Friends, Indeed

Maija Hallsmith ’11 and Dominique Avila ’11

Summer/Fall 2021 Cupola

In Quakerism, the use of the term “Friend” is meant to signify respect and equality, a mutual recognition of the presence of the Inner Light in one another. Dominique Avila and Maija Hallsmith, both members of the Class of 2011, are two friends in both the traditional and Quaker sense of the word. What began in Eric Aaronian’s ninth grade Biology class has blossomed into a deep and abiding friendship that endured through college and now lives on in a small apartment on Hope Street where the two live as roommates.

Dominique started at MB in kindergarten and Maija came as a new student in ninth, but Maija quickly slid into Dominique’s existing circle of classmates: Sidney Smith, Sam Rheault and Arianna Riva. When Maija began at MB, she “could never have imagined the lifelong friendships that were fostered at MB,” but the crew has remained close. Maija notes that they “met at an important transitional moment in our adolescence,” creating a foundation for genuine friendship and understanding. Dominique and Maija drew support from shared identities: “being minorities at Moses Brown, both racially and economically, there was a mutual understanding that we did not find with a lot of our other classmates.” Maija admits that transitioning from a majority-POC school to MB was challenging, and she credits Dominique, among others, for helping her adjust. She reflects, “I trusted her, stayed at Moses Brown and found a community of people who not only loved me for who I was but valued and highlighted parts of my personality that I didn’t even realize were prominent.”

The friendship developed as the two found common interests in costuming for the spring musicals, and when Maija convinced Dominique to join her in Karen Lustig’s advisory their junior year, their connection only deepened. Both cite Karen’s advising and teaching as touchstones of their experience at MB. She is “such a committed and honest teacher,” Dominique shares, and Maija adds that Karen “was and still is, a fantastic role model, genuine person, brilliant teacher, and such a delight to be around.” Dominique reflects fondly on the mentorship of Yamil Baez and Yolanda Gonzalez, and Maija extols her experience in Jennifer Stewart’s advanced history courses. Dominique also relished the opportunity to go on two service trips to the Dominican Republic.

Unsurprisingly, Dominique and Maija ended up in similar careers. For the past three years, Maija has worked as the program assistant for Graduate School Diversity Initiatives at Brown University and Dominique is the middle and upper school visual art teacher at MB. Dominique loves “being on the other side of the MB community as an educator and seeing how much time and care goes into educating our students.” As to what allows their friendship to continue, Dominique notes that she “didn’t realize how unique it was to stay in touch with my friends from high school…Our friend group was close-knit because we were so diverse (racially and socio-economically) and found ways to support each other in our various identities.” Friends, indeed.

-story by Jon Gold