there's nothing like spending time with them.

What was/is your favorite class (at Commonwealth or elsewhere)? 

Right now, probably Neuroscience with Ms. Sundberg. I love her classes. I took Bio 2 with her last year. Also, I really like all the math classes I’ve taken at Commonwealth, like the Multivariable Calculus class I’m taking right now. I think it’s because there's always a definite answer I'm supposed to reach, you know?

What are people most surprised to learn about you?

Sometimes people are surprised that I have celiac disease. I've been gluten-free since I was four years olds. Our chefs [at Commonwealth] are just amazing. They do a really great job making sure gluten-free students have options. Chef Dethie is so wonderful; he always takes the time to make me something special at lunch. 

Pen or pencil?


Coffee or tea? 

Coffee, 100 percent. My gosh, I was raised on coffee. My parents are coffee addicts, too, and growing up, you think whatever your parents do is cool. So as soon as I was old enough, I started drinking coffee.

Fall, winter, spring, or summer?

Winter, for sure. I have a winter birthday, so I'm probably biased. I grew up in Texas, so I was craving snow; I feel like there's always a grass-is-always-greener effect with the seasons, in that you always want what you don’t have.

Life as a Commonwealth Student (and Beyond)

What was your first impression of Commonwealth, and how has it mapped to your experience? 

Well, at the time, I was kind of stressed out, because my family was moving to Boston very quickly. And I wanted an environment where I wouldn't have to try very hard to make friends, where that would happen more naturally—and that was 100 percent the case at Commonwealth. As soon as I came here, I felt very supported. And I had a really close community and group of friends who are all wonderful. 

Using metrics besides grades, how do you define “success” in your classes?

When I'm at the point where I can help my friends understand or teach them a little bit. Like, so many of my friends are taking Bio 2 this year, and I'm having a lot of fun helping them study.

How do you spend your time outside of Commonwealth?

For sure doing homework, but I guess that's an extension of Commonwealth! I also love baking. It started as a necessity, because I'm gluten-free, and that was the only way I could taste certain foods. But I've been really enjoying baking in the last year, being more creative. My favorite recipe is definitely chocolate-chip cookies; I add white chocolate chips in addition to bittersweet. I've actually been writing all these supplemental essays for college [applications] about baking, too. 

What inspires your photography? 

My dad has always taken photos, so I've grown up seeing that, but I dunno! My perspective shifts when I’m trying to take a photo—like, instead of looking at the big picture, I'm looking for specific patterns or colors. And I just think it's a really interesting way to see the world. You can make the smallest things seem really big and important. 

Related: Explore our photography and other visual arts curriculum.

How would you describe your creative aesthetic?

I guess you'd call it a shallow depth of field: having one specific thing in sharp focus close and then the rest of the image is blurry. But I dunno. I feel like that's up to the outsider's eye. 

How has your photography practice shifted over the years?

Well, when I was in Dallas, I had a wonderful photography teacher who really encouraged me. So then moving here, I felt like I had a solid base. Then [Commonwealth photography teacher] Mx. Korman, who's such a great teacher, has also really helped me. I used to feel like I had to do specific things—like, I should shoot this way or that way. But now I just feel like I can try whatever I want to try. I have my camera with me all the time.

What's the weirdest moment you felt compelled to capture with your camera?

Oh, this was over the pandemic. My family and I were staying in Western Massachusetts, and we were driving around, and we found this ice fisherman. I was weird because I thought that was only a thing in, like, the Arctic Circle! I never knew it was a hobby in America. So I took a bunch of photos. It was just a fun situation.

You’re also one of three capstone scholars at Commonwealth this year; what inspired your project?

So my capstone is a family history project. A few years ago, my mom did these interviews with my grandfather about his life in the USSR and being Jewish at a time when there was a lot of antisemitism and violence. I was inspired by that, and I wanted to take that project and make it something bigger and more formal. So now I'm interviewing my grandmother, doing my own research, and trying to turn it into a real podcast. Someone told me they wished they had had an opportunity to do that with their own family, and that just made me so happy that I could carry on my family story. 

When do you feel most connected to other students (or teachers/staff members) in our community?

When we’re all commiserating! That sounds silly, but it's true. Like, there are certain times of the year when the whole community has more work on the whole, like exams, and I feel like the atmosphere really changes. I remember during one of these times when I was a new [10th grader], I walked into the building, and one of my friends hugged me because it was just one of those days. It was just so sweet. Everyone understands each other, and it makes my heart very happy. 

What's your advice for other transfer students?

Just take it day by day, for sure. Try not to focus on the big picture of things like, Will I have friends? Will I fit in? It's best to just try and make the most of your current situation, meet new people, take interesting classes. 

Another thing I would say is be an advocate for yourself as a new student. It can be difficult to figure out how to navigate your new school system, but if you feel like something isn't right, say something. 

How has your Commonwealth experience colored the way you look at the world? How you plan for your future? 

So as a senior, I'm focused on the college process, but I feel a little bit less stressed about figuring out where I'm going to go because I know I can make the most of anything. Like, I know I will work hard wherever I go, and that'll be okay. 

Anything you’d like to add?

I would just like to say that the teachers at Commonwealth are so special! All the teachers are so interested and excited to teach their subject, and it makes me interested and excited in their classes. Like, everyone loves Ms. Haber; she's just such a good teacher! Her class [U.S. History] is just so incredible. She has such interesting ideas, ways to look at things, thought-provoking assignments. When she talks, it's so enrapturing, you just want to hear her talk all day. And she'll let you take any prompt in any direction you want, and that freedom really allows me to think about things that I never would have thought about or to a degree I wouldn't have thought about them.

Also, the advisor system! At first, I thought it might be strange to sit one-on-one with a teacher and just talk for forty-five minutes once a week, but it's such a great way to get to know a teacher, and the support is just incredible. I love my advisor, [math teacher] Mr. Paul. He always has great advice for me. And he is also willing to tell me if I'm freaking out about something that I don't need to be!

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