Several years ago, an alumna of Castilleja School spoke to students, telling them, "Castilleja taught me how to raise my hand and keep it up."
One of those students was Katerina Pavlidis, a graduating senior who spent both her middle and high school years at the private all-girls school in Palo Alto.
"That totally shaped me," she said of the girls school experience. "It gave me a huge sense of confidence in the classroom that will really stick with me."
Before arriving at Castilleja, Pavlidis was something of a globetrotter. Born in Germany but with Greek roots, she spent fourth grade living in Athens, Greece. Once she returned to U.S. soil, she lived and attended school in Los Altos before her mother suggested she apply to Castilleja. She shadowed students for a day, loved it and hasn't looked back. She said the single-sex environment helped her to build her confidence and to believe "What I have to say really does matter -- and I'm going to say it," she said.
Starting her first year at Castilleja, Pavlidis dove into theater. She said as a student who isn't into or good at sports, she was drawn to the tight-knit community theater offered. The first play she acted in was "Once Upon a Mattress," a musical, comedic adaptation of "The Princess and the Pea." This spring, she directed a student production of Beth Henley's "Crimes of the Heart," a tragic comedy about three sisters dealing with family dysfunction. There was only one play in her entire time at Castilleja that she could have been in but missed ("Annie," in eighth grade).
She's also into music, participating in orchestra, and takes tap dance classes at the Zohar School of Dance in Palo Alto.
Pavlidis is a member of Castilleja's Diversity Coalition and CAIE (Community Alliance for Identity and Expression), a student club focused on LGBTQIA+ issues and rights. The club aims to provide a supportive environment for members as well as increase awareness in both the Castilleja and broader Palo Alto communities about such issues. Pavlidis helped plan a "pride" dance sponsored by the club last month that was open to any high school student in the area. On the Facebook page for the event, another organizer described the dance as "a safe space for everyone to be themselves."
Pavlidis was also selected to be one of Castilleja's peer advisers, a "well-respected, highly sought-after position" held by only eight seniors out of a class of 60, Head of School Nanci Kauffman said.
Kauffman called Pavlidis "an advocate for social justice in and out of the classroom."
"She is valued by her teachers and classmates for her 'flexible mind, her curiosity and her initiative,'" Kauffman continued. "She cares about learning and she cares about making a difference."
As someone who also enjoys real-world learning, Pavlidis is deferring her acceptance to Vassar College in upstate New York for a year to travel and work with a friend. She's going to spend a gap year backpacking through Europe and plans to end up doing a workstudy on an organic farm in Greece or Italy. She said she knew she wanted to take a year off even before she knew where she was going to college.
"All of the adults who I've talked to, or most of them, said either taking a gap year was the best decision that they ever made or they really wish that they had taken a gap year," Pavlidis said. "I'm in no hurry to go to college. Obviously I'm incredibly excited to go, and I understand what a big privilege it is, but I also know that recharging my academic batteries and gaining wisdom from the outside world will be really helpful, too."
This attitude is one that didn't always come easily to Pavlidis. She said her hardest moment in high school was sophomore year, when she "lost her sense of balance," overwhelmed by schoolwork and her personal life. She had to recalibrate a bit and remind herself to do something deceptively simple: to have a good time.
"I think that helped me to keep my head up throughout high school," she said.
Pavlidis chose to go to Vassar partly for its academics -- she's planning to major in Greek and Roman studies, a field that Vassar is strong in -- and partly for its history. Vassar was founded as a women's college in 1865 (and stayed one until 1969, when the school first opened its doors to men). Despite now having a pretty evenly distributed student population (44 percent men and 56 percent women), Pavlidis said the school feels more women-friendly than most colleges -- a continuation of her Castilleja experience.
"Whenever anybody asks me about Castilleja, I feel the need to kind of sell it, but it's how I honestly feel," she said. "I think it's crucial to build up girls' confidence and support them."
If you could give one piece of advice to your freshman-year self, what would it be?
"Inside the classroom, answer the question being asked. Outside of the classroom, close your laptop or put your phone down and go outside." --Katerina Pavlidis