Maia Barnett is a remarkable young woman. I have known her closely since she was six years old, as her mother is one of my nearest and dearest. Her demeanor has always been gentle, kind and truly thoughtful of others. Maia is a peacemaker, a contemplative being, that walks with gentleness and tranquility. Incredible qualities for a young woman who is barely eighteen years old.
Maia is not your typical high school student, she not your typical human being really. She isn’t caught up with which parties are going on over the weekend, or who is snap chatting about who. She is settled inside, quite content being with her family, playing the guitar and taking in life at her pace. Maia is the epitome of an old soul, she connects on a much deeper level. For these reasons, she struggled to thrive in public high school. Her parents found a smaller more progressive school for her, that while was significantly more work, the environment was better suited for a girl that deeply wants to learn vs. get through. The shift was an astonishing success.
Today Maia is President of her high school. She is thriving academically and socially, and more importantly, is getting the rich education that she was longing for. Her college essay was so very inspiring to me for so many reasons. Her writing is a beautiful example of what transformation, humility, self-reflection, and surrender look like. I know Maia will go on to do extraordinary things, honoring her truth at every turn.
This is Maia’s beautiful college essay she wrote.
Looking over the rim of his glasses, he watched me cross the field of dry California grass and approach the porch of the old library. In his slow and soft manner, he awkwardly struggled to unfold the red soccer chair for me. He gave me a nod and handed me a glass of the cold brew coffee he made that morning. Reaching back for support from the wall, he slid into his blue folding chair. He seldom smiled or laughed, but was always warm and welcoming. Aron Amit, my summer camp advisor, had both an intensity and an easiness about him which was demonstrated by his deep wisdom of Torah and his passion for roasting his own coffee beans. Camp was vibrating that afternoon from the singing in the music room down the hill mixed with the shouting and splashing of the kids at the pool above us. Aron Amit and I were discussing Martin Buber’s “I and Thou,” questioning the certainty of individual consciousness and what it means to be alive. Just another summer day in Ojai.
Some days we would sit and discuss the weekly Torah portion. On other days, Aron Amit would excitedly explain the importance of meticulously roasting coffee beans to get the precise earthy and fruity tones to emerge. And then there were the moments where we’d just sit quietly and absorb the energy of summer camp. Aron Amit, tall, slim, and self-assured, was in his mid-fifties and gently carried himself as if every moment was sacred. His deep, quiet voice carried no affectation, though his few words, like his coffee, were rich with complexity and intensity. Though only fourteen years old, my connection with Aron Amit ran so deep because he not only loved to teach, but he yearned for an understanding of humanity in a way I had never known— in a way that reflected my own inner thoughts. These sessions with Aron Amit were transformational experiences. I could feel myself growing and my mind expanding in real time. And my concept of teaching and learning has never been the same.
I left camp that summer with a profound sense of myself and a new hunger for knowledge. I was excited that high school was just ahead of me and I hoped for abundant opportunities to engage with my teachers at a level that had been previously inaccessible for me. Aron Amit had ignited in me a fire of curiosity and I set out to make high school an explosion of new learning. But high school was not camp. Mr. Labnow was not Aron Amit. No artisanal roasted coffee beans anywhere.
I found myself searching desperately for the stimulation I craved. Over time, my inspiration and enthusiasm were overshadowed by the lack of passion among my teachers. My curiosity and drive were waning. Where I had once felt smart and valued, I now felt unsuccessful and out of place. Life was difficult and unfamiliar.
It was in the depth of this dark time that I rediscovered the light Aron Amit lit deep within me. In our summer together, I learned what it means to be resilient. I learned that I must do the work for myself. Just as Aron Amit wouldn’t simply feed me his perspective for me to consume, I learned that it is in my journey and through my struggles that I will grow and learn how to contribute. Today, I am the president of my high school student council. Today, I thrive in class and am inspired by my instructors. I am committed to honor my curious nature and seek debate, conversation, and dialogue. And with each new day, I will continue my journey to find those who are in search of the same.
What extraordinary words from an extraordinary young woman who was accepted to several schools, but has boldly chosen The American University of Paris…may she continue to do great things across the seas.