Maya Lewis (CS photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Maya Lewis (CS photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

When Maya Lewis, a member of the class of 2018 at St. John’s College High School in Washington, attends Brown University this fall, she hopes to major either in applied mathematics or environmental engineering.

“I’ve always really loved math. It’s been my favorite subject as long as I can remember,” she said.

One of her favorite classes at St. John’s was honors pre-calculus. She remembers a class when the teacher “taught us math is poetry… There’s a sense of beauty in it. I relate to that,” Lewis said.

She also especially enjoyed her Advanced Placement chemistry class, which like her calculus class, required analyzing problems and finding solutions.

Lewis had that same mindset when playing percussion instruments including the drums, xylophone and timpani in St. John’s Wind Ensemble.

“I really like challenges and puzzles, starting something you don’t think you can do and working to completion,” she said. “…The first time you play through a piece correctly is a great feeling, that process of learning and trying.”

With math and with band, “you can see the progress” in solving a problem or in performing a musical composition, she said, adding, “I’m a problem solver.”

Lewis, who is 18, attended middle school at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart before going to St. John’s. She is the daughter of Luana and Barry Lewis, and she has an older brother, Logan, 20, and a younger sister, Aleyah, 13. The family attends the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington.

At St. John’s, Lewis served as the student body president during her senior year, after serving as a class representative during her sophomore and junior years. She helped lead students in planning activities like school dances, pep rallies, a Christmas toy drive, and an inaugural Founder’s Day Celebration on May 15 honoring St. John Baptist de la Salle, the patron saint of Catholic school teachers and the founder of the De La Salle Christian Brothers religious community that sponsors St. John’s.

That leadership experience, she said, “definitely taught me the importance of organization, and the importance of leading groups of people and letting people use their strengths to do things.”

Lewis also played goalie for St. John’s varsity field hockey team that has won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship for the past three years. Describing playing goalie for her team, she said, “It’s an interesting perspective to have,” in seeing plays develop and reacting to them. And of the goalie’s job to block shots and prevent scores, she said, “I like to feel responsible for things.”

In the summer between her sophomore and junior years at St. John’s, Lewis volunteered with the Amigos de Las Americas program, living with a host family in the town of Parita, Panama for seven weeks and serving at a camp for youth.

“It reinforced for me the importance of community,” she said. “They were so welcoming and so focused on community and family. It reminded me of the importance of being involved and knowing your community.”

Lewis also participated in Operation Understanding DC, that brought together 24 African-American teens and Jewish teens to discuss their faith, cultures and histories and to learn about social justice issues. They took a summer trip to the deep South along the route of the 1964 Freedom Riders and met with civil rights activists from that era, including people who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Hearing about how regular people made a difference in the struggle for civil rights taught Lewis that “You don’t have to have a big name… but you can have a huge impact on the world around you.”

The teen participants later gave speeches and hosted workshops about their experiences. Lewis said she spoke about how in one Alabama town, an historic marker to the Freedom Riders had the “n-word” scratched on it – a sign of how racism persists today. She said the teens responded in a constructive rather than a destructive way to that slur, writing “We Shall Overcome!” in chalk on the ground there.

Summarizing what she has learned from her academic, athletic, music and service activities at St. John’s, Lewis said, “I think the biggest takeaway is learning how to use your strengths to help the community around you… In all those activities, I’ve been able to use what I’m good at to join the community in doing great things. You can always use your talents and skills to help others, and also learn from your weaknesses.”