By the time I started at Seven Hills in seventh grade, I had lived in Japan, Singapore, and China. My parents are both from India, and their careers at P&G took them around the world until they were assigned to Cincinnati. I didn’t have a chance to visit Seven Hills before enrolling, but even from a distance, the school seemed to have more of an international feel than any other school in Cincinnati, and it seemed like a welcoming place. It was important to our family to know that there were many different cultures represented at the school and that it was an environment where people were willing to learn from other people’s backgrounds.
My first day of school there was a solar eclipse, and I remember everyone going out onto the deck, where we were all given special glasses to be able to look up at the eclipse. What I remember most, though, was my experience at lunch that first day. I had brought my lunch to school and put it in my locker, but then I forgot where my locker was. I thought, okay, I guess I’ll go to the cafeteria. I went there and bought myself a pizza, but had no idea where I was going to sit. I had seen a lot of American TV and movies depicting that first day of school when you don’t know anyone and how scary it can be. I found a bunch of girls who looked like seventh graders, sat down, and said, “Hi, I’m Shanaya. I’m new here.” They didn’t even blink an eye, they were like, “Sure, sit down,” and just kept chatting and included me in the conversation. And it wasn’t like they were interviewing me, like, “Oh, where’d you come from?” It was all just really friendly.
On my second day at Seven Hills, this time I found my locker and was walking outside during lunch, saw a different group of kids sitting on benches, and was like, I guess I’ll go sit with them. I ate my entire lunch with them, had a lot of fun, and then realized they were all sixth graders, which hadn’t come up at all. By the third day, I’d already made a friend in my math class, Erin Finn. I’m now a senior and I think Erin and I have had lunch together the majority of my days at Seven Hills. From the beginning, she seemed very happy to be at Seven Hills, and she made me feel happy about it, too.
Arriving here not just from another school, but from another country, I think my transition to Seven Hills says a lot about the school — the fact that I never found it to be cliquey, that it always felt like a diverse and open culture, and that there were always people looking out for me.
No one looks out for the student more than the teachers. I’ve been in classes when the teacher overhears students talking about having several tests in different subjects on the same day, and then volunteers to move the test they had scheduled that same day so the students won’t be as stressed. The teachers know that students at Seven Hills have a lot on our plates, and they try to meet us where we are.
The teachers are also unbelievably generous, giving us so much of their free time. I’m in Mock Trial with Mr. Polifka, who teaches AP History, and our Sunday practices are already a two hour commitment for him many weekends. On top of that, he invites us to send him the opening and closing statements we’ve written for Mock Trial and says he’s glad to give us any feedback. This is all for an extracurricular club where he’s not even giving us a grade!
In the leadup to our AP Chemistry exam, our teacher, Ms. Torline, dedicated so many extra lunchtime and weekend sessions to helping make sure we were prepared for the AP exam. Our teachers are constantly willing to go above and beyond. It shows that this isn’t just a job for them; they really care about us learning.
Seven Hills has the strongest sense of community of any school or group I’ve ever been a part of. At the start of this year, we had our Senior Sunrise, which is a newer tradition where a bunch of parents wake up before dawn and bring food and equipment over to the school’s big hillside and start cooking for us. The seniors all sat on blankets, ate breakfast, and watched the sun rise. It was a Midwestern sunrise, so it wasn’t quite like the sun coming up over the horizon of the ocean, but more importantly, there was a real sense of togetherness.
That sense of togetherness has been there even when you’d think it might be hard to achieve. My older brother Kayzad graduated from Seven Hills during that first year of COVID. The school couldn’t have a normal graduation ceremony, but I’ll always remember buying special markers and scribbling a bunch of congratulatory messages on our family’s Subaru the night before graduation. Then, the next day, our whole family and our dog Toffee drove together in this big celebratory procession while all the teachers were lined up along the high-school drop-off semi-circle waving and holding signs and coming up to our car to give my brother his graduation flowers. It’s times like that when you’re really glad to be part of a school community that knows how to make the most of a challenging situation.