By Allegra Tepper
hree hundred and thirteen students have been a part of the Harvard-Westlake Class of 2009, but only 290 will take the final stroll down Ted Slavin Field to the graduation podium in June. Zoe Nash, Katie Schad and Kelly Dugan are among those who left of their own accord. Now as they embark on the same collegiate journey as their former classmates, they reflect on the choices they made.
In October, Zoe Nash walked into a Choices and Challenges classroom in Rugby filled with curious sophomore faces. As surreal as the experience was for Nash, her audience was even more shocked by her tale, as she told them how she spiraled from the very seats they were on the edge of, into rehab and back out again.
When Nash entered seventh grade, the school was a seemingly obvious choice for a driven young girl from Curtis School, along with a majority of her peers. But Nash found Harvard-Westlake to be out of her comfort zone. In hindsight she believes it was a matter of not knowing what was to come and that her high expectations led her to disappointment.
Nash got involved in drug use when she transferred to Choate-Rosemary Hall, a boarding school in Wallingford, CT, in ninth grade.
Without the supervision of parents and surrounded by other curious teenagers, Nash began drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana and experimenting with cocaine regularly, she told the Choices and Challenges class.
“At boarding school, the drug scene is really in your face; thereâs no escaping it,” Nash said. “The attitude is the same thoughâI do whatever I want, when I want.”
After her 10th grade year, Nash returned to Los Angeles for the summer. One night, while chatting online with friends in her bedroom, Nash overdosed on four grams of cocaine.
“I was paralyzed from the neck down,” Nash said. “It was a hellish experience. I never went to the hospital, I just kept throwing up everything inside of me. I got really lucky, I could have died.”
Nash was immediately sent to a drug rehabilitation program in the wilderness of Utah. Nashâs long locks were chopped off, and with one set of clothes she spent three weeks surviving in the wilderness with other struggling teens before entering an inpatient facility, the Visions Adolescent Drug Abuse Treatment Center, in Malibu.
“I was incredibly vulnerable,” Nash said. “I was put on one-on-one care, so someone was watching me the entire time. I was there for an agonizing 93 days; I donât know how I got through it.”
Nash was homeschooled for the fall of her junior year by Laurel Springs Home School before choosing New Roads for the remainder of her high school career.
“I didnât want to attend the same type of school I had been at my entire life,” Nash said. “I always thought I had to be at the most elite schools, it was just how I was wired.”
At New Roads, Nash used writing as an outlet for her emotions. In addition to being the editor of the school newspaper, Nash found a passion for play writing and is currently writing a screenplay. She recently wrote a play about her experiences at Choate-Rosemary.
Nash hopes to pursue her writing further, and her first stop is New York Universityâs Tisch School of the Arts. She was accepted early decision in December, and plans to room with Sarah Zurek â09 in the fall. Until then, she tries to attend Alcoholics Anonymous young adult meetings every day, and takes weekly drug tests to stay clean. She is 28 months sober.
“I feel like I needed all of the places that I went in order to make me who I am,” Nash said. “If I could go back, I honestly probably would have stayed at Harvard-Westlake, but I canât know who that would have made me today.”
Harvard-Westlake has more than a century of history behind its name, and an international reputation as an esteemed high school. So when Katie Schad made the choice to transfer to Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, a high school not quite four years old, she knew she was taking on a completely different academic experience. This June, Schad will graduate as a member of Sierra Canyonâs first senior class.
Schad entered Harvard-Westlake in the ninth grade after spending nine years at Sierra Canyonâs lower and middle schools. She sought a school with a prestigious reputation, fearful of the experimental nature of a newly opened high school. The 300-student class of 2009 at Harvard-Westlake, over six times the size of Sierra Canyonâs, seemed to be where Schad pictured herself for the next four years.
But in hindsight, Schad realized that a smaller community was exactly what she wanted.
“Since Sierra Canyon is so new, everyone brought their own thing to the plate,” Schad said. “I was struggling to keep up at Harvard-Westlake, so I had a hard time getting involved, and that is what I wanted to do in high school. I couldnât find my niche.”
Upon returning to Sierra Canyon, Schad joined student government and began the Student Community Service Committee, making opportunities for students to get involved in service work. Along with these leadership positions, Schad plays as a starter on Sierra Canyonâs womenâs volleyball team. According to Schad, the Delphic League is less competitive than the Mission League in which Harvard-Westlake plays, allowing her to play as a hobby as opposed to a responsibility.
Schad best depicted the differences between Sierra Canyon and Harvard-Westlake in reference to the college application process.
“The process has been so much fun,” Schad said. “We all know where everyone is applying, and we celebrate every day. When we were picking our schools, agreements were made so we wouldnât all end up applying to the same schools.”
Still, 15 students in Schadâs class are applying to University of Southern California, and another eight to Stanford.
“This friend of mine, Adamâheâs everyoneâs friendâgot deferred from Penn, his number one choice school,” Schad said. “Everyone brought him cakes the next day and we celebrated that he is still in the running.”
In retrospect, Schad concluded that she would have been just as happy at Harvard-Westlake. She stays in touch with many of her former peers through Camp Harmony as well as United in Harmonyâs Leadership program.
Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported on baseball switch-hitter Kelly Dugan, a needle in the haystack in high school ball. Harvard-Westlake students, however, werenât just reading an article about a Pepperdine-bound athlete, but also a familiar teammate and friend.
Dugan entered the Harvard-Westlake class of 2009 along with over a dozen of his peers from Curtis School. He chose it because of its esteemed academic reputation as well as the athletic opportunities the school offers. But when Dugan arrived at Harvard-Westlake, he found that the program was less successful than he had expected.
“The baseball program was shaky when I arrived,” Dugan said. “The year after I left [Harvard-Westlake] hired a new coach, and the program got so much better. It just wasnât working for my situation.”
After the first semester of his ninth grade year, Dugan began attending Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks. He chose it primarily because it was in the Mission League for baseball, the same league Harvard-Westlakeâs baseball team plays in, and according to Dugan, the best baseball league in the city.CIF rules required Dugan to make the transition before the baseball season began in order to play varsity baseball
“It all happened so quickly,” Dugan said. “I was at Harvard-Westlake on a Tuesday and Notre Dame on a Wednesday. They were really welcoming; I felt like they already knew me.”
Dugan was most struck by the religious differences between the two schools. Since Dugan never attended the Upper School, he never had the opportunity to attend Christian services on campus. On the contrary, at Notre Dame students are required to attend daily services, as Catholicism plays a major role in the education and community on campus.
As the varsity baseball season begins ramping up, Dugan has already secured an athletic scholarship and a spot on the Pepperdine baseball team as a pitcher and centerfielder.
While drawn to the ocean side field and location of the Malibu campus, Dugan might place his college career on hold. Depending on the outcome of this baseball season, Dugan plans to enter the Major League Baseball draft.
While it has been three years since Dugan was a Wolverine, he still keeps in touch with his former teammates. Additionally, Dugan has maintained ties with Andrew Lee â09, Daniel Rudyak â09 and Michael Lee â09 through a hobby from their days at the middle school campus.
“I used to produce hip-hop with [them], and we still get together to do it,” Dugan said. “Itâs a big hobby of mine, and I would like to pursue it after [my baseball career].”