Leaders of the Now

It was 10:55 pm and I still hadn’t finished my application. The deadline was approaching way quicker than I expected and I could feel the combination of anxiety and adrenaline running through my veins.

Waiting. That’s all I was doing. Seconds became minutes, minutes became hours, hours

became days;

I ended up hitting the submit button as the clock struck a minute before midnight, feeling like my application was okay, nothing special, just okay.

We were in the midst of Hurricane Irma, so the lack of power left me with the only thing I could do: wait.

“Don’t be nervous”, “Just be yourself”, and “You’ve got this” didn’t help relieve the butterflies I was feeling when I logged onto my Zoom interview call.

I heard the ping of an email notification

We did it. We got in.


Under a Tree is proud to introduce this year’s UAT fellowship mentors, Katy Cook, Stefano Pastrana, Sameer Sridhar, Julian Suarez, and Rachel Rios, as they take you through their experience as a fellow in last year’s cohort and explain what it means to return this year as mentors.  


It’s been a full year since the day I attended my first Under A Tree live session. A year full of tears, self-realization, growth, laughs, memories, doubt, strengthened convictions, new people, and new ideas. UAT3 (‘17-’18) was something that I never knew I needed. It gave me the opportunity to reevaluate and fortify my beliefs. It gave me hope and solace when I needed it. It gave me friends that I couldn’t imagine my life without. Above all, it gave me lessons that I will carry with me as I walked through the rocky path that is life. Now, as a mentor for UAT4 (‘18-’19), I try to think about how different my life would be if I hadn’t gone through UAT3 or if Under A Tree had been founded at a different school, but I can’t seem to do it. I don’t want to believe in a world where people don’t care about social justice, where people lack empathy, or where kids are told that they are “too young” to be leaders, and because of Under A Tree, I don’t have to. Because of Under A Tree, I know that I will always have a group of understanding, strong, passionate, and amazing people by my side ready to help me fight the good fight, ready to make the world a better place than we inherited it.

                                                                               Lead Mentor, House of Campos, Katy Cook

This past school year, I had the privilege of participating in the Under a Tree Ethical Citizens Fellowship as it started its third year. From the start, I never could have been able to imagine the ways in which I would grow both as a person and an activist through the sessions and discussions lead by the amazingly capable leadership team. I am so honored to be able to contribute to UAT in a substantive way this year by joining the cohort again – this time as a mentor – to help new fellows guide their way through this process as they learn more about both themselves and the world around them. Now I can do for my fellows what the previous leadership team did for me – provide me with the platform, knowledge, and wherewithal to speak and act on the topics I was passionate about.

I am so excited to be starting this new, fourth year of Under a Tree and cannot wait to see the growth of my fellows and the ways in which I will grow alongside them (Go House of Hawking!!).

                                                                  Mentor, House of Hawking, Stefano Pastrana

Under A Tree has meant more to me than I can possibly put into words. I have never been in any sort of program like Under A Tree, as no other program that I have come across gives any sort of reassurance of what I personally find most valuable. I value my opinions, thoughts, and passions, far more than my less trivial responsibilities. I would rather pour all my ambition and work into something promoting things that actually matter, instead of studying for some test I have the next day. The things we cover in Under A Tree may seem like surface level stresses at first thought,; but in all reality it is so important to discuss these issues so something can hopefully come out of it.

That is another thing that I value so much about Under A Tree — it gives all the fellows that go through the fellowship an outlet to be passionate about whatever topic they see fit. We put our wonderful ability to not only be activists, but more importantly organizers, to an amazing use by leading missions, capstones, and discussions.

My desire to return to the program y senior year as a mentor was primarily influenced by the mentoring I received last year from Shada Thykandy(mentor for the mighty House of Mazari), She exhibited so many traits that I value in all the wonderful human beings that I try my very hardest to surround myself with. She was outgoing, respectful, educated, well spoken, and had the most amazing sense of humor. I hope that at the very least, I can give my fellows as amazing of an experience asShada gave me.

                                                                             Mentor, House of Dumezweni, Julian Suarez

Under a Tree has been a fulfilling and eye opening experience from the first session to the last. The fellowship has prepared me for practical activism and has taught me the necessary skills I need in order to inspire change. My leadership skills have exponentially grown, not only in my civic duties, but in all instances of my life. Under a Tree has presented me things that I can never unsee, and I have learned things I will never be able to forget. My core values & beliefs have been tested & revised over and over again within my year as a fellow in UAT. The journey has inspired me to embark on my own exploration to find self. I can no longer ignore the plights & injustices of others through what I have learned in UAT. I hope to inspire and provide an informative and fruitful experience for my fellows this year. I want to facilitate their growth and help them better themselves through this life changing journey.

                                                                     Mentor, House of Lee, Rachel Rios

When the fellowship started, I found myself surrounded by like-minded individuals who wanted to createchange as much as I did. Little did I know that, by the end of the year, I would form lifelong bonds with every other student there. I also had the pleasure of being in the House of Ono, working closely with four other fellows throughout the year and our mentor, Zoe Lee. As the year came to a close, I reflected on the myriad of life lessons I learned and came to a simple yet vital conclusion: this fellowship is the best thing I have ever done in my entire life. I realized that I needed to do everything in my power to continue this family another year so that more students could feel what I feel, which is why I decided to apply to be a mentor. I always had the intention of helping other students in their high school journey as a mentor, but the thought solidified into a reality this year.

This year, as a senior, I have the pleasure of being the mentor for the House of Riordan. I wish to build familial bonds within our house to let my fellows know that they too have a support system they can fall back on whenever they need to. Moreover, I want my fellows to expand their curiosity, and “turn every stone” around them in order to absorb as much information about the world around them as they can. With this knowledge, I hope to help them develop their voices and ideas, allowing them to formulate clear opinions that they can elaborate on whenever they need to. I also hope to aid them in trusting themselves, and help them realize that anything is possible with the courage of conviction.

Even though we live in a world that is filled with many jarring injustices, more often than not, these problems are confronted by silence. I want my fellows to remember that, when the whole world is silent, their voices can and will be impactful, even when the rest of the world may be silent. I want them to know and remember that they will move mountains with their voices.

                                                                                Mentor, House of Riordan, Sameer Sridhar