“Upon reflection of our family’s nine years at Mount Vernon, we can truly say the School has been pivotal in fostering our children’s passions, providing them with continuous guidance, and shaping them into leaders.” – Laila and Arif Merchant
On Saturday, May 22, 83 Mustangs crossed the stage at commencement, marking the end of their student careers at Mount Vernon. With so many standout students, athletes, thespians, public speakers, and community leaders, during their time at the School, this class displayed what it truly means to be a Mustang. Now, headed out to universities and colleges across the country, we know we can expect great things from the Class of 2021. Representing their class as Valedictorian and co-Salutatorians were Aqil, Alma, and Anusha, respectively.
These siblings joined the Mount Vernon community when they were in fourth grade. Although they are the School’s only set of triplets and share a strong work ethic and drive, which they attribute to their parents’ influence, they each bring their own strengths and unique qualities to the table, and upon graduation, each has a different path laid out in front of them.
In a 2016 admissions lookbook, Anusha shared, “Aqil is meticulous; a perfectionist – the Ethical Decision-Maker and Innovator. Alma is more free-flowing and open; an artist – the Solution Seeker and Creative Thinker. I am the social one; a talker – the Communicator and Collaborator. The three of us are so different but Mount Vernon has helped each one of us to open up and become better speakers and learners in our own way. We feel connected and are more involved because our teachers share practical concepts, real challenges, and current events. This drives who we are.”
Aqil was named the Valedictorian for the Class of 2021 at the final Senior Breakfast of the year. He made Mount Vernon history this year by being the first student to be accepted and commit to attending Harvard in the fall.
During his speech at Commencement, he reflected on the impact that Coach Ron Hill had on not only himself, but also the senior class a a whole, sharing that Coach Hill was a light in a sometimes broken world, a man who made Mount Vernon students feel “recognized, accepted, and appreciated.”
While encouraging his fellow classmates to find empowerment through hardships, he also shared that while he is often associated with having his life together and being a perfectionist, that hasn’t come without its difficulties.
“I’m a perfectionist who has let perfection burden me at times. So much so that, every lunch, my sophomore year, I would spend the entire period getting lost into the minute details of my work, details that led to unnecessary sleepless nights and immense stress.”
He then shared who was beside him, helping him through those challenging, yet empowering, times.
“But, every lunch alongside me and my work were the same teachers, teachers like Mr. Sims, Dr. Karantabius, Mr. Baroody, and Dr. Jones. Teachers who checked on me, believed in me, and never gave up on me amidst my broken longing for perfection.”
He left the Class of 2021 with this:
“We shouldn’t be using our differences as a reason to disregard others’ humanity, bur rather to discover the beauty in our diversity by looking beyond ourselves, learning to empathize with the broken and imperfect experiences of others, and assuming the same and supportive role that Coach Hill held for all of us and the Mount Vernon community. Acknowledge, accept, and advocate for others, because they’re human, too.”
Alongside their brother at graduation were Co-Salutatorians, Alma and Anusha. Each taking their turn at the podium to reflect on their time at Mount Vernon and the classmates that were by their side every step of the way.
During her speech, Anusha spoke on labels, sharing, “As I stand here today, on this stage, I cannot help but think about the fact that I should not be here. I should not be here because according to society’s limiting definition of a first-generation, South Asian, Muslim woman, like myself, I do not deserve this stage– not one bit. But, I am here. In fact, there are two of us here sharing this honor today. Despite the words of society and the world at large that insist my labels do not qualify for a space here, I am here in the name of resistance.”
She went on to say, “There are stories of resistance and grit within each of you. So, to the Class of 2021, as you make your way into this new chapter of life, beyond Mount Vernon, do not stop resisting.
“Remember, that it is a gift to exist. It is all one large gift that hangs in the balance every day. Therefore, your existence should be a form of resistance because each day you are fighting for a life that is meaningful and long.”
While Anusha encouraged her fellow graduates to resist, Alma followed, telling the Class of 2021 to continue. “Continue to learn. Continue to share. Continue to serve others. And never let selfish desires dwindle the importance of your knowledge and deprive it of its value.
“To make the most of this knowledge you’ve gained, be not only selfless, but also remain steadfast in your path. Pursue higher education beyond the undergraduate level. And always learn from the individuals, cultures, and environments that surround you. That is the beauty of knowledge. It is ever-present, and chasing after it will gift you pure happiness.”
With all three sharing different words of wisdom with their class, one message stayed the same: the feeling of gratitude towards their parents.
While speaking on resitance, Anusha said, “In their own ways, my parents have resisted against labels, maximizing life’s opportunities and potential. So, mom and dad, here’s to bearing the 10+ hour work days, taking on odd jobs, speaking multiple languages beyond the mother tongue, carrying our culture with such eloquence and grace, and working tremendously hard for us. We three not only remain forever grateful, but also forever proud to call you our parents and for teaching us that our labels do not define our capabilities in this life.”
Alma added, “Ismailism has been a pivotal facet of my life, partly because of my upbringing, an upbringing filled with the blood, sweat, and tears of my parents who have continued to give me more than I could have ever asked for. My parents have instilled in me a continuous drive to embody the ethics of Islam, one in particular that I hope you all will carry well beyond the next our years. And that is a lifelong commitment to seeking knowledge.
Prior to graduation, Laila and Arif Merchant shared a message on their children’s time at Mount Vernon. They said, “Although their interests, endeavors, and paths are quite diverse, a common thread that has remained integral to their three journey’s is the community’s support. Alma has discovered her passion for civil engineering because of teachers like Mr. Sims, who helped her secure an internship and network with leading engineers. Aqil has been able to gain first-hand experience in the global health sphere under the mentorship of other Mount Vernon parents like Dr. Arjun Srinivasan. And, with Upper School faculty like Dr. Jones, Mrs. Choi, and Mrs. Villafane by Anusha’s side, she has enhanced the school’s commitment to diversity & inclusion through her IDEA work as Community Prefect.
“We are not only proud of our children, but are also forever grateful to have been members of the Mount Vernon community, a community that has done far beyond what we could have ever imagined nine years ago.”
So, to Alma, Anusha, and Aqil, as you head off to Georgia Institute of Technology, Barnard College, and Harvard University, remember that Mount Vernon will always be home to you. Once a Mustang, always a Mustang.
“From our first day at Mount Vernon, our fourth-grade selves were welcomed with open arms that allowed us to comfortably transition into the community. Our relationships with classmates continued to grow beyond our first year and are still ever-present in our lives today. In middle school, with trips to Boston and D.C., we found ourselves not only bonding further with our grade, but also expanding our worldview and grappling with the endless possibilities for our futures. The overwhelming experience of entering the real world was only made easier by the Upper School’s cross-disciplinary curriculum and the support of our considerate teachers. As we make our way into college, we will forever hold the memories of Mount Vernon in our hearts and thank everyone in the community for supporting us along the way.” – Alma, Anusha, and Aqil