Under a Tree Expo/Commencement '18

This year, the 2017-2018 third Under A Tree fellowship cohort was able to not only accomplish so much, but showcase what they have worked on so tirelessly at our annual Under A Tree Expo/Commencement. The fellows were given the opportunity to present the highlights of their capstone social awareness project to friends, family, and distinguished community members. Their efforts were also rewarded with $11,100 in college scholarships (over $20,000 to date).

This year’s fellowship and leadership team (Andres Castillo, Donna De Castro, Tabitha Cherubin, Jhanae Douglas, Zoe Lee, Nicholas Mijares, and Shada Thykandy) have worked tirelessly and produced work that has the capacity to raise the awareness needed to incite the change that will propel us into a more just world. Through their hard work, passion, and dedication, they were able to truly impact the significant change that not only embodies their own spirit and interests, but the overall mission of Under A Tree.

Please check out our photo album below as well as a few selected video clips from the evening:

Rachel Rios, on immigrant and refugee rights

Jhanae Douglas, introducing the House of Shahidi

Mia Luna, on the importance of civic discourse

Camille Dumit, on colorism and the beauty industry

Paul Reyes, on the effects of the “model minority” myth

Jose Perez, on challenging rigid gender norms

Alexis Gonzalez Meyer, presenting the Gonzalez Family Scholarship for the Culture of Community

Julie & Hector Rodriguez, presenting the Rodriguez Family Scholarship for Resilience in Leadership

Kyle Vasquez-Schultz, presenting the Garcia Family Scholarship for Women’s Leadership & Empowerment

Sheila Meyer & Marissa Manos, presenting the William Mayberg Scholarship for Wisdom & Justice

Sabrina Flores, presenting the Kathy F. LeMay Scholarship for Transformative Authenticity

Daniel Meyer, presenting the Benjamin Butler Memorial Scholarship for Courage & Integrity

Sabrina Flores, presenting the Sabrina Flores Scholarship for Love, Power & Justice

Daniel Meyer, sharing closing remarks with the UAT3 Ethical Citizens Fellowship grads

Thanks again to the inimitable UAT3 Leadership team and Ethical Citizenship Fellows. We are already accepting applications for the 2018-19 cohort. We would also like to specially note next year’s upcoming leadership team — Katy Cook, Andrea Martinez, Stefano Pastrana, Rachel Rios, Sameer Sridhar, Catalina Cardenas, and Julian Suarez, who we know will continue to work to make UAT even better and more vibrant for our fourth cohort.

~Shada Thykandy, UAT2 Fellow, House of Socrates, and UAT3 Mentor, House of Mazari and incoming freshman, University of Florida, '22.

Farewell, Under a Tree

If someone were to ask me what Under A Tree was, I honestly couldn’t tell you. It’s not something you can just explain in one sentence. It’s a family, it’s a community, it’s an environment that we can all come together to share our thoughts and love one another as well. Under a Tree has sparked a flame in my life and I’m forever grateful for that. I can’t believe I have gotten so close with everyone in a matter of 36 weeks. It’s been a long journey of loving myself first and meeting new people as well. I never told anyone this but coming to every session has brought a bittersweet moment for me. Because I always knew that the time was going to end but I didn’t think it would end so soon. I’m going to graduate in less than a week and it’s kind of frightening. I will officially be going into adult life June 21st and I am actually terrified. I met this wonderful group of great people this year and I can’t believe I’m leaving everyone but it’s a bittersweet thing. I want to give a special shout out to my house. I was so lucky to be in the same house as Stefano, Andrea, Toyin, Serena and Nick. In the beginning, I never would have guessed that we would all be so close with each other. We argue sometimes but it’s out of love. I’m so sad that I’m leaving Andrea and Stefano behind but I have faith that they will continue Sagan’s legacy. Thank you everyone for putting up with me and making this one of the best years of my life. I learned how to hug properly because of you guys :). I love each and every one of you and hope everyone will be successful in the future.
— Michaella Saintil, House of Sagan

Thank You, UAT

Thank You, UAT

In the last 9 months, I’ve felt more emotions than I ever have in my entire life. I’ve been overwhelmed, drowning, stressed, elated, heartbroken, excited, loved. Also, in the last 9 months, I’ve met the best people I’ve ever known in my entire existence.

The Race

The Race

“Wear your running shoes and be prepared. The person who wins the race tomorrow wins the scholarship.”

My first thought was, crap. I can’t run fast to save my life. Little did I know under what conditions exactly I’d be running.

Toxic Masculinity

Toxic Masculinity

As a man who does not necessarily conform to the traditional male archetype – the strong, assertive jock who would much rather play basketball than write this blog post – I have always struggled under society’s expectation that I should “man up” — and the most effective way to cause emotional pain within a man is to tell him that, in fact, he is not a man at all

Fellows Respond with Accountability and Action After Nearby Stoneman Douglas Shooting

Fellows Respond with Accountability and Action After Nearby Stoneman Douglas Shooting

"So the next time you see a teenager and think they’re too young to make up their minds, especially when trying to influence politics, remember we all want and deserve to be listened to, just like we’ve listened to adults all these years. The only difference is now we’re fighting to be heard back." ~Camile Dumit

The Religion Roundtable: Reflection, Rumination, and Refutation

Raising children with or without religion. Confronting scientific evidence while reconciling it with our own faith. Reflecting on the parameters of an afterlife. Pondering a world devoid of religion entirely.

The world’s greatest theologians, scientists, and philosophers have found themselves at a loss for a clear answer to these very points – yet on Thursday, February 8, 2018, the fellows and mentors of Under A Tree, along with their extended community, attempted to do just that at UAT’s 3rd Annual Religion Roundtable.

They engaged in civil discourse on the nature of religion, how people interacted with religion, and how they interacted with each other in the context of religion. They convened 180 students, parents, siblings, and community members at Somerset Academy High School in South Florida to tackle this – to build empathy, engage in intellectual and impassioned dialogue, and gain insight into the beliefs of their neighbors and community.

A look at the photos below reveal the engagement of all participants and the open environment created by the robust dialogue. Civil conversation creates compassion.

The goal has always been to foster in not only fellows, but for all in attendance, a sense of awareness, accountability, and the agency to carry the discussion out of that room and into all aspects of their lives. Events like this remind us exactly why we want to empower young people to be leaders of the now and not just leaders of the future.

As we carry forward the legacy of leadership and activism, we are reminded from events like these that ceaseless dialogue will remain fundamental regardless of where we go.


Shada Thykandy is a senior, UAT '17 alumna, and Mentor of the House of Mazari for UAT's 17-18 cohort. She was born in South India and has since lived in Singapore, Minnesota, New York, and South Florida. Her household includes her two supportive parents and younger sister. Shada regards school as her highest priority but also enjoys writing, reading, and listening to music. She is an active member at her local mosque, and loves learning about different cultures and engaging in intellectual conversation regarding the controversial issues our American society faces. 

Suffering Silently

For a while, I've been suffering silently.

From the discovery of my tumor, to questioning my identity, and now to my grandmother dying, this unit [Editor's Note: we are currently in Stage V of the Fellowship, focusing on Religion, Faith, Spirituality, and Doubt) has specifically been hitting really close to home for me.

I remember after the first meeting of the religion unit I cried to myself softly. I wanted to talk about my struggles but every time I tried to open up, I froze. I never really expressed it, but I've been questioning my faith privately. It has been a while since I prayed. I still believe in God, that's one thing I know for sure. But for me personally I've always questioned why bad things always happen to good people. It's a thought that has always been racking my brain.

My questioning began two years ago after I was diagnosed with Fibroadenoma. I was angry with God for a while, and I started to get into more fights with my parents. Sophomore year was a scary time for me.

I haven't prayed since then.

At one point I felt like God wasn't listening – so I stopped caring. It was hard going through that stage in my life and not having anyone to run to at the time. I felt like I was going to hell for a while because I was questioning my faith. I haven't prayed in over two years, but today I went to church and asked God or whoever up there who was listening to lay their hands on my grandma and heal her. The doctors have already told us that she's dying, but I can't just picture it. I want her to see me graduate this June, and it saddens me to know that she won't even make it before March hits. I just wanted to say to tell your loved ones you love them, before it's too late.

Why Is That?

Why Is That?
Why don’t we see past grades, relationships, extracurriculars and realize we are all humans that feel sad sometimes?
I’m angry. I’m angry that we all have felt like we weren’t enough. I’m angry that we don’t feel like we can be anything but happy. That our emotions aren’t valid. We’ve all felt like that. And no one told us it was okay to be sad.
Why is that?