Outstanding Graduate: Sam Lyons — Finding his voice

When the Wall Street Journal recently ran a satirical op-ed by a high school student taking aim at college admission diversity requirements, Sam Lyons took his passionate retort to his Huffington Post blog.  

The Harvard-Westlake School senior, who is attending Vanderbilt University in the fall, interviewed a former admissions officer and wrote, “Why Suzy Lee Weiss Is Completely Wrong.” 

“It’s so cool to just be able to have a voice that’s heard,” he said. 

The 17-year-old has been writing for the Huffington Post since December 2011, when he contributed, “Life’s Ultimate Question: Which Peanuts Character Are You?” His answer to that question, on which he based his college essay, is Linus. “In my essay, I talk about the intellectualism that Linus and I both have, [as well as] our fear of letting things go and moving forward,” he said.

Lyons has written 13 published blog posts for HuffPo, including “What Getting Hit by a Car Taught Me About Morality.” His posts generate comments and conversation, especially his response to Suzy Lee Weiss, whose “To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me” earned her an appearance on the “Today” show. 

In addition to blogging, Lyons communicates with people through music. He plays the drums and guitar in his leisure time, and at school he performs on the piano in the jazz band. 

“I started playing piano when my mom signed me up for lessons in first grade, and I fell in love with music,” he said. “The other instruments were products of my curiosity and desire to explore other roles in a band.”

[Next Grad: Raphi Heldman]

His favorite musicians are Vijay Iyer, Marc Cary, Brad Mehldau, Adam Benjamin, Herbie Hancock and Sloan, which he calls the “Canadian Beatles.” Although his focus at Vanderbilt likely will be math, science, law or debate, one of the school’s draws is that it’s in Nashville, Tenn. “There is music everywhere,” he said. “Even though I’m not studying it, it’s a part of my life.”

Along with his jazz band participation, Lyons is part of Harvard-Westlake’s mock trial and cross-country teams; on the latter, he won an award for being an exemplary runner. “I was never the fastest kid on the team, never the most talented — I actually never quite made it to the varsity level — but I gave the sport everything I had,” he said. “I would run until I couldn’t feel my legs anymore; I’d cross every finish line even if I had to crawl. I attended every practice and was a leader among my peers, never overlooking anyone on the team.”

Ariana Kelly, who has been Lyons’ English teacher for two years, said she thinks “the world of Sam. His genuine enthusiasm for a wide range of subjects as well as the generosity of his intellect reminds me of why I teach. I learn from him more than he learns from me.”

Lyons doesn’t know yet what he wants his career to be. He just hopes to contribute meaning to the world with whatever type of work he chooses. “What I really want to do is be at the forefront of something,” he said. “I want to make a difference.”