By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Matt Mizbani received some of the best news he could imagine while sitting in a Chipotle restaurant with one of his best friends.
On Monday, Dec. 15, his top-choice college released its early decision acceptances and rejections online. After taking a break from The Warrior, the school newspaper, so he could face the school’s decision privately, he logged onto his account and got the answer he was hoping for: he had been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania.
“I was thrilled,” he said.
But, in addition, he also felt a tiny bit lost.
“I spent a lot of my high school career trying to get into college, and now I’m into college,” he said.
At least he has a collection of extracurricular activities to give him some direction. In addition to being coxswain for the varsity boys rowing team, which will resume competitions in the spring, he’s also part of science olympiad, the science bowl, the school newspaper, and several others.
He also spends a lot of time sitting in meetings, watching the Board of Education make decisions and keeping track of the information he thinks the members need to know. Earlier this year, after watching lots of board meetings during his junior year and often participating in the public comment period of each one, he had an idea to improve communication between high school students and administrators.
“Last year I took an interest in what was going on with the Board of Education,” Mizbani said. Over the summer, he and several classmates decided they wanted to improve communication with their administrators even more, so they invited interim Superintendent John Yagielski and high school Principal John Rickert to sit down with them for regular meetings. So far, students have met with Rickert and Yagielski three times since September, and the group hopes to grow to include more students and some Board of Education members.
The exchange goes both ways, too.
“We’re considering electing a non-voting student representative to the board,” Mizbani said.
The group has communicated about all the students’ concerns, including the academic, like adding elective opportunities in various subject areas.
It’s a lot of responsibility, but Mizbani said he’s proud to have created a student role that will likely last into the future.
Plus, he’d be putting in the time one way or another, anyway.
“If I didn’t do this, I would still be showing up at public comment,” he said.
It won’t be the last time Mizbani takes an active role in the political process, if his college major is any indication. He was accepted to the Health and Societies major at the university, a track that combines his high school interests in math, science, and politics.
Although he knows there’s a chance he’ll change his major and his goals, right now, Mizbani hopes to someday work for a health-related government agency such as the CDC or the FDA.
The final chapter of Mizbani’s high school activities (and long-term career goals) — an interest in public policy and political life — is a relatively recent development. It’s something he learned he enjoyed while participating in one of his favorite extracurricular activities.
“I found my strength in that at a Model United Nations conference,” Mizbani said.
Participants in Model UN have to debate carefully researched points of view and discuss current events with conviction.
“It was kind of cutthroat, but I thrived under it,” he said.
Strangely enough, that moment that Mizbani remembers so well took place during a conference at his future school, the University of Pennsylvania.
Since then, he’s been hyper-focused on current events that have to do with the health of global populations.
“I was having a major geek-out when the whole Ebola thing happened,” he said. He even found some of the official World Health Organization literature and read it over, out of curiosity.
Mizbani said it’s his passionate interest in a variety of subjects that will keep him on track even though he’s already gotten the good news about college.
He said the same is true for many of his friends, largely because of the culture at the high school.
“We’re really supportive of kids doing whatever really interests them,” he said.