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SAS ALUMNI: A Journey to Spread Hope

May, 2018
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dsc_5656Madeline Schill, an SAS Puxi graduate from the Class of 2015, is currently a junior studying Biology and Business at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin. This past year, Madeline has become involved with Texas 4000 for Cancer, a nonprofit organization focused on cultivating student leaders and engaging communities in the fight against cancer. Each summer, a team of UT students goes on a 4,500-mile bike ride from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska, with a mission to spread hope, knowledge, and charity to communities and individuals affected by cancer. 

“I attended SAS as a sophomore in 2012, and graduating in 2015. Despite only being there for three years, SAS was pivotal in shaping me for college and beyond,” Madeline says. “A large reason why I felt prepared to join Texas 4000 was due to an experience I had at Relay for Life in my junior year at SAS. For the first time at Relay, I allowed myself to be vulnerable and speak about my family’s experience with cancer to both friends and strangers. I received so much support, and realized that I could turn my personal experience into action. Joining Texas 4000 in college has been the perfect opportunity to do just that.”

As Madeline was applying for Texas 4000 last October, she learned of a cancer diagnosis in the SAS community: Xiao Jian, who was constantly working hard alongside her in the Puxi Dance Team that Madeline was on, passed away…

“Nothing we did on stage could happen without his efforts, which were completely behind the scenes and unknown to the audience. Whenever I entered the PAC for dance practice, I would hear him calling up directions to the box upstairs, or see him hurrying across the stage. He was a gifted performer and a dedicated contributor to the arts that brought positivity to my experience at SAS. Xiao Jian’s battle is exactly the reason I joined the Texas 4000 – I want to bring hope to those affected by cancer, to spread knowledge about cancer prevention, and to charitably offer my time and effort to supporting those individuals and research centers dedicated to finding an end to cancer.”

dsc_56892Within Texas 4000, Madeline is part of the Fundraising Committee as Panhandling Coordinator, a Travel Coordinator on the Rockies Travel Committee, an editor on the Podcast Committee, and a Ride Lead for the weekday rides.

Her training for the 2018 summer ride began this past January, and since getting on bikes in October, Madeline has ridden over 200 miles. Her team will cycle out of Austin on 2 June, and arrive in Anchorage on 10 August – a 70-day journey. “My teammates and I put ourselves through this difficult task to show support for families going through cancer, and with every mile I ride, I think of the friends and family I have lost. While my efforts cannot change the past, I can help prevent others from enduring the same pain in the future,” said brave Madeline.

With the help of SAS, Little Star Magazine is very luck to interview Madeline on her extraordinary High School and university experience.

LittleStar: Please tell us more about your choice of university and major. Is it your dream school and why biology and business. It’s such an interesting package!

Madeline: The University of Texas (UT) at Austin was my top choice when selecting universities. I was certain that I wanted to return to Texas after graduating from High School, and UT provides the best resources and education for the major I am pursuing. As a senior at SAS, I was torn between wanting to major in English or biology – do I choose to follow my love for the arts or science? I ended up majoring in biology because I decided I want to become a scientific researcher in the field of ecology and study plants and animals. I chose to minor in business because I wanted to be able to communicate my love for science in the business world. Knowing the foundational concepts of business broadens my skill set as I prepare to enter the workforce after graduation.


LittleStar: What are the major differences between university life and High School life?

Madeline: High School at SAS Puxi required a lot of independence and responsibility because I no longer had to rely on my parents to drive me to and from school or ballet. Every decision I made at SAS was my own, and I became in charge of my own schedule. This responsibility increased even more in university. Not only am I in charge of my schedule and of the organizations I am a part of, I am also responsible for buying groceries, paying rent, finding jobs, spending time with friends, and, now, making time to train for the Texas 4000. It is a constant effort to organize my schedule and manage my time, but I have found a way to balance all of my commitments so that I can be successful in all of them.


img_82301LittleStar: Was the Relay for Life project in your Junior year at SAS your first time involved in charity work?

Madeline: Relay for Life is an annual fundraising event held at SAS Puxi – and many other schools –  during which students raise money by walking around the track at school for 24 hours. The money raised goes towards funding cancer research, so it was a cause that was dear to my heart from the start. This was my first major fundraiser in High School, and my first time becoming heavily involved in charity for cancer. Each student had to raise a minimum amount of money (I don’t recall how much). To do that, we would have bake sales in the student lounge, or ask our friends and family to pledge a specific amount for each lap we walked around the track. We would also decorate lanterns with the names of loved ones affected by cancer and arrange them around the track. During the Luminary Walk, lanterns would be lit and the entire student body would walk around the track in silence to commemorate our loved ones. Students would comfort and support their friends in an act of solidarity that was rarely felt to such an extreme in High School. Everybody was vulnerable, yet strong in unity. Relay for Life was truly a community-building experience, and one of my fondest memories of High School.


LittleStar: Is cycling one of your favorite things? Or is it that you just want to take on a challenge?

sas-alumniMadeline: I never did much cycling before joining Texas 4000, but it has since become one of my greatest joys. My uncles have had a passion for cycling for a long time, which made me more curious about it when I was thinking of applying to the Texas 4000. It wasn’t until I began cycling myself that I realized how wonderful a sport it is. Endurance cycling is both physically and mentally demanding, but I would argue that mental strength is more important. During a difficult ride, every muscle in your body and every thought in your head will be telling you to stop. It’s tempting to give in, but I have learned to mentally provide myself a constant stream of positive encouragement. Telling yourself that you CAN keep going, you CAN make it another ten miles, and you CAN finish the ride is the only way to succeed. I keep surprising myself by how much my body can withstand – just last weekend, I biked over 200 miles in three days. Cycling is a challenge that I have learned to embrace and enjoy. I plan to continue cycling long after I finish the ride this summer, and I love what it has done for my self-confidence.


LittleStar Magazine: Is SAS your only international school experience? How do you like that part of your school life?

Madeline: SAS Puxi was my first and only international school experience, from 2012 to 2015.  My two older sisters actually attended a French international school in Dallas, Texas, when they were younger, but I never did. Living in a different country during pivotal years of my life provided me with experiences that I never imagined I would have. If I hadn’t moved to SAS, I would never have been able to go camping in Hong Kong, or build homes in the Philippines, or dance in Beijing. I am thankful for the academic and personal opportunities that allowed me to gain insights about the world around me. I hope that students at SAS realize how privileged they are to have access to so many resources, and that they can use these resources to improve themselves in their future pursuits.


LittleStar: You said SAS shaped you for college and beyond. Can you explain more about how those three years changed your life?

Madeline: Transitioning from High School in Texas to High School in Shanghai was a dramatic and difficult adjustment to make. Not only was I meeting new people and getting used to a new school,  I was discovering an entirely new culture and country! My first year at SAS was a terrifying transition period during which I had to relentlessly go out of my comfort zone to find my place in the school. The turning point was when I joined the dance team and found a group of students who shared my passion. Bringing a piece of my life that had been so important in Texas to Shanghai aided in the process of making SAS feel like home. Instead of trying to replicate the life I had in Texas, I learned to appreciate the new experiences I was having. I became more resilient and courageous, and carried those traits with me to university. Going to school in Shanghai has made me crave knowledge about people and their cultures and experiences. I have a deeper understanding of how an individual’s experiences affect their perceptions of the world, and my perceptions definitely changed. My view of the world has increased in complexity, but decreased in size. No country or culture seems as distant as it did before, and I learned that we are all connected in our hopes, our desires, and our pursuits.


img_7228LittleStar: Tell us more about the SAS Puxi Dance Team and what shows youve done at SAS? Are you also in a dance team at university?

Madeline: I was on the SAS Puxi Dance Team for the three years that I attended the school. My Sophomore year, the team captains were Brian Li and Ellen Min – both are amazing dancers with the UCLA Korea dance team now! My Junior and Senior year, I was co-captain of the team along with Min Young Lee. The team my Senior year (2014-2015) had four Seniors including Andrea Su, Yvonne Ye, Min Young Lee, and myself. Andrea, Min Young, and I had been on the team together since Sophomore year, and we had become close and supportive teammates. All of us on the dance team knew how to balance a good time with hard work. As captains, Min Young and I were responsible for making sure the team was learning choreography and improving their technical skills, but we had a great time doing it! The rest of the team my Senior year consisted of Julia Lee (Class of 2016), and five girls who are graduating this May with the Class of 2018: Yuxi Lee, Chuli Roules, Michelle Sun, Sofie Fella, and Chelsea Hong. Dancing with these girls was my favorite thing in High School. We would perform at school assemblies, attend the APAC Dance, compete in national competitions, and choreograph pieces for the annual Passion dance performance. I try to see them whenever I go back to Shanghai over winter break, and I am always so proud to see what they are doing now. In university, I take ballet classes every once in a while, but I’m not dancing as much as I did in High School. However, my love for the art of dance is cemented in my life as a deep appreciation for all of the fine arts, and I owe many of my character strengths to the years I spent dancing. 


LittleStar: What are you most proud of from your time at SAS?

Madeline: Of all my experiences at SAS, the thing I am most proud of is the dance I choreographed for Passion Volume VIII in my Senior year. Earlier that year, my ballet teacher from Texas was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. He was my idol growing up, and I owed everything I knew about ballet and dance to him. I decided to dedicate my final performance at SAS to him, and choreographed a piece about loss, helplessness, and healing. The dance was called Heal after the song by Tom Odell, and I chose to dance with Andrea Su and Min Young Lee. It was our final dance together as Seniors, a farewell to SAS and a representation of our readiness to move on to new experiences in university. I allowed myself to be vulnerable about my feelings towards my teacher’s diagnosis. It was a beautiful experience I got to share with Min Young and Andrea, and an accomplishment I can look back on as my proudest at SAS.


LittleStar: The Class of 2018 will graduate from SAS very soon. Do you have some advice for them regarding university?

Madeline: Because of dance team, I am close with a few students in the Class of 2018. To them, and all of their classmates, the advice I can give is this: be self-aware, flexible, and forgiving. I say these three things in particular because they influence how you pursue your passions, even if these passions change. To know your passions and how you wish to pursue them, you must be self-aware. Understanding where your strengths and weaknesses lie will help you trust yourself to make decisions and give you the courage you need to pursue your passions. Secondly, if you realize you want to take a different path in life, you must be flexible enough to recognize when change is happening and adapt to it. It is much easier to adapt your course of action to satisfy a new passion than it is to begrudgingly force yourself to pursue something in which you no longer find fulfillment. Lastly, be forgiving to yourself. If you make a mistake, or you realize you have no idea what you want anymore, it is important to forgive yourself. We are still so young and have an entire life ahead of us and to figure out exactly what our place and passions are. I know this may seem excessive, but these are things I wish someone could have told me when I was graduating High School. Being self-aware, flexible, and forgiving has given me courage, solace and hope for the future, and I hope you all find some use in this advice!


After graduating in May 2019, Madeline is planning on earning a Master’s of Science in Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. 

“Instead of being isolated in a laboratory, I now want a job that engages with the community. A dream of mine is to work for the National Park Service as a Park Ranger so I can share my love and knowledge of the outdoors with the public. I think this would be a challenging experience from which I would learn invaluable lessons about resilience and perseverance.”

Her long-term goal is to work in marketing for a company that values relationships, sustainability, and education. Good luck, Madeline!

To learn more about Madeline, or to support this wonderful girl on her journey, please reach out to her at: http://www.texas4000.org/rider/2018/rockies/madeline-schill/


By XING YANGJIAN, LittleStar Magazine


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