Senior Spotlight: Ria Suresh

Olivia Naum, Editor

Accomplishments and success pervade the class of 2021. Despite the unprecedented challenges that this year’s senior class has faced, they continue to make the most of their final year of high school. Therefore, I believe that it is crucial to highlight the immense achievements of the class of 2021. I spoke with Ria Suresh, the drum major of the marching band, to reflect on her high school experiences and discuss her evolution as a leader, student, and as an individual. 

Ria Suresh knew from a young age that she wanted to be a part of the band in high school. She was able to persevere, take advantage of all opportunities given to her, and work her way up to the highest position in the band, the drum major. Although her experience has been nothing like she had ever expected, Ria is able to reflect on her experience positively, recognizing all the accomplishments she has attained and the memories that she has created.

Read the full interview below:

Olivia Naum: What was the best vacation you’ve ever been on?

Ria Suresh: My family, we don’t really take vacations. We go every couple of years to India to visit family and we call that a vacation, just seeing family. It’s a fun time, it’s a great time. I’d say my most favorite one was probably when I went my sophomore year, the most recent time that I went. That’s when I got my nose pierced, I dyed my hair red. I went through a lot of changes during that time, it was great. I was finally mature enough to talk to my cousins, who were way older than me. Most of my cousins are now in their twenties. So, I finally had real conversations with them, so that was great.


ON: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be?

RS: This is so difficult! So I’m Indian, I already mentioned that. I eat Indian food daily. I feel like I have to name something Indian for that reason alone. So it would probably be biryani, which is like the Indian version of fried rice. It’s not really fried, it’s baked, it’s so good. Chicken, onions, you know, so many spices. It’s so good. But if I were to name something that most people would probably know would be buffalo wings. I could eat them for every single meal. 


ON: What is your biggest pet peeve?

RS: I guess when people brag. It’s always bothered me when people brag about themselves. And it’s completely uncalled for. Yeah, I guess bragging is my biggest pet peeve. It’s always just like, you know, keep it to yourself. 


ON: What are some things that we should know about you?

RS: I have a habit of hoarding hobbies, I guess you could say. It’s not really hoarding but I pick up very random things and I hold onto them too. A while back, I got hit by a car when I was in 5th grade. You know, I was in a pretty dark place in my life because it changed the way that I looked, I needed plastic surgery. I was pretty upset. I just felt like anything that I did at that moment was pointless to me. Finally, I was just scrolling through YouTube and I found this YouTuber, Brad Mondo. I pressed on his video and it was a hair video, and I started watching all the videos he posted on his channel about hair and so I started doing stuff to my own hair. And that became my hobby, that accident got turned into something that was good. Eventually, that became my happy place, I guess you could say, just doing hair, like braiding, cutting, dyeing, styling, you know, all of the fun stuff. The amount of hair transformations that I have done this quarantine; I shaved the side of my head, I cut off a few inches of my hair, I dyed my hair, I think like three times. You know, it was an interesting time. 


ON: That’s really cool that you were able to take such a negative experience and make it into something and completely transform that experience. Let’s get into the true interview questions. What instrument do you play?

RS: Oh, ok. So, I play a couple. For marching band specifically, I have been on drumline for the past three years, not this year since I was drum major. I played bass drum freshman year, and sophomore and junior year I played snare drum. Outside of marching band, I play french horn, in the concert band. In a couple of ensembles, I play drum set. And then outside of band, I also play keyboard at home. I’m self-taught. 


ON: That’s really cool!

RS: I just mess around. I’m not crazy good at anything. I just like to have a little bit of experience in each.


ON: That’s really interesting. It’s really fascinating that you can take instruments from completely different groups and have a good understanding of all of them. Can you explain a little bit more about the drumline? What was that like?

RS: That was so fun. If you were to ask me the first week of drum camp, because we have drum camp over the summer for four days and the week following is band camp. If you were to ask me the first week of drum camp I would probably say, I don’t think I’m ever going to do this again. Because I played bass drum as a 5 foot 2, very small girl, and that drum was bigger than me. It was so heavy, every day I would come home, my lower back was just crying. But eventually, you build up the endurance to hold the weight of it, it doesn’t hurt as bad as you pick it up. Oh, the calluses on my thighs, from the harness that I had to wear. It was insane, I’m pretty sure I still have calluses on my thighs from that experience. It’s the experiences that made it great. Just knowing that such great leaders my freshman year, just a few of them, their names were Holly and Mike, they were the best leaders that I could have ever asked for. They were so nice, so kind, so welcoming. I am experienced in drums, so I knew drums. But this was different, it was drumline, so it’s a singular instrument rather than a whole drum set. So it was pretty different for me, just learning the rudiments, the exercises, was a little difficult, but as soon as I got into it I was so happy. I honestly have no regrets, I have zero regrets. I’m just so glad that I joined drumline. It was a great experience.  


ON: That’s great. How did your interest in music and band start?

RS: I was in third grade and I come home from school one day and my dad’s like, you should play the drums. And I was like, what? Why? And he was like, you know, you’re a girl. Most girls don’t play the drums, that would look really cool if you played the drums. So the next week my dad put me in drum lessons and my sister in guitar lessons. So, I was put into drum lessons and at first, I was very scared but, you know, I got used to it and I started practicing and I started liking it and enjoying it. Next year comes around its fourth grade and I know that I want to do band in school. So, I was like, let’s play the flute because, you know, the flute and the drum set, they go together. I played the flute in elementary school, that’s how I was introduced to school band. Then in middle school, I switched to tenor saxophone. In high school, I switched to drumline and French horn. I did a lot of things but I’m very happy with what I do right now. I like that the most. 


ON: I think that’s really cool that you can switch around to all those different instruments. What was the process like to become a drum major for the marching band?

RS: Ok, starting from freshman year, I had always wanted to show some interest in becoming drum major because I knew that I wanted the position since I was in fifth grade. My sister was in color guard when I was in 5th grade so I saw the drum major doing their little thing on the podium, and I was like, that is something that I could see myself doing. So starting in high school, you know, I tried to present myself as a leader as much as I could because, you know, I like leading, it wasn’t only just to get the position it was because I really enjoy helping people and being a role model to other people. So that’s what I tried to do from my freshman year. I didn’t audition my freshman year for drum major. I auditioned for section leader of the drumline, drum captain. I got it my sophomore year and my sophomore year I auditioned again for drum captain but I also auditioned for drum major for my junior year. It was a lengthy process, it was marching, you had to call, like call marches, you had to do your scales, all 12 major scales and there was conducting. It was just a very lengthy process to audition. From the beginning of the audition to the end I just knew the entire time that this is something I really really want to do. I just felt that it fit so well with what I saw myself doing and I didn’t expect to get it my junior year because there were seniors that deserved it way more than I did as a junior. But, for my senior year I really wanted it and I really really hoped to get it and make my influence on the band. The next year I auditioned again. This time it was a lot more difficult because I am on drumline, and being on drumline, it’s a little unheard of to become drum major because we march differently, we do scales on a different instrument altogether. So I had to play scales on my keyboard actually, to audition because it was during Covid. And I had to record videos of me marching alone, calling alone. There’s also a salute component, where you create and design your own salute. Then there was also an interview process, it was a pretty lengthy process, pretty stressful for the entirety of it. But when it was completed, it was like, there’s nothing else I can change at this point, if I get it, I get it, if I don’t get it, I don’t get it. When I saw my name on the paper, I actually started crying because I was so happy. It was something that I had really wanted since 5th grade. 


ON: That’s so great that you were able to get something you had wanted since 5th grade. You worked so hard for it and finally getting was, I assume, a great feeling and a great relief. When you’re a part of something like the band and to love it so much to want to make an impact on it, that’s really amazing. What was the most surprising aspect of being a drum major?

RS: I guess, how much effort it really took to be the best drum major I could be. Obviously, I knew that it takes a lot of effort, a lot of work involved in the position but you can never really understand it until you’ve done it. And I would always see the other drum majors in my past years and I would think wow they make it look so easy. But, it really wasn’t easy, especially because we were in a pandemic this year too. But it really shows how far hard work can take you. In the beginning of it, I was so nervous, so panicked, internally the whole time because I felt like that I didn’t know what I was doing and I wasn’t being the best version of myself as a drum major. But with so many meetings with Mr. Gattsek, so many meetings with Sap, the other drum major, Emily Sapporita, all of the meetings we had together just made me feel so confident. I guess the work involved, how much effort you have to put in, and how much things can really bring you down if you think you’re not doing as well as you think you could be. But also that feeling, that high of finally feeling you accomplished something that you thought you never could. I guess that’s the best part and the most surprising part of being drum major. 


ON: What do you think is the most important part of your personality that helps you to be successful as a drum major?

RS: I’m very loud. I know that sounds a little weird. But it’s actually a pretty big component of being a drum major. 


ON: For sure. 

RS: You need to be able to be heard across the entire football field. I used to feel that I was too loud, too obnoxious, and this and that. It was never a trait that I would have said that I liked about myself but for being drum major it really helped me to use my voice. Simply just counting off, if you’re not heard across the field, then what’s the point, you have to be heard. Otherwise, there’s no point in conducting. It’s such a big component just to have a big, loud voice. 


ON: I feel like a lot of people feel negatively about their traits but that’s what makes us unique and what obviously helped you to be so successful. I think it just shows that we have to value what we don’t like about ourselves because it might help us in the end. 

RS: Oh yeah, exactly. This one trait ended up helping me be the drum major that I wanted myself to be. I don’t have any regrets. Obviously, I feel like I could have done better in certain aspects. But, I’m very happy with the way that things went this year. I think that’s an important part of it all too, being able to look back and be satisfied with what you accomplished. 


ON: Yeah, that’s so true. I know you worked so hard your four years of high school, especially as a drum major, so to be able to look at it and say this is what I wanted from it, is really great. 

RS: Yeah, especially because before the marching season started, I was just thinking every day, this is not what I wanted. I did not want to be a drum major during a pandemic. I never pictured this, I pictured a regular year, ten football games, performances, late night bus rides to away games. And we got none of that. But the parts that we did get, that’s what made it special. And that’s what I can look back on and smile about. 


ON: Obviously, everyone has had so much disappointment so it’s great that can look at what you did get and value that. How has being a part of the band shaped your overall high school experience?

RS: I honestly could not imagine high school without band. I really couldn’t because so much of my high school experience revolved around band. Before freshman year, we had band camp, and that’s where I met at least fifteen people that I immediately became close friends with. Those friends are the friends that I still talk to today. If I had not had band, I would not have met any of them. And almost every day, I had something going on with band, at least freshman year. I used to do a lot of the band ensembles. I think I tried string ensemble, I did jazz band, I did pit orchestra and percussion ensemble and wind ensemble and concert band and marching band. I tried to involve myself in so many things freshman year and almost every day after school I would have something going on, revolving around band. Without it, I feel like my day and my life would have been so empty. It would have been, come home, do homework, watch Netflix, sleep, wake-up, school, just repeat the process. I feel like band completely changed that, it gave me some reason to do something else, to be a part of something other than myself.