Humans of Ransom Everglades: Erik Medina ’21’s RE journey, from nervous sixth grader to valedictorian

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Courtesy of Ransom Everglades School

Erik Medina ’21 delivers the valedictory address at the 2021 RE Commencement.

Erik Medina was the go-to man on campus. Whether you were stuck on an AP Calculus BC problem or needed workout advice, he was your guy. His excellence in the classroom, his hard work and determination as a member of both the lacrosse and cross-country teams, his quad-lingual abilities (English, Spanish, Chinese, and French), and his work as a HIP peer mentor, Science NHS officer, and physics tutor propelled him to be named valedictorian of the Class of 2021. 

I sat down with Medina for about an hour two weeks ahead of graduation to better understand the individual who was chosen to represent the Class of 2021. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed his reaction to being named valedictorian, his journey to and through RE, and the value and impact of his experiences at the school. 

You have achieved a lot at Ransom Everglades athletically, academically, and in extracurricular activities, so how does being named valedictorian stack up with all of that? 

To be honest, the title of valedictorian itself, just like the GPA, isn’t as important to me as the experience that I’ve had to get to that spot. Being valedictorian is nice, and it’s a huge honor, but to me what’s more important is that on the way doing it I made great connections with other people; the classes I took were extremely rewarding and challenging, and they pushed me to be the best version of myself I could be. So, to me, that was what really stood out over the seven years. While I am very proud of the achievement, the journey that it took to get there was more valuable. 

How do you feel representing the senior class? 

I couldn’t be prouder and more honored to do it. I love all the people in our grade. I think we’re an amazing class. I’ve met extraordinary, extraordinary people here. People who are so passionate, intelligent, dedicated, incredible, with just a fantastic work ethic. I just couldn’t be prouder to represent the Class of ’21. 

Graduation this year is really only going to be seniors, their families, and faculty. More so due to pandemic restrictions. Is there any message or advice you want to convey to some of the younger grades or people in the RE community who are not going to be at graduation? 

People often tell younger kids ‘Time flies’ and to enjoy it while it lasts, and that’s definitely true. I can’t believe that we’re already graduating and that seven years have gone by so fast. But when you’re a kid and people tell you that, you don’t pay attention to it because the days feel so long to you. You’re enjoying whatever you’re doing and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I know it goes by fast,’ and you’re living in the moment and not paying attention. In a way that’s the right thing to do. I think it’s better to enjoy the moment than worry about the future or looking back and regretting what you have done or what you haven’t done. I think it’s much better to live in the moment. But one thing that I would say–because this is something that I’ve found through personal experience, and I’m sure a lot of people who are older would agree, but it’s not something that you necessarily hear when you’re younger–is that it’s not just that time goes by fast, but it’s that as you get older, time starts going by faster. I started noticing it around junior year. Those times when you’d get home in the afternoon and you’re like, ‘the day was so long. I have so much time,’ and it’s seven o’clock at night and you’re like, ‘the day was so long’: that goes away. You start getting home and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, where did the day go?’ And the weekends, they just start flying by faster and faster. The lacrosse practice that you thought took forever, all of a sudden, it’s over in a blink. You really have to double down and enjoy the moment. You really have to take every second you get and not take it for granted because you just don’t have that much time, unfortunately. 

You are probably one of the most involved people on campus. How do you do it all? 

A big part of it is just planning ahead. It sounds cliché, but unfortunately it’s true sometimes. Clichés are real. I spoke a little bit about it at the senior panel, but sometimes when you have those twenty minutes that you get home and are like, ‘Huh, I have nothing to do right now,’ there’s always something to do right now. It’s tough because you want to relax, but what I’ve come to realize is that if you can get what you need to get done and just get it over with, then towards the end of the week when you’re actually finished with all your stuff, then you can go and do stuff and you’ll be way less stressed out and be much more able to enjoy the things that you want to do. If you work, as I’ve found, way more during the week, then your weekends become a lot less loaded, and when other people want to go out to a party or the movies or whatever, then you can be like, ‘Yeah, of course I want to go,’ and you’ll see there are people who are like, ‘No, I can’t, I have a paper due tomorrow,’ or whatever. You are like, ‘Oh, I already finished that,’ and that, to me, has been really helpful throughout my RE career. And also, something that I struggled with at first because I am a horrible procrastinator, but it’s something that I’ve come to understand as being a necessary thing. 

Going all the way back, do you remember your first day at Ransom Everglades in the middle school or even getting into RE? What was it like coming into the school for you? 

I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but I sort of stumbled into Ransom. I did not know Ransom existed. I went to school on Key Biscayne because my mom was a teacher there. I had no idea Ransom existed. The only reason I ended up applying was because my elementary school teacher was neighbors with Mr. D’Alemberte. He was telling her about the school, and she was like ‘Oh my god, you should totally apply!” And I was like ‘Eh, I don’t know, maybe, alright, whatever.” So, I applied and took the SSAT, and my parents were like, ‘Oh my god, we’ll never afford this,’ really no idea what was going on. I applied, got in, and got a fantastic financial aid package and was just like ‘Alright, I guess we’re going to Ransom now.’ At first, I was a little bit nervous. I was in a very small class all throughout elementary school. I was with the same fifteen people for six years. All from basically kindergarten to fifth grade, same fifteen people. So, I was nervous to get into it with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I’d heard a lot of stories about how tough Ransom was and how challenging academically it was, so I was definitely nervous. The first day I was kind of sticking with the people I knew from Key Biscayne, but it went really well. Football started out kind of weird for me because I was a small kid, but something happened one day where all of a sudden it clicked and then I was the starting defensive lineman for the football team even though I was like 120 pounds. It was fun though. Sixth grade was definitely a big growth period for me. 

How have you seen the RE community follow you through your growth, either helping you or giving you guidance? 

I think that the Ransom community has done a lot for me. I admittedly was a very, very weird little kid. I was very into my own world. I loved science, and I loved learning. But I wasn’t the most social person. I was very introverted and shy. I think Ransom really helped me come out of my bubble, so to speak, and interact with people I would’ve never met and do things I never thought I would have ever done. That was great for me, and I really can’t be more thankful for that because it has totally changed my perspective and outlook on life and how I’m going to approach things from now on. I think the Ransom community has changed a lot since sixth grade, honestly, our class. We’ve lost people. New people have come in, and those people have made a big difference to the class, I think. We’ve all grown up a great deal. I remember in middle school we were very immature. We were little kids still at that point, doing stupid things and messing around. Now we’re all going off to college.  A lot of people have matured a lot since then and have really set their sights on their futures and gotten serious about things that they’re passionate about. It’s great to see. Unfortunately, our grade has also been through a lot of tough times. When we were freshmen, Irma destroyed the field, and we totally lost the sports season. That was really hard on a lot of people. COVID has taken away a lot of opportunities over the last two years. In some ways, I think our class has become a little bit cynical about certain things, but in a way, that’s also made us fold back into ourselves, and we’ve become closer as a group in some ways, so that’s also been a good thing. 

Is there anything you wish you did differently? Anything you wish you had done sooner? 

Ironically, I wish I had done more stuff on campus. I was very involved academically and athletically on campus, but I feel like I was not as involved with other sorts of clubs and things of that nature. And I think that would have been something cooler to get involved with. Obviously, Covid derailed a lot of stuff towards the end, but it would have been cool since freshman year to get involved in some other clubs and actually stick with it. Because of sports and academics, I was in my own world with that. Certainly, interacting with a lot of people and being very involved with that sphere, but sort of detached from the other side and all the opportunities Ransom offers. 

Looking back, is there one person, event, or experience that exemplifies your RE experience? 

I don’t really know that I have a specific event to point to though I will say, and it’s unfortunate to be having this conversation about this now, but Mr. Che I think exemplified everything that Ransom stood for: the whole idea of putting more back into the world that you took from it. He was that man. Everything that he did was about that and having him as a teacher, there was no bigger honor. 

You mentioned it when you talked about Mr. Che, but throughout your RE experience, what has it meant to follow the message set forth in Paul Ransom’s letter that we hear about so often? 

Hearing about that third kind of person in assembly, it gets old after a while, but I’ve gotten so much from Ransom. It’s been my attempt, and I hope that what I’ve done has really made a difference, but I’ve gotten so much. I’ve tried my best to put back into the Ransom community everything that I got from it and to put back even more, which is why I spent so much time trying to help other people when I could with school, sports, or whatever. I could not be more thankful for what I’ve gotten from RE. I just want to make sure that when I leave a mark on the school, it’s not just as the valedictorian, but as someone who actually made the community a better place for having been in it. 

If anyone needs help on anything school-related, it’s always ‘ask Erik.’ How has that been for you throughout the past seven years as sort of the human Google for homework? 

People ask me all the time, ‘Oh, does it bother you? Do you get annoyed by it?’ I don’t really think I do. Certainly, there are some times where I’m like, ‘I get it, there’s a bunch of tests going on tomorrow because I’ve gotten 60 phone calls in the last 20 minutes,’ but I enjoy it. Going back to what I said before, I really have enjoyed Ransom so much, and the community especially, and I want to put back. If that’s the way I’m able to do it, then so be it, and I’ve come to enjoy it. It certainly helps me understand the material better, and I would say that part of the reason I’ve done so well is because of that because in explaining things to other people, you get more of a concrete grasp on anything. As the adage goes, if you really understand anything, you can explain it and teach it to someone else. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, to have the feeling of, ‘Oh my god, other people actually need my help and they’re kind of depending on me,’ but it’s an honor. It’s not something that I take lightly, and it’s something that I will absolutely continue doing and would do again. 

Medina will continue his studies this fall at Princeton University while majoring in either chemistry or molecular biology, with the goal of attending medical school. He credits his parents’ careers in the medical and education fields with driving him towards pursuing a combination of the two in a potential career. In the meantime, Medina will spend the summer completing a draft of his own chemistry textbook.