The Pursuit of Excellence
Hema Gunasekaran believes in supporting a school that pushes students to excel.
When Hema Gunasekaran and her husband, Rajesh Balachandran, began looking for the best school for their young family, they were methodical. They studied the differences between public and private schools. They checked Wall Street Journal rankings. And they went on school tours with their son, Rishabh, when he was just 2 years old.
They wanted to find a school that not only celebrates academic achievement but also helps students build the self-assurance they need to overcome life's challenges. "Working on Wall Street, I'm the only woman in the room 99.5 percent of the time," Hema says. "My kids are American, but they look different. So I wanted a school that develops confidence in my son and, especially, in my daughter, to appreciate their uniqueness."
Blake fit the bill, and both Rishabh '23 and Rhea '26 enrolled as soon as they were eligible.
Not long after that, when the siblings were 4 and 7, Rajesh died unexpectedly at 41. As Rishabh processed his grief, he asked Hema a question that continues to ring in her ears: "Can I still go to Blake?"
It was an illuminating moment for Hema. "As his world was falling apart, he was trying to hold onto things that mattered to him, and Blake was such a big component of his life," she says. "It was more than just a school for him. And with the support we have received, I share his feelings."
That's just one of the reasons why Hema has been a generous donor to — and volunteer for — Blake. "I grew up in India and went to some of the top schools in the world with the help of scholarships," she says. "I'm able to pay now, and I want to help attract a child who might not be able to afford Blake but who would be a good addition to a class with my kids."
In the end, she says, everyone benefits when Blake has the resources to provide the best opportunities for great students. "The earlier my kids work with the best minds, the better it is for them," she says. "I want to support that."
Supporting a Treasure
Jon Rondestvedt believes in the power of exceptional education to shape lives.
When Jon Rondestvedt's grandchildren Taylor '11, Lauren '14 and Madeleine '18 enrolled at Blake, Jon knew that the school did all the big things right: it offers top-notch academics. The teachers are smart and dedicated. And there is a full slate of co-curricular activities.
But what Jon has grown to appreciate even more is the way Blake also does the small things right. That includes the warm welcome he and his wife receive from everyone at the school each time they visit, the handwritten notes on thank-you letters and the sweet treats served to audience members after musical programs. "These small gestures matter," says Jon. "They say something important about how the school perceives us and values us."
Over the many years his grandchildren have attended Blake, he's loved watching them thrive, pursuing unique and horizon-expanding opportunities outside the classroom. "As a sophomore, Taylor traveled to Ecuador," he marvels. "Lauren's cultural studies took her to South Africa." In the classroom, he knew they were benefiting from small classes and plenty of individual attention from teachers.
It's why Jon has supported Blake through regular gifts. For him, there are few more important causes to support than education: his grandparents saved every penny to send their children to college, and Jon himself spent 34 years teaching at Robbinsdale-area schools. "I come from a background where learning is important, and supporting learning goes without saying," he says.
"I consider it a moral obligation."
He adds that his support comes not only from a place of obligation, but also from his desire to support the institutions that have had a significant impact on his family. "We have such a profound sense of gratitude for the treasure that education is," he says.
Making Blake Better Tomorrow
Kyle Boyd '08 supports Blake to give tomorrow's students exceptional opportunities
In seventh grade, when Kyle Boyd '08 moved from his large, sports-mad suburban school to Blake, he recalls being particularly excited about one activity. "Hockey," he says. "I figured I had a better chance of making varsity."
Kyle eventually did make the varsity squad, but as he looks back on his time at Blake, he says it was far from the primary highlight. "I loved my history classes with Mr. Graham. I was part of the diversity club and president of [the school's governing body] Forum for two years," he says. "During the 2008 presidential campaign, I remember going to the Iowa caucus, where I got to shake Barack Obama's hand."
It was unique experiences like these that prepared him well for the rigors of Dartmouth College. "Education was about more than going to class and getting a grade," he says.
Today, Kyle teaches history at Buckingham Browne and Nichols, a private school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is similar to Blake. He tries to bring the same spark to his classroom that he remembers from his time as a student.
But it is his desire to see Blake continually push ahead that has made him a consistent donor to the school. It is the school's big thinking, he says, that inspires his support.
"I certainly reflect on all the people I got to be with while I was there, because we're still close today," he says. "But I also like that when I give to Blake, it's a donation that's really going toward something amazing — the new science wing [Ankeny Center for Science, Design, and Research], for example, is beautiful. I like that I'm not just giving to the status quo."
For Kyle, Blake's eye toward the future is what will continue to make the school stand out. "I love that I know my gift will help grow and improve the school," he says.