SHALHEVET AT 20: Josh Sugiyama ’07 – Dancing on a winding path

Josh Sugiyama '07 is working as a photographer and a dancer.

Josh Sugiyama '07 is working as a photographer and a dancer.

Q: What did you do straight after high school, and what do you do now?
A: I spent the summer in LA, and then went to Israel for the year on a program called Workshop, which is run by Habonin Dror North America. We lived on a kibbutz and studied Hebrew and Israeli history and culture. For part of it, I taught classes for kids 8-16 on English and co-existence. Then I moved to Massachusetts to attend Hampshire College.
Now I am a photographer and dancer. When I went to college I thought I would study math and science. Initially I did that  — computer engineering — but when I was a little more than halfway through, I decided I should study something I wanted to do.
So I did dance as a major. I finished college and realized I didn’t want to be a professional dancer — so I decided to step up photography and do that as a living. Two months ago I started a photography business and it’s slowly picking up. I’m making a living doing that and dancing with a company also, in Western Massachusetts.

Q: What is your fondest or funniest memory from your time at Shalhevet?
A: I think the fondest ones were just siting around in the hallway against the lockers on the carpet. Also, I used to walk around barefoot. It was more comfortable on the carpet. The principal used to yell at me for that. I would just leave my horrible crocks by my locker. I’d put them on when the principal told me and then take them off 15 minutes later.
I don’t want to say senior prank was the funniest moment, but it was really fun.

Q:How has Shalhevet influenced you, even after graduation?
A: I think there are many ways that Shalhevet has influenced me. One way that comes to mind is that we were so engulfed in a critical analytic Jewish environment where we were learning about why we do what we do as Modern Orthodox or Conservative or any type of Jew. We learned where all these practices came from. It was a perspective that really allowed us to question, and that helped me own my Judaism. I could better understand the Jew that I was. I didn’t need to practice everyone else’s Judaism. I was more secular.
I appreciated the diversity of the religiosity of the faculty. One of my favorite teachers was Rabbi Richler. While he was Chabad, and I really do love Chabad, he would totally entertain the questions I had about the basics of Jewish beliefs.

Q: Who was your favorite teacher and why?
A: Mr. Tranchi and Mr. Danovitch were my favorites. The first years of high school I was totally disengaged in literature courses. We read a book and then just needed to write a paper, but we had already discussed that in class. I felt that there was no need for the written communication and the topics weren’t interesting.
When I got to Mr. Danovitch’s English class, he would give us two to three prompts and a fourth that said “anything else,” and that totally got me excited because there were weird, quirky things I wanted to write about. I had a reason to write because I needed to convince someone of an idea. I had a motivation. For King Lear, I thought the poem by the court jester spoke about the whole future of the book. So I wrote an essay about that and got a great review by Mr. Danovitch.
And Mr. Tranchi just believed in me. A lot. He helped me get into the science classes I wanted to be taking. He helped me go to Hampshire College – told me he wrote a great recommendation and that meant a lot to me. He was also my advisor for one or two years.

Q: When someone says “Shalhevet,” what is the first word that comes to mind?
A: I guess democratic. Even though only so much of it can be pragmatically democratic. There’s only so much a student can do, but it’s still nice to be empowered in committees, Town Hall, the newspaper. It’s nice that there is a structure within Shalhevet to speak, even if it makes one side angry. It’s good that they are talking about it, regardless of if the students or faculty are wrong.

Q: If you could go back and give your high school self some advice, what would it be?
A: I would tell myself to go to Hampshire College and not bother applying anywhere else. I would tell myself to relax a little bit. There was a lot of stress and social anxiety that comes with being a teenager. I guess I would tell myself to go and speak with the teachers that I liked so I could get that relationship going earlier. Making connections with Ms. Berkey, Mr. Tranchi, Mr. Danovitch. Finding those characters within the structure of the school helped me later on.

Q: If you could start one club/team/co-curricular at Shalhevet for current students, what would you start and why?
A: A school interior design club, called “beautification” or something like that. If students had an influence in the design of spaces, that would be cool.

Q: Sum up your Shalhevet experience in three words or less
A: Socially anxious, empowering, enlightening.

–Colleen Bazak,
Former Co-Editor-in-Chief

Related: Shoshana Cohen ’01: Giving Israeli girls a gift of Torah

Related: Josh Abrams ’01: Kickstarting a company

Related: Zvika Krieger ’01: Asking questions and facing danger, alumnus mines complexity in the Middle East

Related: Andy Green ’02: Dedicating his life to sharing Judaism

Related: Danielle Rohatiner ’03: A passion to teacher