This story recently appeared in the winter 2012 edition of Harker Quarterly.
Taking on leadership positions after graduating from high school comes naturally to many Harker alumni. It certainly helped pave the way for Senan Ebrahim ’08, Sabena Suri ’08 and Tyler Koteskey ’11.
Senan Ebrahim ’08
Ebrahim recently graduated from Harvard University, where he studied neurobiology and served on the undergraduate council for four years. As a senior he was Harvard’s student body president – a prestigious role he credits Harker with helping him prepare for.
Although he only attended Harker for his junior and senior years, Ebrahim said they proved to be some of his most formative. At Harker, he was named one of two California Presidential Scholars and became involved in leadership activities, including serving as senior class president, vice president of the National Honor Society and Science Bowl team captain.
“This early exposure to taking on leadership responsibilities undoubtedly helped prepare me for my duties as Harvard’s student body president,” said Ebrahim.
As Harvard president, his job was to represent students’ interests to the Harvard administration and provide student services. “What this really means is I went to a lot of meetings and sent a lot of emails,” joked Ebrahim, adding that he and his vice president chose to focus on four main areas: launching a program called Forum for Change, planning campuswide events, improving winter break and creating popular Web apps like UC Taxis, which enabled students to save money by sharing taxi rides.
“I was fortunate to have a great team, so we did a lot of projects in one year, but more than anything, leading Harvard’s student government was an amazing learning experience for me,” recalled Ebrahim.
He also held leadership roles in other groups, including Responsible Investment at Harvard, Harvard for Pakistan and Launch 2012, an innovative program enabling the Harvard Class of 2012 to connect and collaborate for greater positive social impact post-graduation.
Ebrahim remains a director for Launch 2012 and is currently pursuing a medical anthropology fellowship in India. He advised current Harker students to explore widely both in academics and extracurriculars, especially in high school, because you never know what you might love. “Harker has so many fantastic extracurricular opportunities –from swimming to research to mock trial. There is plenty of time to specialize after college!”
Sabena Suri ’08
Ebrahim’s former Harker classmate, Sabena Suri ’08, attended Harker for 11 years, beginning in grade 2. After graduating, Suri went on to attend the University of Southern California (USC) and applauds Harker for having helped to prepare her for the academic rigors of a university.
“I definitely would have struggled during my first semester of college had I not developed such strong reading, writing and critical thinking skills while at Harker. Harker also gave me the opportunity to enroll in a variety of different courses (through APs and electives) that helped me hone in on my academic interests, so I had a greater sense of what I was interested in studying as soon as I got to college,” said Suri.
More than giving just a solid academic foundation, though, Harker helped Suri realize the importance of giving back to the campus community. “At Harker, students are privileged because they are surrounded by not only the best and brightest, but the most passionate as well. I remember hearing the student speakers at our Monday morning assemblies talking about the steps they were taking to fix a cause they cared deeply about or simply expressing their love of something. These kind of experiences certainly resonated with me during my years at USC.”
While at USC, Suri became very involved with Undergraduate Student Government (USG). In her junior year in student government, she served as the director of public relations for USC’s events-planning branch. As such she oversaw promotions for some of USC’s largest student-run and university-sponsored events, from Barack Obama’s visit to USC to Third Eye Blind’s on-campus performance.
During her senior year, she became overall senior director of communications for USG, serving as the organization’s spokesperson to the press and overseeing a team of 11
to promote USG’s on-campus presence and encourage new members to join.
Meanwhile, she was also heavily involved with Delta Omicron Zeta (DOZ), USC’s coed leadership fraternity. The mission of the fraternity is to develop the skills of on-campus leaders through various programs. Suri served on the executive board of the fraternity as vice president of social programming, planning and budgeting social events that furthered its mission.
“I chose to primarily focus on undergraduate student government and my leadership fraternity, although I was also involved with PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America) and SCIA (Southern California Indo Americans),” recalled Suri, who graduated from USC last May having studied public relations with a minor in marketing. She is currently working at advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather’s Los Angeles office in the associates program.
“You’ll make some of your best friends at Harker …. College may be a fresh start, which is exciting, but your roots have been firmly planted in Harker soil, so to speak. Keep in touch with your peers, even if it’s just on Facebook, and check in to see how they are doing every once in a while!” advised Suri, adding that above all else, college should be a time of experimentation and seizing opportunities.
“If you’ve never taken a yoga class, now’s the time. If you’ve always been interested in Russian literature but never thought it would be applicable as an engineering major, take it anyway. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn about yourself through simply exploring your interests!”
Tyler Koteskey ’11
Come the beginning of January, Tyler Koteskey ’11 will begin a two-year term with the Central Committee of the Los Angeles County Republican Party.
The swearing-in ceremony on Dec. 15 took to the next level his previous election to an official position within a municipality. Koteskey was elected to the GOP (Grand Old Party) committee during the June 6 primary election. In his new intraparty office role he will help register voters in his assembly district and vote on party platforms and endorsements when all the committee members convene during county meetings.
Koteskey, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), recalled the excitement of seeing his name listed on the first page of the primary ballot for all registered Republicans in his assembly district. Although he is not a city official, in order to get listed on the ballot he collected petition signatures, campaigning by precinct – walking and sending out mailers with other members of his slate.
Becoming involved in politics is not new to Koteskey, who currently serves as the chapter president of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) at UCLA. YAL is a group that focuses on advancing economic and social freedoms as well as a non-interventionist foreign policy. And, just last year, when he began attending UCLA, he organized a record-breaking rally for presidential candidate Ron Paul.
“Running UCLA’s Youth for Ron Paul chapter and volunteering on the campaign offered an educational taste of the good, the bad and the ugly of electoral politics,” he said.
More than 6,600 people attended that event in early April, making it Paul’s largest rally ever. In fact, after booking an initial venue, Koteskey had to find a bigger one. The RSVPs kept pouring in, far beyond what he expected, yet Koteskey continued to accommodate them, watching the numbers swell into the thousands. The rally was ultimately held in Straus Stadium at the Los Angeles Tennis Center, with huge lines to get in and plenty of press coverage.
According to Koteskey, only 12 percent of his assembly district is registered Republican – a number that he said indicates big problems with the local party’s status quo. “The GOP is unnecessarily missing out on the next generation of voters and key demographics. For instance, I will be advocating for the county party to adopt a platform rejecting the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without trial under the National Defense Authorization Act.”
But Koteskey feels well-prepared for the challenges which lie ahead, partly thanks to his education at Harker. “The main reason I had time to get involved in the presidential election and local politics was because Harker prepared me so well academically for UCLA, which gave me the extra time to get involved in politics.” He further credits Harker’s forensics and performing arts departments with giving him the necessary tools to speak confidently in public.
In passing on advice to fellow Harker alums interested in becoming involved in politics, Koteskey related something he learned while attending an activism training seminar. “I was told the following: the world is run by people who show up. If you’re frustrated with your party’s stance on an issue, get involved and change the party. Don’t just sit around and talk about it. That puts you past the vast majority of people right out of the gate.
“While presidential campaigns may be more visible and publicized, there are greater opportunities to make meaningful differences in local congressional, state and municipal races,” he added.