Voices from SD Orientation: Ariana Salimi


Good morning everyone. My name is Ariana Salimi, I’m 16 years old, I go to St. Mary’s College High School, and I’ve been taking ATDP courses every summer since 3rd grade. 9 whole years of ATDP!

My expedition of ATDP started when my Dad’s dentist was just simply talking to my dad about the program. My dad began praising it so highly that my mom decided to enroll me in a class. Like any 7 year old, I didn’t want to spend my summer learning new things and expanding my horizons. I wanted to have fun. But fortunately, my mom made me take a “Simple Machines” class, forcing me to learn new things and expand my horizons.

And I did learn something new from that class—I should never be an engineer. Really, I was terrible in that class. Our final project was supposed to be these sophisticated and overly complex machines that consisted of pulleys and ramps to do something simple like turn a page. All of the kids had the amazing projects made out of legos and blocks and guess what I turned in: A pinwheel, a paper pinwheel.

But I learned something more than simple machines from that class. I learned about resourcefulness, and how to improvise something when things go wrong. Before I turned in that pinwheel, I tried for days to make those beautiful elaborate machines that everyone else made. You can even ask my mom, half of the elbow grease put in was her. And in that I learned something else—I was probably the worst student in that class. I didn’t like the material, it all seemed difficult for me to understand, but here’s the thing: I was the worst out of the best. And it’s what makes ATDP so great. It takes you out of your comfort zone, pushing the envelope.

Fast forward to 2011 when I took my first Secondary Division course—Introduction to Biotechnology. It was science, a subject I found extreme riveting. What could go wrong? Everything. I overestimated my ability and understanding of biology, and though I did well on the tests, the application of biotechnology and writing about current events that concerned biotech was difficult. So much so, that history repeated itself, and my mom was with me, at that same desk, working on my homework with me.

As much as I love science, the class that changed me the most was my Public Speaking course. It helped me find my voice and think over my opinions. We were asked to formulate a persuasive speech regarding a current event. And at this time, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was at its height, and being a young naive Muslim, I blindly choose the side of Palestine, blaming Israel for everything. And when I presented this speech, I unknowingly presented it to my Jewish-Israeli American teacher. After my speech, my teacher pulled me aside and diplomatically discussed her viewpoint. She didn’t get angry, or give me an F. Actually, I got an A. But, she made think about another side that I saw blindly demonized. I simplified a complex issue to match my worldview, and that moment has stuck with now, and forever.

You see, ATDP isn’t just a place where the academically talented go to develop on their skills. It’s where future thinkers go to seek expertise and think outside the box. We aren’t cookie cutter smart kids; we can change the world around us, even if it starts with a teacher and a student discussing a complex Middle-Eastern conflict that we don’t know the end of. And maybe, the people sitting before me now will find answers for that. We aren’t defined by our GPAs or IQ, we are defined by what we have to say. And there’s no better place to find your voice than ATDP. And I’ll surely miss it.