Staying connected through Harvard-Westlake

Kyla Rhynes

Earlier this month, I had a very personal and inspiring conversation with Harvard-Westlake trustee Joni Hamilton.

Upon discovering she was an alumna of Westlake school, I was immediately curious about her own experience being a black girl at Harvard-Westlake, and in my eagerness, I tracked down alumni administrator Janeice Richard to get in touch with her.

We had only met one time prior to what was, particularly for me, a highly anticipated phone call, and yet as Hamilton and I spoke during my fifth period free, I felt that we had a connection that could only have been forged over a long span of time.

Throughout our conversation, she was quick to offer me advice for the future and encouragement for the remainder of my last year at Harvard-Westlake. What I thought would be a very formal and possibly rigid tale of her years in private school ended up feeling like a very relaxed pep talk with a close and endearing family member.  I left that conference room that day with an entirely different perspective on life and a strong appreciation for the school I’ve called home for the past three years. Hamilton may not even know it, but every last story she told and every anecdote she offered, I felt I needed to hear. I don’t doubt that God himself made sure I got those words of wisdom.

During my last year at Harvard-Westlake, I often find myself reflecting on the past years and thinking of all the great things the school has done for me. Besides giving me one of the best educations in the country, I think it has helped me to better understand my black heritage and connect with other black people. Now, for those of you who have a hard time comprehending how this is, you must understand a little something about me: with the help of scholarship programs, I was thrust into the private school system at an early age, the first of my five siblings to never have gone to public school and the second to ever go to private school.

For a while, being considered a minority was almost an understatement for me, considering that from junior kindergarten until fifth grade, I was the one and only African-American in my entire grade (thankfully, we received two new mixed race students in sixth grade).

Still, when I say Harvard-Westlake has helped me connect with my own people and heritage, I don’t necessarily mean through exposing me to more black people in an academic setting. Certainly, given the class sizes, I see more people like me walking around on campus, and that still blows my mind all on its own.

But with my background, I was never given a precedent of how to go about life at a predominantly white school. Harvard-Westlake offered me the opportunity to network and make connections with alumni and faculty, and it’s these types of opportunities that allowed me to hear personal stories and receive sound advice from people who have been in similar situations. Furthermore, with clubs such as the Black Leadership and Culture Club that give informative school-wide assemblies for Black History Month, I learn something new about my roots every year, directly from the mouths of some of the most successful African-Americans of and before my generation.

As a senior and one of the leaders of BLACC, I feel it’s my duty to emphasize how lucky students are to be at a place that makes an effort to accommodate all cultures, traditions, races and sexual orientations. Even in comparing my Harvard-Westlake experience with Hamilton’s, I see how much growth the school has achieved through the years. I look forward to staying connected to the school after my graduation, and maybe in the future, I’ll be the one a curious student calls when they’re looking for advice on how to survive Harvard-Westlake. Just like Hamilton, I’ll answer the phone with a smile and gladly share my story.