Montville High School senior focuses on community

Jun. 15—MONTVILLE — Senior Tenzin Dadon gladly offers the information that she's going to college in New Haven next year, and that she's in Montville High School's student government.

But it takes follow-up questions to discern which school, exactly, she's going to after graduation, and what her position is in student government.

Turns out, the school is Yale University, and the position is president. But Dadon doesn't view either fact as defining. Instead, they're both part of a life dedicated to others, whether it's her peers or community members.

Dadon participates in a bevy of volunteer activities, including helping out at Backus Hospital, with the American Red Cross and at polling places on Election Day. Her most rewarding experience, though, has been her assistance with the English as a Second Language program at Mohegan Elementary School. She credits her mother, Hui Qi Xu, a Chinese immigrant, for instilling a sense of service.

"My passion for community service and getting involved at school, helping the community I'm part of, really comes from how I was raised," she said. "I have a single parent mom, she does a lot for me and my older sister, and she's always taught me to help others. The ESL program helped me out a lot. I came in kindergarten, and English wasn't my first language, so I understand a lot of the struggles of having to learn a new language and not being able to build close relationships with others at a young age because of that barrier."

Dadon notes, too, that it "takes everyone to raise a village." She worries that American society is no longer traveling in the direction of compassion, and in her way, she's tried to rectify that.

A voracious reader of news, Dadon is aware of her country's divided political climate.

"It makes me sad seeing how polarized our country is and how we can't agree on a lot of issues," she said. "We're more biased and focused on what we want instead of what we all want. It makes me upset because it feels like we're moving away from this community-type mentality."

Still, Dadon is hopeful for the future because she finds the same "us" rather than "me" mentality among her friends, classmates and generally her generation. During the COVID-19 pandemic she saw it in the many clubs she belongs to, which persevered despite not being able to meet in person for the better part of a year.

"COVID has definitely made things challenging because for the first half of the year we weren't allowed to see each other. For student government, the first time we actually had a meeting was just this week in person," Dadon said last week. "I've seen some of the clubs at my school sort of disappear during COVID just because you don't have that routine of coming in every week and meeting after school."

As a result, Dadon and her fellow club members, whether it's the math team, the Future Business Leaders of America, the international club, the environmental club or student government, have had to double their efforts to stay connected and effective.

In particular, Dadon said, student government has sought to make high school better — and more social — for students in light of the pandemic.

"Everyone I'm in clubs with, they're not doing it for themselves. Student government, we're not planning spirit weeks for ourselves. It's more for the school community to engage our students because they haven't had the best year," she said. "They're isolated, people's mental health is on the line, so we'd like to get the school more active in real ways."

Dadon mentioned student-conducted Friday game nights over Zoom, which gave anyone who wanted to the chance to catch up during the pandemic and ideally relieve the feeling of isolation.

Even with Dadon's varied interests, and her love of painting, especially watercolors, she's known that she's gifted in math and science since grade school. She's leaning toward majoring in biochemistry and/or biophysics at Yale, where she will be attending on a prestigious QuestBridge scholarship for students of low-income backgrounds.

"I did not expect that application to go through," Dadon said. "I was just as shocked as my mom. We opened the decision together."

Principal Heather Sangermano summed up Dadon's reputation at the high school.

"She is a passionate and driven student and an active member of her community. In school, she is engaged in her classes and continues to challenge herself with a heavy workload and schedule," Sangermano said. "Her enthusiasm for helping others has sparked her future interest as she seeks a career in healthcare."

Whatever Dadon chooses to do professionally, it will have a basis in strengthening community, she said. And if her high school career is any indication, she'll be dedicated to her choice.

"Once the bell rings, I don't go home right away," she said, understated and matter-of-factly.