"Don't lose sight of the bigger picture": A profile of Elena Bauer
Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 2:32pm
OVER THE LAST few weeks, whenever I told someone that I was writing a profile of Elena Bauer, their responses were literally unanimous. They all told me that she is one of the nicest people they have ever met.
This wasn’t just the response of her classmates, but of students from all grades. It isn’t surprising that this many people think so highly of her, as she has been involved with so many things during her five years here at Uni.
When I sat down to talk to Elena, she perched herself on a desk and smiled confidently. She seemed just as people had described her. However, when I asked Elena to describe what she was like as a subbie, she came up with "naïve" as one word to use.
“Thinking I was the top of the world and thinking I could do everything and anything,” she said to explain her word choice.
However, when I asked her to try to describe her current, senior self, naïve was not on the list. Perhaps this would be because Elena has managed to get out of the “Uni bubble” others often mention due to her involvement with Habitat for Humanity.
Elena has been on many trips to Clarksdale, Miss. both with Uni High groups and independently. She first got involved with Habitat her junior year and is now one of the leaders of Uni's Habitat for Humanity Club. It has had such an impact on her that she will be returning to Clarksdale to work with America Reads for a gap year.
Elena's most recent Habitat for Humanity trip has been one of her most memorable experiences.
“Initially it's really cool because you can see the immediate effects of your work," she said. "Ultimately you want to change the poverty-stricken neighborhoods and make it better altogether, but that obviously can't happen over just one week. But you can really see the effects of the house you're building."
However, it's the effect she has had in the Clarksdale schools that have really stayed with Elena.
"My favorite part is working at the school with the neighborhood kids," she explained. "[...] You're teaching them things like telling time — things that are totally useful in their day to day life. We take for granted that we know these things, but they struggle with things like reading. [...] It's like you're twice as empowered.”
Clarksdale isn’t the only place Elena travels to frequently. She has gotten the unique experience of going to school in Germany over the summers. This year, she will graduate not only from Uni but also from a school in Germany.
“I go to school there over the summer, which actually sucks, but now that I'm graduating from both countries it's great,” Elena said. “So that's pretty cool. We have a separate house there, which is like my separate home. I would like to incorporate that into my life and keep that up.”
While we do some arguably strange projects here at Uni, Elena’s experiences in Germany redefine the meaning of hands-on.
“Our physics final was making a grill,” she recalls. “And whoever made the best steak got the number one grade in the class and everyone was ranked down from that. We were learning about electricity so it was really cool to do the hands on things that we can't always do at Uni in all of our classes. [...] Ultimately I liked a lot of what I learned there and it helped me pick a lot of what I wanted in colleges, so that's been a great experience.”
Elena is not always off flying around the world though. Since her subbie year, Elena has been very involved with sports here at Uni. In fact, “athletic” was on her list of words she would use to describe both her subbie year self and her current self.
“I’ve done cross country, track, and soccer,” she said. “Recently I switched to soccer from track and I like it a lot. It's the first time I've done a team sport, so I'm really enjoying that. And cross country was still a lot of fun because the team atmosphere was really great, but soccer again is just the best because you're playing as a team. I love the team effort that's put into it.”
Even though Elena has definitely been very involved with Uni, she does has some reservations about the school.
“[Uni] gives you the space to be creative and academically strive for the best where at other schools you might have to struggle a little more to figure that out," she said. "[...] But there are definitely bonuses to being at a bigger school, like social interactions might be stressed a little more. Things like getting more in tune with your surroundings and not just setting yourself apart from everyone else, which sometimes Uni has a tendency to do.”
The last word Elena used to describe her subbie self was “shy,” but maybe not in the traditional sense.
"[I was] not comfortable with myself," she said. "But then as soon as someone was talking to me and I was comfortable, I was talkative as can be — like unrestrained.”
Even though “shy” was replaced with “outgoing” and “ambitious” in her description of her current self, Elena’s mixed feelings about Uni also extend to the school’s effect on students self esteems.
“On the one hand, Uni does [help students with their self-confidence] because it gives you so many options," she said. "It supports you being an individual and being creative and coming up with your own style and finding yourself. But on the other hand it's so competitive academically that it doesn’t [help] because you feel that pressure. [...] Oftentimes you are so stressed by other people who want to compare [things] like where you go to college that that doesn’t really help you."
Despite these reservations, Elena says that her overall experience at Uni has been a good one. After her gap year she will be going to Brown University , where she plans on studying medicine.
“I don't think I quite understand what it means that I will not wake up and go back to school and have all that hand-holding, so to speak — that support system,” she says. “I'm all by myself, but I am very excited to embrace this next part of my life.”
Thus, as her time at Uni comes to a close, Elena’s advice to Uni students is to embrace everything.
“Don't be scared to explore different things,” she said. “Don't get too comfortable with the little group of friends you have. Try to get to know everybody in your class and try different things. There is such an abundance of clubs and other things to do here; make sure you try those. And don't get too caught up in your academics. I mean, make sure you know that they’re really important, but don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.
"Keep growing as a person, not just academically.”