We are pleased to continue our alum spotlight series with Deepa Liegel, class of 2009. For more profiles, please check out our other recent blog posts.
As an SGS alum, can you talk about your overall experience with the school?
I had a very positive experience with SGS—I was hyperactive, and even unruly—the traditional way of learning was not working for me. My parents knew that I needed other ways to learn, and that’s what brought us to SGS. It was great to have similarly driven girls learning alongside me. The smaller class sizes and hands-on approach was really important for my education.
Working with the 5th grade teachers was incredible. They took the time to get to know who I was, and they took the time to help create the environment that I could be a part of. From the beginning it was an environment where the students were put first, and there was an environment where we could all learn from and take away from. I was able to enter high school with a better sense of who I was with tools and skills to succeed in college. I made lifelong friends there and was set up academically and as a whole person.
What three characteristics/traits of the school are important to highlight?
The first and most important trait to me was the overall diversity at the school. The diversity of students, learning subjects, how we learned, staff, issues they highlighted—all of this made a positive impact on our experience at the school. It created socially aware students, and a community.
The second would be the community. This community that SGS fosters is really important. There’s of course the normal middle school drama, but the community that was created and the memories that we shared will stick with all of us for a long time
Lastly, fun. They do things in an unconventional way that make you want to engage with learning in a different way. Fly planes, pretend to be astronauts. Space missions, raise chickens. Nothing about the school was normal -and I mean that in the best way possible.
Are there any significant moments or events that stand out to you during your years at SGS?
The first thing I can think of is from fifth grade. A classmate and I got to speak at the Seattle Aquarium’s annual fundraiser. We had a whole curriculum based at the Seattle Aquarium, and in front of thousands of people we talked about what we learned and what we knew. The backing I had from the teachers to go ahead and speak at the fundraiser was huge for me. It was a huge confidence boost. They picked me out because they knew that I could do it, and that I would benefit from it—and they were right!
Another memorable time was in seventh grade for mock trials. It was both terrifying and so much fun. It was a TSA no fly case, and even though our team lost, the process of preparation, reading through the materials, and working together as a team was so much fun! The cross examination was exciting, and it was an interesting new way to engage in learning. I remember thinking how cool it was. It opened the door as a possibility…even though I don’t really want to be a lawyer now.
And finally, in eighth grade the pay it forward project was the biggest impact project that I did. That’s how I learned how to integrate what I’m interested in into what I was learning. Lack of diversity in ballet was what I chose to focus on, and that was the perfect combination of my interests. This project is what made me realize that there are ways to academically reinforce and inform my love for ballet.
How did your years at SGS influence your career choice?
The biggest impact was that the curriculum was set up in a way that we could bring what we were interested in and passionate about into our learning environment. They didn’t discourage dance as a non-academic pursuit in an academic setting. I was able to approach dance in a way that I could explore my interests. They gave me ways to engage with dance in an academic setting, because I wanted to pursue the arts, even though SGS is known for its STEAM programs.
Tell us about your current career/area of study, and what made you decide on that path?
Pre-Covid, I was a professional dancer living in NYC. I was a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group, Limón Dance Company and guested at the Metropolitan Opera. I was planning to freelance pre-shutdown, but when I realized lockdown would be much longer, I knew I had to find another way to make money. So, I started to teach ballet and jazz dance and fitness classes to people of all ages. I’m also in the process of getting my Pilates certification. I spent the fall of 2020 teaching contemporary dance at WWU and dancing virtually with Dance Lab NY. Currently, I’m dancing as a guest artist with the Limón Dance Company for the summer. We’re traveling to Massachusetts, Colorado and Minnesota for three different residencies!
What are you doing now that was inspired by your years at SGS?
When I was at SGS, that was the point where I decided that dance is what I want to do professionally, and they helped me to engage with dance at all levels. It was a good jumping off point—I wanted to learn about more dance, more companies, more styles that are out there. It solidified that even though it’s not the highest paying job, that as long as I know how to engage with dance across multiple disciplines and angles, that it can be a lifelong pursuit.
I learned how to bring that passion, and interest in dance even when I went to a traditional catholic school afterwards, I knew how to keep my passion alive.
I then went to school in Texas, which was a huge departure from Seattle, but SGS taught me to seek out different viewpoints, and to be interested in different people. SGS instilled curiosity in me, and before I would have never imagined moving to a southern state, but I wanted to see more of the world around me.
I always would invite everyone to my shows while I was at SGS. My most recent SGS full-circle moment was with my 6th grade teacher, J Juelis, who I invited to all my shows. He told me that he would come see me dance when I danced at the Kennedy Center—and I remembered that for ten years.
Sure enough, in November 2019, the Mark Morris Dance Group toured to the Kennedy Center, and I made sure to email him to let him know. Even if it was in an unconventional way, it was a way that he helped to plant that seed and set that goal with me.
What are your future plans?
I would love to work in Broadway shows. Really, right now I just want to get back to performing and dancing in person – we are ready to get back to work. The pandemic has shown us to not take things for granted, I just want to dance with other people, not on a screen.
What would you say to parents who are thinking about sending their kids to SGS?
That they absolutely should! The staff, the curriculum, how we learn, and how the faculty engage with each student is such that anyone can approach and tackle whatever comes their way. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but it gives you the confidence to really latch onto what you’re learning. It’s truly a testament to SGS that they have such high-achieving alums, and it’s because they have a willingness to work with us, and meet us where we are, all while challenging us to engage with the world as it is. It’s important to engage with people even if they don’t share our worldview, and SGS pushes us to think about it that way. At SGS we engage with learning in a way that has real-world applications.
What was the most impactful part of being an SGS student?
I think that there are so many other things in terms of the community that were so apparent and appreciated. I am adopted. Both of my parents are white, and there were a ton of other adoptees. There were also a bunch of other types of family structures. It was apparent that there were other family structures and different backgrounds but everyone still got together. The uniqueness was very celebrated, and very influential, in helping me to appreciate my background and who I was. We actively learned about these differences, and actively celebrated them.