Tori Varnau: I try and be their friend, and I think that really makes the difference


Above is senior Tori Varnau with her teammates on the girls’ varsity volleyball team. Along with being the co-captain of the girls’ varsity volleyball team, Varnau is also the co-captain of the Model United Nations club (Model UN), a captain on the Wayland ski team and the co-founder and co-president of the People Assisting Wilds and Strays club (PAWS). “I like to think of myself as someone who the group members or team members can ask questions [to] and someone that can help them,” Varnau said.

As co-captain of the Model United Nations club (Model UN), a captain on the Wayland ski team, co-captain of the Wayland girls’ varsity volleyball team and co-founder and co-president of the People Assisting Wilds and Strays club (PAWS), there is no doubt senior Tori Varnau has a wide range of experience as a leader at WHS.

Varnau joined Model UN her sophomore year when she saw a flyer on the front door of the school. Thinking she needed to get more involved in clubs, she joined.

Members of Model UN are a part of a delegation representing a country. This year, WHS represents Iran. According to Varnau, the club travels to conferences, usually in the Boston area, to gather with other schools as a simulation of the United Nations. The club is broken up into committees that debate relevant issues from the position of their country. This year, Varnau is in the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) committee.

“Last year we represented Eritrea, and I was on a committee that was focused on containing Ebola in Africa,” Varnau said. “As a dictatorship kind of country, I had to take that kind of point of view, and I had to reject Western powers and aid from those kinds of nations. Even though I thought personally that was a good idea, from the stance of Eritrea, I had to represent Eritrea’s views”

This year, Varnau is a co-captain of Model UN, working alongside junior Sharmila Mysore. They plan meetings with the club advisor, history teacher Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer to discuss scheduling, funding and more.

Varnau explains that there are about about 16 members in the club this year, and because many are new, she aids them in organizing their research before a conference. She teaches members how to put together a research binder, how to gather information to write mandatory position papers and how to debate under the rules of parliamentary procedure.

A few weeks ago, she also prepared a practice simulation in which pairs of people from the delegation represented a different fast food restaurant. Varnau set up the meeting and acted as the moderator.

“It’s just a lot of different things that I do just to go above and beyond,” Varnau said. “I try and go above and beyond, so everyone feels comfortable with the situation because it’s kind of a stressful experience being at the conference.”

Pictured is Varnau holding a dog during a PAWS trip to a dog shelter.
Credit: Courtesy of Tori Varnau
Pictured is Varnau holding a dog during a PAWS trip to a dog shelter.

Not only does she lead Model UN at the high school, but Varnau is also the co-president of the PAWS club. She and senior Stephanie Hsu founded PAWS last year, and according to Varnau, the club is “always a fun group.” This year they have had multiple meetings, bringing in pets and inviting guests, such as senior Anne Flaherty, to talk about animals.

This winter season, Varnau is also at the Weston Ski Track daily for ski team practices. She joined the ski team her sophomore year when Wayland alum Whitney Halperin invited her to join. She recalls her first time cross-country skiing.

“I’d never done cross-country before. It was super duper hard my first year, and I was falling all over the place, and I was kind of slow, and I was really tired, and I wasn’t fit,” Varnau said. “But I picked it up, and it’s been really fun.”

Now, she shares that “it’s been the best experience.” Today, Varnau is a captain of the team, along with seniors Rachel Lorenc, Mandy Judah and Harrison Brewton. She was nominated by Wayland ski coach Chris Li, whom she describes as an outgoing, approachable model leader.

“I look up to him because everyone respects him, but he doesn’t have to demand respect,” Varnau said. “You want to try hard for him without him having to say, ‘You have to work harder.’”

According to Varnau, as a captain she is expected to motivate everyone, drive members to practice and write articles for the Town Crier. Outside of those duties, she also brings extra coats and hand warmers for people, drives members to their houses and stores all of the team skis in her car.

“I’ve taken on other responsibilities that being captain doesn’t necessarily require but I’ve just done because I’ve had this leadership role, and I want to be a good leader,” Varnau said.

She also makes it a point to reach out to the freshmen on the team, even creating her own handshake with them, to encourage team unity.

“I make sure everyone feels included,” Varnau said. “I talk to the younger kids a lot, and I try and be their friend, and I think that really makes the difference.”

Last fall, Varnau was also a varsity girls’ volleyball co-captain. Varnau had been on the volleyball team since her freshman year when she, along with senior Lizy Flagg, was voted up as a captain by her teammates last year.

According to Varnau, rather than following the previous tradition of each team bringing separate food, she organized for players on the freshman, JV and varsity teams to bring shared snacks for games. This was all to emphasize unity as a program rather than as teams.

“Of course we had team unity, but we had more program unity,” Varnau said. “A lot of the varsity players knew the names of the freshmen players, and the freshmen players would cheer on the varsity and vise versa. Even Lizy and I would sometimes teach the JV and freshmen after our practice.”

As captains, Varnau and Flagg tried to reach out to younger players to get them excited about volleyball. Varnau shares that even though the season has ended, she still keeps up the relationships she made with the freshman and JV players.

“We weren’t just friend in practice. I tried to be an open and friendly person to the younger players,” Varnau said. “[In the halls,] they’re always just like, ‘Hey Tori,’ and I’m like, ‘Hey,’ so I love that.”

Being involved in many different clubs and teams requires Varnau to manage her time well, but according to her, she likes being busy.

“I just have more fun when I’m busy. I still take my classes really seriously. I still take my extracurriculars and sports seriously, but I’ve also found time to hang out and do the friend thing,” Varnau said. “I think just being busy and learning how to manage my time but not get too stressed about it has really just made me happier.”

Above is Varnau (right) with fellow ski team co-captain Lorenc.
Credit: Courtesy of Tori Varnau
Above is Varnau (right) with fellow ski team co-captain Lorenc.

Of her accomplishments in these various activities, Varnau shares that she is most proud of how she has become a friend of the underclassmen. She is also proud of how she has developed into a leader throughout high school, recalling how shy she was at first.

“I like to think that I’m an approachable, fair, motivated leader who’s dedicated to whatever it may be, like skiing or volleyball or Model UN,” Varnau said. “I like to think of myself as someone who the group members or team members can ask questions [to] and someone that can help them.”

As a co-captain and co-president of many extracurriculars, Varnau has also realized she enjoys leading with others.

“I think I really like leading collaboratively, and I always check in with the other leaders before making a decision, and I think that’s a really important tool,” Varnau said. “I don’t think I’ve had any issues because as co-captains, we take in [the other’s] positions on things, and we listen to each other.”

She advises those who hope to lead a club or team to not hesitate and get out there. She also hopes others recognize the power of just being kind.

“Definitely, go for it, and be confident, and just be an open person, and be really nice,” Varnau said. “It’s amazing how just smiling or just talking to a freshman or just saying, “Oh, hey. What’s up?” could actually help them become more comfortable and a more open person.”

After all, it was the leaders she encountered as an underclassman that inspired her to grow as a leader herself. Among others, Varnau remembers Olivia Shaw and Emily van Mulbregt, the varsity girls’ volleyball captains when she was a freshman. She recalls how they reached out to her as genuine friends. She also mentions Paul Longnecker, Elizabeth Karpacz and Kathleen Barrow as mentors in her high school journey.

“I really want to stress how important it is to make the underclassmen feel welcomed in a new sport or a new club, or even just the upperclassmen that are joining Model UN or ski team or whatever it may be, for them to feel they can just integrate really easily,” Varnau said. “[I want to stress] how just being an open person helps people feel like they belong.”