Menlo News February 02, 2024

Making Meaning After Menlo

Three Menlo alumni, following their hearts on three very different journeys, come back to campus to inspire students to pursue their passions.

As Menlo aims to prepare students for lifelong journeys of learning and discovery, it’s no wonder our graduates go on to impact the world in profound ways. We love when they come back to campus to share their stories and talents, inspiring current students to lead lives of curiosity, creativity, and meaning.

In the course of just one week, Menlo welcomed back three alumni for lunchtime talks or performances. While each has forged a very different path since graduation, they all have one thing in common: pursuing their passions.

Serving Your Country

As part of a series intended to engage seniors in the upcoming primary election, Peter Dixon ’01 came back to campus to speak at a class meeting. For many Menlo seniors, this will be their first opportunity to vote, and Peter stressed the importance of getting involved to ensure their voices are heard. “This is actually a pretty exciting time for this district and for this part of California because this is the first time that we’ve had an open congressional race in 35 years,” he said. “So it’s a chance for you to participate in something firsthand…to participate in the democratic process and make a choice.”

Mr. Dixon is running for Congress, but makes very clear that he is not a career politician. Rather, he has been out in the world and is coming back with life experiences—studying political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, serving in the U.S. Marines as a First Lieutenant in Afghanistan, working at the State Department, founding a software company, and co-founding a bipartisan organization that helps elect veterans—to make a difference in the community where it all started.

After his talk, a panel of AP Government students took to the stage to interview Mr. Dixon about everything from how his military experience helped shape his political views and how funding sources influence political agendas, to advice on finding reliable news sources, standing out amidst the noise, avoiding misinformation on social media, and engaging the youth vote.

Mr. Dixon credits his family and Menlo for instilling the idea that “if you have the right creative ideas and the right work ethic and the right persistence, you can go out into the world and solve really big, hard problems.”

Singing Your Heart Out

The cheers could be heard across campus as Brown University’s oldest a capella group, The Jabberwocks, performed on the student center patio at lunch. Menlo alum (and fellow “Wock”) Mack Ford ’21 introduced the group, serenading the audience in soprano. In addition to the co-ed group’s signature “Me and the Wocks,” the singers performed Hozier’s “All Things End,” a crowd favorite.

Following the outdoor pop-up concert, the Jabberwocks led a Masterclass for Menlo’s vocal group, the Knight Singers, sharing a soulful rendition of Pentatonix “Run to You,” before dividing Menlo students by voice part for more tailored coaching. After brief but powerful breakout sessions, both singing groups gathered in a goosebumps-inducing harmony that sounded as though they had been rehearsing for weeks more than minutes, with range, talent, and smiles on full display.

“The Jabberwocks sparked such joy and aliveness to the Knight Singers,” said Menlo vocal teacher Marie Finch. “I witnessed such a profound feeling of creative focus and collaboration which is the theme of our semester: collaborating beyond our nest. The Jabberwocks gave us all an experience to remember because of their love and connection to each other as a group and their passion for sharing it with Menlo. They tickled and inspired the singers to go beyond what they think is typical of a choir.”

Expanding Your Horizons

As the third installment in our Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 101 lunchtime discussions, Lisa Rozakis Biton ’03 came to share her experiences living and teaching in Israel in the wake of October 7, 2023. She offered a candid view of raising three children just over 10 miles from the Israel-Gaza border and a first-hand account of the war between Israel and Hamas. She talked about what it’s like to have a safe room in your house, see massive missiles flying overhead, and get used to the sound of rocket sirens, acknowledging, “War isn’t particularly new to us.”

Nevertheless, these times have been stressful, heart-wrenching, and surreal for Ms. Biton, both personally and professionally. As a teacher and Dean of Admissions at the Alexander Muss High School, a study abroad school in Hod Hasharon, she is well-versed in responding to catastrophe. She recalls the morning of October 8, 2023, showing up to work as the reality set in that every staff member at the school had experienced personal loss. Many had been called up for reserve duty. Ms. Biton and other senior administrators had to make the difficult decision to close the school, and she had two days to figure out how to get her students home. Now, they are preparing to bring their first cohort of students back to campus, albeit a much smaller number than usual. But like so many, she’s having a hard time envisioning a path forward. “How do you get past that and think about the people on the other side and think about what this means for the future?” she asked, rhetorically.

After sharing her story, Ms. Biton opened the floor to Menlo students and staff to ask questions. The audience was clearly moved by hearing directly from someone who is living amidst the tumult that they read about every day. (You can learn more about Lisa’s teaching journey prior to October 7, 2023, in this 2022 Coat of Arms spotlight.)

Coming Home

Like proud parents, we love these full-circle moments when graduates come back to campus to share their experiences leading lives of curiosity, creativity, and community impact. Having once been in their shoes, alumni stories in particular resonate with current students, inspiring meaning in their own pursuits and finding common ground along the way.