The following was read by SI Principal Patrick Ruff at the graduation ceremony:
This award is named in honor of Fr. Anthony P. Sauer, of the Society of Jesus who personified excellence in his forty years at St. Ignatius College Preparatory. In his tenure as president, he transformed SI into one of the best schools in the West, turned it into a co-educational campus, modernized the facility, and increased the endowment to help SI be a school for all. It is conferred upon a senior who is distinguished by scholarship, excellence in conduct, and outstanding devotion to the school through participation in both curricular and co-curricular activities.
This year, we will honor two students with this award.
Both students are articulate, reflective, and conscientious and have been recognized by faculty and students alike for their scholarship, leadership, and service. They have used their time and talents well as they have pursued a wide range of commitments and interests.
A quiet and humble leader, our first honoree is an exceptionally gifted student who consistently strives to do her personal best to develop intellectually, co-curricularly, and spiritually. She has taken a demanding schedule with 17 Advanced Placement and Honors courses and maintained an unweighted Grade Point Average of 3.97. She is an Advanced Placement Scholar as recognized by the College Board, and a lifetime member of the California Scholarship Federation. Her success is not limited to the classroom, as she has excelled in co-curriculars. She was an editor of The Quill, active in Fine Arts both on stage and behind the scenes, and was the driving force behind the Janet Pomeroy Club.
Our other honoree is equally talented in the classroom earning and unweighted grade point average of 3.94 with 15 Advanced Placement and Honors courses. He too is an Advanced Placement Scholar and excelled beyond the classroom as well, serving as a captain for our CCS Championship Cross Country Team, as a member of our Track and Field Team, and the principal bassist for our orchestra each of the last four years. He served as a Kairos retreat leader, was a member of the Immigration Awareness Club, and the Asian Student Coalition. Moreover, this young man completed over 250 hours of community service including a week of service in Camden New Jersey last summer.
Both our honorees gave their all to every activity and made it look easy; they personify virtue and excellence in mind, body, and heart.
Fr. President, ladies and gentlemen, the 2017 Fr. Anthony P. Sauer, SJ General Excellence Awards are presented to Ayushi Tandel and Aziz Wong.
The stories, below, about Ayushi and Aziz, will appear in the summer Genesis magazine.
Ayushi Tandel received the General Excellence Award along with Aziz Wong. Here Ayushi's story:
Ayushi Tandel '17 isn't a big fan of perfect. Her weighted GPA of 4.609 is proof of that, as is the one A- she received in her four years at SI. "I just couldn't do the arm-hang in PE," she noted. "I had zero upper body strength as a freshman."
She also loves people who aren't perfect — especially those who suffer from physical or mental developmental issues. She has logged nearly 500 hours of service at the Pomeroy Recreation and Rehabilitation Center since her freshman year and has fallen in love with helping people who come to that center for support.
After her first day, however, she almost didn't return. "A person there experienced a tantrum, and we were all rushed out of the room," said Tandel. "I had no idea what to do and told myself I'd never go there again. I was so terrified."
A few weeks passed, and Tandel wondered if she could have responded better with proper training. "Now that I've volunteered there for four years, I know that tantrums aren't the norm and that they aren't as bad as they first seem."
At the Center, she befriended Amber, a 14-year-old confined to a wheelchair. "I had difficulty connecting with her at first, as she wasn't communicating with me. One day in the computer lab I was looking up random videos on YouTube hoping that something would catch her eye. When I played "Let it Be" by The Beatles, she moved her hands in her wheelchair, which is how she dances, and she smiled. In that moment, it didn't matter that we couldn't speak with each other, as that song connected us. We spent more time together and grew more comfortable with the silence. We didn't have to talk or play to enjoy each other's presence. Now I volunteer with senior citizens, but when I go, I check in on her."
This fall, when Tandel attends Stanford, she plans to major in bioethics and dive into debates surrounding technologies that allow parents to custom-make their children. "Just because we can design babies with certain color eyes or hair, does it mean we should? Do we want to choose every gene and create a perfect human being? Being imperfect is where the greatest growth happens."
Tandel has done her share of growing at SI. She first thought she would excel as an athlete but was cut from the volleyball and basketball teams in her freshman year. She has since found a home as editor-in-chief of The Quill, SI's student literary magazine, and with the Asian Student Coalition.
She was drawn to The Quill when she walked into an editorial board meeting "and I was amazed by how many brilliant minds were in one room. I looked forward to debating which stories and poems would make it into the magazine and also loved designing the meme-themed posters to promote the publication."
She first joined the ASC to participate in the dragon boat races and found a loving community in that club. Later, she grew comfortable sharing her Indian heritage with her classmates. She spearheaded a fundraiser that involved the sale of henna tattoos and made a presentation on SITV about the importance of henna in her culture. "Before this, I expressed my culture only at home. Coming to SI as a freshman, I wanted to fit in, as I looked different and had a different name from others. After getting cut from sports, I began to look for other ways to involve myself in the community. Not until sophomore year did I learn to embrace my differences and grow comfortable with them. By junior year, I wanted to share my culture with SI."
Here is Aziz Wong's story:
Aziz Wong '17 believes that his two passions — long-distance running and playing classical music — are linked, as both can be done alone or with others. Both also give him a profound sense of peace.
That peace, in turn, has helped him excel as an athlete, musician and student. After finishing SI with a weighted GPA of 4.5, Wong will be studying aerospace engineering at UCLA in the fall with the hopes of building planes. One day he'd like to work for NASA, though he can also see himself pursuing environmental science or civil engineering and working to fix cities' infrastructure problems.
For all his efforts, he has received accolades, including Most Improved Runner in his sophomore and senior years in cross country and the Wildcat Award in his sophomore year competing in track.
The captain of the cross country team, Wong finds in the sport "my friends, my community and my main passion. Running has taught me to push my limits. The harder I work, the more I'm rewarded both with better times and with the experience of being in nature. Earlier this year, I had to miss practice because I had to attend a meeting for a Kairos retreat I was leading. I ran on my own to make up for it, leaving SI at 6:20 a.m. to run through Lands End and Lincoln Park. I watched the sunrise and appreciated being able to enjoy running in such a great city. I felt grateful for my health and closer to God."
The son of a Catholic father and a Muslim mother, Wong has found a spiritual home at SI with its focus on a faith that does justice. He took part in a service trip to Camden, NJ, last summer and worked with people in an Alzheimer's ward and at the Cathedral Kitchen, whose executive chef is Jonathan Jernigan, who has appeared on TV's Chopped.
He finds the same spiritual home on stage performing music. He began playing the saxophone and 8 and switched to the upright bass at 11. He loves the peace that comes from practicing on his own, but he also excels as a member of and student teacher for the Peninsula Youth Orchestra, which he joined at 12. He toured with that group to Spain and France and recalls the magic of playing The Gadfly suite Op97a by Shostakovich at the Palau de la Musica Concert Hall in Barcelona. "The acoustics were so great, and that was the last performance on our tour. The crowd loved it so much, we played an encore."
Wong is also a gifted photographer and enjoys the photography classes he has had at SI with Carlos Gazulla, especially learning old-school film processing and making his own black and white prints. "I look for composition — how everything plays together in an image. Sometimes I just see something and need to take a picture of it."
His cross country coach Nick Alvarado '06 praised Wong at the track banquet, where he was presented with the Coaches' Award. Alvarado noted that "over the course of his career, Aziz made phenomenal improvements from his freshmen to senior year in distance running and was always self-motivated and directed. He is a hard worker in everything he does, and he never complains."
Looking at all Wong has done in his time at SI, "it is impressive to learn he was successful in every venue because he worked extremely hard to do his best. It was a pleasure to see he develop as an athlete and as a leader for his running peers. I will always be thankful for having worked with him as he helped me grow to be better in my ministry of coaching."