Most people think of college as students' first chance to really explore their passions and interests. But in the Palo Alto area, high school has increasingly become a space for those pursuits.
From a journalist who launched an impactful series on mental health to an actor so committed to a role he wore his hair in the style of his character to school, the six graduating seniors below were selected by the Palo Alto Weekly or recommended by their teachers as students who have found passion for a particular activity during their high school years.
Ask Palo Alto High School senior Adele Bloch which of the many activities she pursues on- and off-campus she likes the most, and she's hard pressed to answer. Is it astronomy, which has played out in internships and research projects over the course of her high school career? Her time as a reporter and editor for Paly student news outlet The Paly Voice? Or her leadership in Paly's TEDx club, a student-run offshoot of the international speaker series of the same name?
"Instead of picking the subjects I like doing the most, because there are a great deal of those, I think I like leading and management in general. I like finding things where I can do that," she told the Weekly.
Still, Bloch said, her experiences in science, journalism and the TEDx club have been "highlights."
Intrigued by astronomy ever since she went on a star-gazing trip at a young age, Bloch signed up for University of California, Santa Cruz's Science Internship Program, which provides 10-week intensive STEM internships to high school students. The program's website notes that students are inserted into existing research projects at UCSC. With a partner-student from Bellarmine School, Bloch spent the summer before her junior year on a complex astrophysics computational science project. They coded a web application that allows scientists to easily characterize the atmospheres of exoplanets, or planets outside of the solar system, she said.
Bloch later won the silver medal for this work at the Singapore International Science Challenge, competing against more than 100 students from around the globe.
And last year, Bloch's AP biology teacher recommended her for Superintendent McGee's trip to Singapore, where she and a partner, another Paly student, researched ways to eradicate biofilms -- specifically, looking at antimicrobial substances in the essential oils of herbs in the natural environment that have biofilm-inhibitory effects. They continued the research upon returning home, though they had to shift to a more computational project because they lacked access to a lab in Palo Alto where they could grow biofilms, Bloch said.
The research project differed from most schoolwork because there were no instructions, Bloch said. "You're just told to go for it. That's cool because it's really, from start to finish, your project."
Meanwhile, Bloch also led The Paly Voice this year as editor in chief and served as president of Paly's TEDx club. She had joined the club in her junior year as a member of the speakers team, which recruits presenters and helps them develop their speeches. As club president this year, she oversaw fundraising, marketing and other efforts.
She's also been involved in theater for many years; most recently, she performed in Paly's musical production of "The Drowsy Chaperone."
Given her diverse interests, she's not sure what she'll major in at the University of California, Berkeley, where she'll start college this fall. She's appreciated her time at Paly for the space it's given her to pursue so many threads of passion.
"I think, really, high school is the best time to explore and try new things," she said.