Meet Commonwealth Students: Romen ’23 

Though Romen ’23 insists he’s “not as into politics” as he used to be, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more passionate, thoughtful, or informed speaker on issues of public policy or international relations. In fact, he’s eager to sit down with politicians—ideally one-on-one in a pizza joint—to see how they defend their principles when the cameras are off. This junior from Needham, Massachusetts, has a penchant for debate (he loves to argue), for Model UN (he loves foreign policy), for the Patriots and, incidentally, patriotism (he loves the team and his country). Keep reading to learn more about him.

Getting to Know You

What is bringing you joy right now? 

I'd say the Patriots winning last night was a big thing. I'm a huge sports fan, and as a New Englander, the Patriots are a part of life.

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

Bomb, by Steve Sheinkin. It's a nonfiction book about the the development of the atomic bomb and the international espionage that followed. The combination of science and geopolitics made it a fascinating read. It almost seemed like an action movie, but in nonfiction. It really grabbed me when I was thirteen years old and just getting into world history.

What do you think is the most intriguing paradox? 

I don’t think it’s a paradox, but perhaps the butterfly effect. The idea of the interconnection of world events is just fascinating. What causes things to alter? I find cause-and-effect quite interesting.

What are your favorite comfort foods? 

I always love going down the street for a nice $3.50 slice from Dirty Water [Dough Company]. They've got some great stuff on Newbury Street and great prices, believe it or not. That's part of what I love about being at Commonwealth: you can just go find comfort food wherever. 

Life as a Commonwealth Student (and Beyond)

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

When we visited we saw excited teachers, passionate kids. And I came in and saw these Commonwealth icons, Nick Gabrielli ’20 and Alan Plotz ’21, who were so influential with their intellectual legacy. I inherited two clubs from them [Debate and Model UN, both of which Romen captains]. That's what I really loved about Commonwealth. You have a decent-sized sports crowd, you have a humanities crowd, you have a STEM crowd. And my family loved the small size, how teachers really focused on the students and really cared about their students. I think my expectations have been exceeded. I love the teachers here. I love the students. I’m in a grade with absolutely tremendous individuals; they’re such great people. 

I love the campus, too—you know, Boston is the campus in a sense. That’s what they told us when we visited, and that’s really been delivered. You can just hop on the T at Copley or at Back Bay and go anywhere. I can walk across a bridge over the Charles River and be at MIT or Kendall Square, or walk a few blocks and be in Beacon Hill. I think it's just so rewarding to have that freedom.

You mentioned Model UN and Debate: what attracts you to these extracurriculars? 

I think Model UN teaches kids that you need to fight tooth and claw for the country you're representing. It gives you a passion. Model UN certainly gave me that passion when I started doing it in the sixth grade. And as someone who wants to serve in foreign policy, I think we all have a duty to defend our country’s principles. We haven't always had the best intentions and the best results, but we've always fought against enemies, who would, I think, do harm to the rest of the world. I think we really need to change the conversation to have a lighter and gentler understanding of patriotism and go back to viewing it as a positive.

For Debate, I just grew up loving it. I like to argue and watch others argue, to put it simply. And, you know, it's fun. It's fun to go to tournaments. It’s fun to see your teammates grow. So many people come into Debate feeling really nervous, and they go to their first tournament and then they speak really well and hold their ground in front of a judge and opponents. And that, to me, is just so inspirational.

If you could debate anyone, living or dead, who and why?

This is an interesting one. I don’t have a list. Just put me in a pizzeria with any politician, mano a mano. You look on TV news these days for the presidential debates and they're so artificial. I want to see how they would debate if they're not in front of the cameras, if they could actually stand for ideas rather than lines. I think a lot of the problems with this country are because we don't have honest politicians. And we don't have politicians who really care about the country—they care about themselves. I want to see what principles they actually have, if they're not in front of a crowd trying to gain applause. I don't think I could win every debate. But it's more interesting, for me, not how I perform the debate but how they perform. 

What would you change about our political landscape?

You know, I have what I believe is what's wrong with the country, but I don't think I can fix it. I'm not going to be egotistical like that. I also don't find myself as interested in politics as I used to be. Still, I think we need a more informed electorate. We vote for politicians based on parties, and we continue electing party bosses who've been in power for ten terms in safe blue or safe red districts, who keep making promises they can't keep. That's really just a problem with the political system. You're not going to solve dishonest politicians with democracy. We can't convert to authoritarianism or dictatorship, either; that would make us no better than our adversaries. The solution, I think, is in an educated electorate—but also an electorate that isn't shamed or bullied into voting certain ways, as we can see with the increased polarization of the country. I find it extremely concerning. It's not even that our politicians are getting more extreme; it's that they seem to be pandering more, more focused on votes rather than solutions. 

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

I came into the school thinking I wanted to be a lawyer, a defense attorney. I wanted to advocate for people, even if they were guilty, to give them a chance in the legal system. But Commonwealth has made me much more open to a lot of the issues in the world and in our country. It's certainly opened my eyes more to the principles of justice and of liberty. You can't have one without the other. This new world view has also given me higher levels of understanding of foreign policy and international relations. And if I become a lawyer, then I think I'd rather become a prosecutor. I’m not sure exactly where I’ll stand in the future, though; figuring it out is going to be very time consuming mentally and philosophically.

What do you wish you had known as a first-year student?

Be yourself. Going into freshman year, a lot of people, including myself, try to be someone they're not. Yes, people change. But I think that the best thing you can do is know who you are and be yourself. Find friends and be honest with them. Commonwealth values genuine people who have character. I think that's what I really saw in coming to Commonwealth, especially in the teaching community. I saw character and teachers who didn't seem fake or phony. I really appreciate people being themselves. I think everybody here appreciates that.

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