Meet our talented 2017-2018 SYI participants who will set the tone for years to come in terms of publishing both creative and academic work as ambassadors of intellectual curiosity. These students will be led by our dedicated faculty who will mentor them throughout the year.

Ryunosuke (Ryu) Akiba is a recent graduate of Santa Monica High School and will be attending UC Berkeley in the fall. He is a member of the Oceans Bowl team, a violinist, and somehow became a poet during the Steinbeck Youth Institute trip while he was focused on enjoying the nature and food. He wishes to learn more about marine organisms so that next time he slips into a tide pool, he can identify what he stepped on.

Anum Damani is a recent graduate of Santa Monica High School and will attend UC Santa Barbara in the fall. She is a writer, a dancer, and an artist. After being stunned by the underlying beauty of Steinbeck’s writing in Cannery Row,she went on to research more about Steinbeck and his relationship with his closest companion, Ed Ricketts. The past two years as an SYI scholar has allowed her to get a glimpse into the world of Steinbeck by analyzing the symbolism behind the characters in Steinbeck’s novels and delving into Steinbeck’s involvement with nature. She is also fascinated by the environment in which Steinbeck gained inspiration from as she creates detailed paintings and drawings of the Californian landscapes. She aspires to gain a better understanding of Steinbeck’s realm by continuing to drown in the mesmerizing Steinbeckian language, one page at a time.

Kelly Dunn is an aerialist, vegan, sunset-hiker, and perhaps most importantly, an avid Steinbeck reader. She’s learned so much through her years here, immersing herself further in the Steinbeckian world by exploring his homeland. The past two years have also taught her how to approach life: despite always needing a “how” and a “why” as a child, she’s learned to embrace all the oddities and surprises, viewing the world in a nonteleological lens. Although this is her last year with the institute, she’ll carry the moments and knowledge she’s retained here on to Stanford and for the rest of her life.

Cy Gilman is a recent graduate of Samohi and will attend Columbia University in Fall 2018. A pianist and cellist, he plays in the Samohi Symphony and Chamber orchestras and periodically makes bad attempts at improvisation. Drawing on a love of all academic subjects, from southern literature to relativistic physics to music history, he has played in the last two national Quiz Bowl tournaments. He idolizes Junius Maltby, hates Aron Trask, resents the glorification of Joseph Wayne, approves of Doc’s taste in music. He is grateful to have bonded both with the fictional Steinbeck characters that seem real, and the real Steinbeck scholars who have now published their own fiction.

Edie Noor Graber is a recent graduate of Santa Monica High School. She will be studying physics at the University of Pennsylvania. Edie does competitive gymnastics 20 hours a week. She also sings as a part of Samo’s Chamber Ensemble. She enjoys Steinbeck’s literature, having first read Of Mice and Men in ninth grade. Although it did take a good long time, Edie was rather touched by East of Eden. Finding her poetic voice on the spring 2018 SYI trip, her piece “By God, It Is the Sea” was published in the Tor House Newsletter. Edie hopes to pursue her passion for poetry and Steinbeck for years to come.

Weston Gray is a musician, forager, food enthusiast, biology junkie, and an ardent fan of John Steinbeck. After recently graduating from high school, he reminisces about the breathtaking scenery in “Steinbeck Country” that changed the way he views Steinbeck’s compositions. His time in SYI has expanded his breadth of knowledge of California literature (and noteworthy eateries along the coast) and has cultivated a ceaseless love for poetry. Though he will be leaving the institute, he will continue to indulge in Steinbeck’s many masterpieces throughout his time in college and beyond.

Katie Hoover just graduated from Santa Monica High School and will be attending Dartmouth College in the fall. She has immensely enjoyed her two years in SYI, both through becoming familiar with Steinbeck’s texts, as well as through getting to know her peers in the group. The Monterey Bay Area is a place close to her heart, so she has been thankful for this opportunity to visit it with an academic context.Besides her involvement in SYI, Katie has been very involved in the Samohi Orchestras as Student Vice President; is a member of two book clubs; plays piano, viola, and composes music; and is an avid Girl Scout and backpacker, which came in handy during the last trip. She does not have enough thanks for the privilege of being an SYI scholar.

Owen Koetters is a recent graduate of Santa Monica High School and will be attending UCLA in the fall. When he isn’t reading the literature of Steinbeck or the poet Robinson Jeffers, Owen loves hiking, playing soccer, listening to music, and going to the beach. His favorite work of Steinbeck was East of Eden, as he appreciates how Steinbeck explores the depths of human nature and the various ways that nature was warped and challenged by 20th-century events. While Owen plans to major in Biology and has worked in a neuroscience lab the last two years and is excited to continue research at UCLA, he really values the opportunity the Steinbeck Youth Institute has given him to express himself in new ways and connect to the Californian coast he calls home.

Larissa Lim is a recent graduate of Santa Monica High School and will be attending the University of California, Davis in the fall. She loves writing poetry, filling up scrapbook-y journals, reading, listening to music (she’s convinced every moment can be elevated with music), and discovering used or independent bookstores in new places. Reading Steinbeck’s literature, such as Cannery Row,East of Eden, and To a God Unknown, has greatly influenced her perspective on California and its landscapes. Being a part of SYI’s most recent trek along the coast allowed her to further connect the written works to physical space.

Darwin Luna is a recent Santa Monica High School graduate and will be attending Stanford University in the fall. He was the co-founder and vice president of the Doctors Without Borders club during his time at Santa Monica High and was also a member of the school’s soccer team. Whether it’s tackling an opponent on the field or another Steinbeck text, Darwin is up for it. He loves reading and writing poetry, and was able to rediscover his love for it with the Steinbeck Youth Institute. The trip helped shape his views on the world and appreciate nature and the works of literature inspired by it much more.

Tom Malmgren is a writer, photographer and recent graduate of Santa Monica High School. He was born in New York City, where he lived until his family moved to Auckland, New Zealand. He returned to the United States to go to high school, but he has decided to leave again to attend university at Oxford in England. Tom has a keen interest in history and archaeology, which he will study in college. He admires many historical figures and civilizations but has a particular enthusiasm for Ancient Rome. His favorite novel is The Great Gatsby (apologies, John), his favorite photographer is — believe it or not — Henri Cartier-Bresson, and his favorite television show is Boardwalk Empire. As a member of SYI, Tom is very thankful to be in the company of so many bright and talented people.

Caoimhe McGurrin is a recent graduate of Samohi and will be attending Sarah Lawrence College in the fall. When she’s not birding around Santa Monica (she thinks birds will be illegal soon so she’s trying to get in some good scootering time), she enjoys playing the piano, watching movies, reading (Steinbeck of course) and writing short stories. She hopes to get a timshel tattoo with her fellow Steinbeck scholars to demonstrate the true depth of her devotion to Steinbeck and life in general. She is so glad that she got to be a part of the second SYI trip because the stunning landscapes and set aside time to create allowed her to better understand Steinbeck’s love of place. She hopes to read more Steinbeck this summer so she can participate in long discussions at future SYI reunions (hopefully on the vineyard).

Adya Mohanty is a recent graduate of Samohi and will be attending the USC School of Dramatic Arts in the fall. Adya is an actress, singer, flute player, and newly minted Steinbeck enthusiast. She loves to read and write and hopes to explore playwriting/screenwriting in the future. Adya finds that the greatest obstacle between her and a Steinbeck book is picking it up and opening it, because once she started reading his texts such as Cannery Row, To A God Unknown, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden, she wasn’t able to put the books down. Being a part of SYI gave her the opportunity to escape from her hectic life and find a deeper understanding of Steinbeck’s works through introspection and appreciation of the beautiful coast.

Dylan Ollivier was born on June 13th, 2000 in Los Angeles. He lived in Paris, France from his first to twelfth birthday before moving back to Los Angeles. Throughout high school, Dylan played the alto saxophone in the Wind Ensemble, where he participated in the CASMEC and Washington International Festival tours, and in the top Jazz Band. As well as that, Dylan played piano with the top jazz combo at Santa Monica High School with which he won the Advanced Division of the Westlake Jazz Festival and received an Outstanding Soloist Award. Dylan was also the Sports Editor of The Samohi and is an accomplished guitarist and filmmaker. In the fall, Dylan will attend Columbia University in the City of New York.

Katie Osaki is a recent graduate of Santa Monica High School who will continue on her educational track at UCSB in the Honors Program. Over her two years as a leader in SYI, she has designed and published the very first SYI Literary Journal called The Hour of the Pearl: Literature and Art from the Steinbeck Youth Institute, written an essay on the relationship between the landscape of the Salinas Valley and the characters discussed in one of Steinbeck’s greatest novels East of Eden, and began a play adaptation of Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down with her writing mentor, Sarah Carbiener. Katie has enjoyed and is thankful for her time as a managing editor in the program and will continue to contribute to the organization for years to come.

Alberto Rivas is a recent graduate of Santa Monica High School and will be attending Santa Monica College in the fall.  As a Biology enthusiast, Steinbeck’s descriptions of the life living along the California coast in Cannery Row fascinated him and left him wanting to read more texts to see what else Steinbeck had to offer him.  As a Biblical scholar, East of Eden allowed him to delve into the depths of Genesis and analyze both the allusions within East of Eden as well as the mysteries spread throughout Genesis. On the trip, he also developed a passion for the sea and its inhabitants, which he hopes to carry with him throughout all his journeys in life.

Catherine Tagizadeh is a recent graduate from Santa Monica High School and will attend UCLA in the fall. Her initial love of English and the sciences helped her connect to not only the literary aspects of Steinbeck’s works but the biological ones as well. Exploring the secluded locations, finding the intricate marine life, and meeting the knowledgeable individuals throughout the trip inflamed Catherine’s passion for Steinbeck and created a new appreciation for fictional pieces about science. The abundant wildlife and greenery reminded Catherine of her hometown in Palm Harbor, Florida. Catherine plans to keep up with activities she loves, like reading realistic fiction books, playing classical music on the piano, and conducting immunology research at UCLA. Catherine eventually plans to be a doctor while continuing to write short stories and poetry.

Kyla Walker is a recent graduate of Santa Monica High School and will attend Pomona College in the fall. She intends to major in Media Studies, and use her love of storytelling to create art, fashion, or music in the future. Kyla has played softball for 13 years and will continue her athletic career into college. She has also played guitar for four years, inspired by her favorite band, The Beatles. Right now, she is working on a number of projects including learning about entrepreneurship through her internship at “Where Clothing”, a startup/clothing line featuring Los Angeles streets that locals have grown up on or have become nostalgic for. Kyla is excited for this summer and starting the next chapter in her life at Pomona to explore and connect with different fields and paths that lie ahead.

Thomas Xu will be attending SMC next semester. He has always been a science and mathematically oriented person, frequently finding comfort in the single correct answer that they have to offer. Thomas found a different perspective through the bridge between science and literature that SYI offers, and, along the way, he has made lifelong friends.