To celebrate the Class of 2021, the Smoke Signal is spotlighting 21 diverse and accomplished seniors. From April 13 to 25, we tallied up student and teacher votes after sending out a survey through Facebook and School Loop, of which teacher votes counted twice as much. The 21 seniors with the most votes were spotlighted.
Favorite superhero: Spider-Man / Craziest fact he knows: The ocean holds $771 trillion worth of gold. / Ideal vacation spot: Hawaii / Cereal first or milk first: Milk first / Go-to emoji: 🥳
Senior Anish Aerrabotu moved into the MSJ attendance area in seventh grade from Cupertino. He is very grateful for the friends he has made and the teachers and classmates he has met, which eased his transition to a new city. School work-life balance is something Aerrabotu has heeded throughout his time at MSJ. “Regrets I would say is sometimes not knowing my limits, and overstretching myself,” Aerrabotu said. Like many students at MSJ, Aerrabotu’s journey was filled with ups and downs. After running and losing three times for school-wide officer positions, his persistence finally paid off when he was elected as Senior Class Treasurer. The onset of the pandemic was also an obstacle for him, but finding joy in the simple messages to friends and interactions with teachers helped him overcome the hardships. His advice for underclassmen: “I think that … you don’t have to be someone you’re not because at Mission you can get caught up in that Mission bubble of striving for excellence … you should find yourself, what you’re good at, [and] what you enjoy.”
Favorite superhero: Iron Man / Craziest fact she knows: If you slap a chicken at the velocity of 1,665.6 meters per second then it cooks automatically / Ideal vacation spot: At a beach house with friends / Cereal first or milk first: Milk first / Go-to emoji: 🥳
From being a representative of Students United for the Representation to the Fremont Board of Education (SURFBoardE) to running music-based nonprofits in the community, Senior Nishi Bhagat has grown significantly through her involvement in different organizations at MSJ. One of Bhagat’s most defining experiences in high school was her work with the Calendar Shift Movement. This experience enabled her to work alongside other district representatives to ensure finals were conducted before winter break, a project that benefitted 35,000 students of FUSD and generations to come. In the future, she hopes to leave a positive impact in the world and continue giving back to the community. “Get involved,” Bhagat said, “Your academics are super important but there’s so much you can learn by just putting yourself out there in the community.”
Favorite superhero: Spider-Man / Craziest fact he knows: Bees can detect bombs with their tongue and law enforcement try to use bees as part of their bomb-detector squad. / Ideal vacation spot: Cancun, Mexico / Cereal first or milk first: Cereal first / Go-to emoji:❓
Senior Sushruth Booma is quite satisfied with the way his high school experience turned out. He has had his share of obstacles, but the biggest one he had to overcome was coming to terms with the fact that he was surrounded by extraordinary students. “That just means everyone around you is great and not that you’re bad,” Booma said. Playing the piano and badminton, two linchpins of his MSJ experience, gave Booma an outlet to escape from the academic stress. He would like to continue playing the piano beyond high school. Booma feels his experience of tutoring for three years with STEM Success and coaching the Chadbourne Elementary School Science Bowl team for a year may inspire him to continue tutoring middle and high school students as a hobby when he is older. When asked about his biggest takeaway from his time at MSJ, Booma said, “You need to work hard to get anything done. There’s no such thing as easy stuff.”
Favorite superhero: Spider-Man / Craziest fact she knows: The word bonobo was a typo that actually became a word. / Ideal vacation spot: Japan / Cereal first or milk first: Cereal first / Go-to emoji: 🥺 and 🤏🏻
From being Co-Vice President of MSJ Math Club and participating in the Ross Mathematics Program to representing the US in international badminton tournaments, Senior Claire Chen has had a dynamic four years at MSJ. Chen faced setbacks after setbacks but was able to persist knowing that “one setback won’t hinder you from succeeding in other events.” In badminton, she felt, “… like in that community, I met a lot of similar-minded people, and it helped me to find a channel outside of my stressful school and academic life,” and she hopes others can find comfort in extracurriculars as well. As students start to navigate life after the pandemic, Chen hopes that underclassmen will “cherish the time that [they] have together … and build the connection with [their] teachers and everyone around [them].”
Favorite superhero: Wonder Woman/ Craziest fact she knows: TA cow-bison hybrid is called a beefalo. / Ideal vacation spot: Australia / Cereal first or milk first: Cereal first / Go-to emoji: 😂
As the captain of the MSJ Girls Wrestling team and center fielder for MSJ Girls Softball, Senior Angela Chochon has spent her four years at MSJ thoroughly invested in creating a positive, supportive environment for her teammates. Sports have played an important role in shaping Chochon’s high school experience, giving her the motivation to work hard and manage her time well. Furthermore, having to recover from a torn meniscus in her junior year allowed Chochon to understand the value of hard work in accomplishing her goal of placing well in the season’s NCS softball and wrestling tournaments. Being a student-athlete at MSJ also introduced Chochon to physical therapy, the field she hopes to pursue in the future. She recalls the first time she suffered from a concussion and consulted a physical therapist for recovery, crediting their interactions and the experience she gained from Mission Valley Regional Occupational Program classes as a major factor that helped her develop more interest in the subject. She advises MSJ students to always be open to new experiences: “Don’t be afraid to take risks and … always just try and do as much as you possibly can without overwhelming yourself,” Chochon said.
Favorite superhero: Black Panther/ Craziest fact he knows: Back in the Ice Age, there used to be sloths that were 20 feet tall and armadillos that were the size of cars. Just thinking about that is insane. / Ideal vacation spot: Probably somewhere in Europe like Paris/ Cereal first or milk first: Cereal first / Go-to emoji: 🥳
Throughout his time at MSJ, Senior Asutosh Jain has been heavily involved in school activities, whether it was through heavy involvement in school sports teams, joining clubs such as Model United Nations (MUN), or serving as Senior Class President. His only regret would be not taking the opportunity to join more clubs and to explore his interests more as an underclassman. One of Jain’s biggest struggles in high school was learning to juggle his extracurricular activities, including Boy Scouts, and his classes, clubs, and school sports. However, he soon learned to organize his time better and balance his social and academic life through events like studying with friends. Jain has had an interest in the environment and always chose environmentally-related topics during MSJ MUN conferences, a competitive academic simulation that educates participants about current events and diplomacy through research and debate. He hopes to pursue environmental economics and policy in college and to be able to make an impact on pressing world matters in the future. Jain’s last piece of advice for underclassmen: “Explore your interests. Don’t do what you would think would look good on your resume, but instead look for what you find impactful and keep your doors open.”
Favorite superhero: Spiderman/ Craziest fact she knows: A snail can sleep for three years at a time. / Ideal vacation spot: Cancun, Mexico / Cereal first or milk first: Cereal first / Go-to emoji: 🤠
From being a part of MSJ Band’s Winter Percussion to joining airbands during Homecoming to playing in the MSJ Junior Varsity Girls Golf team, Senior Kelsie Lam is the definition of school spirit. She cites a successful balance between social life and academics as the key to an enjoyable high school experience. However, like any student, Lam still struggled with academic stress. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to people because high school is a great time to discover what you’re passionate about … no one is perfect and it’s just nothing to be ashamed of,” Lam said. Through meeting people with varying interests, Lam was able to discover her interest in computer science and hopes to pursue it in college. During her spare time, Lam enjoys playing the guitar and piano as a way to relieve stress, which she also hopes to continue in the future. Lam’s final piece of advice for underclassmen: “Live in the moment and experience everything while it’s happening because high school flies by really fast and before you know it, you’re graduating.”
Favorite superhero: Dr. Strange / Craziest fact he knows: School boards direct more than $600 billion annually to teach more than 50 million students across the US. / Ideal vacation spot: Norway or Montana / Cereal first or milk first: Cereal first / Go-to emoji: ❤️, 🥳, and 🔥
Senior Alvin Lee can be described in one word: involved. Aside from being a two-year class officer and serving as the current ASB Vice President, Lee has also been heavily involved in community advocacy for the past four years. From founding GENup and the CA Department of Education’s Youth Advisory Council, to helping pass multiple Student Bills of Rights, to organizing AAPI marches in the Bay Area, Lee has done it all. After witnessing inequities in his community and being compelled by a friend to speak out at his first board meeting, Lee found a spark of passion for advocacy, and he advises everyone to “do the things you’re passionate about. There’s not one way and one specific set of molds or instructions you have to follow to do what you want in life.” Even after being patronized by adults and facing immature personal attacks in his strides to make change, Lee still wishes for his efforts to have a lasting impact, whether it’s pushing the Biden administration to create a Department of Youth or continuing to advise policymakers who affect more than 6.3 million CA students. “I would encourage everyone to just get involved in their communities … at the end of the day, change can’t really happen unless all of us work collectively together,” Lee said.
Favorite superhero: Super Wyatt / Craziest fact she knows: You can increase finger muscle strength just by imagining yourself exercising. / Ideal vacation spot: A nice hotel in Hawaii / Cereal first or milk first: Milk first / Go-to emoji: 😎
As an avid debater, Senior Serena Mao cherishes the camaraderie that she has developed over the past four years with her peers and fellow debaters from the MSJ Speech & Debate Public Forum team. She credits debate for her knowledge about global issues and the opportunity to interact with diverse groups of students nationwide. Mao has also consistently been part of Homecoming and Multicultural Week performances to raise school spirit. While she misses participating in school assemblies and meeting with Space Cookies, her robotics community team, in person, the free time and flexibility of virtual learning has allowed Mao to manage her time much better. In her early years as a debater, Mao not only felt discouraged by the divide between varsity and novice debaters but also saw her success plateau as she chased after titles and trophies. Overcoming this hurdle also prepared her to ensure that future novices received higher levels of support and inclusion than she did. She hopes that MSJ students can learn to think beyond external incentives and pursue their likings. “Just don’t take things too hard… one bad test grade is really not the end of the world, and even though things might seem bad for a few days, eventually you’ll get over it,” she said. In the future, Mao hopes to use her knowledge to develop technology that could benefit underprivileged people across the world.
Favorite superhero: Iron Man / Craziest fact she knows: Mantis shrimp have 12 to 16 photoreceptors while humans only have four. / Ideal vacation spot: Santorini / Cereal first or milk first: Cereal first / Go-to emoji: 🤩
From her experiences in her freshman biology class to the research she has conducted at UC Irvine School of Medicine, Sanjana Narayanan has developed a clear passion for medical research. As a freshman at MSJ, Narayanan was a timid student who was easily intimidated by her peers. However, she discovered her interest in 3D printing that motivated her to pursue her own path, which ultimately flourished into her favorite extracurricular as Head of Career Development in Women in 3D Printing NextGen, the student wing of Women of 3D Printing, a nonprofit that aims to bridge the gender gap in the additive manufacturing industry. In addition, she treasures her memories with her teammates on the MSJ Girls Water Polo team. “I love my team so much; we get along so well together and I just love playing the sport with them. I’m going to miss it when we go to college,” Narayanan said. “We lost so much quality time with everyone, so don’t be scared to constantly meet the people around you because you never know when you’ll find someone that can push you to pursue something different.”
Favorite superhero: Baahubali / Craziest fact he knows: Chicago is not a city in Michigan. / Ideal vacation spot: Paris, France / Cereal first or milk first: Milk first / Go-to emoji: 😈
Throughout his high school career, from displaying exemplary leadership through his role as ASB President to developing his passion for Journalism as the 2019-20 Co-Sports Editor and current Feature Editor of the Smoke Signal, Senior Ian Park always strove to find innovative ways to serve his community and help those around him. Despite the vast experiences he’s gained, however, Park believes he still has room to grow — “I still feel like in some ways I’ve accomplished a lot, but in others I could still improve a lot more,” Park said. Looking back, the only change Park would have made throughout the last four years would be to set aside time for his own personal mental health. To current and incoming students, Park hopes they may learn from his personal experience at MSJ: “Everything will work out in the end, and it’s okay to treat yourself to some well-deserved rest and recovery every once in a while … As important as it is to develop healthy studying habits, it doesn’t hurt to have the willpower and strength to be able to double down and get things done to find success,” Park said.
Favorite superhero: Rocket Raccoon / Craziest fact he knows: The hill where you put the graduating numbers is actually really steep and hard to climb. / Ideal vacation spot: Tuvalu / Cereal first or milk first: Milk first / Go-to emoji:😎
From his involvement in Leadership 2 to his experience leading Homecoming Deco in his junior year, Kiran Patel is incredibly active at MSJ. Although he knew he wanted to be ASB Activities Coordinator since his freshman MAZE Day, nothing could have prepared him for his unconventional term this year. From his virtual swearing-in ceremony to every event and activity, the pandemic has impacted Patel’s original plans for his position; his experiences as an ASB officer have taught him how to adapt in order to achieve his same goals of capturing the spirit of senior year and to cherish the memories working with people all over the school. As a student pursuing a career in the animation industry, Patel faced pressures to prove himself to the standards of his STEM-driven peers but learned to set priorities independent of what others expected of him, which helped him achieve his personal standards of success. To current students and incoming freshmen, Patel said, “Do things you’re scared of. Do things with the possibility of failing, and set your own priorities by yourself.”
Favorite superhero: Ice Bear / Craziest fact she knows: The severed head of a sea slug can grow a whole new body. / Ideal vacation spot: Japan during Cherry Blossom Season / Cereal first or milk first: Cereal first / Go-to emoji: 🤗
Throughout her high school career, Senior Janista Person has had a remarkably positive and thoughtful impact on the school community. Her passion for L2 and strong emphasis on mental health inspired her to serve not only as the ASB Secretary — where she organizes events to showcase MSJ’s school pride — but also as as the Peer Resource Link Crew Committee Co-Head, where she strives to destigmatize the stereotypes surrounding mental health, as well as provide first-hand, accessible aid to those in need. “I wish that no one ever has to feel alone and like they are unwanted … Prioritizing oneself and one’s mental health is one of the most important things one can do to ensure a successful lifestyle,” Person said. Although her time at MSJ was challenging, Person believes the obstacles she has overcome and the friends she has made have ultimately prepared for life in college and beyond. To current students and incoming freshmen, Person said, “If you spend all of high school toxically obsessing over grades or comparing yourself to your classmates, you’ll lose the opportunity to make some of the most precious memories of your life. Find the perfect balance for you and no one else.”
Favorite superhero: Batman / Craziest fact he knows: Tigers can run up to 40 miles per hour. / Ideal vacation spot: Cancun/ Cereal first or milk first: Milk first / Go-to emoji: 💯
Senior Yusuf Rasheed’s proactivity in the community and diverse range of refined, exemplary skills have molded him into an exceptional leader, an innovative thinker, and above all, a compassionate friend to others. From serving as the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Smoke Signal to leading as Co-Captain of the MSJ Cross Country team and Long Distance Co-Captain of the MSJ Track team, Rasheed strives to continue positively impacting those in his community. Though initially challenging, learning to be unafraid of taking initiative has been the greatest contributing factor to Rasheed’s growth: “Even though it might be scary to just take that first initial step, I’ve learned that once you commit and just go for it, it’ll be one of the best decisions you ever make,” Rasheed said. As he prepares for college, Rasheed’s biggest takeaway from MSJ — something he hopes others may learn as well — has been his revitalized mindset: “My most defining moment was realizing my initial definition of success and happiness was based off of others’ performances, and that needed to change … I’ve come to learn that you can really only be the best if you always strive to beat yourself.”
Favorite superhero: Dr. Strange / Craziest fact he knows: We spend ⅓ of our life sleeping. / Ideal vacation spot: Switzerland/ Cereal first or milk first: Cereal first / Go-to emoji: 😭
By pursuing his passions to the fullest and making strong connections, Senior Varun Sridhar has experienced a fascinating four years at MSJ. He found his forte playing the trumpet, competing in Science Olympiad, and rising through the Boy Scout ranks to become an Eagle Scout. Still, Sridhar felt he got a bit too caught up in the MSJ mindset. “Everything goes so fast so you don’t really take time to reflect on the big, key moments of high school or … the connections and relationships that you’ve made with other people,” Sridhar said. Amidst all the classes and extracurriculars, Sridhar rues the missed moments with friends and family and initially struggled to grow more independent. Sridhar’s parting words for underclassmen are simple: “Don’t always believe stereotypes of a certain culture or environment. It’s always the environment you shape it to be … learning to just embrace the difficulty and then being able to figure things out for yourself with an open mindset is something I learned from MSJ.”
Favorite superhero: Batman / Craziest fact he knows: Breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day. / Ideal vacation spot: Marina Bay Sands, Singapore / Cereal first or milk first: Milk first / Go-to emoji: 🤝
During his time at MSJ, Senior Aaditya Talati has learned to embrace optimism and connect with his fellow students. His time as a Boy Scout and MSJ Relay For Life’s Co-Event Lead gave him not only concrete communication skills and fundraising experience, but also the ability to empathize with others and put himself in others’ shoes. Having played tennis for most of his life, including as a varsity sport for four years at MSJ, Talati found a strong support system in his team and treasures the teamwork that helped him push through stressful times. After struggling with mental health issues caused by stress in his junior year, Talati learned to appreciate the bonds he forged during his time at MSJ and reach out to teachers and peers for support. To make an impact using the knowledge he gained through taking humanities classes like AP Human Geography and Women’s Studies at MSJ, he hopes to engage in philanthropy in the future and work for the betterment of women’s rights and funding for underprivileged youths. Drawing from his own experiences, Talati wants to leave underclassmen with some crucial advice: “Have fun, enjoy your hobbies, and don’t force yourself to do things you don’t like.”
Favorite superhero: Batman / Craziest fact she knows: A large portion of fun facts are actually false. / Ideal vacation spot:China or someplace in Asia in general because she wants to eat some of the good food there / Cereal first or milk first: Obviously cereal first / Go-to emoji: 😊
Senior Catherine Tang has had an eventful high school, from educating her fellow classmates about quantum computing as President of the High Performance Computing Club to working with those with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Best Buddies. “Earlier on in my high school career, I was kind of lost … I was able to find out that you do not need to stick into these rigid boxes that people tell you like … ‘You are supposed to do these activities’ … Those aren’t as important as looking for things that you truly enjoy,” Tang said. An integral part of her high school experience was sticking with a tight-knit group of best friends. Through fencing, playing the violin, and finding a faith-based group, she was also able to join communities that supported her and were motivated towards the same goals as her. She hopes to pursue these core interests, as well as find more, in college. “A lot of the times you are told to take initiative and you want to be proactive … but if you are doing things to meet an external standard … then it’s really hard to be motivated to take initiative versus things naturally falling in place if there is a certain thing that you … naturally take initiative to pursue,” Tang said.
Favorite superhero: Black Widow / Craziest fact she knows: Including me, there are four people in the senior class with the initials A. V. / Ideal vacation spot: New York City with friends / Cereal first or milk first: Milk first / Go-to emoji: 🤩
From tinkering with electronics in her free time to launching an engineering summer program for MSJ students, Senior Abhitha Vegi’s contributions to make engineering more engaging at MSJ are innumerable. Vegi’s introduction to engineering design in her freshman year helped her understand a side of mathematics that was more hands-on than she had ever experienced, encouraging her to find ways to make engineering design a more approachable field. Her contributions to MSJ don’t end with graduation: Vegi is collaborating with her peers and Computer Science and Math Teacher Charles Brucker to introduce a series of summer workshops named FRED (Future Reality Engineering Design), a mentorship program to help MSJ students gain exposure to engineering projects in a stress-free environment. Though she harbored worries about her future, Vegi used her experiences as a competitive programmer and her observations of her peers’ efforts to learn that hard work pays off eventually, motivating her to persevere. Lastly, she advises that students work on creating a healthy learning environment for themselves, saying, “Rather than feeling like you’re in a competition with all these people, think of it more like you’re competing with yourself for self growth.”
Favorite superhero: Iron Man / Craziest fact he knows:The lighter was invented before the match. / Ideal vacation spot: Hawaii/ Cereal first or milk first: Cereal first / Go-to emoji: 🙃
Though he says he was relatively introverted in the past, Senior Anirudh Valiveru has surely left his mark at MSJ. After feeling that the entrance barrier for clubs was too high, Valiveru developed the Mission Connected app, an application that allows students to easily join and organize their clubs. He loves learning new languages as a hobby, and with this passion, Valiveru founded the MSJ Linguistics Club. He has also been involved in the MSJ AI and MSJ App Development Clubs, and he hopes that his app can help others to do the same for their own interests. One of Valiveru’s most memorable moments was coaching the Gomes Elementary School Science Bowl team to perform exceptionally well at their regional competition. After being largely shaped by his own experiences in this competition from a young age, Valiveru was excited to see that he had made a similar impact to countless other kids. As the Peer Resource Events and Fundraising Committee Co-Head, Valiveru wants to remind underclassmen, especially with the rough pandemic transition ahead, of the great support system that Peer Resource can offer. He also advises underclassmen to reach out to any upperclassmen who may be doing things they are interested in, as they’re always happy to help.
Favorite superhero: Rocket Raccoon / Craziest fact she knows:The longest word in the English dictionary is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. / Ideal vacation spot: Iceland or New Zealand/ Cereal first or milk first: Cereal first / Go-to emoji: 🥵
Despite her regrets of not getting as involved in the MSJ community as she could have, Senior Anika Wadhera has still made a noteworthy impact on her community. As a member of Greenkeepers USA, she helped implement a composting system at MSJ and planted 50 trees since the pandemic started. She also plans to continue her six-year hobby of teaching biology and chemistry and hosting camps for young students once she attends college. Wadhera attributes a lot of her success in high school to her teachers who have always encouraged her to try everything once, which ultimately led her to deciding on a career path in medicine and research. Looking back, she has found her difficult classes memorable. “Taking time to have fun, even when there’s an academic obligation, like playing paper basketball in Chemistry, has made the academic experience less stressful and more enjoyable … and making sure that I’m finding extracurriculars and sports that I’m passionate about in college will help make me a happier person,” Wadhera said.
Favorite superhero: Groot / Craziest fact she knows: Coca-Cola used to be made with cocaine. / Ideal vacation spot: Cancun, Mexico / Cereal first or milk first: No milk at all / Go-to emoji: 🐸
Senior Sabrina Wu’s passion for proactivity and remarkable skill sets in fields ranging from journalism to business has given rise to an impactful high school career. Through her various entrepreneurial endeavors as Co-President of MSJ DECA and her role as the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Smoke Signal, Wu has been able to display an exemplary sense of resiliency and innovation while simultaneously finding creative outlets in art to destress and maintain her mental health. “One of the most defining experiences in high school was learning about how important mental health is … it was the moment where I could really start to understand how I functioned myself, and just be a lot kinder about the way I saw myself.” While she is uncertain of what her future holds, Wu is excited at the possibilities of the unknown. “My time at MSJ has really made me comfortable with looking into the mysterious wormhole that is the future and keeping me open-minded to exploring potential new passions … I just hope that wherever I go in the future, I’m doing something creative, meeting new people who inspire me, and working on something I love,” Wu said.
Cover image by Centerspread Editor Amanda Pang