Ross School’s Leif Wood Plans To Pursue Degree To Effect Social Change

Leif Wood speaking at the Ross School graduation. Wil Weiss photo

Last summer, Leif Wood lived out of his car as part of his senior project at Ross. He kept everything he bought — all of his trash — and made an art installation afterward about consumerism and living with less. Part of his project was journaling his experiences.

“We think that our existence is free, but it’s really not,” he said, sitting at SagTown and sipping a coffee thoughtfully. “It made me think a lot about how the system in which we live might be a little bit flawed and maybe I could do something to change that. But also, who am I to think I could change it for the better?”

Leif’s work in high school earned him a spot at Columbia University in New York this fall. He’s interested in journalism and political theory, although he said he does not want to work in politics.

Leif graduated with high honors from the Ross School, where he was a member of the Model United Nations for two years. He was the president of the school his senior year, co-editor of the school’s literary magazine and also part of the surf team.

He wants to continue writing at Columbia, aspiring to join the student newspaper or write for a satire magazine. As a high schooler, he attended UN competitions at Columbia, which he hopes he can help run as a college student. He also wants to continue surfing, although he won’t have a car in the city.

“I’d have to take a surfboard on the subway, which would be an interesting experience,” he said, laughing.

Leif said he valued the creative freedom that Ross allowed him to have.

“Oftentimes, you get out of school what you put into it, which was a good experience for me,” he said. “I think that’s a really good lesson: that you need to work hard in order to gain something from it.”

Leif said he’s looking forward to moving to New York City and living on his own. While he enjoyed growing up in small towns across the East End, he said he’s ready to move on. He wants to take German, which Ross doesn’t offer, because he lived for a year in Germany when his father, a professor at Nassau Community College, received a Fulbright Award. He said he can speak conversationally but wants to learn how to read German.

In his free time, Leif likes to read, write and watch movies. At the end of 11th grade, he said he discovered beat literature, such as “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac and “Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict” by William S. Burroughs. Right now, he’s reading Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch,” which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, because the movie is coming out soon.

His favorite memory was the first day of school at Ross. “I had no idea where I was going,” he remembers. He made eye contact with another student from across the room who was “doing the exact same sort of lost walk.”

“He was like ‘It seems like you don’t know what you’re doing either. Let’s go figure it out together,’” Leif said, “And now he’s my best friend.”

Leif attributes his academic success to his interest in the subject matter taught at school and a good ability to memorize material. He also said his parents praised his intelligence when he was younger, which he said led him to “strive to do things that smart people would do. I think that was a good parenting move,” he said laughing.

Leif said the greatest lesson he learned at Ross was the school’s motto: “Know thyself in order to serve.” After reading Simone de Beauvoir in a philosophy class, he said this motto made more sense to him.

“Whatever you do, the main goal should be to help people in some way,” he said. “Do what you love, but in a positive direction in humanity.”