By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park –Shenendehowa senior Ani Wilcenski, 17, recently turned heads in the Shen Community by being named a National Merit finalist. “I just winged it,” she said while sitting on a bench outside the Clifton Park – Halfmoon Public Library as the sun beat down after months of drab weather.
The senior has already been admitted to Columbia University in New York City, though she is still waiting to hear back from other schools this spring. Her relatives in the city are apparently trying lure Wilcenski with promises of home-cooked meals, in hopes that she’ll choose the school closest to family.
While perhaps a year ago, Wilcenski dreamed of one day becoming a professor, she’s not so sure now. She’s considering careers in journalism and writing comedy for TV, but said, “The dream is to write for The New Yorker.”In 10 years, Wilcenski said, “I would like to have a plethora of cats and I would like to be published.”
The Wilcenskis moved from Guilderland when Ani was in sixth grade. Her mom is from New York City, “So we have a very ironic perspective on Clifton Park,” she said. “There are no exotic foods and everybody here is cheerful,” she added. Wilcenski’s father is a lawyer with roots in the Capital Region, and her mom, who now stays at home, once worked as a guidance counselor. Wilcenski has a younger brother named Bryan in eighth grade.
Confronting double binds as a young woman in a leadership roles
Wilcenski serves as president of both Shenendehowa’s history and environmental clubs. “I’m very passionate about my environmental work,” she said, before addressing the challenges that come along with assuming a leadership role as a young woman, especially in a predominantly male group.
“I feel like, as a girl, it’s been a little bit harder for me to have that leadership position, especially in a club full of guys. I’ve definitely experienced a lot of the challenges women in leadership positions face, on a smaller scale, in this club. Having to toe the line between being assertive and people perceiving you as harsh or cold, or not being assertive enough and people perceive you as timid. That’s something that has played out in a very real way for me in that club.”
She realized some of the club members weren’t totally comfortable with “a five foot two girl standing up and saying, “We gotta do this and you need to help me with this, and this is non-negotiable,”’ she explained.
She is concerned about the club’s’ future at Shenendehowa. Six of the club’s nine members will be graduating in the spring. “You can really make a difference at the school and have a ripple effect in the community,” she said. Since there are so few members, she explained, “We have to put in a lot of work to get stuff done.”
Noting some of the odd things she’s noticed in Shenendehowa’s recycling bins she said, “We put on rubber gloves and sift through the recycling. I’ve stuck my hand in an actual bottle of dip spit. It was the highlight of my environmental career.”
Past work and achievements
Wilcenski also works with Saratoga Bridges, a disability advocacy group, and tutors in math, English and Latin. She’s been tutoring since her freshman year and has long edited her friends’ essays. Among all her achievements, she’s most proud of her work as a tutor. She explained how great it is “seeing people’s grades and their attitudes toward learning grow.”
Last summer, she earned a spot in a prestigious six week program at Cornell called the Telluride Association Summer Program at Cornell. The program accepts 64 students worldwide annually — 32 at the New York program and another 32 at their program in Michigan. Over the course of those six weeks Wilcenski studied American art, history and literature between 1840 and 1940. “I pulled a lot of all-nighters,” she said. While she might have lost some sleep over that summer, the program gave her the chance to meet students from Saudi Arabia, Brazil, China and the southern U.S.
Surrounded by high-achieving peers from around the globe, Wilcenski began to think she “hadn’t risen to enough intellectual challenges” in the past. Wilcenski said her greatest challenge is being too hesitant to leave her comfort zone. “I’m working on it — I took calculus,” she laughed. She would like to go skydiving eventually and reiterated her goal to one day have her comedy writing published. She hopes to work up the courage to read her work aloud more often and explained, “I’m more of a behind the scenes type of person.”
She draws inspiration from Mindy Kaling, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Seinfeld. Her favorite musician is Citizen Cope, who she saw perform an acoustic set at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. If she could travel anywhere, Wilcenski said she’d choose the Middle East, potentially Saudi Arabia or Egypt. Some of her standout teachers include English teacher Mrs. Jacques, who Wilcenski said “was the first teacher to inspire me to write,” Ms. Kitchen, and Mr. Bain.
If Wilcenski had an extra hour in the day, she said she would spend it reading. She lamented the number of unread books gathering dust on her bookshelves as time gets lost in the “hustle and bustle of junior and senior year.” Her favorite book at the moment is a collection of poems by Polish poet Wislawa Szyborksa. She also enjoys the work of Toni Morrison. “Sometimes I watch videos of her giving lectures just for kicks,” she said.
When the conversation turned into the political sphere, Wilcenski said she is a “big Clinton fan.” She said she doesn’t buy “the whole, we need an outsider thing,” adding, “We need someone with experience.” She said she hopes our country will choose a candidate who reflects the values the nation was founded upon – namely tolerance.
If she could meet anyone, dead or alive, Wilcenski chose Gloria Steinem. “She has fought for women for years. She has been a champion for women’s rights,” she said. She explained, “Recently there’s been a conversation on whether feminism is even necessary and she helped get us to a place where we can even begin to ask that question.”