Exeter: For Richer or Poorer

At a recent assembly, Aida Conroy ’09 spoke about her time as a student at Exeter. She explained, as many alumni had before, how Harkness gave her a voice. Then she said something that resonated with me:

“The greatest letter I received wasn’t my acceptance letter. It was my financial aid letter.”

A clamor of snaps rang through the audience (typically, if a speaker makes a particularly good point, students in assembly snap to show their approval. The practice began during poetry readings and has expanded to around the Harkness table). Forty-eight percent of students at Exeter receive financial aid, and I am lucky to be one of them. Exeter’s billion-dollar endowment allows it to meet all demonstrated need for applicants.

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I applied to Exeter during my freshman year at the public school near my house. When I received my admittance letter, my parents looked at the smile on my face and said, “Wait. Don’t get excited until we found out about financial aid.” We waited, and two days later I found out I would be able to attend the best high school in the country.

My friends and family joked that when I got to Exeter they would make the financial aid students do the dishes. Obviously this was hyperbole, but my friends back home still wondered how I would hide the fact that I receive financial aid. I was dumbfounded. I felt and feel no pressure to hide my financial aid, and I have never felt prejudice from any students. In my close friend group, half of us are on financial aid, half of us not. It changes nothing. If anything, it’s a testament to the incredible socioeconomic diversity Exeter can afford to ensure. No one thinks about their friends in terms of their financial status. Rather, we all respect each other’s backgrounds.

I have a friend from home who says “I just don’t like private schools. I don’t like the kids, the vibe.” That bothers me. It bothers me because at Exeter, I have met the most amazing people, and had my eyes opened to some of the toughest social issues faced by my generation. Students at Exeter discuss gender issues, political differences, and face diversity head on. There is an awareness about the world that extends beyond the Exeter bubble. There are affinity clubs for all students to join, and the conversations never end. At breakfast, in dorm rooms, or walking to class, students argue, debate and help each other become aware of current events and issues. You not only learn about the world, but how to discuss it with others.

I admit I was scared to come to Exeter. I knew I’d have a lot of work to do, and most of all that I would miss my family. I held it together until I had to say goodbye to my cats, and then boom. Waterworks. I was scared I wouldn’t fit in.

I got here and it didn’t take long to realize I was right about the workload and wrong about everything else. I do miss my cats, but I call them every night. And I have a family on campus. I can walk into dining hall and there will be a girl from my dorm, a friend from a class, or a fellow member of Fem Club.

As for that “vibe” on campus my friend from home mentioned? It’s inclusive, it’s exciting and it creates space for conversation and learning.

Ice Skates and Lingering Bruises

Last week was one of the tougher ones I’ve had this year – I had five major assignments due, a crazy rehearsal schedule, and by Sunday I was a bit worn out, to say the least. However, at the end of a long week, of which there are plenty here at Exeter, my dorm head planned the perfect event!

The weekend did invigorate me, despite its unavoidable craziness. My Saturday began with a two-hour Mock Trial meeting from 7:30-9:30 am, next I had rehearsal for the Musical, “Two Gentlemen of Verona” from 10-1, followed by rehearsal for a separate musical, “Next to Normal”, from 1:30-3:30, and finally a  third rehearsal for a show I’m in called “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare”.  After this I had dinner and watched a Netflix Documentary with my friend. From her room we went to the theatre to produce two shows going up that weekend in the Black Box Theatre through Exeter’s theatre club DRAMAT. Phew.  Each show I am in is different from the next and rewarding in new ways. I’m getting the opportunity to explore character, movement and song through some spectacular pieces of art.

That being said, I was pretty tired come Sunday. Luckily, my dorm had planned for six or seven dorms and houses on campus to go Ice Skating.

We met outside of the Science Building – around one hundred of us bundled in coats and scarves, a few of us carrying ice skates. We loaded onto buses and in twenty minutes, we were pulling into a parking lot in the nearby town of Portsmouth, NH. The rink was beautiful. It was shaped like a peanut, and in the center of one of the round parts was a fire pit surrounded with benches. Those of us less acquainted with winter sports waited in line to rent skates. Slowly the rink began to fill – with hockey players racing around the loops, a figure skater or two doing spins and elegant twirls, the people who could skate, and then the people like me: people who had no idea how move their skates on the ice. Luckily we, the uncoordinated ones, have amazing and talented friends who help us. Across the rink were couples holding hands, one floundering and the other supporting both their own weight and their friends’.

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I slowly started to get it, and was less of a burden to my friend. Of course right when I got confident I proceeded to flop onto the ice. It was a pretty funny sight: me floundering on the ice. The people around me sang a chorus of, “Are you ok?”s and offered various helping hands. My friend helped me up, holding back laughter, and helped me slide over to the firepit. We sat on the benches and laughed. The light danced across the faces of our classmates as we talked. Then the ever anticipated cry came from my advisor – “PIZZA’S HERE!”

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I believe we ended up finishing 40 boxes of pizza between us. We got some hot chocolate, skated a bit more and headed back to campus. Only the next day did I see the green and yellow bruise forming on my knee. A colorful reminder that bad times always get better and my community is always here for me.

NATIONALS :)

Whew. It has been a crazy, long, amazing two weeks. Last Wednesday began my big Idaho adventure. I had to go to the post office in the morning to get my passport renewed for the summer, which was surprisingly easy. The man at the Exeter post office was very nice and helpful. After that, I grabbed a coffee from D2 (a coffee shop in the town of Exeter) and returned to my dorm. There I made some final edits on an essay before turning it in to my teacher. Next I had an interview for the DRAMAT board. I performed a rap about each of the current board members.

Right after that, I grabbed my suitcase, met the Mock Trial A Team in front of the science building, and headed to the airport. There were eight of us on the team: three lawyers, four witnesses, and one time keeper. We flew first to Salt Lake City, Utah for a connection. When I got off the plane, I got a call saying I had made it onto the DRAMAT board which was very exciting. My teammates and I bought Auntie Annie’s pretzel poppers in celebration. The flight to Boise, Idaho was short, and we headed to our hotel. Our three coaches/advisors met us there: Walter Stahr, a former Exeter teacher who moved to California and skypes in to our meetings, Kyle Skinner, the former Mock Trial State Coordinator for New Hampshire, and Jared Bedrick, the current State Coordinator and a licensed attorney. The meeting was brief and we were all instructed to go to bed as soon as possible. We slept two to a room in very nice accommodations for which we were all very grateful. My roommate and I each quickly went to bed.

The next day, Thursday, we had two scrimmages, each as the Defense. We learned a lot from both, and returned that evening to work on our case. Before our long night began, however, we attended the Pin Ceremony. Basically, every year, the states competing at nationals bring little goodies, or representations, of their state. New Hampshire’s was a pin in the state’s shape, Georgia gave away stuffed cows, and Maine brought Chocolate Lobsters. The get-together was held in a courtyard and they served delicious food. It was quite an interesting experience: a bunch of mock trial nerds running around and meeting each other. We met some hilarious people and made some friends. After we ate, we decided we better head back to the hotel to work. Our co-heads stopped at whole foods and picked up fresh fruit and snacks. The night was long and full of rewriting, but we managed to get to bed at a decent hour.

On Friday we arrived at the courthouse at around 8. We passed through security and headed up to our room. Once we arrived at the very nice courtroom, we spread out: the witnesses practiced sitting on the stand and our lawyers did vocal warmups in the back of the room. The opposing team arrived and we learned they were from Nebraska. They also happened to be the defending national champions. Obviously, we went into this trial pretty stressed. Our coaches calmed us down. They told us to continue doing what we’d been doing and we’d be fine. And you know what? We didn’t lose to them by that much! We held our own and most importantly learned a lot. After team lunch we had our second trial, which went much more smoothly. This time we were up against the team from South Korea. One of our team members had gone to the same school they came from, and knew many of the same people the South Korean team knew. When the trial ended we returned to the hotel and went swimming for a little bit. Then, Mr. Stahr took us to a team dinner at a really nice seafood place.  After dinner we walked to Ben & Jerry’s and brought ice cream back to the hotel. Again, we stayed up working.

Saturday went much like Friday, and despite feeling confident about our trials, we all returned to the hotel exhausted. We had very little time to relax however, because we soon had to head over to the awards ceremony. Our coaches informed us it would be semi-formal, so we did our best to dress nicely. When we arrived at the ceremony, the first to go was Cowchips the Cowboy Poet, who read some bizarre but amusing poems. The team awaited eagerly to hear if we had won any Lawyer or Witness awards, as well as if we had placed in the top 10. As names were read first of individuals and then of teams, it became increasingly clear we would not win any awards. Much of are team was heartbroken. Most decided to return to the hotel, but a few of us chose to stay and go to “the dance.” Every year, after the awards, there’s a dance resembling a Bar/Bat Mitzvah dance. All the kids who have been working hard all weekend unwind and dance. Nobody was really dancing, we were all just laughing at ourselves. After awhile we decided we should return to the hotel to be with our team. When we got there, we joined a circle of people snacking and bonding. We stayed up that night talking.

In the morning, we learned where we had placed 35th out of 48th. Obviously many of us were disappointed and upset. The co-heads called the rest of the team down and we sat together at breakfast:

“We know you’re disappointed, we’re disappointed. But that number is not an accurate representation of what we did and how we performed this weekend. Whether it was a judging issue or whatever, forget it. Just remember how well we did. It’s easy to focus on the negatives, but we don’t want that to change how you feel about yourselves and this team. You guys should be insanely proud of yourselves, I know we are.”

With much “aw-ing” and smiles, we headed to the airport. The way back was quiet, consisting mainly of long naps. We had become a real team ready for next year. Nobody really minded what place we came in – it was still an amazing experience.

 

 

Exeter’s Response and Spring

Serious news has come out about Exeter these past two weeks about events that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, the community has come together to support each other. Dr. Macfarlane, our principal, made a speech about the issue at last week’s assembly. She emphasized that right now is a hard time for many Exonians, past and present. The administration is trying its best to remain transparent and has offered help to anyone in need of it. In our advisory meetings today, which are held once a week, we were urged to discuss what happened and how we felt about it. Everyone felt comfortable speaking about the subject, since we are often challenged to discuss serious topics in our weekly advisee meetings. It was nice to hear everybody’s thoughts.

Along the subject of sexual conduct, all Exeter students recently had the opportunity to watch SLUT: The Play. The head of DRAMAT petitioned the administration in order to bring it here, and it was a success. The play is a heart wrenching story about a girl who is sexually assaulted by her friends. It was put on by a theatre company in New York created by and for teens. The all girl cast portrayed many characters, and the largest chunk of the show consisted of Joey, the victim, relaying her story to a District Attorney. The audience watched as many of Joey’s friends questioned her story and said she had it coming. We saw the horrendous reality that many sexual assault victims face; the fact that even after you come forward with your story,  you have to fight for justice. It made me appreciate the severity with which the school took the victims. The show was amazing and the young actors blew my mind. It ended on a happier note, with another survivor of sexual assault coming forward to thank Joey for speaking out.

The point of the play was to spark conversation around campus, and it did just that. People talked about the subject of the show and other issues that stem from such subject matter. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to watch it.

On a lighter note, IT FINALLY FEELS LIKE SPRING! It seems like there’s an eternal frisbee game going on outside the library. I had an amazing spring weekend, and spent most of Saturday on the quad with my friend Elly!

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Why I Chose Exeter

A year ago, on revisit day, I nervously arrived on campus. My brother was a senior then, so he met us before class and wished me good luck on my visit. Having him at Exeter gave me some comfort. I could breathe deeply with some foreknowledge about where all the buildings were, which dorms were which, and key terms every Exonian has to learn.  When I met my “Experience Exeter” buddy, with whom I would attend classes, I rejoiced in the fact that she was a stage manager in the mainstage production. After a day reveling in Harkness classes, it came time for Drama Sports, the physical activity portion of the Theatre program. After the cast and crew completed ten laps, they congregated by the theatre. I stood with them and felt as though I was already part of their community. We played an intense game of Ninja, and I felt like I could really become a part of the Exeter community.

That community has proved strong and supportive. My first term here, I acted in Blood Wedding, a Spanish drama adapted by members of the faculty. It was there I met some of my closest friends on campus. Our director gave us freedom during rehearsals to explore our characters and connect with the actors around us. One of the Spanish teachers sang the show’s lullaby in Spanish, which was mesmerizing and beautiful. The collaboration extended to our lighting designer Mr. Gendal who worked with the music department to create light and sound cues which added to the somber and intense mood. The second mainstage show this year was Into the Woods. This was a huge show to take on, but it was worth all the work. The set and costumes transported us to our faraway wood, where happily ever afters aren’t necessarily happy. With the orchestra behind us, our brilliant cast bonded both on stage and off while we sang and danced.

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The other theatre community I am so happy to be apart of is DRAMAT. This is Exeter’s theatre club. It’s student run, directed, acted, and produced. Exonians submit scripts, original or not, and if the DRAMAT board select them, they cast and direct their show. I’ve performed in one of these shows, I am working on another, and will be helping to produce one in the spring. This has been the most rewarding theatre for me. Knowing everything that comes out of these shows has been created and nurtured by your friends and classmates gives the shows a personal and friendly touch.

For me, the tight theatre community is why I chose Exeter.