Steaming Forward: The Future Looks Bright with the Windward School Beneath These Global Scholars’ Wings

May 28th, 2016 by Bita Milanian - 1 Comment

After emerging as a movement in the last decade, Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) programs are starting to graduate children who have evolved into impressive young adults – and our future will be in their very capable hands and hearts.Photo:

On Friday, the Windward School’s Class of 2016 graduated, moving forward as responsible, well informed and inspired young adults. Among the 95 graduates was my friend Azita’s son, Seena Vafaee. These graduates are fortunate to have spent their formative years with Windward’s visionary leaders, teachers and program directors who guide and challenge each student “to achieve excellence in a nurturing, inclusive community”, and with service to the community. In this graduating class, there likely sit future teachers, scientists, artists, public servants, musicians, dancers, chefs, mothers and fathers, inventors and entrepreneurs. It will take a few years for them to fully emerge as adults carrying forward all they have learned, likely attending college, finding jobs, building their businesses and lives.


In this column, I wish to thank the educators who see not only the world as it is today, but as it can be, who are not limited by traditional ideas about what middle school and high school should do but rather bring limitless creativity to their calling to teach.  Where would we be today without great teachers, and the great schools they build?  Countless teachers have meant so much to me, and today as I continue on my journey as a woman in a man’s world of science and technology – a refugee from Iran at that – my passion is now to continue to learn, but more importantly learn to teach, mentor, motivate and share.

While I am excited for all the graduates and their families, including my dear friends Ardie & Tania Tavangarian‘s beautiful and smart twins, Nila and Emila, there is one graduate in particular I’ll continue to admire and support.

He is graduating as an honor student and both a Global Scholar and a STEAM Scholar. Through the Global Scholars Program, he has developed the linguistic and cultural skills to become a compassionate active world citizen. As a member of Windward’s Chamber Music Orchestra, he has been able to perform music at great venues around Los Angeles, including the Fullerton Jazz Festival. He has also been on the Robotics Team for three years, competing on a national level. He has done original research on Magnetic Refrigeration as part of his STEAM Honors Research class. Last summer, he interned at Boeing Satellite Systems in El Segundo, working directly with Boeing mentors and getting exposed to the aerospace industry. He has even had the opportunity to mentor local elementary school students, in the STEAM fields.

During Friday’s graduation ceremony, Seena was honored with the special Science & Technology Award, along with his fellow students in the following categories:

  • English: Griffin Pion
  • History: Jacqueline Malaret
  • Math: Benjamin Krieger
  • World Language: Matthew Reiner
  • Performing Arts: Jacob Ehrlich
  • Visual Arts: Griffin Pion
  • Service Learning: Haylie Wollitz
  • Athletics: Danielle Samuel and Griffin Maduzia
  • Upper School Award: Jack Ginsberg
  • Valedictorians: Benjamin Krieger and Matthew Reiner
  • Head of School Award: Kimberly Halberstadter

Earlier this month, as one example of how Windward brings inspiration and challenging issues to their community, the school screened the documentary “Hello Neighbor” about Syrian refugees.  Perhaps the graduating class of 2016 will also produce a humanitarian, a diplomat, a human rights lawyer, or a documentary film maker. Whatever their interest and passions lie, Windward has provided a great foundation for their future success.

Seena’s mom is grateful to the teachers and mentors at Windward, whose guidance and energy has made so much possible. “I love this school,” Azita shared, “and am so excited to return in the Fall as a parent of an incoming 7th grader. I cannot wait to see what path Keon will forge for himself, supported by a very dedicated team of educators at Windward.”

This Fall, Seena is heading to Johns Hopkins University to study Mechanical Engineering.  It’s wonderful to imagine what Seena and the other graduates could achieve, particularly in the areas of science, tech, engineering, arts and mathematics. STEAM fields are experiencing a renaissance after a few years of us older people doubting if the next generation cares about anything other than their music, games and iPhones!

Now, they will invent the next new device, a life-saving software, an increasingly powerful social networks that can literally change the course of history in very positive ways. Now, they will create the next opera, the next sculpture, write the next poem, and yes – teach the future graduating classes in schools all over Los Angeles and the world.  Whatever their chosen paths – may their vocations be avocations and this may be the real gift of the teachers and staff at the Windward School – leading by example.

Good luck Windward Class of 2016 – the world welcomes you with open arms!

p.s.:  I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give a shout-out to Seena’s older brother, Pasha Vafaee, who volunteered at couple of my events at Butterfly Buzz a few years back. As a young teenager, he served on the board of Studio City Neighborhood Council as a youth council member. Now, he is a creative and dedicated member of the TEDx Foggy Bottom team and has just completed his second year at The George Washington University majoring in Philosophy.  Yet another intelligent and broad-minded young man with a bright future.

p.p.s.:  As only expected of Windward, although I couldn’t attend the graduation ceremony in person, I got to watch the livestream. Pretty amazing!

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