Author’s Day Arrives at SVHS

Aidan Griggs-Demmin, Co-head Editor, News Editor


SVHS had the pleasure of hosting 15 authors on Friday, August 27 for the annual Author’s Festival. Each speaker brought unique insight and perspective, making it a memorable and impactful experience for all of the SVHS students.


The Billy Collins Experience

By Joe Gitti Di Vita

 SVHS was treated to a presentation from world-renowned poet Billy Collins on  Author’s Day.

When he came to the school on Friday, August 27, he read a variety of his famous poems. Collins delivered a powerful message about life in high school. Commentating on his own high school experiences, Collins stated that “if everybody liked you, there would be something wrong with you.”

Throughout his entire presentation, Collins kept his composure even in spite of some interruption and mocking from the back of the room. Showing the true poet in himself, Collins countered the disrespect with a jesting statement: “WTF guys? And no, that does not mean Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.”

Despite a slim population disengaging from his lecture completely, many students only had positive feedback to give about Collins. Senior Nelli Jimenez expressed her amusement by stating that “he was funny, it was funny what he was saying about high school, and he was very relatable.”

 Although the honor of having such a recognized speaker at Sonoma Valley High didn’t register with some of the audience,  it’s certain that Collin’s wisdom and advice won’t go to waste, inspiring future students to thrive in all environments.


Steven Koonin: Contentious Controversy

By Natalie Wetzel

Dr. Steven E. Koonin, physicist and professor in the Department of Civil and Urban Engineering at NYU, presented his beliefs on climate change in front of a packed pavilion on Author’s Day. Dr. Koonin’s main points revolved around the assumptions that earth’s warming is a natural phenomena, human influences have minimal effects on the climate system, and that climate data is being misinterpreted. These claims bewildered the crowd. 

He backed his statements with complex data that was difficult for highschool audience to interpret. Nonetheless, his presentation engaged students due to his controversial views. Sonoma Valley teens have experienced extreme fire seasons since 2017, so his claims that “wildfires have decreased” left the crowd particularly shocked. 

At the end of the presentation, many people from the audience went up to voice their opinion, including several students and AP Environmental Science teacher Kelly O’Leary. 


Bari Weiss: Caught in the Middle

By Elena Forrest

Bari Weiss, former op-ed writer for The Wall Street Journal and New York Times, spoke to students at SVHS on Author’s Day about her experience in journalism and her take on the division of the country. 

Weiss grasped the audience’s attention through her detailed accounts of being an “outsider” looking in on her peers at both major publications she wrote for.

She always felt as if she either was “too liberal” or “too conservative” for the publication company, causing her to be forced to censor her opinion in order to succeed. 

Due to the forced censorship, Weiss felt it was crucial to leave the status of being a writer at the New York Times behind, in order to pursue her authenticity. This inspired Bari to create her own personal news outlet where she invited all types of people to write for her in the hopes that she can create a balanced, objective news source.

Her overall message to students was to always be authentic and take risks. Senior Nelli Jimenez said she was impacted by Weiss’ presentation because “she spoke with a lot of passion and she was not afraid to be herself.” She also stated that she enjoyed her presentation because “It felt like I was having a regular conversation, as if we were friends… I loved the informality of it and how approachable she was.” Weiss’ discussion of speaking her truth was very relevant to the impressionable audience who found her story relatable and inspiring. 


Wade Davis: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

By Alex Reilly

Dragon students had the pleasure of meeting photographer, ethnographer, and writer Wade Davis last Friday for the school’s Author’s Day. Davis’s Career has allowed him to spend years traveling through the world while documenting and sharing his experiences through photography.

Wade’s strong passion for Colombian culture caught many students’ attention. He emphatically stated that “the only danger with Columbia is you will never want to come home.” 

Alongside his captivating stories and adventures, Davis shared his photography. Looking around the pavilion, student’s eyes were drawn to the breathtaking photos captured from the forests of the Amazon to the heart-touching photos of the Colombian people. Davis described his love of photography as the ability to “capture an act of passion.” 

Wade’s presentation inspired students to remember that life is full of endless opportunities. He left the students with  an important message: “A career is not something you put on as a coat, it’s something you put on for a short period of time…I’ve worn many hats and so will you.” 


Isabel Allende: Inspiration to All

By Alejandra Gonzalez

An inspiration to foreigners everywhere, Isabel Allende is a Spanish writer who came to Sonoma Valley High School on Friday August 27 for Author’s Day. Her presentation featured everything from memoirs to magical realism. 

Allende shared that she has a unique tradition – every year on January 8th, she starts writing a new novel. She does this because she is admittedly a classic procrastinator. Senior Isabelle Costanzo agreed that it was a unique superstition but probably “helps her stay motivated.”

When one of Allende’s children Paula Frias Allende passed away, the death caused Allende to have severe writer’s block. After her passing she gave herself self time and it eventually inspired her to write and dedicate a book to her called Paula that was written in 1994.

All of Allende’s books, including Paula, have a message behind them. Her intent is always to inspire students and communicate important lessons.


Ramon Reza: An Underdog Story

By Jared Cordero

Dr. Ramon Reza, a pediatrician who came from nothing, told his story at Author’s Day of his rise to the occupation that he loves. Despite a tough childhood filled with abusive relationships and countless hard-working days in the fields, he still made it through college.

He defied everyone’s expectations – including his own high school counselor. This tenacity seemed to spark belief in the students in attendance. LeeAnna Tommasi was “really inspired by his drive to go to college even with people telling him he would never make it.”

Ramon Reza connected with SVHS and showed the students a true underdog story. Tomassi concluded that it really “made [her] think about how many opportunities [she has]  to pursue [her] dreams and go to college to do amazing things in [her] future.”


Min Jin Li: Resilience and Resolve

By Erin Nicholson

Min Jin Li is a South Korean immigrant who moved with her family from Seoul to New York when she was seven years old. Her presentation at the Author’s Day Festival at SVHS on August 27 included two of her own written excerpts. The first excerpt was from her New York Times article that answered the question, What is Power?  

As a unique way of introducing herself, she retold her story of immigrating to the United States, her endeavors in the public school system, and her paralyzing fear of public speaking and communicating due to her language barrier. In front of the eager students, she shared words of wisdom and encouragement when it came to finding power through one’s voice, and admitted that even today, there are times when she finds it difficult to speak in front of audiences.

Her second reading was an excerpt from her most popular novel Pachinko, where the main character, Sunja, is selling kimchi at the market. As the reading progressed, Min Jin Li would occasionally take a step back from the podium, take a deep breath, close her eyes, or choke on her words. At one point, she stopped as she began to cry.

Needless to say, her second reading was raw with the wave of emotions expressed by Min Jin Li. Although her reactions were not intentional, they intensified the depth  of  her story and gave it more power than it would have otherwise. The audience was entranced by her reading, and undoubtedly moved by her delivery.

Li’s presentation concluded with a short Q&A where she answered questions about her assimilation into American society, her process of writing and research, and gave advice to students about public speaking and having confidence in their identity. Min Jin Li was an inspiring, fascinating, and passionate author and speaker that certainly left her mark on the audience.


Dan Russell: Insight into the Internet

By Rose Houghton

Computer scientist Dan Russell presented in front of an audience of SVHS students on Author’s Day. Russell revealed that “curiosity drives [him] towards the next question” when dissecting the workings of the most famous internet search engine, Google. Russel also offers insight into his recent book that is entitled “The Joy of Search.”

For over 10 years, Russell has been working as a computer scientist for Google, analyzing how people browse the internet and how to implement tools that can help research be more efficient and quicker.  

Senior Keira Sheldon agreed that “his tips were really helpful and surprising” after Russell explained some helpful keyboard tricks on Google.


Craig Frazier: Writing Visually 

By Rue Gobbee

Craig Frazier refused to swear off his artistic abilities as he grew up. In front of a crowd of eager SVHS students, he assured that all children are “born being unafraid to draw.” Most swear off their artistic abilities when they reach a certain age, but Frazier did not. 

Craig, an accomplished graphic designer, and illustrator emphasized the love he has for his job. Helping individuals and companies speak to the world in visual ways. He sees it as “drawing metaphorically.”  

Frazier maintained the desire to be an illustrator and began working in 1978 and starting his own firm in 1980. The clients he works for change weekly, and in order to help the company, he has to understand the company as a whole. His research included what the company does, how they do it, and who they’re doing it for. 

Sophia Vogt, a senior at SVHS,  thought “his persistence was inspiring” in his continued dedication to his dream job.

 The prominence of graphic design and illustration is present in countless objects in everyday life. Frazier’s work exemplified the importance of this job.


Tom Rinaldi: Remembering Welles Crowther 

By Camille Phillips

Tom Ronaldi, sports reporter and author of The Red Bandana, spoke alongside Alison Crowther and had the audience  in tears when they shared the heroic story of Alison’s son Welles Crowther. Welles, a former Boston College Lacrosse player turned volunteer firefighter, did not let fear stop him when he selflessly rescued 18 people from the South Tower of the World Trade Center on the fatal day of September 11, 2001. 

The two explained how when Welles’ was a little boy, his father, Jefferson Crowther gave him a white handkerchief, for use, and a red bandana, for show. From then on, whether Welles was at the fire station working as a volunteer firefighter or playing a lacrosse game for Boston College, he was never without his red bandana. After graduating college, Welles’ moved to New York City and began working a corporate job, but eventually decided to take a different path and began the process of becoming a firefighter. 

On the day of September 11, 2001, Welles messaged his parents saying “Mom, this is Welles. I wanted you to know that I’m OK.” Welles then proceeded to walk up to the 78th floor of the South Tower where the people he rescued remember him saying, “Only help who you can help.” Welles went up and down the South Tower several times to save as many people as he could, before the tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m. 

When asked how she copes with the death of her son, Alison attributes it all to prayer and her faith. Alison went on to say that “he was going to change the world with the red bandana.” 

Welles touched the lives of countless people and will never be forgotten.


Euan Ashley: The Genome Sequence

By Owen Vanzant

Genome sequencing, the process of determining close to the entirety of the DNA sequence in an organism, is an expensive business. Dr. Euan Ashley, who visited SVHS on Author’s Day, is a prominent figure in this field.

Dr. Ashley has worked with Stanford since 2002, has been awarded by the American Heart Association, and has worked with the Obama Administration. Coming from a medical family, Dr. Ashley went to school in Glasgow and eventually graduated from Oxford with a PhD.

The work in genomes has discovered that they are able to find latent and hereditary diseases. Since working at Stanford hospital, Dr. Ashley has been using genome sequencing to detect latent heart diseases in an attempt to be able to treat them early. SVHS Senior Mateo Luque noted that “his presentation was enjoyable”  and that he
“found it interesting that just from the discovery of genomes you could save so many lives.”

One person who had their genomes sequenced was his partner, Stephen Quake, who also worked within Stanford. Quake had sequenced his own genome in his lab with a new system he created. His system was explained as a series of rows and columns holding his genes.

Dr. Ashley’s obvious expertise and knowledge left a mark on the SVHS students in attendance.


Alex Fillipenko: Seeing Beyond

By Dominic Girish

Peering through the lens of the Hubble Space Telescope, renowned astrophysicist Alex Filippenko analyzes what billions of others can’t. 

Filippenko, a professor at the University of California Berkeley, grasped the crowd of SVHS students at Author’s Day from the beginning, showcasing his groundbreaking discoveries about galaxies millions of light-years away. 

Senior Daniel Rico remarked how amazed he was “at how large our galaxy is. I could not believe that he [Filippenko] was able to come up with these findings. He’s so smart.”

Alongside his breathtaking findings, Fileppenko also shared his profound philosophy about the universe. As a member of the Supernova Cosmology Project, he explained how his studies of supernovae led to his theory that the universe is expanding at an unprecedentedly alarming rate. 

Junior Grant Boydell, explained that he “had no idea that any of this existed” and he “could not believe that dark matter is an actual thing in our universe.”

Fileppenko impressed the crowd and his presentation was captivating to the eager students. He ended his speech with a running joke in the cosmology field: “Remember, cosmology and cosmetology are not the same!”


Luis Rodriguez: Everyone is Worth Fighting For

By Kacy Minehan

Luis Rodriguez shared his story of recovery with Sonoma Valley High students at the annual Author’s Day festival. Rodriguez devoted his life to drugs and violence at the early age of 11 – but he shares his story in hopes of preventing kids from making the same decisions he did. 

While being in and out of prisons and rehab centers, he experienced the loss of friends and family and found himself in the same prison row as Charles Manson.

It wasn’t until the age of 67 that Rodriguez decided to change. After getting sober and starting a family, he and his wife started a culture center in LA . Rodriguez found positive ways to impact his community but still remembers his past in the hopes that he can continue to share his story and inspire others. 


Doris Kearns Goodwin: Prestige Personified

By Aidan Griggs-Demmin

Doris Kearns Goodwin graced the stage at the SVHS Author’s Day for the final performance of the afternoon  during 6th period. A famous historian and political commentator, she brought a unique perspective to a crowd of impressionable young listeners. Her presentation was interactive and engaging, as it was structured like a conversation and she allowed the audience to ask several questions before the final bell. 

She stressed the importance of getting involved in your community from an early age, as it “makes you feel like you’re part of the decisions made in our country.”

Goodwin’s career is crowned by a multitude of awards and achievements. She attended the prestigious Colby College in Maine, before embarking on a diverse career that featured a White House internship, a teaching position at Harvard, and a 1995 Pulitzer Prize for History awarded for her No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front During World War II. Her experience and expertise was evident throughout her presentation, and she certainly made her mark on a gym full of SVHS students.


Dave Barry: Comedic Genius

By Caroline Studdert

Sonoma Valley High School kicked off the fantastic Author’s Day Festival with the impressive Dave Barry. Dave Barry is an American author who wrote a humor column for the Miami Herald and has written numerous books. 

Dave Barry started off the presentation with pictures from his younger years, joking that he “didn’t have a lot going for [him] in high school, besides a sense of humor”.

Barry got his first journalism job at Daily Local News after college. For most of his young career, he wrote serious news stories. When he experimented with humor writing, he would make fun of places like North Dakota. As a result of this teasing, North Dakota named a sewage plant after him. 

Throughout the presentation, he shared many funny stories about his times as a writer and a father. He once picked up his son from school with a weiner dog mobile and won a Pulitzer Prize with his son by his side. His son is now a writer for the Wall Street Journal.  He also told the tragic story of his daughter losing her ability to walk. 

Barry finished his presentation with a Q&A session where he revealed he was a writer in his high school’s newspaper and also shared his tips on getting around writer’s block.