Alex Waitz ‘21 on Stanford Spokes, Learning, and Teaching

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This is the 43rd article in Bears Doing Big Things, a weekly column celebrating the stories of notable M-A alumni.

Alex Waitz’s ‘21 time at M-A can be described with many titles, ranging from senior class president, debate and badminton captain, National Merit Scholar, and much more. After high school, Waitz continued to explore the places he could go by cycling across the country and helping teach Computer Science at Stanford. 

When Waitz first arrived at M-A, he immersed himself in many school activities, from Orchestra to debate. He enjoyed STEM classes like Physics, and Computer Science, but was also interested in the humanities, taking AP English Language and Composition with John McBlair, a course that stuck with him beyond his high school years. “I was always interested in literary analysis, and AP Language allowed me to think in a more serious and intellectual way. It gave me a new appreciation for language arts, showing me the relationship between how something is written and what it’s saying.”

Waitz (left) with debate friends

Waitz always had a keen interest in debate, starting it in fifth grade and continuing during high school. He said, “Debate definitely kick-started a lot of my interest in the humanities. It was a great group of people, and I had a lot of fun practicing and going to tournaments.” Waitz was ranked third in the nation in Parliamentary debate, winning numerous tournaments across the nation. He attributed his success to his team. “A good debate community makes or breaks it, and I had a really good one,” he said.

Waitz was a crucial member of the debate team, winning his first debate round as a freshman. “Winning that first debate was very exciting. A lot of work went into these tournaments, with weeks of preparation catching up on current events and such. Oftentimes you would spend three days debating all day, and by the end you’re really exhausted. When we won, it was a really jubilant moment because it was like a payoff for a lot of work. It was one of those things where you feel like you have hit the next level of achievement you’ve been working towards; it opens up the boundaries of what you think is possible.”

Waitz’s senior portrait

Reflecting on M-A, he said, “I really appreciated how my teachers were willing to meaningfully engage with me about ideas. They were willing to treat me like an intellectual grown-up, even though I can see now I was not at the time. In retrospect, I realize there’s something very important about someone treating you like you have the sophistication and maturity to engage with certain ideas. It definitely helped me grow and become more confident in my own ability to think about the world.”

Waitz currently attends Stanford and is majoring in Computer Science. “I’ve enjoyed computers and programming for a long time. Growing up in Silicon Valley definitely had an influence on my major as computers have always been a part of my life,” he said.

At Stanford, Waitz developed a passion for cycling. In a last minute decision to bike across the country, he subbed in as the sixth member of the 2023 Stanford Spokes team. “Every year a group of six undergrads come together and plan out a bike trip. We biked from Palo Alto to Washington, D.C. The reason the program exists and my motivation for doing it is to educate others while being in nature. We stop in towns and visit organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs and high schools that are putting on programs for kids over the summer. We’ll teach a variety of different workshops to the kids. I had been getting really into biking, but also was getting involved in education.”

On his experience, he added, “I was born and raised in the Peninsula, which often is described as a bubble, and I’ve always been aware of how that can generate some blind spots. I think traveling across the country with Spokes gave me an idea of how big the nation is.”

As a teacher’s assistant for Computer Science at Stanford, he is able to talk to students who share the same interests in his educational pathway. “The class I assist is a really big one that gives an introduction to what C.S. is all about. I really appreciate teaching because it’s an opportunity to engage with students about their interesting ideas, and get the chance to be collaborative and generate new knowledge about the world. I think the feeling of discovering that there’s something new to learn is cool to see, and it gets students motivated and excited for computer science.”

Now, Waitz continues to deepen his passion for teaching. “At the beginning of this school year, I applied to design and teach a class at Stanford where I got to design a curriculum to teach one unit that even shows up on a student’s transcript, which was very exciting.”

Waitz’s advice to current M-A students: “Don’t be afraid to communicate to teachers, because they are almost always open. A lot of the time they are able to go above and beyond to interact with you and talk about different things. I found that whenever I was interested in something, there was always a teacher who was willing to help me explore and take me seriously.”

Waitz’s advice for students trying to find their passion: “There are many different pathways and ways you can get involved in high school. Your relationship with an activity or class is very specific to you, so don’t settle for something because you think you have to do it. It’s really exciting when there are endless amounts of interesting ideas in the world and so many people to meet and things to do.”

*Cover image taken by Nikolas Liepins

Tessa is a junior in her second year of journalism. She enjoys co-writing for the Bears Doing Big Things column and the social trends happening at M-A. Tessa also enjoys playing tennis and is on the varsity team.

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