One of my favorite pastimes as the Director of College Counseling at St. Luke’s School is dispelling college admissions myths. No, you don’t have to forgo four years of sleep and fun to be academically successful. Yes, you can fully recover from a “bad” test grade—and even a “bad” semester. No, your college choice will not determine whether you’re happy in life.

One particularly persistent myth is that you have one shot to get into your “dream” school. If you’re not accepted, that dream is over. To bust that myth, I offer you St. Luke's alumni who attend or recently attended Yale University. Each arrived at Yale via their own distinct path—directly from St. Luke’s and from different undergraduate institutions.

These alumni have different backgrounds, different passions, and vastly different personalities. Yet they share a belief: I can forge my own path.


Jonathan Salamon ‘10

Jonathan (Jon) Salamon graduated from St. Luke’s in 2010 and attended New York University as an undergraduate, and went on to earn a Master of Music Degree in Harpsichord Performance from Yale in 2017. He is currently a  Doctor of Musical Arts student at Yale.


SLS: Can you describe your field of study:
Jon: I specialize in historical keyboard instruments and repertoire from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with a particular interest in the music of J.S. Bach (1685-1750). The harpsichord is the instrument from which the piano was invented; the keyboard mechanism plucksJonSalamon_StLukes_Classof2010_sq the strings, rather than striking them with hammers, as in the piano. The keyboard music of Bach, Handel, and their predecessors and contemporaries was actually composed for the harpsichord rather than the piano. The study and performance of this music on early keyboard instruments lead to fascinating musical insights—it’s like archaeology in the form of sound. I aspire to a multi-faceted career in music that consists of performing, research, teaching, and recording.

SLS: What led you to harpsichord and eventually Yale?
Jon: I became captivated with the harpsichord in high school, and at New York University (NYU), I had the chance to play harpsichord concurrently with my piano studies. I majored in Piano Performance and completed a minor in Law & Society; NYU's blend of liberal arts and conservatory curricula was unique and comprehensive, and its location in the heart of Manhattan led to constructive interaction with all forms of art.

After several performances with the NYU Baroque Ensemble, I realized the ideal next step in my musical education would be to pursue harpsichord and historical performance. I took a gap year after graduating from NYU to focus completely on practicing harpsichord, while also working in Manhattan. I auditioned at Yale in February 2015 and was offered admission for that fall—it was my first choice school and I was thrilled. I was fortunate enough to gain admission to the Yale School of Music’s doctoral program in the spring of 2017 and have just begun my second year.

SLS: Why was Yale your school of choice?
Jon: When choosing a music school, one of the primary considerations is the faculty. The harpsichord professor at Yale—Arthur Haas—is an exemplary musician and a keen interpreter. Yale also has remarkable musical facilities, and the wider resources of the university provide countless opportunities for further intellectual development. Most distinctive, however, is Yale’s Collection of Musical Instruments, which contains playable instruments of all kinds from multiple centuries, including Wagner’s own piano. For the past two years I have given lecture-recitals at the Collection; this year, I was able to perform on a Viennese piano from 1795, and last year on a fully-restored French harpsichord from ca. 1740.

SLS: What advice would you give your 17-year-old self?
Jon: It is crucial to have faith in yourself and embrace your strengths, no matter how others might feel about your choices. Listen carefully to what others have to say, but don’t let the opinions of others discourage or deter you from what you believe is your path.

SLS: What do you remember most about SLS?
Jon: I have so many fond memories of SLS. My sister started there in 7th grade while I was still in elementary school, and I went to SLS straight through from 5th-12th grades, so it’s been a big part of my life, and I still keep in touch with many people from SLS. One of my favorite memories is getting hot cocoa and walking with friends to the art house in wintertime. I also remember the individualized musical attention I received at St. Luke’s. I give a lot of credit to Mr. Griffa, Mr. Leinbach, and Mr. Valera for their time and encouragement. Whether it was composing in the keyboard lab with Mr. Leinbach, or my one-on-one music history class with Mr. Griffa, I synthesized many musical skills that have undeniably benefited me to this day. I must also say that the St. Luke’s curriculum prepared me very well for the intellectual rigors of college and beyond, and for that I am grateful.
In high school, as I was learning more about the harpsichord, I discovered and was captivated by the recordings of the late harpsichordist Igor Kipnis, who graduated from St. Luke’s, studied at Harvard, and became an internationally-renowned musician. As an homage to Kipnis, I played a Handel piece on my Master’s recital that I had first heard from one of Kipnis’ recordings. Our mutual connection to St. Luke’s adds a special fondness to my music studies.
Enjoy a recording of Jon's harpsichord performance of J.S. Bach's Prelude in B-flat major, BWV 866, performed at Yale.



Khush Dhaliwal '15

Khush Dhaliwal graduated from St. Luke’s in 2015. She headed directly to Yale where she is a biology major and a pre-med student.

SLS:  What are you studying at Yale?

Khush: I'm a biology major. I haven't picked my focus yet, but I'm leaning towards biochemistry. I'm also a pre-medical student, so I'm also taking all the classes required by medical schools.

I want to go to medical school so that I can be a doctor someday. However, I'm not sure what kind of doctor I want to be. I've also recently become more and more interested in the field of public health so maybe my eventual career will involve research relating to that as well.

SLS:  Why was Yale your school of choice?


Khush: When I visited the school, I loved the kindness and generosity of the students and teachers there. In fact, at one point during my visit, I ended up lost on "Science Hill," so I walked into the nearest building. As I was walking through the hallways, a professor came out from her office and asked me if I was lost and took time from her busy day to guide me to where I was supposed to go. I knew that even if half the professors cared as much about the students as she did, I would be in good hands. In that way, Yale reminds me a lot of St. Luke's. It feels like a home away from home because the people here are genuinely kind.

SLS:  What's been the most challenging aspect of your studies?

Khush:  I think finding a balance between my schoolwork, extracurriculars, and downtime has been challenging. When I first came to Yale's campus, there was so much I wanted to learn and so many groups and activities that I wanted to be a part of, but I eventually realized that I couldn't do everything and that was completely normal. I still have trouble finding that healthy balance, but I'm definitely much closer to it than I was when I first came here.

SLS: What advice would you give your 17-year-old school self?

Khush: I would tell my high school self to take some time out of my day to talk to my teachers about something other than schoolwork. The teachers at St. Luke's are wonderful people and they have so much to offer both inside and outside of the classroom.


SLS:  What do you remember most about St. Luke's?

Khush:  I think being at St. Luke's helped me develop habits of mind where I prioritized learning above all else. It's very easy to get caught up in trying to get good grades at the expense of all else, but having been at St. Luke's since the 5th grade, I learned to enjoy every subject and the process of reading textbooks, studying primary sources, working through challenging problems, and getting lost every now and then. I left St. Luke's with an appreciation for the gift of education and that has helped me immensely in times when I have been stressed here at Yale.


Max Mensching '07

Max Mensching graduated from St. Luke’s in 2007 and attended Hobart College where he 
received a Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies with Minor in Studio Art. He went on to earn a Masters Degree in Architecture from Yale University in 2017. Max is currently an Integration Lead at WeWork.

SLS:  You went from St. Luke’s to Hobart College. What led you there?

Max: I always had an interest in architecture. During high school it was a relatively new field to me and something that I thought I might be interested in pursuing.  At that time, I was more focused on economics and studio art. Part of the reason I decided to attend Hobart is that Mensching_Maxwell_photo (3)it’s my belief that a liberal arts education enables you to approach the architectural profession, or any profession for that matter, with greater flexibility. I was able to explore my interests a bit more and take classes that were genuinely interesting to me. 

While I was at Hobart, I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark for a semester. That had a major impact on me. It’s an incredible place to study because they have so many different styles all in one place. They also have modern, tasteful design that much of the rest of the world often tries to copy. They are essentially architectural trend-setters.

SLS: What did you you do in the time between Hobart to Yale?

Max: I went straight from Hobart to accepting a job offer in an interactive technology lab at an architecture firm called Rockwell Group. I knew I wanted to get into the architectural industry and eventually wanted to pursue my masters, but first I wanted to work to gain some real-world experience. I just felt that people often rush into a masters program without having a real sense of what interests them. I’m so glad I worked in-between because it was during my three years at Rockwell Group that I found my passion for interactive design. Between my time at Hobart, my studies abroad and then several years of work—I had a much better idea of what I was looking for in a graduate program and for my professional career.”

SLS: Why Yale for your Masters?

Max: When I began exploring graduate schools, I was initially attracted to Yale because the Yale masters of architecture program is one of the best in the world. At Rockwell Group, I was an interaction designer where most of my work involved working with 3D renderings, virtual & augmented reality, robotics, and kinetics to build upon the ideas of other architects and take the user experience to another level. I knew I wanted to pursue more of this work and Yale has one of the best, most advanced fabrication and technology labs, so it was a no-brainer.

SLS: What excites you about your field?

Max: The combination of technology, human interaction, and architecture is very compelling to me because of its potential for future growth and innovation. For example, through the use of augmented reality (AR) and and virtual reality (VR) it’s now easier than ever to immerse your clients in a designed space, or make changes to a 3D model in real-time to adjust to client feedback right then and there. Utilizing this technology allows for more rapid development of projects and gives us the ability to make changes to a design that we wouldn’t be able to make until it was actually built.

In my current position at WeWork, I’m working with a team of software developers to deploy a web-based platform that makes use of our own proprietary predictive spatial algorithm. It's  a program that automatically designs the space for you. It’s super cool and something that I’ve been interested in being a part of for a long time. We’re having great success.

SLS: What advice would you give your 17-Year-old self?

 Max: I would tell myself, “Reach out and use every resource you have Max Mensching SLS Class of 2007available to you.” When I was at St. Luke’s, I took so much for granted. There are so many opportunities. Teachers willing to help you outside of class, and all these different activities and clubs you can try. I would tell myself to take advantage of it all. Gather every bit of information you can get. 

Also, I would tell myself to remember how important math and computer science is for almost everything in today’s world. While I don’t write code on a daily basis at WeWork, it helps tremendously that I know enough about writing/reading code to have meaningful discussions with the software engineers and app developers. It helps to facilitate a mutual understanding between all parties involved while working with a team to produce a product.

SLS: What do you remember most about St. Luke's?

Max: Mr. Yavenditti and Mr. Griffa are two teachers who really pushed me to be the best that I could be. They were always encouraging and helped me have the confidence and wherewithal to pursue my interests no matter how tough they seemed at the time. I remember being a member of the Robotics Club in Middle School which clearly had a hugely positive impact on my interests & professional career today and I’m thrilled to see that there is currently a dedicated tech lab at the school today!

Most of all, I remember the close-knit nature of the relationships between students, teachers, and classmates. It was an amazingly great place to learn and figure out who & where I wanted to be.     

Brenda Meany '10 

Brenda Meany graduated from St. Luke's in 2010 and earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Bucknell University. She is currently a Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, specializing in Business and the Environment. 

SLS: How did you decide what you want to be when you grow up?

Brenda: I graduated from Bucknell University with a degree in businessBrenda Meany at Yale University management. I did not have a clear vision for my career path at the time. I lived and worked in New York City for two years in the Global Supply Chain Department at ANN Inc. I worked with mills, factories, and our global partners to facilitate and manage product development and production, from the initial design concept to delivery of the finished product to stores. During my time at ANN Inc., I became very interested in environmental issues within the global supply chain. I worked on the Better Cotton Initiative, a program that supports and trains local farmers to produce more sustainable cotton, which opened my eyes to the environmental and financial benefits of incorporating environmental supply chain management. After working on this project and realizing how much I loved doing this work, I started looking at graduate programs where I could study corporate environmental management.

SLS: Why did you set your sights on Yale?

Brenda: St. Luke’s set very high standards for the kind of community I looked for in choosing both Bucknell and Yale. The Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies is a very close-knit community of around 180 students per class from all over the world. I was attracted to the program as everyone is very active, passionate about their work, and genuinely really nice people to be around.

The unique aspect of graduate school is that it is in the first time in my life where I am around a group of people who all have a narrowed focus of interest, compared to high school or my undergraduate studies.

This past summer, I completed an internship on the Pepsico sustainability team through the Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps Fellowship Program. 

SLS: What's been the hardest part of your studies?

Brenda: In a nation where the acknowledgment of man-made climate change is not universal, creating new business as usual practices is still an uphill battle that requires interdisciplinary and multifaceted solutions. Environmental management involves an integration of various field of studies, including but not limited to, science, policy, law, and business management. Everyone at Yale is approaching the climate change issue from a different perspective, which makes for very interesting class discussions.

SLS: What advice would you give your 17-year-old self?

Brenda: Have fun! Envision a path for yourself now, but don’t take it too seriously. At the age of 17, I never would have imagined that I would be back in graduate school studying environmental issues. Although I did not realize it at the time, St. Luke’s gave me the personal development skills and academic foundation to be successful in whatever path I wanted to pursue. My studies at Bucknell led me to my job at ANN Inc. and if I had chosen another job, I might not have chosen to pursue a degree in corporate environmental management. Learning from your peers is just as important, if not more important, than what you learn from your teachers and professors. Take time to get to know the people around you and hear their life story, as you never know where it will lead you.

SLS: What do you remember most about St. Luke’s?

Brenda: I still look back at St. Luke’s as the most formative years of my life.St. Luke's Brenda Meany in 5th Grade My teachers and friends at St. Luke’s taught me about the importance of feminism, diversity, equality, and global thinking from a young age and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have gone to St. Luke’s. Most importantly, St. Luke’s taught me what it means to be a part of a community. It was more than a school, it was my family and second-home.

I still talk to my best friends from St. Luke’s every day and I know they will be a part of my life forever.



  Next Up: #4 in our Road to Yale Series will publish 5/25. Subscribe using the button on this page to be alerted to new Leading Voices blog posts.  


More on College Admissions:

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A Panel of Experts: College Sports Recruitment


St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead. 


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