A Tale of Two Bens: Foundations for Lifelong Friendship and Professional Achievement
Neither Ben Garber nor Ben Lehmann, who both attended Hausner from K through 8th, can tell you exactly how or when they met – “it’s been so long the beginning is lost to history,” says Garber. Both will tell you, however, that Hausner played a pivotal role on multiple fronts: In addition to setting them up for academic success and professional fulfillment, it helped forge a friendship that is going strong 15 years after Lehmann graduated. Garber, a grade below, graduated in 2008.
Today, Garber is completing a PhD in experimental physics at Stanford. Lehmann, after finishing his PhD in physics at UC Santa Cruz, started a post-doc in cosmology and particle physics at MIT this fall. Looking back, both share how the foundation for their career paths began at Hausner. Garber recalls being encouraged not only to read but also to think in his free time. An inspired design challenge elective gave him the opportunity to apply the mathematics he was learning to fun, hands-on problems. “I think this learning was a large part of why I ended up in a technical field.” Lehmann attributes his ability to explore math and physics on a college level while still at Kehillah High School to Hausner’s math curriculum. “I had no idea I would decide to focus on these areas of study until I encountered them in a deeper way. My early leg-up from Hausner played a big decisional role for me in college.”
The friends attended different high schools, and they went to college on opposite coasts – Lehmann to Stanford and Garber to Harvard. When Garber moved back to the Bay Area for grad school, they rekindled their friendship and connected professionally as well. “We realized that we knew a lot of the same people, and that we were working on similar things, and that really closed the circle for us,” says Lehmann. “Now we cross the gap between experimental and theoretical physics, so in a way it feels a lot like Hausner, where we crossed the gap between two grades.”
In another middle school, their albeit minor age difference may have diminished their chances of a deep connection, but “a big part of the Hausner experience is community building,” says Lehmann, so the school is “uniquely friendly to friendships across a gap. As students, we were strongly directed away from cliquey, isolationist behaviors that would have hindered the sorts of friendships we were able to build there.”
In retrospect, Garber realizes how lucky he was, as a middle school student interested in science but not in sports and still quite social, to find a group of like-minded kids, Lehmann among them. “It’s easy to conflate being nerdy with being anti-social,” explains Garber. “At Hausner, I was blessed to have a group both social and nerdy. We were interested in studying the texts of Judaism and understanding the traditional liturgy. We shared an interest in computers and technology, in pop science and pop mechanics. We were able to geek out together.”
Lehmann echoes this sentiment, sharing that Hausner’s culture encourages individual expression and exploration of personality and preferences. “There wasn’t pressure to conform to a particular model of a student…and the result is a friendly and vibrant community with real character.”
Beyond academics, Lehmann feels that Hausner set him up for his future by being socially engaging, even in the classroom, as well as values-forward. “Students are engaged. If the classroom is quiet, something is wrong. For me, a big part of being successful has been being able and willing to think creatively and imaginatively and give voice to those ideas.” Lehmann speaks passionately about developing good working relationships in a field that has historically been fairly cutthroat. “I like to retain a values-first approach; maybe the way I work is not always the most efficient, but I make the field more welcoming, and I am a more valuable collaborator as a result.”
Garber, too, is grateful to Hausner for a strong social foundation. His teachers were invested in his academic growth, but they really cared about his personal growth as well. He appreciated being able to transition to Mountain View High School with a handful of fellow Hausner grads, but also with the tried ability to make and maintain friendships across gaps.
Even though the geographic gap of their undergrad days is back, Garber has found that “one of the joys of growing into adulthood is figuring out that friendships can be maintained through intention and not just through the chance of running into each other again and again. We wish to be friends, and so we are.” Similarly, the foundations Hausner lays for relational fulfillment and professional success are anything but happenstance; they are the result of careful design and intention, of a values-based education with rigorous, engaging academics, a creative spirit, a whole-child approach, and community at its heart.