Meet Commonwealth Students: Sasha ’21

Sasha ’21, of Newton, Massachusetts, wants to explore the secrets of the universe—whether it’s through her favorite relativity class, black hole paradoxes, or original research at MIT. At Commonwealth, where she is challenged to think critically about every topic, she has found a place to do just that.

Read on to learn more about her beloved books, the vegetable she’s happy to defend, and how her expectations of a Commonwealth education have been wildly exceeded…

Getting to Know You

What is bringing you joy right now? 

Reading. Some of my favorites from the past few months have been Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, and the correspondence between Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli.

What are you doing to recharge?

Trying to see my lovely friends as much as possible—socially distantly, of course. 

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

Tolstoy’s War and Peace is without a doubt my favorite book, and I highly recommend it to anyone willing to put in the 1,300 pages of effort. 

What do you think is the most intriguing paradox? 

I’m not sure this is the most intriguing, but recently I’ve been thinking about the black hole information paradox. In our universe, we know information cannot disappear. We also know that when an object falls through the event horizon of a black hole, no information about it can be obtained by anyone outside the black hole. However, we know black holes radiate heat, so eventually every black hole will burn up and disappear. So when it disappears, where did the information go? What happened to it? We don’t yet know. 

What are your favorite comfort foods? 

I really love kale. I like it with lemon, olive oil, and salt, but really any way is excellent. Try it before you knock it. 

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

My favorite class was a course on Special and General Relativity that I took my junior year. I don’t think anything can compete with learning even a tiny sliver of the secrets of our universe. 

Pen or pencil? 

Pen! Be confident. 

Life as a Commonwealth Student

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

The first time I entered Commonwealth, I was being dragged there for an open house by my parents. I was sure I would hate it. But, knowing I liked math, I decided to visit Mr. Letarte’s sample class on the Three Great Problems of Antiquity. By the time the class was over, I was captivated. I learned more in those ten minutes than I had that entire year in my math classes. Moreover, Mr. Letarte seemed excited—actually excited—by what he was teaching us. I didn’t know what a school that could teach me that much, that happily, in ten minutes, would do with me for four years. I don’t think I realized how much there was to learn. But I knew I wanted to find out. 

Commonwealth has not disappointed. I have been challenged and engaged in every class, from my beloved physics to a few previously less-adored subjects. I have learned more than I thought possible, and I have done it all with teachers who are excited about and extremely educated on their subjects. My eighth grade expectations have been wildly exceeded.   

What has the hybrid/all-remote learning experience been like?

I think the shift to hybrid/remote learning has been hard for every student and every school, but Commonwealth has done well with it. We have kept our original schedule, which allows students who are online to fully participate in classes and not miss out on content. Personally, I love and receive a lot of energy from being in the building, so I have definitely enjoyed my remote weeks less, but I have been comforted by the knowledge that I am not missing necessary content, and I will not need to relearn anything or catch up in the future. 

What extracurricular activities are you interested in? 

My favorite extracurricular is original research I completed this past summer and fall. I worked with an MIT physicist to program simple, Lattice Quantum Chromodynamics precursor models on a 34,000 core computer. Instead of doing precise arithmetic like most computers, this one does approximate arithmetic, and therefore is able to run much faster and more efficiently than traditional computers. I published a paper to in October and hope to submit it to journals in the near future. 

In school, I am co-leader of COMMunity, Commonwealth’s student health and school spirit club. We organize social events to try to help every student feel welcomed and accepted into the community and prevent isolation and loneliness, a particularly important task during COVID-19. I am also co-Secretary General of COMMUN, a Middle School Model UN conference we run every April for 150–170 students. I also lead the Environmental Committee, which tries to make Commonwealth as environmentally conscious a school as possible. We have successfully lobbied the administration to switch all our electricity use to green sources, instituted a composting program, and are now tracking emissions from school-affiliated travel. 

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

Commonwealth has most influenced me by making me a better critical thinker. All Commonwealth classes require students to think originally and critically about the subject matter, whether by analyzing a piece of art or literature, writing a mathematical proof, or applying a scientific concept. This may seem like a common requirement: all learning requires some critical thinking. But I have found Commonwealth to be exceptionally impressive in this regard. I have been asked in every class to truly think about the material. And under the guidance of our excellent teachers, I have dramatically improved my ability to do so over four years here. This ability to think critically has enormous applicability. It can be used in every decision and every situation, academic or not. This skill has sharpened the way I see the world and has allowed me to understand it far better than I would have thought possible. 

What’s your advice for prospective students considering Commonwealth? 

You will be challenged at Commonwealth, and you will have to focus on your classes. But if you are willing to work hard and participate, you will not find a more interesting, exciting, and enlightening high school education.