November 9, 2023
Walking into Tuesday’s School Committee meeting, Needham High School seniors Nevan Sujit and Ray Winig knew Superintendent Dan Gutekanst would, in his words, “embarrass them both a little bit” — for good reason.
Gutekanst honored the two 17-year-olds with the Certificate of Academic Excellence Awards, a yearly recognition of gifted high schoolers, through the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
Of the hundreds of NHS students, Gutekanst said he could only choose two, which was, admittedly, a difficult task. But Sujit and Winig came with glowing recommendations from school staff, which Gutekanst shared at the meeting.
Winig, an inclusivity advocate and student leader, distinguished themself as a “change agent” intent on fostering a positive school culture, Gutekanst read from a statement. Their involvement with the Needham Diversity Initiative and NHS’ Queer Student Union established Winig as a “role model” for students and staff alike, he added.
Having recently completed a 30-page paper and subsequent presentation for their AP Capstone course, Winig is now cataloging frequently banned books with NHS Teacher-Librarian Paige Rowse in an effort to highlight their value and worthiness on school bookshelves.
Sujit’s love of learning is exemplified by a YouTube playlist titled “cool math videos” he compiled for his AP Calculus BC class last year. Ms. Bunda’s chemistry lab became Sujit’s testing grounds as he researched microbial fuel cells, which can turn wastewater into renewable electricity. He presented his experiments and findings at last spring’s Massachusetts Science and Engineering Fair.
He divides his time between the robotics team, Boy Scouts, violin practice and his family, specifically his 7-year-old brother Nelvin.
“These are two extraordinary young people that we are very proud will move beyond Needham High School,” Gutekanst said. “I think they clearly represent the Portrait of a Needham Graduate. They are fine representatives of their classmates for sure.”
While Sujit acknowledged all he’s achieved in the classroom and through extracurriculars, he largely credited the Needham community for his well-rounded education.
“As much as I’ve worked hard and I’m amazing and whatever, I’m also a product of my environment,” Sujit said at the meeting, “and I feel like I’ve been very fortunate to grow up in such a supportive environment that is Needham High School.”
Part of that environment is NHS’ Da Vinci Workshop, a makerspace with a laser cutter, 3D printer and other tools that “helped me grow in my passion for STEM,” Sujit said.
School librarians played an influential role in Winig’s academic journey and “personal development,” starting right there at Broadmeadow Elementary School, where the meeting was held.
Winig advised underclassmen should pursue their interests, even if it may not be aligned with their peers’.
“I think that oftentimes, you can very easily fall into a culture of not believing in what you’re doing as meaningful or impactful, and part of believing in that is that you will not be,” Winig said. “And so I think even if you are the one person in the room who actually cares to be there, caring to be there still matters.”
For Sujit, school is an “opportunity to be intellectual” and a place where students can explore their curiosities. It’s not all about grades, he said.
“It’s kind of dorky, but I love hanging out with my teachers after school,” Sujit said, “because they’re cool people and they’re very smart and I love learning from them.”
Vice Chair Elizabeth Lee praised Sujit and Winig for their outlook on their academics — it’s not just about getting “to the next step” for them, but rather a chance “to tackle big problems,” she said. Knowing Sujit through Boy Scouts, Chair Andrea Longo Carter highlighted his ability to lead younger scouts and make scouting fun and inclusive.
Interning with the Boston Alliance of LGBTQ+ Youth on community health advocacy and peer education has helped develop Winig’s post-graduate goals. They said in an interview they are interested in studying psychology, sociology and public health.
With a few months until commencement, Winig said in an interview they hope to have made a lasting impact on current and future LGBTQ students in Needham Public Schools.
“Something that is really valued to me in that setting is working to create a safer environment for queer and trans students,” Winig said of the Queer Student Union, “and developing an affinity space for that community within the school building and within a culture and a community that can be frequently hostile to those experiences.”
Sujit’s next four years will likely entail lots of STEM classes, he said. He continues to add to his growing YouTube playlist, solely out of his love for math and helping others find their love for the subject.
“My biggest quality, I feel like, is trying to make people feel included when things can seem challenging,” Sujit said, “and trying to be empathetic to the fact that people might find a lot of STEM stuff intimidating.”
Student Representative Member and NHS senior Lea Gruen also applauded the awardees.
“As one of your peers, I’ve been in many classes with both of you, and I truly can’t think of anyone more deserving,” Gruen said. “You’re both so insightful and so intelligent, and I know that wherever you’ll go next, you’ll make an immense impact, so congratulations.”