Why I Love My Adviser

As I leave behind my final winter term and transition into the much-anticipated “senior spring mode,” I find myself spending more and more time reflecting on the people and aspects of Exeter that have gotten me to this point. Immediately, I think of my adviser, Ms. Joanne Lembo.

Every new student at Exeter is appointed a faculty adviser. Advisers meet with their advisees weekly to check in, answer any questions and discuss current events both on and off campus. Students can meet individually with their advisers as necessary. According to the E-book, Elauren-picturexeter’s big book of rules and policies, “students are encouraged to consult their advisers both on school affairs and on personal issues. Through communication with the advisees’ parents, the adviser supplies an essential link between family and school.” This drastically undersells the importance of the adviser-advisee relationship — certainly in my case.

Advisers fill the absence of parents, guide students through their time at PEA and provide help and support in any way necessary. Advisers typically live in the same dorm as their advisees, making them even more accessible to students and strengthening the bond between the two. The adviser-advisee relationship ensures that every student has an adult on campus with whom they feel comfortable.  

My adviser, Ms. Lembo, has been extraordinary. She often goes above and beyond the requirements outlined in the E-book. From the moment I stepped on campus, Ms. Lembo has been the first person I’ve turned to with questions or concerns. I text Ms. Lembo at least three times a week (probably a few more than necessary), and she always responds immediately with solutions. She and my mom communicate weekly as well, and Ms. Lembo offers updates and answers any questions my mom might have.

Last year, when I complained about missing my town’s Mardi Gras (a big deal in my Louisiana hometown), Ms. Lembo and her wife planned a Mardi Gras celebration in her apartment for the entire dorm. We replicated the celebration this year, and Ms. Lembo surprised (and amazed) me by baking homemade king cakes.


This little reminder of home meant more to me than she will ever know.

Recently, when a health scare required that I be admitted to Children’s Hospital in Boston, she dropped everything, drove me and stayed until I was settled in a room at 11 p.m. The entire time I was in the hospital, Ms. Lembo worked with my teachers and the deans, making sure I could transition back into classes easily after a week off campus. I could never thank Ms. Lembo enough for everything she did for me during this time. 

The adviser-advisee at Exeter is a special one. Ms. Lembo and her wife and daughter welcomed me into their home and became my family at Exeter. I am forever grateful for Ms. Lembo and her family. The relationship we formed will last long past graduation.

P.S: I hope everyone had a fantastic Mardi Gras (I celebrated twice!!).


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How to Survive as a Southerner at Exeter

I assume you’ve read the title by now, and if you’re not a southerner you probably won’t catch any of these references. However, please feel free to continue reading for a dose of southern culture and a tale of the great people of Phillips Exeter Academy. If you are a southerner, pull up your overalls, toss on your straw hat, and pack some Jambalaya, because I’m about to tell you all about being a student from below the Mason-Dixon.
When you first get to campus, everyone will have thousands of questions. If you’re from one of the states way down south, like Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana, there will be even more questions. Some will be out of genuine curiosity, and some will be in an attempt to be funny.
Example A:
“Do you eat alligator?”


My dad grilled a whole alligator over the summer. (We don’t actually do this but my dad is a chef and he wanted to try it.)


Example B:

“Have you ever been to the swamp?”


Trip down the bayou. (We don’t actually do this either. This was my first time.)


Everyone will tell you how much they love your accent but sadly, too much time around northerners will make it fade away. When you go home for break it will come back with vengeance. Don’t try to hide it. It makes you special. Only a select few say “y’all.” Grits aren’t served with every breakfast. (I learned that one from experience.) The food will never taste spicy enough. (Just keep a secret stash of hot sauce and spices in your room.) AVOID ANYTHING LABELED “CAJUN” OR “CREOLE.” It will only disappoint. No one says “I made ___ on a test,” which I found quite strange. Today, I asked someone to make me a glass of milk was told that no one says “make me a glass of ___” either. Weirdos. They are going to butcher the pronunciation of words, but give them time. “Beignets,” “Andouille,” and “Etouffee” don’t roll of the tongue at first. You are going to butcher the pronunciation of words. All of the names of towns and streets were made to trick you. Remember this. Apple cider donuts might seem strange at first but PLEASE TRY THEM. Go apple picking because you can’t do that at home. The winters are going to be cold. Really, really cold. You will make it through just don’t think about the fact that its 80 degrees at your house. Eat the chowder and the lobster and watch a Red Sox game. Red Sox fans are crazy. Patriots fans are crazier. Celtics fans are crazy too. So are the Bruins fans. Catching a trend? All jokes aside, the people up here are great, especially in the Exeter community. They understand you feel like you’re in a foreign land where everyone pronounces their “A’s” strangely, and they’ll do anything they can to make you comfortable. For example, over the winter, my dorm head went above and beyond to plan a Mardi Gras themed party. Everyone in the dorm got to enjoy a little taste of my home.

Mardi Gras

All the girls of my advisor group.

You will find other people like you. It may seem like there is not a single student at the school who knows what you’re talking about, but there are. The people up here have weird accents and they really like sports, but they are amazing. Before you know it, this place will be your home.

See y’all later,


Why I Chose Exeter: The Harkness Method

My favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald quote says this: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind and still retain the ability to function.”
Before move in day of my lower year (keep in mind I was a new lower), I had never seen Exeter’s campus. Everything I knew about the school was based off the website and the admissions pamphlet. There had never been a student from my town at Exeter, and very few from my home state of Louisiana. At home, boarding schools were where the bad kids went, or rather, where bad kids were shipped off to by disgruntled parents. I found Exeter, and a few other schools, on the Internet and figured an application wouldn’t hurt anyone… but then I got in. Faced with a tough choice, my parents and I figured “why not?” so we packed all my stuff and made our way up to a strange prep school in New Hampshire. I knew a bit about the Harkness method, but not much. A bunch of kids sit around a table and talk… seemed pretty simple, right? Moral of the story is: Harkness wasn’t the reason I chose Exeter, I don’t even know why I chose to go here (luck maybe), but Harkness is one of the biggest reasons why I love Exeter.
In 1930, Edward Harkness made a sizable donation, $5.8 million to be exact, to our very own Phillips Exeter Academy. However, with this gift came some restrictions. Classes would be limited to 12 students, and all would share a common table with the teacher, the “Harkness Table.” He envisioned a new, revolutionary style of teaching where each student was both a teacher and a student to “his” peers. (Exeter was still an all boys school at the time of the Harkness gift.) Today, every classroom has a Harkness table and uses the Harkness Method, even math and science. Schools across the world have mimicked this rather strange method of teaching.
Everyone sits around the table, usually having done a reading the night before, and waits for class to begin. My favorite way for a teacher to start class is simply by saying, “Where do you all want to begin?” From there, the discussion takes off. Students will be making points, asking questions, building off of each other, agreeing, disagreeing, and sometimes sitting in silence while they take a moment to process. A good Harkness discussion is a beautiful thing. It is truly amazing to watch it flow, and turn, and change. Students come alive at the table. Harkness improves skills in history by completely immersing students in the information. In math, everyone works through the problems together, offering alternative ideas and solutions. Science brings the students together at the table and lab benches alike for a genuine hands on experience. English provides students with the opportunity to completely dive into the text and “flesh out” every possible route. It provides students with viewpoints different from their own in an effort to see the complete picture. The Harkness Method is an incredible thing that I am so lucky to be a part of.
Harkness has benefitted me in more ways than academics. I have learned to speak up and hold true to my opinion when appropriate, but I have also learned how to understand when I am wrong and acknowledge my mistakes. Harkness teaches you to hold yourself accountable. Harkness teaches you to listen. The common rule at Exeter is speak once, listen three times, and I use this even outside of the classroom. Harkness teaches eye contact. When a peer is speaking, look up so they know you are listening. Harkness teaches responsibility. If you are wrong, recognize it and move on. No one will hold it against you. Harkness teaches confidence. This, above all is my favorite attribute of the oval tables. The Harkness Method has taught me to be confident in every way, whether it in the classroom, with my friends, or when talking to adults. Harkness prepares you for life. It instills in its students character, responsibility, fortitude, and courage. I am confident that without Harkness, I would not be the person that I am today.
So, I highly recommend that you give the weird oval table a try.

Congratulations to all the newly accepted students! Welcome to Phillips Exeter Academy!

Feel free to ask me any questions about the Harkness Method or just the school in general! You can reach me at: lfidelak@exeter.edu