Almanac

Schools - July 13, 2011

Graduate: 'Be open to spontaneous things'

This profile of Menlo School graduate Lowry Yankwich was written by Palo Alto Weekly education writer Chris Kenrick as part of a graduation package.

Spontaneity, caring and sanctuary are a few of the things that have helped Lowry Yankwich through high school.

An athlete and serious classical pianist, the Menlo School graduate said he's had the most fun by "being open to trying anything, and then allowing myself to commit a little, and then more and more."

In seven years at Menlo, that's added up to a long list of engagements, including lacrosse, track and four years each of cross country and soccer. He also argued in Mock Trial and sang with Menlo's Chamber Choir and a smaller madrigal group.

"Being open to random, spontaneous things is extremely rewarding and fun. And actually caring about the things you're doing has been really good," he said.

Through it all, his guiding passion has been music.

Since the age of 6, he has studied piano with Diane Smith of Menlo Park and — because Ms. Smith is Canadian — competed annually for the past seven or eight years in the Royal Conservatory Music Festival in Ontario.

Contestants must prepare a wide-ranging repertoire in baroque, classical and romantic categories.

"You enter classes with other students, and you play your Bach piece against their baroque pieces," he said.

While finishing his final semester at Menlo School, he also took three major piano exams, in performance, theory and counterpoint.

He said he doesn't know exactly why he's gone so far with piano.

"At first I needed encouragement, but there's a certain point at which you're sort of good enough that the music sounds nice and you like what you're playing, and from there I really liked music."

So much so, that before enrolling at Stanford University, he will take a "gap year" to live in Montreal and study with a teacher in St. Adele, Quebec.

Playing piano, in fact, has been a stress-management technique in high school, what he calls one of his sanctuaries.

"I have physical places I go if I need to. I need quiet, normally."

He favors sitting on the ground and leaning against a particular fencepost in Eleanor Pardee Park in his Palo Alto neighborhood or long walks in Atherton near the Menlo campus.

Or sitting down to play a Chopin ballade, with his own story to the music going through his head.

Much as he loves music, he says he's likely to major in something else once he gets to Stanford — neuroscience or behavioral economics are high on his list at the moment.

He will most miss the teachers and sense of connection and community at Menlo School but will not miss Menlo's relatively small size.

The connections enabled by modern technology are a blessing and a curse, he said.

Social networking offers "a lot of opportunities to define yourself, learn more about people and even approach people," he said. "On the other hand, nobody — including me — knows how to stop."

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