This idea that we have to think about the world in multiple perspectives is just central to NMH. It changed my perspective on everything
The environment has been important to Sasha ’23 since she was in elementary school, when she thrived in an experiential program that brought students out to fields and farms. “It set this foundation,” she says. “I just love immersing myself in nature. I love learning about nature.”
In middle school, she began thinking about how she could help protect the environment after attending her first Western Mass. Youth Climate Summit, which brings together students from around the region to take action on climate-related issues. “I learned from so many different youth activists about what they were doing, and it inspired me to get more involved,” Sasha says.
When she came to NMH for her sophomore year, Sasha saw an opportunity to do just that, as a member of the Ecoleaders, a student group that works on sustainability and environmental issues. “As soon as I became an Ecoleader, I really found my place,” she says. “It was through brainstorming environmental initiatives with other people that I felt like I had a purpose here. And it's been amazing watching our work come into fruition.”
That work includes the annual Climate Action Week, a student-organized program of speakers, workshops, and other activities related to environmental issues. This year, Ecoleaders successfully advocated to integrate climate lessons into every class for a full day during Climate Action Week, notes Sasha, who led a workshop on renewable energy.
In her role as an Ecoleader, Sasha has also introduced other NMH students to the Western Mass. Youth Climate Summit. The first year, the NMH contingent numbered only four students; the next year, it had grown to about 15 — a powerful example, Sasha says, of the way young people can inspire others to get involved.
Outside of school, Sasha is a member of Mass Audubon's Youth Climate Leadership Program, which organizes the annual summits. She also belongs to Youth Climate Action Now, a student-driven climate justice movement focused on organizing, action, and public education. “It’s all centered around youth empowerment and creating our own programs and conferences,” says Sasha, who last summer taught at YCAN’s Little Leaders Summer Climate Convention, for kids aged 8 to 12.
“It was just amazing to see these really young kids so interested in climate action,” Sasha says. Youth empowerment is crucial to addressing the climate crisis, she adds, “because we are the generation that's going to inherit the world. … We need to make a big system change, and it needs to start with education. So starting at the root, starting by educating the youth, that's really important.”
While Sasha came to NMH already interested in environmental issues, her classes here helped her develop the critical thinking and hands-on skills to tackle those issues effectively, she says. “NMH has this creative approach that I love. You think critically about the world around you, especially in humanities classes. We're not just looking at historical events — we’re looking at them critically, looking at them holistically, and also looking at different perspectives throughout history. … This idea that we have to think about the world in multiple perspectives is just central to NMH. It's something that I never thought about before I came here, and I'm so glad that I did, because it changed my perspective on everything.”
Sasha has thrived academically at NMH — indeed, she’s the Class of 2023’s valedictorian, an honor she worked hard to achieve. She remembers the first time she turned in a paper for her sophomore world literature course. “I came in thinking that I was this amazing writer,” she recalls with a laugh. Then her teacher, Pat Harris, returned the paper with a grade that she describes as “humbling.”
“But he didn't just give a grade back. He said, ‘Come meet with me. I will help you become a better writer.’ … Every teacher here does that. They want to help you improve. It was through that collaborative process that I was able to improve my writing,” says Sasha, who now tutors other students in writing. She also belongs to three singing groups — Select Women’s Ensemble, choir, and the Nellies, an a capella group — and the Climate Justice Coalition.
Sasha plans to major in environmental engineering in college, with a focus on renewable energy. “I love the idea of building communities to be more sustainable — literally engineering to be more sustainable,” she says. She was inspired in part by NMH alum David Song ’94, who visited her environmental science class to talk about his work implementing sustainable energy systems in communities in Africa. “These are communities that don't even have electricity, and they’re starting with renewable energy,” Sasha says. “It's stories like that and connections made here that inspired me and helped me to see what I want to do in the future.”
Sasha plans to major in environmental engineering in college, with a focus on renewable energy, and wants to work on building sustainable communities.