The Weber School's online student newspaper

Where are they now: Weber valedictorians

October 17, 2017

Opening in 1997, The Weber School has quickly risen to be a top private school in Georgia, ranked within the top 20 by Niche. Ever since, Weber’s valedictorians have continually impressed with their many achievements. Recently, The RamPage interviewed several valedictorians to see what they are doing and how their education at Weber prepared them for life.

Andrea Oppenheimer 2004

“Before Davis arrived, I was working at Turner, where I have worked for the last nine years. I am Director of the Research and Consumer Insight team for TNT network. As for the near future, I look forward to focusing on my family.” 

Andrea Oppenheimer was part of the first class to attend school in the Helen & Joseph Penzell Building. (The Weber School)

Do you believe Weber prepared you for college and life beyond schooling? In other words, did Weber set you up to be successful?

Yes, Weber gave me a strong sense of confidence and identity that helped me succeed in college, both socially and academically.”

What challenges in your life have you found to be most difficult?

Finding the right balance between work and personal life has always been a challenge for me. As I continued to grow in my career, being promoted to positions of greater responsibility, I often struggled with putting in more time at the office versus being home to care for the family. I’ve learned that, for me personally, it is important to be able to have that balance.”

Are you still involved in the Jewish community? If so, in what ways?

Yes, I have remained involved in the Atlanta Jewish community, serving on various committees and boards at Federation, JF&CS and Or VeShalom synagogue.”

Where are you now? What are you doing? What are your aspirations?

Two months ago my husband Matt and I had our first child, Davis. I am currently on maternity leave taking care of him. Before Davis arrived, I was working at Turner, where I have worked for the last nine years. I am Director of the Research and Consumer Insight team for TNT network. As for the near future, I look forward to focusing on my family.”

Ari Axler 2010 

“I am studying medicine and public health at Tufts Medical School. I hope to graduate in 2.5 years, and afterwards pursue work in both medicine and healthcare administration.”

Ari Axler, who attended Stanford for her undergraduate degree, is pictured second from the left along with other Weber alumni. (Ari Axler)

Where are you now? What are you doing? What are your aspirations?    

“Currently I live in Cambridge, MA, and I am studying medicine and public health at Tufts Medical School. I hope to graduate in 2.5 years, and afterwards pursue work in both medicine and healthcare administration. In the long term, I aspire to leverage healthcare innovation to increase the accessibility and efficiency of medical services.”

What challenges in your life have you found to be most difficult?

“Every day presents many new challenges! Initially after leaving Weber, I was very overwhelmed by the possibilities of what I could do with my life. I started to learn how to prioritize important responsibilities and relationships, but balancing my time is still a challenge. As well, at this point in my life, many of my best friends (mostly from Weber!) and family are scattered throughout the world, so being far from these people has been hard.”

Are you still involved in the Jewish community? If so, in what ways?

“Since college, I have been very active in the Jewish communities where I have lived. In college, I was involved in Hillel, through planning community events and serving on the Jewish Student Association. When I moved to San Francisco after college, I found a very creative and modern Jewish community to spend Shabbat and holidays with. Now, in Cambridge, I am very active in the large community of Jewish students and young professionals.

My relationships in the Jewish communities where I have lived have provided a strong support system as I transition into adult life. My advice to Weber students is to use your talents to strengthen the Jewish community around you! Whether through helping a friend in need, showing up to a community event, or even planning your own activities/programs, participating in the community makes such an impact, even if it may not seem apparent at first! Supporting the people around you, both in high school and beyond, will not only spread kindness and joy, it will also help you find your passions and strengths!”

Daniel Abravanel 2014

“I’d like to think Weber gave me enough exposure to complexity to be able to forge a successful path for myself.”

Daniel Abravanel at The Weber School graduation in 2014. (Daniel Abravanel)

Do you believe Weber prepared you for college and life beyond schooling? In other words, did Weber set you up to be successful?

“Weber made sure above all that I kept an open mind about everything I encountered; a lot of times you see people focusing on work nonstop instead of taking time to see the big picture; I’d like to think Weber gave me enough exposure to complexity to be able to forge a successful path for myself.”

Are you still involved in the Jewish community? If so, in what ways?

“I would say I am pretty involved in Jewish life after Weber. One of the people who impacted me the most at Weber was Sim Pearl, the way he spoke and conducted himself solidified to me what a ‘mensch’ is. In college I was always active at Jewish Life events and more so in Israel advocacy. I recently completed a business fellowship in Israel, which I recommend everyone at Weber check out and apply to in college (Israel Excel).”

Where are you now (college or life beyond)? What are you doing(majors or a job)? What are your aspirations?

“As I said, I graduated from Duke this past May and went to Israel for my fellowship. Many of my college friends have not graduated yet, but some of them graduated in 3 years like me and went to grad school, so I’m in a pretty interesting position right now in terms of ability to travel cheaply around the country and see new things. I have been checking out companies in Atlanta and other cities to see where I can best see myself fitting in. I will hopefully be working at a real estate startup in New York by the end of the month, but who knows! More than anything I aspire to find a job in which I feel the work fulfills me and makes an impact, and I believe the startup ecosystem is the best area to do that right now.”

What advice do you have for current Weber students?

“I would tell current Weber students to aspire for things and chase them. Back in high school I kind of drifted between activities and never really found something in which I can invest my time and from which I could really derive passion. I would hope that amidst all this confusion and flux of information floating around out there that students can just take a step back, breathe deep, not worry about all of the things that they could be doing but don’t, and just try new things outside of class. Take a coding class, learn a new language, find an interesting job… this is the best time to do it.”

Ilan Palte 2015

“So my biggest piece of advice is try everything. You’ll regret the things you don’t do more then the thing you do do, and the more you try, the more likely you are to find something you are passionate about and when/if you do find something you are passionate about, don’t be afraid to follow it even if it is difficult.”

Ilan Palte, co-valedictorian, delivering a speech to The Weber School graduating class of 2015. (Ilan Palte)

Where are you now? What are you doing? What are your aspirations?

“I am a student at Washington University in St. Louis. I am studying biomedical engineering and pre-med with the aim of going to medical school and I am hoping to become a doctor one day and be able to help people and brighten lives everyday as part of my job. It’s something I can see myself really being excited about going to work for.”

What challenges in your life have you found to be most difficult?

“So some of the challenges in my life I think have been most difficult usually fall along the lines of finding balances whether that’s finding the balance of how much you keep to yourself which is how much we do with friends and also how to balance your extra curriculars vs. your academics. Finding those balances are always very difficult. One that has been notably difficult for me is figuring out how much of my time I want to spend on academics and how much I want to spend with my friends and the people I care about  because usually those are mutually exclusive. You can’t do both of them to the extent that you would want to so that’s been a big challenge for me and I still don’t think I’ve managed to figure out how to solve it. It’s usually on my mind so that’s been probably the biggest challenge for me recently.”

Are you still involved in the Jewish community? If so, in what ways?

“Yes, I am definitely involved in the Jewish community. It’s one of my main activities at Wash U. So the community here is great, there are probably 50-60 observant students and I really involve myself. I keep Shabbat, I keep Yom Tov, I go to services on Saturday and I go during the week when I am not in class and something that I have really grown to cherish about the Jewish community here is the social aspect of it. It’s not just going to pray and going for meal and that’s the end of it. Once you get involved with it, it really just never sleeps because you’re always surrounded with what you made from the Jewish community; It extends so far beyond just the rituals and the prayers and everything. It really reaches into all facets of your life.”

What advice do you have for current Weber students?

“For current Weber students, I would say my biggest advice is diversify because you never know when you are going to find something that’s going to grab your attention and really do something that you’re passionate about. So my biggest piece of advice is try everything. You’ll regret the things you don’t do more then the thing you do do, and the more you try, the more likely you are to find something you are passionate about and when/if you do find something you are passionate about, don’t be afraid to follow it even if it is difficult.”

Bonnie Simonoff 2015

“Weber provided an engaging, tight-knit environment conducive to learning. I am grateful to have attended a high school that encouraged academic risk-taking alongside deepening spirituality, where connections to our Jewish teachings were integrated into the whole of the curriculum.”

Bonnie Simonoff, co-valedictorian, posing for a senior picture. (Bonnie Simonoff)

Do you believe Weber prepared you for college and life beyond schooling? In other words, did Weber set you up to be successful?

“During my four years at Weber, I grew a great deal. Weber provided an engaging, tight-knit environment conducive to learning. I am grateful to have attended a high school that encouraged academic risk-taking alongside deepening spirituality, where connections to our Jewish teachings were integrated into the whole of the curriculum. Through my classes and clubs, I learned what teamwork, programming, and labors of love meant. Working on each problem set, project, and essay helped me think critically and gave more insight into universal phenomena and the human condition. Overall, I have felt prepared for dealing with the demands of college, and the Jewish values reinforced at Weber, such as empathizing with others’ needs, have extended into many areas of my life. Though not all institutions may be as supportive or listen to the voices of “the people” as well as Weber, I am proud to have attended a school that provided me with tools to succeed and advocate for myself and others that apply to any setting. I left Weber with a readiness for my next stages and an optimism about the boundless opportunities ahead, and I cherish my time at Weber fondly.”

What challenges in your life have you found to be most difficult?

“A few challenges have been particularly difficult for me. For one, I have struggled with over-commitment, which can be hard to resist in college when I often sense important work happening around me of which I am enthusiastic about being a part. Yet, instead of being engaged constantly, I have found that maintaining balance, embracing rest and reflection, and understanding that mistakes lead to learning and growth have helped me to not spread myself too thin. Another struggle has been facing, in the words of one of my wonderful Weber teachers, that many of us in our community are applauded for simply getting up in the morning. Recognizing my place of privilege was and continues to be a challenge but is essential for considering struggles that people face based on their born-into circumstances. Third, at times I have tended to be non-confrontational or shy away from conflict. However, part of what has helped me through this is knowing that we’re Jews—we disagree with each other (on anything from interpreting the Torah to deciding what to make for meals)! Learning that conflict can be healthy allows us to accept the tasks of calling ourselves and others out and reaching compromises; if we want to find solutions to the world’s problems, we need to respectfully recognize and welcome differences and alternative ideas.”

Where are you now? What are you doing? What are your aspirations?

“I am currently a junior at Washington University in St. Louis studying Anthropology: Global Health and the Environment and Psychological and Brain Sciences. Through my studies, I have become interested in learning about public health, ameliorating health inequalities, cultural sensitivity and mental health. I am planning to study these subjects abroad in Brisbane, Australia next semester. Outside of classes, I am a peer counselor and am involved in Alpha Epsilon Phi (AEPhi) sorority, where I organize our community service efforts. In college, I have also worked with a neuroscience education organization, promoted residential college sustainability and healthy living, have been on recreational volleyball and field hockey teams, and do yoga. I hope to attend graduate school in psychology, anthropology, public health or social work. Ultimately, I hope that my future career in the health field will be an intersection where my passions meet some of the world’s great needs. I am open to many possibilities, but I want to do meaningful work that makes tangible, positive impacts in people’s lives. I aspire to consider each stage of life as an adventure, remain a social justice and feminist activist, and both find and create happiness in life.”

What advice do you have for current Weber students?

“Build connections with people—reach out, hang out, be inclusive. Challenge yourself and take risks. Sharing your vulnerability with others can actually be a powerful leadership trait. Also, it is more than okay to be unsure about exactly what you want to do in life or if or where to go to college. During your school experiences, do what fascinates you. Don’t let others pressure you into pursuing something you may not love; instead, let your curiosities guide you. You will have time to change your mind. In life, stress culture can be real as well; don’t hesitate to reach out to support systems when you need help. Additionally, explore and engage with your greater community. Keep an open mind and listen to opposing viewpoints to better formulate your own opinions. Hold yourself and others accountable. Exercise gratitude and appreciation often. And relish the small moments that combine to make up your time at Weber because it goes by fast.”

Avi Botwinick 2016

“Weber taught me how important it is to have a relationship with your teachers or professors: to not be afraid to go into office hours to ask for any additional help that you need.”

Avi Botwinick posing for a senior picture. (Paula M. Gold Photography)

Do you believe Weber prepared you for college and life beyond schooling? In other words, did Weber set you up to be successful?

“Weber was pretty tough with the amount of work given, and in college you are assigned a lot of work all the time. I think how Weber prepared me in that sense is […] the amount of work [at Weber] is pretty comparable to what I have to do here [in college]. Weber taught me how important it is to have a relationship with your teachers or professors: to not be afraid to go into office hours to ask for any additional help that you need. That’s a valuable skill I learned from Weber as well.

Are you still involved in the Jewish community? If so, in what ways?

“I attended birth right with University of Miami Hillel over the summer, and it was an amazing experience. I went on the Israel trip with Weber during senior year and I definitely couldn’t wait to get back to Israel, so I went back over birthright: it was really fun”

Where are you now? What are you doing? What are your aspirations?

“I am at the University of Miami. I am in the college of Arts and Sciences, I am planning on majoring in applied physics […]. I’m in the prism program, which is an advanced program for integrated sciences and math.

What advice do you have for current Weber students?

“Definitely try hard so you can open up more doors and opportunities in the future. And, don’t be afraid to take risks in your life, especially when it comes to choosing which college you want to go to.”

Becky Arbiv 2017

“Yes [I plan to compete in the Olympics for pole vaulting], right now I am trying to gain citizenship with Israel so that I can go for team Israel: which will be cool and a lot easier than the U.S., so that would be awesome!”

Becky Arbiv posing with Caroline Perlis. (Ariel Arbiv/The RamPage)

What challenge in your life have you found most difficult to overcome? And how did you overcome this challenge?

“Learning how to get stressed just the right amount: so enough that you are paying attention and on your toes but not so much that you are worried all the time. Learn how to have a good time at the same time get your work done.”

Where are you now?What are you doing? What are your aspirations?

“I am at Duke as a Freshman and I am on the track and field team. I am in the school of Engineering, not sure what my major is going to be yet. Hopefully, I will graduate with high grades, jump high, do well athletically.”

Do you plan on going to to the Olympics?

“Yes, right now I am trying to gain citizenship with Israel so that I can go for team Israel: which will be cool and a lot easier than the U.S., so that would be awesome!”

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