“There’s this cliché in American culture that you make your best friends in college, but I disagree,” says Harvard senior Evan Mateen. “My core relationships, and the lifelong family I formed, come directly from Milken.”
Mateen is a dedicated Milken booster, something one might expect from a former student body president. But his passion for the school is not just empty sloganeering, and his enthusiasm is borne out by his experience. “Milken talks a lot about its tight-knit community, and when you’re in it, it’s easy to think, ‘Well, every place probably makes that kind of claim,’” he says. “But when I got to college, and saw the strength of my high school friendships relative to other people’s, it drove home how special Milken really is.”
Fueling those friendships, Mateen says, is the school’s commitment to fostering an environment that prioritizes camaraderie over competition. “Kids at Milken are smart and driven, but they don’t undermine each other because they realize there’s room for everyone to succeed,” he observes. “Honestly, it feels kind of like camp – you’re learning as you hang out with friends on a beautiful outdoor campus, there’s often music playing…it’s fun.”
The bonds he forged at Milken went beyond his peers to include members of the faculty. “Mrs. Kierman, my college counselor at Milken, is a perfect example,” he says. “We started meeting at the end of ninth grade. By my junior and senior years, we would get together weekly in a classroom setting and then also at lunch almost every other day. She was my biggest supporter on my college journey, and she’s visited me four times in Boston, which is awesome.”
Mateen, who is minoring in Chinese at Harvard, feels similarly connected to Mrs. Kimura, his Chinese teacher at Milken. “I started taking Chinese in eighth grade and had Mrs. Kimura until my senior year. She taught me so much and became one of my greatest friends,” he recalls.
His time learning Chinese at Milken points to another of the school’s many strengths, Mateen says. “The program was super small. I was the only one who stuck with it for all five years, and the school could easily have shut it down,” he notes. “But I was so passionate about the subject that they kept the teacher there, even though I was often the only person in the class. Receiving that kind of customized education is just incredible.”
Of course, access to resources is great, Mateen notes, but what truly distinguishes Milken is the freedom it gives students to use those resources to explore. “The architecture program is amazing, the performing arts are insane – there are so many paths you can go down at Milken, and you learn how to navigate the world in a real way,” he says. “It’s a rare opportunity to use the tools around you to discover what you really love. And what’s even more remarkable is the school’s philosophy, which is basically, ‘We’re here to help, but we’re not here to tell you how to make decisions; you get to do that on your own.’”
For Mateen, that meant choosing to get involved in student government, mastering Chinese, participating in school plays and starting a website dedicated to preserving the culture of Mizrachi Jews. The school encouraged and enabled him to develop a wide range of interests, nurturing diverse skills and fostering critical self-confidence.
“I never felt like I had to fit into a single mold,” he says. “Milken always allowed me to be my own person, on my own terms.”
Check out some of Evan Mateen's work at Zamancollective.com