The following Guest Commentary was published in the online edition of the Belmont Citizen Herald on March 18, 2021.

As a senior in high school, I’ve been thinking a lot about my future. I think about the hopes I could fulfill and the paths I could take based on one letter of acceptance, one connection or, most importantly, one decision. What I didn’t realize, however, was there would be another vital decision in April: An override vote on April 6, affecting the opportunities for many future students.

We are deciding between a tough present and a tougher future. We remain isolated from our peers and pressured by our world to keep financially moving forward, deciding on whether or not to pass the override as a community. As such, my Belmont education has taught me, it is better to be proactive than to procrastinate. For the stakes only get more extreme, and emotions more heightened, when important issues are set aside for later.

Even though I’m graduating in June, I’m not willing to risk the programs and people that have enabled me to achieve my goals and grow into the person I am today. I’m not willing to risk the positive impact such programs will have on future students when I’m gone. I’ve been communicating with many Belmont Alumni about how the same arts programs, sports and electives that have influenced them immensely and may be defunded by as much as 40% if the override does not pass.

Anqi Wan, BHS ‘13 says, “AP Art was so formative…as a designer at Google…the work I created in AP art…that Milo fostered, was the foundation. AP art — beyond painting, drawing, and design… taught me how to think critically and engage with the world. It would be a true disservice to take away the AP art program.”

As Austin Ickes, BHS ‘15 adds, “AP art program kept me in school, taught me important interpersonal and life skills. Set me on my current career path, I would not be the same (or here) without it.” 

They cared about me when supporting the 2015 override and I want to care for the students who will come after me by voting YES to the 2021 override. Even Miriam Cubstead, BHS ‘18 underscores, “I cannot imagine getting through high school if the 2015 override had not passed.” 

I’m not the only one who is frustrated that we don’t yet know which programs will be cut and by how much, but what I do know is that if the override does not pass, it will not only be a loss for Belmont Public Schools, but a loss for the future of Belmont. In voting “yes,” we will preserve and bolster our beloved, thriving community. As Chloe Park BHS ‘20 can attest, “Band and orchestra provided me a community I could depend on.”

I’ve seen how affording a single prop can make all the difference in the authenticity of a PAC performance that gets METG nominated. I’ve experienced the morale that comes from standing on a court or field with my team, as the team moves on to the playoffs. And most importantly to me: I’ve witnessed how a room, filled with all the art supplies I could possibly imagine, provides a place for me to discover myself as an artist. Those painted ceilings and cabinets give me a safe and therapeutic space to overcome the inevitable lows that life sends everyone’s way — even leading me to win gold Scholastic Awards for my artwork.

To that end, these programs don’t just foster success for us, they also provide our town with opportunities to come together for games, shows, fundraisers and more. Why would we risk degrading such events?

When I look beyond Belmont’s borders, I see how other towns have had numerous overrides or a constant tax increase to meet their standards. The override isn’t about out-shining our neighbors, but maintaining basic parity. My classmates and I have been witnessing the new middle-high school rising right next door for the past couple years and it just does not seem right for a building — meant to symbolize the importance of meeting our community’s student enrollment needs — to have a downgraded curriculum and further worsening teacher-student ratio. Our passion for education should not just be skin deep.

Divya Natarajan lives on Stony Brook Road.

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