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Olivia Barry

Olivia Barry '09 attended high school at Riverdale Country School and graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in Sustainable Development. She is currently working in hospitality in Los Angeles and testing out whether the West Coast lifestyle lives up to the hype. 

VCS shaped most of my habits and personality; it's such a positive, happy environment. I was in the first Mandarin class offered at VCS. So challenging! Speaking, writing, playing games while you write, figuring out different radicals—the building blocks of Chinese characters. Now my Chinese is strong enough that I was able to place into an advanced Mandarin class at Columbia that otherwise did not accept freshmen.

My senior year of high school, I had an independent study - trying to make our entire cafeteria paperless. It included a complete redesign. VCS was one of the inspirations. VCS instilled such good habits from a young age - turn off the lights, keep the windows closed, limited use of AC, which are habits I still have to this day. 

Another big influence on me from VCS was hiking camp. I was part of VCS hiking camp for seven years, and it deepened my love of athletics, nature and the importance of responsible, sustainable practices in everything I pursue. So much so, that I am majoring in Sustainable Development at Columbia. This major examines sustainable development across disciplines: economics, both the natural and social sciences, as well as analysis. 

Inter-aging at VCS taught me how to interact with various age groups. It gave me the opportunity as an older student to be a leader, and as a younger student to learn from my classmates. It also built my confidence and encouraged me to speak my mind and participate in group discussions regardless of whether I was the youngest student or the oldest. Since starting at Columbia, it is much easier for me to interact with students - and faculty - of any age because it is so much more natural to me since VCS models this kind of learning.