Meet Commonwealth Students: Max ’27, One Percent Better Every Day

How long would it take you to turn 1,000 Rubik’s Cubes into a carefully designed mosaic? Give Max ’27 a few hours, and he’ll get it done. After building several of these structures, Max has mastered this feat of dexterity through relentless practice, something he has also applied to his celebrated fencing skills. “I stuck with it and kept working and improving,” Max explains of his beginnings in fencing. “Each time I practice, I try to get one percent better, and then go from there. And that's worked pretty well for me.”

Keep reading to get to know this first-year student from Westwood and discover the tenacity he brings to the fencing strip, the classroom, and any Rubik’s Cube mosaic-building sessions that may occur. 

Getting to Know You

What is bringing you joy right now?

I've always enjoyed sports, so right now it's fencing and playing basketball. But other than that, solving Rubik's Cubes is a big hobby of mine. And then also spending time with friends and family.

What are your favorite comfort foods?

Egg fried rice. I don't think you can ever go wrong with it. My dad always cooks it for me.

What is your favorite book (or a book you’ve re-read)? 

I read The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah last year, which was about World War II in France. I've always been interested in World War II, and it really opened my mind to a different perspective that I never really knew about. So that was really cool.

What is the most intriguing paradox?

I don’t know that many paradoxes, but the main one I think of is the lottery paradox. Every time I go by a gas station and see the prize, I always think about it.

When do you feel most enjoyably challenged?

Fencing with someone better than me. The enjoyable part comes from just fencing on the strip, but then the challenging part is mostly mental, because a lot of the time is spent finding the strategy and tactics to beat that fencer. Focusing on how you would score the next touches is more difficult than performing the actions. So yeah, I always enjoy the process, but it's also challenging to me, as well. 

What never fails to make you laugh?

My little sister, but also just when I'm hanging out with my friends.

What are people most surprised to learn about you?

Even though I'm really tall, I'm scared of heights. My friends always joke about it.

Coffee or tea?

Neither, to be honest. I just go with water, usually. 

Pen or pencil?

I like both, but I tend to go with pencil just because I can erase stuff.

Fall, winter, spring or summer?

Winter, just because it gets darker earlier. I like a darker setting to work; I usually dim the lights so it blocks everything out and I'm in my own personal space.

Life as a Commonwealth Student (and Beyond)

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

I think the first thing that everyone notices is how small the school is; when I was visiting, I asked myself, How could a high school function in such a small space? But being small really helps Commonwealth solidify its identity. Everyone embraces this small community and likes being a part of it.

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

For me, success in class is more about understanding a concept or topic rather than being able to solve a certain problem. If I can explain [a concept] in my own way and understand it fully so that I can apply it, that's when I really think I've understood something and succeeded in that class.

How do you spend your time outside of Commonwealth?

My schedule is very tough, because fencing includes traveling a lot for tournaments. But I solve Rubik's Cubes for fun. I don’t have as much time now, but I also used to play basketball a lot in my driveway. And I try to spend time with my old friends, from before Commonwealth, as much as possible.

You made Commonwealth’s first Mermaid Rubik’s Cube mosaic mural! What was that process like, and what inspired you?

I usually like to make one or two mosaics each year, and then I take them down and remake them. So when the time came, I was like, What should I do? I’ve really liked my time at Commonwealth these first few months, so why not make a Mermaid? It took about three and a half hours; I’ve made so many murals that now it just takes one night.

What got you into fencing, and when did it become a serious interest of yours?

I've been fencing for three years now. I started during COVID, in September 2020, when all my other sports were canceled. I didn’t really want to go at first, but I really liked it. I started taking it seriously when I went to Virginia for my first Nationals and ended up getting twelfth there, so I stuck with it and kept working and improving. Each time I practice, I try to get one percent better, and then go from there. And that's worked pretty well for me.

What's it like competing, both overseas and here with Commonwealth’s men’s fencing team (which placed third in the recent state championship!)?

When I'm traveling a long way, I put a lot of pressure on myself, but it's something that I've been working on—to not think about the result and just go there and do my best. 

In the competitions, there are three disciplines. Sabre is the most referee-dependent of the three, just because it's so subjective. It depends on the refs and how they look at each action. I'm a ref myself, but being a ref is really difficult because you always get yelled at—I yell at refs sometimes! But since I'm a ref, I understand their point of view, like, this is how I've seen it, this is how I'm gonna call it. It's the fencers’ job to adjust based on the ref a lot of the time.

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

Since the start of school, in the mornings a lot of freshmen are in the cubby area, sitting on the floor doing homework or just talking. That shows how small but also close our community is, and it’s something I've really never seen anywhere else. It’s a new experience for me.

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

It’s taught me that there's something good in everyone, and everyone is really approachable. Something Ms. Haber mentioned in City of Boston that I haven't forgotten was that she tries to find something good in everyone. That is a really good mindset to have, and that's something I want to work on in the future. And I think talking to new people really opens up your mind and gives you new perspectives on different things.

What’s your advice for prospective students considering Commonwealth? 

It's so cliché, but just to be yourself. I spent my entire interview talking about Rubik's Cubes! It’s also important to understand that Commonwealth is very rigorous academically, but there's so much support here that can help you, whether that's upperclassman peers or teachers. So I think even though there's a lot of work, all the work is really meant to teach not only the academics, but also life skills, such as time management and meeting deadlines. That's a big thing that I've been working on.

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