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Exceptional leaders, exceptional talents



Leadership comes in many forms, but this group of four young leaders from King David High School Linksfield’s (KDHSL’s) 2021 matric class were pretty unique.

Their group included an exceptional sportswoman, a talented dancer, a staunch human-rights activist, and a qualified pilot.

Each occupied a leadership role in the school, and together, they achieved a combined tally of 39 distinctions.

Talya Atie, the school’s head girl for 2021, is an exceptional sportswoman who won the Best All-Rounder Award at the school’s valedictory last year. She participated in tennis, touch rugby, netball, and soccer.

“More than physical achievement in our sporting endeavours, the camaraderie and friendships we formed were the most notable achievements,” says Atie, who became the third person in her family to be a head boy or girl in as many years. “There was no better feeling than running onto the sports field with fellow Davidians.”

Shannon Wolpe, the school’s deputy head student leader and the head of the awareness and advocacy committee last year, has been dancing for 12 years and was the only male dancer in his year.

Shannon Wolpe

“For me, dancing is an exquisite form of expression,” he says. “Music has a way of connecting to emotions and connecting me to my true humanity.”

Samara Jay, also the school’s deputy head student leader in 2021, is a human-rights activist who is passionate about issues such as poverty, inequality in education, institutionalised racism, and politics. She’s most passionate about women’s rights and misogyny.

Samara Jay

“There wasn’t a day at school where I wasn’t jabbering on about some social-injustice that bothered me,” she says. “As a young woman, I feel I’m no different to any other human. I can do and accomplish anything I put my mind to without the barriers of race, religion, gender and any other form of societal-identification.”

Benjamin Shmukler, the school’s head of the sound, media and communications committee last year, has loved aviation since his first flight at the age of six months.

Benjamin Shmukler

“I started my training back in 2017, and slowly started to build up the hours and work towards my private pilot license [which he obtained in 2020 after flying twice a month throughout Grade 11].”

Shmukler has also achieved either merit or a distinction in three Royal Schools of Music Piano Exams and one Rockschool Drum Exam. “I play the drums, piano, and enjoy singing and harmonising, especially in shul. I also enjoy producing/composing my own music,” he says. He achieved the top Independent Examinations Board final practical mark out of all King David’s music students.

In addition, this captain of KDHSL’s cycling team for 2020 has completed two 94.7 cycle challenges and three King David Cycle Tours.

In the first term last year, he would be at school at 06:00 for cycle mornings. Wolpe, especially in his younger years, and Jay would also be there at that time, and leave only late in the evening.

“I loved to wake up at the crack of dawn to go to early morning cross country training, finish off my school day with a tennis match followed by dancing rehearsals, and then still do play practise until 21:00,” says Jay, who played all sports and acted, danced, and sang in all the school’s productions. “I thrived on being busy, and served my school and various charities as well as I could.”

She and Atie managed to juggle studying with everything else they did. “I made sure that I was working enough hours daily while still making enough time for the other things that I found essential in my matric year,” says Atie.

“Playing sport, listening to music, reading, and time with my family and friends acted as a break from all the hours of learning. Planning was my personal way of finding a balance between working hard and playing hard.”

Atie and the others tried to help their fellow students to grow and flourish in their chosen paths. “Our student-leadership theme for the year was, in English, ‘The power of baseless love’,” she says. “We wanted to create an environment at school and beyond that was accepting, and displayed unconditional and endless kindness without needing a reason.”

Wolpe, who intends to study medicine, is proud that his committee put on an assembly in spite of facing many obstacles such as him having to go into isolation during that week.

“It was really heartbreaking to work so hard for something only to lose it at the last minute. But thankfully, we put in the hard work, and we did it the week before our preliminary exams even though it was a pressured time.”

They were able to be at school for most of the year. “It was really refreshing that in a time of world crisis and when everyone else was panicking, the school was a place of stability, reliability, a safe haven, and a second home,” says Wolpe.

“The school’s support system helped. The teachers did an incredible job. Because of COVID-19 and the online aspect, we were more in touch with our teachers. If you were struggling with something, you could always reach out. They would always reply. That was an advantage rather than a penalty or an obstacle.”

This year’s matrics should “befriend pressure”, says Jay, because it’s inevitable. “To avoid panic, get organised and work steadily and continuously throughout the year. Make sure to enjoy the last months with your friends and teachers. The year goes by in the blink of an eye, so take in every moment and take everything as it comes. And sometimes, just let go and breathe.”

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