Interview with Appleby College Alum, Noah Caza
Noah Caza graduated from Appleby College in 2018. He got involved in as many activities and clubs there as he could handle, and yet even he couldn’t manage everything the school had to offer. He was Appleby’s Head Prefect, and set the annual theme for his year as ‘Keep it Real’, to encourage students to be their authentic selves. He says the school has something valuable to offer any student—from sports, to service, to international travel. He now studies at Harvard University.
Highlights from the interview
Grade 12 boarding at Appleby College is so incredible. The experiential education programming allows you to think deeply about who you are as a person, enter the world at the age of 18 with a sound understanding of yourself, and approach new challenges and new communities in a really thoughtful way.
I know this is an answer that I’m sure a lot of people give, but it was so true for me—the community and people were everything for me at Appleby College. There were amazing academics, amazing extracurriculars, and all of that was rooted in this community of people who really cared. Even though you’re surrounded by these people who have amazing goals and want to achieve so much, it never feels competitive. It always felt so supportive.
There was this culture at Appleby of being your authentic self and accepting people for who they were. And that just underpinned everything. It was a fantastic thing. In my Grade 12 year, I was part of the Prefect team. There’s always a theme for the year, and we decided to make our theme ‘Keep It Real,’ which was based in this idea of being your authentic self and accepting others for who they were. That just did so much for me. It built this confidence up that I could always go anywhere, to any new community, be myself, and find people that I really connect with. To go through high school in that way, which is such a formative time, and to have that experience, it just really built me up.
I found mentors in the faculty that I still talk to and seek counsel from to this day. Some of my best friends are people from Appleby. The people in the community were truly everything for me. I love this quote that says, ‘you’re an average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ And if that’s true, then Appleby is the perfect place to be, because you’ll find incredible people. If you become the average of any of the five people there, I think you’re in a pretty good place.
Even just from a strict programming point of view, there are some things that Appleby does that are really ahead of the curve. We have this incredible experiential education program, where many, many students participate in international trips. I had the opportunity to go to Thailand in Grade 10 and Mongolia in Grade 11 over March break. Mongolia in particular was a service trip. We were building a fence for a daycare for young children with developmental disabilities, as well as working with students and teaching English. It was an amazing experience to get out of your bubble for a little bit and see the world for what it is.
There’s also the Temagami trip. Appleby has a place about six hours north of Toronto, in the Temagami area, called Rabbit Nose Island. We go there in Grade 10 in particular, and it’s a winter trip. We built ‘quinzhees’, which are these snow forts where you dig out the inside. I slept two nights in that quinzhee! It was just a great way to bond with your peers and get out of your bubble, get out of the stress, get away from your phone and the stress that comes with that.
Appleby has mandatory Grade 12 boarding. That is something that I don’t think is too common among other schools. It is such a great way to, in your final year, solidify your friendships. Also to prepare for university, because for most university experiences, you’ll probably move away from home. For many students, that coupled with the new school, coupled with the new people—it can be overwhelming. By helping you get accustomed to living on your own, you can focus on other things, like the new university, the new classes, and the new community. It’s one less thing for you or your parents to worry about because you’ve done it before.
The academics are another area where Appleby stands out. The offerings are just so broad. I got to take economics, which isn’t always offered in high school. We have an international business program, where the whole point of the course is for students to start a business, which isn’t too common. We have Law, along with your classics—I took AP-Chem, AP-Calculus. And then we have teachers with PhDs, who are experts in these fields and these subject matters—absolute experts and leading thought leaders in the field—who are teaching you. So getting the opportunity to absorb knowledge from them has been so formative for me and my own academic journey.
Appleby embraces change, which is something that you don’t always see from institutions that are as old as Appleby, which was founded in 1911. It’s always looking for the next way to change and grow as a community and an institution. That’s something that I got to see in my Grade 12 year serving as Head Prefect. I got to work with the administration in a way that I hadn’t previously done and see how they think about the school and the future of the school. It’s pretty incredible the way that they’re always thinking five, ten years in advance. Because of that, I think Appleby has a way of being on the cutting-edge of what’s next.
It is a very accepting place. Appleby is a very diverse community—and diverse in a profound way. It’s diverse with perspectives, experiences, cultures, backgrounds, and identities. You get to bounce ideas off of others who grew up in a very different way from you or who see things differently. And because of that you get to grow into yourself—and your views and your opinions—in a much more thoughtful way.
Appleby College would be the person who’s always like, ‘Hey! Hi! How’s it going?’ Because when you walked through the hallways at Appleby, it was always a myriad of ‘hellos’ and ‘how are you?’ People wanted to make sure that you were doing okay. When I talk about the support system, that’s what it was really like.
Appleby really was a diverse place, and is a diverse place, with so many different perspectives and interests. One thing that comes to mind as a common thread among students was that so many of my peers were passionate about something. There wasn’t a lot of just ‘not caring’ about the world. It was people who really feel passionate about their future, about the world, about current events, and it’s hard for that not to be infectious. It grows on you to find your passion. And what a great way to grow up in a community like that.
If you spend a couple of days on Appleby’s campus, you'll hear the phrase ‘being a leader of character’. I think the word leader is something that means something different to whoever you’re speaking with. Some people see it as the person who is leading the charge, at the front of the pack, and always has the loudest voice. But I don’t think that was the way that Appleby saw what it meant to be a leader. It’s something that being a leader of character means having your own morals that you stick to and kind of leading by example. And that was something you hear as a value of the school.
We go to Chapel a couple of times a week. There’s always an hour-long Chapel on Fridays at Appleby College. It wasn’t meant to be a particularly religious experience. It was more so a place where you could get outside your head, and whatever stresses you may be feeling that day, and just reflect and think about these greater questions of morals and ethics—what it means to be yourself, and what it means to be a leader of character. All of these bigger questions. And we have amazing people who lead that programming. So I think Chapel is a great piece of programming at Appleby. It is where I came to a lot of my own conclusions about my own morals and what I’m grounded in.
I was pretty surprised by just the sheer amount of offerings and ways that you could get involved at Appleby College. We had so many clubs. I was coming from a school where we only had a few. At Appleby College, there was no way you could be in everything. There were so many offerings, and I found my home in a few.
One thing that was surprising was that it never felt competitive. At Appleby it was always people working towards these greater goals, and supporting each other in them. There was never a feeling like you had to hide what you were feeling. People would talk very openly about any stresses they may have. There was never a feeling of, ‘Oh, I have to hide this to appear a certain way.’ It was always very open. I think our guidance program did a lot for that. My guidance counsellor at Appleby College was incredible. We had weekly or bi-weekly meetings, and we would just talk about how I was doing, how I’m processing, any challenges I was having academically or elsewhere. That made it feel less competitive and more supportive.
Appleby College was formative for me in a couple of ways. It gave me a willingness to throw myself into a community. I did that at Appleby and loved it, and wanted to spend more and more time on campus because of how it made me feel when I was there. That definitely translated to my experiences at Harvard University. Right when I got onto campus and arrived in Boston, I remember thinking, ‘I just want to throw myself into this experience now.’ I was honestly pretty sad to leave Appleby, because it did become a second home for me, and it was sad to go. What I found also is that you never really do leave it behind. I still keep in touch with so many of my peers there and teachers and mentors.
Getting really confident in my abilities academically at Appleby—coming from the teachers that I had, and the support structures in place—made me feel like I could take on the academic programming at Harvard, and get really involved and invested, and also go up to my professors—even though they are literally leading their field—and talk to them after class and ask questions. I think there is a confidence there that came from Appleby, and my connections with faculty and teachers there.
I look back now at my experience at Appleby with such a lens of gratitude, because I understand that the kind of experience I had was not the norm compared to other schools. When you’re so invested in a place that feels like everyone loves their high school, everyone is getting so much out of it, everyone is having such a great experience. My experience was so positive that I look at it now with really such a lens of gratitude.
If you’re someone who wants to be fully involved in the community—to find a community of people who will support you regardless of what you’re going through, that you will learn and grow from, that will shape you and your future—Appleby is an amazing place for you. It’s the community and the people and the mentors that you will find, who think about life in such a meaningful way, in a way that you might have never considered.
Appleby College was such an academically stimulating environment with peers who are doing amazing things, writing all these AP exams, and are interested, and doing research—just having opportunities to learn from peers like that. Also, the faculty, who are experts in their field even outside of class, and are doing these amazing things academically—whether it’s giving TED Talks, working towards their PhD, or whatever it may be. You’re just always so academically stimulated at Appleby College.
With the extracurricular opportunities, no matter what you are interested in, there is something for you at Appleby College. If you are interested in sports, there is something for you. If you’re like an amazing volleyball player, the volleyball team is competitive, and there are a lot of competitions, and you can join that at whatever level you’re at. If you love service, volunteering, working with youth, and youth empowerment, there’s something for you. If you want to be a leader of culture, and leading the student body, and creating new and cutting-edge programming for Appleby itself, then there’s something for you.
Coupled with all these opportunities Appleby are the support systems in place. Because any time that you’re doing so much, there could be stress, and there could be moments when you need extra support. The great thing is that that support is there. There’s a guidance program with many guidance counsellors, whose office doors are open. That support underpins all of the programming. And that’s necessary, because, for people like me and many others who want to get so involved, and want to do so much, that support can be necessary and so helpful.