When I first applied to Under A Tree at the end of my sophomore year of high school (May of 2016), I never could have imagined the everlasting impact it would have on me. And how could I have?
How could I have envisioned the countless conversations I would have, feeling angry or wronged, inspired or galvanized? How could I have predicted the dynamic perspectives I would hear and even incorporate? How could I have foreseen meeting Danny Meyer, an individual and leader who has truly changed my life and would make me want to be a better leader? How could I have seen the way my views would be challenged, doubted, shaken?
I couldn’t have.
Under A Tree is not just an extracurricular activity or even just a fellowship -– it is a community -– one that I call my own, one that champions robust, candid dialogue on issues like race, self-identity, morality, religion, and gender norms, with unique and inspirational individuals. One where I would become a mentor, guiding a new cohort of powerful and intellectual fellows.
That’s why even as a college student, long after the program has ended for me, UAT keeps me questioning. It keeps me thinking, challenging, engaging, conversing, and believing. Believing in social change, and that our efforts are the most fundamental part of that. Under A Tree permeates my life to this day, in the best way possible.
In Under A Tree, you don’t just hear people’s perspectives – you listen to them. You develop a sense of agency, awareness, and accountability, a longing and sense of urgency for justice. And it is your generosity and donations that have allowed us to continue to reward and recognize the leaders of tomorrow as we should. UAT hasn’t just been there for me – it keeps me rooted in what really matters.
Shada Thykandy is a Freshman at the University of Florida. She was the co-valedictorian of Somerset Academy High School’s 2018 graduating class. She first joined Under A Tree in 2016 as one of its Ethical Citizenship Fellows and returned the following school year to become a member of the student leadership team, guiding and supporting the fellows of the House of Mazari.