Reflections on My Junior Year and the End of the Term

As things wind down here on the Circle, we are getting to the time of lasts at Groton. My last AP, Statistics, came a week ago, my last tennis match a few days ago. Our last days with the seniors are upon us now…

The end of the spring term always bears mixed emotions for me. The warm spring air and the return of the leaves and greenery induce a sense of excitement: summer is coming. As schoolwork slows down (there are no exams this year), the Circle bustles with more and more activity—Frisbee, Spikeball, softball games, even meals are held on the Circle, as almost everyone sits outside to eat. All seniors now have turned in their final drafts of their US History research papers and are finishing up all other major assignments. For the most part, they can now spend their time with each other hanging out. Prize Day, Groton’s graduation day, looms ever closer, and seniors have begun making their preparations for the day. Fortunately, the celebration this year will be held at Groton; all other students will return home, while faculty and seniors will remain behind.

Yet Prize Day also carries with it a certain sadness. The seniors, many of whom have lived at Groton for four or even five years, will be leaving behind a home, in a certain sense, leaving behind teachers and friends who have become integral parts of their lives. The sadness is also felt by those who aren’t leaving. Especially this year, with the seniors only being a year older, I know I’m going to find it hard to be at Groton next year without them.

But this spring term was a good one, a busy one. The first month was a bit hectic with work as teachers rushed to finish the curriculum before the APs beginning in early May. As soon as APs started, however, schoolwork died down and was replaced with review for the tests. Indeed, in the next few weeks, I was almost solely focused on the tests, which were spaced out over the next three weeks. The studying was tough and time-consuming, but I largely felt good after leaving all of them, and I don’t feel wiped out now with them over. As I mentioned, my last AP came last week, and since then, although I’ve been kept busy with a steady stream of work, I’ve been able to relax and hang out more with my friends. Having turned in my US History research paper today, I’m hoping to have even more time to hang out with them.

On a separate note, tennis this season was a huge success. Having successfully followed the necessary health precautions, our team was able to compete against other schools; we were able to play seven matches in total. Our team this year was very good, and we performed very well against the schools we played against and went undefeated for the season, beating Exeter, Middlesex, St. George’s, and Brooks and St. Mark’s twice each.

As we’re wrapping up here, I’ve been thinking about how I excited I am for my senior year at Groton. The course selections for next year came out a few weeks ago, and with almost all of my requirements already completed, I was able to select all of the classes that I really wanted to take. I’m especially looking forward to a few history and math electives which I’ve signed up for.

Overall, I feel that I’ve had a great junior year. Although definitely filled with hard work, I really enjoyed all of the classes I took and had a great time playing basketball in the winter and tennis in the spring. Most of all, it’s been so nice to be here in the first place for almost the whole year—I’m truly grateful to the administration and to Groton’s health services for taking the necessary precautions that have allowed us to come to Groton.

The Fine Art of Making Repeated Left Turns

Practicing my hurdles form!

RUNNERS TAKE YOUR MARKS……SET……POP! I explode from my starting blocks at the crack of the pistol, counting my steps as I lurch forward. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…hop. By the height of a paper clip, I clear the first 39″ hurdle and whip my trail leg over the bar—eyeing the finish line 97m away. As my right foot hits the ground, I break into a three-step sprint before reaching the next hurdle and repeating my hop-sprint pattern. Eight more hurdles later, I cross the finish line with an ambitious lean forward. Stopwatch in hand, Coach yells, “16 flat!” I jog off the track—flashing a grin to my friends—and begin preparing for my next race.

This spring was the first time since March 7th of 2020 (when boys varsity hockey lost in the playoffs) that I have competed athletically for Groton, and after a seventh to eleventh grade hiatus, I decided to return to my track and field roots. With the encouragement of Coach Lamoreaux and my father, I elected to run the 110m and 300m hurdles alongside my favorite event, the 400m.

In all, we had two meets and one time trial outing. The first competition was held at Governor’s Academy, where I got lucky and ended up winning my running events. I also took second in the javelin behind the legend himself, Chris Kadiri ’22, who has a cannon for an arm. As a team, we had an outstanding afternoon. We won almost every event, which is pretty impressive considering that we don’t yet have an on-campus track.

Milton hosted our second meet. Instead of javelin, I ran with our 4x400m relay team, which absolutely destroyed my lungs; my respect for those who sprint the 400m and 4x400m in the same meet is now bottomless, haha. That being said, I secured gold for the team in the hurdles races but ran out of gasoline in my individual 400m heat. Shout-out to Aidan O’Connell ’23, who completely left me in the dust.

We held our time trial event last Saturday at the Groton Middle School track, which concluded our season. I threw 144′ in the javelin, which was an exciting first for me, and finished my 400m lap in just under 53 seconds. However, my time was only good enough for second, behind the speedster Andrew Johnson ’22. That kid can fly!

Before hopping on the bus back to Groton, we celebrated as a team with popsicles and pop music. To the coaches, athletes, training staff, and everyone else who helped facilitate our T&F season, thank you! Competing in the maroon one final time meant the world to me.

My Chapel Talk!

My post-Chapel Talk picture!

In their Sixth Form year at Groton, every student has an opportunity to give a fifteen-minute speech to the extended community. Chapel Talks, as these addresses are called, are an integral part of life on the Circle, and on the morning of April 29th, I had the chance to deliver my own. Now, I’m excited to share my speech with all of you!

Typically, students arrive in St. John’s between 7:50 and 8:00 in the morning, but the speaker shows up a few minutes earlier to practice their most important lines. As music from the organ reverberates around the Chapel walls, the speaker’s closest friends take their seats near the pulpit, in what Grotonians have naturally dubbed the “fan section.” Other attendees sit together with their formmates further back in the pews. At around 8:05, the chaplain says a prayer, a chapel prefect (student-leader) introduces the speaker (and their selected reading), and then the Chapel Talk officially begins.

Below, I have included a transcript of my speech and a few pictures. I hope you enjoy.

The Man in the Arena

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic” (1910)

Saying goodbye has never been, and will never be, an easy undertaking. Two weeks before last year’s virtual Prize Day, I moved out of my home in Palmer, a small farm town nestled in Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley. Packing up my belongings, taking AP tests, interning on a campaign, and attending 5AM Zoom classes distracted me from the ramifications of my departure, and when the eleventh hour arrived, I felt disoriented. After thirteen years in the House that Built Me, I had thirteen minutes to reflect on all that had transpired within its doors.

So, I sauntered outside, sat on our now-barren back porch, and stared out toward Pioneer Peak––trying to brand a silhouette of the Chugach Mountains onto my brain. When I was called to the car, I stood up, took a rock with a serrated edge, and carved my initials into one of our Chokecherry trees. I was overcome by an irrepressible desire to leave something behind.

Pioneer Peak

I guess in some ways, this chapel talk serves a similar purpose. Perhaps circumstance has made me sentimental, but in my final Groton moments, I feel bogged down by the bittersweet implications of flipping the page––of stepping into the fog of what my future may hold.

Before I stroll out of this chapel to fling my boater into the air, I have a tale left to tell––a lesson in leadership that I hope might influence this community’s morale in a more profound way than a forgotten name on a Schoolhouse wall ever could.

Because what is a name, if not a legacy persevering? What is a title, if not a culmination of character? Whether you love or hate the man in the arena, “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood,” you know what he stands for all the same.

Many of you here know me by my moniker, Trey, but my full name is Charles Thomas Whitehead III, which I admit sounds more like the title of an obscure English prince than that of a gritty Alaskan transplant. While I enjoy entertaining the thought, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Charles Thomas Whitehead is a family name––a promise––that stands for something greater than its twenty-two letters and five syllables.

Integrity, resilience, and fortitude––the men for whom I am named exemplified these values. My great-grandfather served in WW2 and Korea. My grandpa fought in Vietnam, and my dad flew KC-10s and C-17s for 20 years in the Air Force. They are my heroes, but not because of their individual accomplishments within the military. They believed in something bigger than themselves––risking their lives to protect those around them. They answered the call to service, and their courage and their selflessness inspire me every day.

My grandfather, a boisterous and warm family man, was the first Charles. We all called him “Choo-Choo” because of his forty-year railroading career. With his infectious smile, he used to regale us with stories from his time on the tracks, and later in his life, with his experiences in the 25th Infantry Division too.

Dad is the second Charles, and his resolve distinguishes him. He never complains—never stops working—and I can always rely on him to be my compass when I need advice. I hope that one day, I can be the type of father to my kids that he has been to me.

What defined the men before me was a will to never give up on themselves and those they loved. They were born into socioeconomic mediocrity––into rural, blue-collar, working- class lives––but the travail of my Texan forefathers has given me an example to embody––a set of ideals to shoot for. I am the product of my family’s American Dream––the fruit of their sacrifices––and I speak to you from this pulpit today––a representative of a middle America that for over a century, was largely missing from Groton. To me, Charles might as well be a royal title; I feel honored to share my name with two of the greatest men I have ever known.

My father and me

And although I often fall short in following their precedent, I will spend the rest of my life enthusiastically striving to be like them––striving to serve and to lead as they did. I have never been the smartest student nor the strongest athlete here, but I have never given up––not on a paper, not on another person, and not on the school I envision Groton one day becoming.

Before lowering the American flag on Tuesday and Saturday nights as a part of my Color Guard routine, I often gaze at the horizon line, where in the vermillion twilight, the outline of my beloved Pioneer Peak materializes.

Mountains, both the physical and the figurative, have always attracted my interest, but in order to properly express this sentiment, I feel compelled to borrow the words of a far more poetic man than me. George Mallory was an esteemed British mountaineer who attempted to summit Mt. Everest three times in the early 1920s. In 1922, he wrote in his journal:

“People ask me, ‘What is the use of climbing Mt. Everest?’ and my answer must at once be. . .If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy.”

Knowing that I have exerted my fullest effort––that I have invested my all into something, whether that something be a Court and Constitution brief or a hockey practice or a family member––triggers a tremendous sensation of fulfillment within my heart. This is the mindset of Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” ––the man who “knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and who spends himself in a worthy cause.” This is the mentality embedded in the name that I will one day earn; this is the Whitehead way.

In 1924, Mallory tried to climb Everest a third time, and to this day, no one knows if he made it. His frozen body was recovered in a ravine seventy-five years later––sun-bleached and mummified. Regardless of whether he reached the top, he died doing what he loved––pushing the limits of impossibility at Earth’s extremes. His death was a unique kind of martyrdom––a martyrdom that I have enormous respect for.

I firmly believe that no one enters this world with that type of monumental fortitude, in the same way that no one has ever been born a leader, because the strongest leaders, like the tallest mountains, emerge from the application of pressure, heat, and stress over time. Groton is like a tectonic plate boundary, and while some of my peers may disagree with me, I stand by Roosevelt’s doctrine of the strenuous life too––the “life of toil and effort, of labor and strife.” The hard times, wrought with late nights, major commitments, and frequent mistakes, challenge us, but it is our resilience––our leadership in times of trial and tribulation––that defines who we are, and who we are going to be. It is our attitude that can render us Herculean.

In Alaska, home was always a place where the only thing more rugged than the mountains were those that lived in their shadows, and where a temperature of forty below might cancel recess, but not class. I was raised in a society of pioneers—by those who stared into the abyss of improbability and never let the odds phase them. Ever since the age of five, I have looked up to those Alaskans. They are my heroes.

In 2007, Dad was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, so we moved from Sacramento to Palmer to begin our Alaskan adventure. Within the first week, however, our expectations for life in the Last Frontier—borrowed from the Discovery channel—were upended. Survival meant studded tires, snow shovels, and having enough Sockeye in the freezer to last through the winter; we had been led astray by reality television.

From the start, the wilderness treated us with harsh contempt. A 7.1 earthquake shook our foundation—both physically and emotionally—and when Mt. Iliamna erupted, volcanic ash blanketed our entire valley. Twice, I returned from hockey practice with second-degree frostbite on my ears, and every morning in the seventh grade at Teeland Middle, I hiked a half-mile through knee-deep snow drifts to take Algebra 2 at the nearby high school. With each stumble, my family learned to walk, and when we fell, Palmer was there to pick us up. We relied upon our neighbors for warmth when the world grew cold, and eventually, they counted on us for the same.

Broadly speaking, to be a leader is to emanate warmth in the numbing cold––to find sunshine in a valley of negativity––and I have been lucky enough to learn from several Grotonians, Alaskans, and Texans who thrive in this regard.

To AJ, Brian, Mitch, and the rest of the Buildings and Grounds Crew. To Ms. Colleen, Ms. Willard, Suki, and the entire dining hall staff. To the people who work in the dark to make this school run in the light, thank you. You have shown me nothing but kindness in my three years here.

To Mr. Riley, Mr. Funnell, Headmaster Maqubela, and the rest of the admissions team, thank you for taking a chance on me. Up until the seventh grade, my Cajun great-grandmother, who was unable to speak English throughout her childhood, could not afford shoes; she had to drop out of school at the age of twelve so that she could work in a diner to support her nine brothers and sisters. Amidst her struggle, however, my great-grandmother felt lucky. For the first time in her life, she had a pair of shoes to wear––a pair that the diner had issued to her. Grand Memere, as we affectionately called her, was a special lady. She passed away a few years ago, but I can only imagine the joy it would have brought her to know that her great-grandson was attending a place like this. My gratitude knows no bounds for the opportunity I have received, which is why I have tried to give my best back to Groton. I hope that I have not let you down.

To Mom––the unsung superhero of my life. Your capacity for empathy––for unconditional love––is nothing short of astounding. In order to raise, educate, and care for Berkeley, Braxton, and me when Dad was deployed or flying through the sky above us, you forfeited your budding career and every minute of your free time. Now, I’m both college and military bound. Braxton’s a professional hockey player at sixteen, and Berkeley is on track to be far smarter, sweeter, and undoubtedly prettier than either of her older brothers. Your mountain- moving selflessness––your sacrifice––brings tears to my eyes as I reflect upon it now. Just always remember: no matter how far I may roam––no matter how much my summits may change me in the years to come––I’ll always be your son. I love you, Mama.

My family in front of Dad’s C-17

I place my faith in people––in the strength of the ordinary individual to do extraordinary things––and in the lively eyes of my most beloved friends, in the encouraging gazes of the Riley’s Dorm third formers, and in the glare of the camera lens, where I know Braxton and Berkeley are watching from afar, I detect enormous potential. I see the leaders of tomorrow.

As a sixth former, I find myself on a well-trodden trail, but one that I have yet to walk, and in the coming weeks, my departure from the Circle will emerge from the haze of this Spring––another ridge line for me to scale. Yet, the peaks in my life orient my direction, and I have no doubt that my sense of positioning will devolve into the mist of memory following Prize Day.

Like I remarked before, saying goodbye has never been, and will never be, an easy undertaking, but it’s worth remembering that sadness is a relative emotion too. I am distraught to leave Groton––the symbolic arena of my high school years––because battling alongside my dearest friends here has brought me true and unbridled happiness.

So, I implore you all…don’t squander your chances to grow, to lead, and to climb your own mountains in this life. Find sheer joy in the adventure itself––in the challenges you may encounter––and leave trail markers behind you for those that may follow.

And as future Grotonians wander down the hallways of our home, may they see our stories, our legacies, and our names etched into the marrow of the Schoolhouse walls and may they remember us, not as the children who fell, but as the leaders who got back up.

Dare greatly, my friends. Thank you.

Best Term at Groton?

A combination of COVID protocols and a bad ankle sprain that left me on crutches for three weeks made for an interesting spring term. I never thought I would see the day when I complained about the sprawling Groton campus. However, the mantra that I have been repeating for the past few months, “see the best in every situation,” has paid off. In fact, this may have been my best and happiest term at Groton! 

Because of the considerable increase in time spent walking from building to building, I found myself marveling at the simple things. Crutching around at a quarter of the speed of a snail was not necessarily pleasant for me or those people who were stuck walking with me, but it did make us spend a little bit more time outside, talking, and getting a chance to finally appreciate this beautiful school. It is crazy to think that I have never been at Groton during the spring (we were remote last year at this time) and it is such a shame, as the weather and blooming trees make for some splendid imagery. All in all, I think there were significant benefits to my little injury. Plus, of course, elevator privileges and the ability to make people carry everything for me.

As COVID panic wound down and we were allowed a few extra privileges, this term truly took a turn for the better. Our slow return to normalcy has clearly paid off, and I can tell that we are all so much happier. Whether it was going to sports games or staying late on Saturday nights or even trying my hand at bat in our intramural softball league, things have been looking up. This term has left me optimistic for the future (though a bit sad about leaving), and excited for the next two years to come.

Please enjoy some pictures that I took while meandering slowly across campus/hanging out with friends!


From left to right: Fiona, Dani, Calen, Hannah, and Avery (all form of ’23) playing with cats on Dr. C’s porch. A  pretty pink dogwood makes a peaceful place to study outside the Schoolhouse.   Georgia ’23 in the window of a classroom in the SchoolhouseA picture taken from the Circle where, in the distance, you can see the Athletic Center and then the Schoolhouse to its right

 

Special Relativity

A recent Sixth Form formal dinner

In my Modern Physics class with Mr. Hall this spring, we’ve pondered quantum theory, particle physics, and the atomic model, but as Prize Day creeps ever closer, the subject of special relativity has proven a fitting metaphor for the Sixth Form experience.

Right now, I’m on the precipice of receiving my diploma and matriculating to college. It’s funny–I remember reading The Great Gatsby in my Fourth Form English class with Ms. Rennard, and one of Fitzgerald’s quotes, which at the time perplexed me, has recently started to make a lot of sense. When Gatsby finally reunites with Daisy after their prolonged separation, his beloved green light loses its significance–put bluntly: “his count of enchanted objects [diminishes] by one.” In a similar fashion, I’ve been looking forward to this spring for so long, and yet now that it has arrived, it feels oddly mundane. The days seem long, but the weeks are short, and the months have whizzed by as swiftly as photons.

Perhaps special relativity has come into play. As an object approaches the speed of light, the distance it travels–in relation to an outside observer–contracts. In other words, a 100m dash would only feel like 50m to a sprinter running at near-light speed, but the people watching him in the audience would contend that he traveled the full 100m. Effectively, the interstellar sprinter’s time has to “slow down” to preserve the space-time continuum. Light travels at a constant speed anywhere in the universe, so both length and time shift when extremely fast objects streak across space.

While part of me wrote that last paragraph hoping to understand a topic that still baffles me, the humanities student within finds the symbolism of time dilation hilariously bittersweet. When the velocity of my Groton life peaks, my day feels like it’s twenty-four hours long. Then, I leave campus and BOOM, a trimester has passed by. How does that even happen? I guess time flies when you’re having fun, but I have no doubt that the rigor of the daily schedule also contributes to that trend.

It’s easy to call this spring “the end of a chapter,” but that perspective is a glass-is-half-full interpretation; the truth is that I’m going to miss this place a lot. To any prospective or incoming students reading this piece, I offer you a piece of advice that only takes an imminent departure to understand: don’t live your life in the time or space ahead, but maximize your presence in the present. To quote a line from Ferris Bueller that Thomas Dempsey ’21 recently referenced in his chapel talk: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Cheers.

Where I just typed this post–––Spring at Groton is the best!

Biking with Lucas ’21, Harvey ’21, Harry ’21, Sammy ’21, Roshan ’21, and Derek ’21

Thank You, Dad

“MADISON GET IN HERE!” My dad shouts from the other end of the house. I almost drop my computer in my haste to get from my secluded office to the living room, where he was watching the final game of March Madness: Stanford versus Arizona. Arizona had just upset UConn, who had been favorites to win this year, and Stanford had only scrapped its way into the final game. This was going to be fun (and fun it was).

With the conclusion of the tournament, an exciting series of games to be sure, I made an important realization: my father, who has steadfastly supported me throughout my “sports career” of middle and now high school, started watching women’s college basketball not only because of me, but for me. His extreme enthusiasm during the recent games has left me in awe of how lucky I am to have a dad who so thoroughly supports me and makes the effort to be interested in the things that I do. At this point, I think he may even have watched more basketball than me. He knows every coach’s name and their best players’ strengths and weaknesses, talks about basketball constantly, and does his best to annoy my mom with game predictions. 

I am coming to realize that his support is what has encouraged me to pursue sports on a higher level, and what has given me the confidence to go out and do what I am passionate about. His love makes me feel seen, even when I’m having an off day or feel like I am struggling to hit my shots. It makes me feel seen, because I know that he is paying attention to the little things, and I will be forever grateful.

I love you dad. Thank you for everything. 

Home Again

Coming back to campus was accompanied with a rush of emotions. Most of them are gleefully cheerful, as I am finally able to see my friends and classmates face to face, without staring at a screen for hours on end. While it is frustrating at times to wear masks for several hours straight or to eat lunch in separate spaces, these frustrations come with a high reward. I continuously find myself sitting in the “bubbles,” the allotted Fourth Form study space, doing homework and talking with friends (sometimes a little too much of the latter, but in difficult times it is necessary to indulge ourselves). When I think back to just a few weeks ago, all I wanted was to be back on campus, and now here I am, home again.

It is difficult to put into words the allure of the Groton campus and its community. There is something about being back that puts a smile on my face, even when I am up late trying to finish chemistry problem sets and world history research papers. Sometimes I wonder if they are putting something into our food or maybe even diffusing special essential oils at night, because this school has held my heart hostage from the very first day that I set foot on campus for soccer preseason of my Third Form year. I am so unbelievably grateful to be back and, despite the effects of the pandemic outside campus, I finally feel a sense of security and homeyness that had been lacking since we left in November. 

Night School

I never thought that I would be telling people that I do “night school” at age sixteen.

The first thing that comes to mind upon hearing this phrase is the SNL skit “Night School Musical,” following middle-aged adults trying to earn their GEDs–all with the kick of Disney Channel musical goodness. I would safely say that my current situation is a little different from the aforementioned skit, but it feels almost equally bizarre. 

Finally being back home with my family in China after a chaotic year in the U.S. has been incredibly rewarding. After careful consideration, I decided to stay home and proceed with online learning for the winter term. Unlike most of my peers living in Asia, I was on campus for the start of the school year. I had seen their faces blasted onto whiteboards with occasional unmuting throughout the term, but I never really thought about being on the other side of the classroom–and my decision to go virtual started to worry me.

Entering the first hybrid class, it looked so familiar: all my classmates chatting casually before class, the setup of the classroom, the Groton atmosphere … but felt quite out of place. The delay of video call made it difficult to join in on the banter, I saw my empty seat in the middle row, and it felt incredibly strange to be watching a Groton class from my desk across the globe. My first hybrid class experience left me quite shaken with pixelated image rendering and gurgly audio, causing me to anxiously text some other virtual learners. However, as the day went on, those looming worries about my future online learning experience revealed themselves to be only some minor technical issues. The rest of the day included some very insightful classroom discussions and collaborative activities, making me feel as if I was back on campus a bit more.

Online learning so far has had its fair share of random wifi disconnections, but “night school” is simply a new schedule and method of learning to get used to. During the day, I’ll grab pasta and tea to accompany my homework, and by night I’ll be ready by my desk as my peers get ready to start a day of classes. 

 

Winter!

Being at home was great. I spent so much time with my family after not being with them for almost a year and a half, which was a therapeutic experience for me. After being home for nearly two months, coming back to Groton for the winter term was an easy transition. Usually, a winter term at Groton can be daunting, given the combination of a drop in temperatures and all the coursework students have to do. But since we had a combined Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, with a few virtual classes in between, the idea of another winter term at Groton was actually somewhat exciting. I was very excited to see all my friends again and be back in the classroom with my teachers. Additionally, more people are back on campus than there were in the fall, and our last coronavirus testing came back negative for all students, faculty, and staff. Right now, things seem to be looking up for the Groton community, and even though there is not much sunshine outside, there is much reason to be positive and look forward to yet another term on the circle. 

 

With Snow Comes Joy

I’m so glad to be back! I really enjoyed my time at home; I spent a lot of time with my family (my little sister Reghan in particular). I’d missed them so much. However, the extended time away from Groton also made me miss the Circle and the people on it more every day I was away. I was really homesick the first few days here, but as I readjusted back to Groton and saw my friends, I felt grateful and happy for the opportunity to be here.

I’ve already had so much fun in the two weeks I’ve been here. The many conversations, laughs, and walks with my friends that I’d missed at home have been amazing, to say the least. I’ve really been enjoying the moment while I’ve been here, happy for every day on campus and trying to make the best out of each opportunity I get (obviously Groton makes it really easy to do so). Classes have been going well, and while it’s been cold, the snow really is beautiful. In my time outside of class I’ve been writing a lot of poetry, watching Netflix, and spending time with my classmates, of course. I hope everyone has been having a great time back and I look forward to the next five weeks on the Circle!

Speak with Impact!

I was so excited to arrive back on campus! Despite the ongoing pandemic, Groton still manages to impress me with the adaptability. This term, I get to do both swimming and select chamber orchestra一two hobbies I hold dear! 

Also this term, I got to give my chapel talk. Here at Groton, chapel talks are given by Sixth Formers (seniors) and faculty members and are a very beloved tradition. The floor is ours as we get to address any topic we want一from memories on the Circle to global and national issues一and the whole school gets to listen. It was one of the things that really drew me to Groton in the first place!

Starting my chapel talk was the hardest part. There were so many things I could’ve talked about. I wanted my chapel talk to be meaningful to others. Thus, I made my chapel talk on the theme of vulnerability through very embarrassing anecdotes. 

The day of my chapel talk, I sat in the Chapel while listening to the organ play in the background一music resonating off the walls. Walking up the steps of the podium, I felt ready (albeit a bit nervous). Although I couldn’t give my talk in front of my friends and peers in person, I’m still glad I had the opportunity to speak to the community virtually. 

In place of an in-person fan section, I had a virtual one! But the support I have一although times seem rough一shows the strength of the community that Groton possesses. 

In-person chapel should probably begin next week. I’m excited to listen to my peers’ talks as well! 

I’ll keep y’all updated on my adventures!

-Lloxci

Decorating a Dorm Room 101

When I first arrived at Groton in the Fourth Form, I had no clue how to organize my dorm room. Besides an Alaskan flag and a framed family photo, I hadn’t brought anything else to campus except the necessities–bedding, a lamp, clothes, etc.–so as time went on, I became more interested in filling up the blank space on my walls.

At boarding school, every dorm tells a story. Each student has a chance to showcase their individuality by hanging up images that mean something to them, and in doing so, they get to share a little part of their identity with those around them. It’s a fun and exciting opportunity.

Below, I’ve included a list of ten things to consider when decorating your future room. Here are a few trends that I’ve noticed in my three years here.

10 IDEAS FOR MAKING YOUR MARK:

  • Movie Posters
    • Currently, The Breakfast Club and Stepbrothers grace our space. Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Marvel movies, and 80s cult films also seem to be popular choices.
  • Pictures
    • A great way to shout out friends and family, pictures are a mainstay in dorm decoration.
  • Geographic Flags
    • I have four on my side of the room, which might be a little much now that I think about it (Alaska, Texas, Kentucky, and USA). Andrew, my roommate, displays the Union Jack above his bed. Friendly USA vs. UK banter will occasionally sneak its way into our nightly conversations.
  • Furniture
    • COVID prevented us from having furniture in our room this year, but in storage, there’s a black futon from IKEA that I miss very much. It folds down into a bed, which my brother slept on when he visited campus last year.
  • Sports Teams
    • The Dallas Stars. The Houston Astros. The San Antonio Spurs. My entire family lives in Texas, so naturally I support teams from the Lone Star State. A fabric pennant from each program has been draped from the ceiling. A lot of people enjoy hanging jerseys up too.
  • Albums
    • Andrew loves records; Pink Floyd, The Killers, Journey, and Fleetwood Mac each make an appearance on his wall. Other residents in our dorm have images of Kanye, The Grateful Dead, and Linkin Park on theirs. Our cumulative musical taste is exceptionally diverse.
  • Instruments
    • Andrew is also a talented guitarist. After a long day of calculus, squash, and other Groton things, he’ll take his Gibson off the wall to play a few riffs from The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
  • LED Lights
    • What a way to mirror the mood. After a good day, we’ll change the color of our lighting strip to green, yellow, or something mellow. When we have a busier week, the LEDs might be red or orange instead.
  • Various Prints
    • College flags. Tapestries. Souvenirs from Vacations. Works of Art. The possibilities are endless. In my room, my favorite print is from Alaska, where I lived for thirteen years. I purchased it at the Anchorage Museum, and it reads, “Normal is Not In Our Nature.”
  • Completely Random Items that Make Absolutely No Sense
    • A putting green, disco ball, or weight-lifting set could make an interesting addition to a room. We have a glowing Zebra Lamp, a Salvador Dali melting clock, a Magic 8-Ball (that can actually tell the future, no joke) and a chessboard. Wacky and weird items can turn a dorm from ordinary into extraordinary.

 

 

 

 

 

A Pleasant Return to Groton

A little more than two weeks ago, when I arrived on campus a day earlier than everyone else, it was peaceful to have a few days off of classes to relax and rearrange my dorm room. My roommate Lucas ’21 was virtual during the fall term, so I had all my stuff scattered all over, taking up the whole space. After finding out that he had decided to come back, I rushed to partition a clean and tidy half for him. 

With Lucas and a few other guys back, we almost have our full dorm present on campus. During times like these, it’s been nice for the freshmen to have a support structure through all five of their prefects, who are now all on campus. 

A week after everyone settled in, winter activities started back up again. Similar to the fall, every Groton student participates in two afternoon activities: one on Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturdays, and another one on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This model differs from past years at Groton, where students have only had time allocated during the week for one after-class activity. I’m incredibly grateful for this new model because I’ve been able to play tennis on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Our tennis coach, Señor Conner, said that we are witnessing history as this is the first time in Groton’s existence that the tennis program has operated during the fall and winter seasons. 

As much as I would love to be playing tennis every day, it just isn’t possible. So, when I saw badminton as a new sports offering for the remaining four days during the week, I jumped on it. Growing up, I played the sport regularly, both recreationally and competitively. In my opinion, it’s such an underrated sport that is really fun to play and can be quite an intense workout when you’re up against other talented players. Through our practices so far, I have developed a new love and appreciation for the sport. 

Back in the dorm, chess has grown in popularity. Before check-ins, it has become quite common to find two guys on the chessboard and a few others analyzing the game. Over the past two months, I’ve witnessed chess have a considerable rise in popularity among my friends. I can see so many people who were previously making fun of the seemingly boring game now researching various openings and end-game strategies. Without a doubt, this rise in popularity can entirely be attributed to Netflix’s miniseries, The Queen’s Gambit, which has revived chess’s vogue among the younger generations. 

Through keeping my head up during these unprecedented times, I’ve seen many positive things come out of the current circumstances. I’ve picked up badminton and chess as two new hobbies that I probably wouldn’t have considered in a typical year. Having tennis practices in the fall and winter has also been a huge plus. Ultimately, seeing and focusing on the good in any given situation has made this year at Groton as good as any other for me. Keeping an open mind and embracing change are the qualities that have allowed me to enjoy every single day that I spend on the Circle.

Band of Brothers

Ben Franklin once wrote, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.” The quote is elegantly simple. Tribulation gives us a chance to learn–to grow–and with the right attitude, challenge can feel far more rewarding than discouraging.

Riley’s Dorm took that silver-lining mentality to heart. To follow COVID guidelines, Groton clustered dorms together to reduce interaction between students. Due to the unusual circumstances, however, Riley’s had a unique chance to bond. Most students enter Groton in the Third Form, so besides the prefects and a few ex-Second Formers, the dorm was brand new.

As the resident prefects, Andrew, Noah, Walker, Lucas (remote-learning), and I tried to create a fun environment for our Third Formers, but if I’m being honest, it was the other way around; they were the ones who made each day a blast for us. On Saturday evenings, we played masked Ultimate Frisbee on the Circle. On Mondays, we employed an arsenal of scooters, Ripsticks, and longboards to help us take the trash and recycling out, and we spent Spirit Week in style with some killer costumes (see below). Plus, Riley’s became especially talented at Cornhole, Spikeball, and KanJam, and we watched the NHL playoffs together too.

Ben ’23, David ’23, me, and Andres ’23 on Decades Day

 

Holiday Spirit Day

Two or three times a month, Mr. Riley led us in socially-distanced meetings outside of St. John’s Chapel. At these gatherings, members of the dorm would share their Groton gratitude, or “Grotitude,” for others. We began the tradition after Walker mentioned the term in his chapel talk, and Grotitude gave us a moment to discuss all that we were thankful for. In the shadow of St. John’s, there was never a dull moment. The Third Formers were overjoyed to acknowledge those that had helped them–even if that help had been something as small as holding a door open. They delivered a ton of praise to their counterparts, and the atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive.

To reduce density in the Dining Hall, and because leaving campus and ordering out were forbidden, Groton stocked common room refrigerators with snacks and drinks. For some reason, our dorm always had an abundance of milk, so when the Third Formers wanted to relax, they would hold a “Chill and Milk” meeting. After study hall ended, I could find the crew dispersed at six-foot intervals throughout the hall–milk in hand–just hanging out. The sight often made me chuckle, but it was the intent, not the event, that impressed me.

The Common Room

The members of Riley’s Dorm were unequivocally there for each other, and they embraced the Groton ideal of inclusion. They wore their masks, prioritized safety, and found a way to see the bright side in every situation. I can’t wait to reunite with the boys later this month, and I look forward to finishing the winter term on a high note with them.

The Fall that Flew By

Pictured above: The Capen advisory on Crazy Sock Day!

 

Today is January 2nd, 2021, and as I prepare to type my first Zebra Tales article in quite some time, I can’t help but wonder where the days have gone. My Sixth Form year has flown by. If I had to point fingers, I would blame my college essays, which have diverted so much of my energy and attention over the last several months. When I submitted my final application a few days ago, relief washed over me like a hot shower on a cold day. The feeling was liberating. But that being said, those same essays have taken me away from Zebra Tales, and I thought that a quick recap of the fall term would be a great way to return to blogging. Let’s get started!

Resiliency was the theme of the fall. Groton reopened its doors, and throughout the term, the school took great strides to protect us as students. I was tested for COVID eleven times, and every Monday, I received a test along with the entirety of the student body. We never registered a positive case, which in itself was a very impressive feat.

Classes were capped at five, and two of my courses, AP Spanish and Complex Analysis, were conducted virtually. Alongside three other Sixth Formers, I took Complex Analysis as a mathematics tutorial. The incredible Mr. Creamer helped us navigate the coursework, and we had a ton of fun together. In fact, this was the most fun I’ve had academically at Groton. A physics class on electromagnetism, a political science elective on elections, and an English course on expository writing rounded out my transcript, and the breadth of the subject matter fascinated me. Whether it was Mr. Hall describing RC circuits in the lab or Mrs. Gracey facilitating a discussion on an essay, my instructors made each meeting exciting and productive for in-person and virtual students alike. They went above and beyond to be there for us by turning a challenging term into something special, and I would like to give a huge shoutout to both Dr. Spring and Sr. Fernandez. Their constant guidance and support fueled my optimism for the future, and without them, my fall would have been incomplete.

I have always contended that I have learned so much more from the people at Groton than I have from my textbooks. This term was no exception. From an athletic standpoint, I had the chance to run track, participate in the strength and conditioning program, and during the final week, skate on the ice rink too. I met a ton of new people, made some new friends, and had a blast on the turf. One day, the hockey team went on a group run together, and seven of us hopped into the Nashua River. The water was frigid, but the plunge was so worth it, and behind our masks, we laughed as we jogged back from the dock. Moments like that characterized the fall—moments when concealed smiles prevailed in a world coronavirus controlled. I had many of them as a member of Riley’s Dorm, and while I would love to write about my experience as a prefect, the Third Form crew deserves an entire post. Stay tuned for one to come!

Lastly, Groton has the best cuisine in New England. Our Dining Hall recently underwent a renovation, and the aesthetic results are beautiful. However, the tier-one quality of the food and kindness of the staff have not changed. Every morning when I walked up from Lower School to grab a pre-packaged meal, I had a short conversation with a someone behind the counter.

As I reflect on the past few months, all that I feel is this sense of bittersweet anticipation. I’m excited for the world that lies beyond the Circle, but in the same breath, I’m dreading the day that I will have to leave my second home behind. Groton has become more than a school to me. It’s an integral part of who I am as a person. I fondly look back on this term as a triumph in a shadowy world. We made it through safely. We persevered, and above all else, we never lost our faith.

To my fearless advisor and role model Mr. Capen—whose positivity inspires me every day—thank you for teaching me the value of resilience.

Silver Linings

Needless to say, the pandemic has been extremely hard on everyone.  I myself have struggled to find ways to return to normalcy and get into a routine that doesn’t drive me crazy. I think we are all searching for an escape, a way to forget about what is going on in the greater world. 

Thanksgiving was, hopefully, that solace for some people, despite the complicated situations we find ourselves in. I myself had the privilege of going to my uncle’s wedding and experiencing a beautiful moment of love and connectivity that the pandemic has starved us of. The ceremony was very simple and incredibly small. Only ten people were in attendance, all direct family, which made the wedding incredibly intimate. We sat on stone benches in a grove of trees, the afternoon light illuminating the faces of my family, while my dad read from a poem by Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road. In the hope that some of you might be able to experience some of the beauty of this moment I thought I might share my favorite part of his reading. 

 

From “Song of the Open Road” by Walt Whitman

 

Afoot and lighthearted, take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before you,

The long brown path before you, leading wherever

you choose.

Say only to one another:

Camerado, I give you my hand!

I give you my love, more precious than money,

I give you myself before preaching or law:

Will you give me yourself?

Will you come travel with me?

Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

 

The last line stayed with me and I found myself thinking about it as I fell asleep that night. It was a question that needed no answer. Of course they would give themselves to one another, of course they would travel together, of course they would stick by each other. The poem seemed to capture the endless possibilities before them, and at the same time give assurance that my uncle and his soon to be husband would be eternally tied to each other.

Vows were exchanged and shortly thereafter so were the rings. They were married. The moment was so fast, yet so incredibly charged with emotion. It was a truly beautiful moment in the midst of such an ugly time, and for this break in the turmoil, for this sweet silver lining, I am very grateful. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revisiting Chapel

From its chilling, haunted aura on foggy evenings to its warm glow during stunning Groton sunsets, St. John’s Chapel has always been a part of my daily routine on the Circle. My usual morning consisted of inhaling my breakfast and then wobbling from the Dining Hall to the chapel (often with a bit of morning grogginess). A speech and several musical interludes later, I would stumble out; I walked out inspired or chuckling from the chapel talks, but oftentimes, my puffy eyes were the only memorable takeaway.

If it isn’t apparent, I am not a morning person. To make it even worse, I am also a person who functions horribly without good sleep. Arriving at Groton, the chapel requirement was my enemy. Much to my surprise, the looming fear of demerits created some of my most vivid Groton memories: touching senior chapel talks that I will never forget, the nerve-wracking but rewarding performing in postludes, and listening to guest speakers’ stories and legacies. 

When I returned to a socially distanced campus this fall, the school launched the new virtual, live-streamed edition of morning chapel. You can imagine my bliss when hearing that I would be able to watch chapel right from bed. Rather than being a burden, chapel became something relaxing to wake up to. As I went to brush my teeth, I would open up my browser and start my day with melodic organ chords.

However, what struck me the most about chapel this term rested in the moments that I actually spent in the building. I stepped into the chapel for the first time this year to play a postlude. My violin in hand, I rose to the words of Chaplain Read’s prayers. As I glanced upwards, the towering glass window began to glow with morning light, rays peeking through each vibrant shard. Accompanied by a moment of majestic silence, I felt a chill and pull in my chest just as colorful shadows fell in front of my feet.

I raised my eyebrows–I’m not religious at all, and this was the first time I had felt anything like this… feeling so stirred during silent reflection.  Being away from the moment of silence after prayer for so long somehow made me experience such raw emotion. For the first time, I allowed myself to appreciate the beauty of that familiar, moving moment of silence; I closed my eyes and even said a few wishes to myself.

As I played the postlude that day, I leaned into the chapel’s enchanting resonance more than usual, soaking in the morning light.

Farewell(for now), my paradise

Two months … Well, 65 days to be exact is the time I spent on campus. It was a long ride but we made it to the end of the fall term! Woohoo! So many things have happened in such a short time.

With COVID restrictions, I’d imagined there wouldn’t be many afternoon activities to choose from. But was I proven wrong! There were many activities, ranging from calligraphy to dance to even fishing! I chose Intramural rowing for my MWF activity and Varsity rowing as my TT activity. It was my first time doing rowing, so I was a bit nervous. But every day, I walked down to the boathouse with friends and learned the skills I needed to do crew. I was invited to pre-season last year but it sadly got canceled because of COVID. Writing this now, I feel prepared to tackle pre-season this upcoming spring. During my time at the boathouse, I made many new friends, both new and returning students. At the end of practice, we’d walk back to the Dining Hall, our walks filled with exciting conversations and jokes. 

Likewise, I imagined dorm life as vastly different compared to last year. While there is truth in that statement, dorm life wasn’t any duller this year. Once given the thumbs up, our dorm had feeds once again—a Groton tradition where we have different foods during check-in. My dorm heads, the Spierers, are well renowned for their monkey bread. Imagine how I felt when I was able to eat one during a feed one day! We got pizza, donuts (for my birthday), and the last check-in of the term we got sushi!

Also, the Student Activities Committee made weekends jam-packed with activities for the dorm to do. During one Saturday, the Fourth Formers and my formmates in my dorm played Just Dance on the Circle! Another day, we got to roller skate at the Pratt Rink, something I didn’t think was possible. Through these small events, I became even closer to the Fourth Formers and formmates in my dorm, for which I am forever grateful.

A surprisingly memorable moment occurred during one chilly Saturday afternoon when a friend and I decided to catch up by hanging out on the Circle. We took a detour to the back of the Schoolhouse to play volleyball. After a few minutes of playing, LV (my ex chemistry teacher) and a few students joined our little duo and we got to play an actual volleyball game (more like head-butting the ball)! More and more students trickled in and eventually, we had a 10 v 10 match. So there I was, playing volleyball with my friend, my ex chemistry teacher, and the boys varsity soccer team. This moment was truly a “boarding school experience” moment. After an intense rally (where I helped using my “amazing” libero skills), my team won and everyone celebrated with joy.

All of these memories contributed to how I perceived my second and last fall term at Groton. As I write this, I’m trying not to shed tears at how lucky I am to have made these memories. Nonetheless, I know Groton will do a great job handling the next two terms as they did with this one. Groton put a lot of dedication and planning into ensuring that students experienced Groton to the best of their ability, and I’m very grateful for that. With that, I look forward with excitement for the next two terms on the Circle, both virtually (in December) and in person!

Hope to see everyone soon!

Fall Reflections

It has been exactly a week since we left school, and I have mixed feelings of missing Groton but also being happy to be at home with my family. This past fall term was unlike any other, with all the new COVID restrictions and instructions that faculty, students, and staff alike had to follow. Even though it was a new experience, to say that I did not enjoy it would be a lie.

This term, I felt like I had more time to hang out with friends and get to know other people better, and I would say that would be a highlight of the two months we all spent together. Many a time my friends and I went on walks down to the boathouse on weekend afternoons, stayed up watching movies in the dorm, and spent hours at the Dining Hall telling each other stories about our quarantines.

Groton is a really special place, and that is because there are some really amazing people there. After a long day of many discussions, whether in or out of the classroom, I always went to sleep feeling very lucky. It is ironic how such uncertain times have brought people together so quickly, and I am so thankful that I got to experience that this term. I hope that we will have the opportunity to make more memories soon, but for now, I hope that everyone has an amazing time at home!

Midnight Thoughts

As I’m writing this, I’m on a plane in the middle of the Atlantic, and all I can think about is returning to Groton. I left campus precisely eight hours ago, and even though I’m sleep deprived, have a headache, and am in a turbulent flight, there is nothing I’d rather do right now other than write about Groton.

Today marks the beginning of the end for me. My fall term of senior year flew by faster than anticipated. It’s hard to fathom that I’ll never see another fall term on the Circle. Coming in as a new Fourth Former, I never expected this day to come so quickly. My first day at Groton still feels like yesterday.

With these blog posts, I’m supposed to elaborate on my experiences at Groton every so often. It’s not an easy thing to do; this place just keeps you really busy. You’re always juggling academics, your social life, and sleep while aiming for the optimal combination of all three. This year especially, with our current circumstances, finding that balance has been more important than ever. I’ve always been an independent worker and thought that I learn the material best when studying on my own. However, this year I tried something new. I made an effort to find time outside of the classroom to collaborate with my peers. Whether it was working on a math problem set or studying for a US History test, I proved myself wrong – I actually learn better when I’m around other people.

We all have different strengths, and when we put them together, we learn from each other. When collaborating with others, I simply wasn’t just regurgitating formulas or memorizing facts anymore. We engaged in conversations beyond the scope of what we were learning and applied our own perspectives and knowledge into talking about and really understanding the course material. In the end, without even realizing, I felt more engaged in all of my classes and became closer with many of my peers.

Groton’s soul is vested within the people – both the students and faculty. Yes, Groton is known for its high caliber of academics, and to a certain extent, athletics. It is only through the people that this is made possible though. The school administration has worked countless hours to get us back on campus. The teachers, as always, put a lot of time aside to help any student out and make the distance learners still feel like part of the community. Finally, I also want to commend the student body. Everyone’s unselfish behavior and following of the Covid-19 protocols allowed for a successful fall term where we all stayed healthy.

We were also blessed with consistently warm weather throughout the fall, which allowed us to spend quality time outside playing sports, going on a walk, or simply relaxing. In addition, Groton’s Student Activities Committee organized a wide range of activities for students to engage in on Saturday nights. We had a movie out on the Circle, trivia night, s’mores, and a few collective dorm activities. Overall, even though we had these new restrictions on campus, Groton didn’t feel too different. I’d be willing to bet that everyone already misses it at least a little bit.

I cannot wait to be back in less than two months. I have no doubt that we’ll manage to make winter term as great, if not better than the fall. Until then, I’m looking forward to spending as much time with my family and taking a few weeks to relax. Looking out through my window right now, I see a black sky lit up by millions of stars. When at Groton, it’s easy to forget about the world outside of our little bubble. In a universe of infinite uncertainty, I feel blessed that I can call Groton home with certainty.

Back at Home

That time has finally come; I’m back at home (Romulus, MI) after two months away. I always look forward to returning, but because of this fall’s extended time at Groton, I’ve missed home even more than usual. However, I already miss my friends and the community at Groton.

I’ve been here for two days now and I’ve enjoyed spending quality time with my family. My mother’s birthday was this past Wednesday, and my grandmother’s birthday is Tuesday, so hopefully my extended family and I will be able to get together soon to celebrate both. I wish I could go out with my friends, but unfortunately the circumstances do not allow that. Some goals for this time at home are to write, keep in touch with all of my friends, and make sure that I embrace and live in the moment, no matter how big or small it is.

Well, that is all; I just wanted to give you all a quick update on how I’m doing. I am going to enjoy these weeks at home and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at Groton again. Enjoy your time with your family everyone!

Looking Back on Fall Term

This term, to my surprise, has been one of my favorites at Groton. Coming into the term, I was pretty concerned about COVID-19 and its effect on life at Groton. I thought that the term would be completely different from any we had before, and I was wondering whether it might’ve been better to go remote to avoid whatever restrictions were placed on us.

After a week at Groton, however, I knew that I was completely mistaken in my previous assumptions. I quickly became aware that Groton was largely the same as it had been before (except for sports, which I’ll explain shortly) and that I was going to have just as much fun as I had had prior.

Classes continued as usual, except for the fact that there were students on Zoom attending the class along with the in-person students. Sports were a bit different: athletes were not able to compete against other schools nor were they allowed to scrimmage indoors at Groton if there was to be contact involved. Also, as I explained in my last blog post, sports were split between fall sports and winter and spring sports, as students could not get off campus to participate in their off-season sports. For me, that meant conditioning three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and then tennis or basketball, my winter and spring sports respectively, two days a week (Tuesday, Thursday).  This split of seasonal sports worked out extremely well for me. In our two days of tennis per week, we were able to practice with the same intensity as usual. The same was pretty much true for basketball in the second half of the term, except for the fact that we couldn’t scrimmage.

After a couple of weeks at school, the Student Activities Committee (SAC) also began organizing events on the Circle for Saturday nights and these continued for the rest of the term, moving inside to the hockey rink when it became too cold. After a hard week, I really appreciated that we were able to get out on Saturday night and hang out with friends. On the last weekend of school, most of the varsity teams held scrimmages against each other, and many students who did not participate in varsity sports came to watch. The experience was great for everybody but I think especially for the seniors, who were not able to compete otherwise in their last season of their fall sport. Overall, I found the term to be a great one and am looking forward to the winter, which we are told is going to be virtual at first and then in-person after everyone who chooses to come to campus has a negative COVID test.

I’d also add that Groton did an incredible job in handling COVID on campus. Through daily health checks and weekly COVID testing, constant mask-wearing, and general social distancing, the school was able to report zero positive cases on campus throughout the whole term.

Non-Partisan Politicking with RepresentUs

On Tuesday, September 22, the Groton Young Republicans and Young Democrats virtually co-hosted Josh Silver, the executive director and co-founder of RepresentUs. Non-partisan reform and ending political corruption was the theme of the evening, and with November 3rd looming on the horizon, Silver’s insights proved to be incredibly timely.

Here’s a more in-depth piece on Silver’s speech that I wrote for the Groton School website: “A Non-Partisan Solution.”

Feel free to check it out!

First Week at Groton

I’m writing this post on Saturday – exactly a week since my arrival to Groton. My time here so far has gone by in a blur. The first day, after checking in and getting tested for the virus, I went straight to my room for self-quarantine. My roommate arrived a couple of hours later, and we then spent the next two days in our rooms waiting for our tests to come back. On Monday, we had our first classes (virtual since we were still in quarantine) and then orientations for our afternoon activities (by that time my roommate and I had both come back negative from our COVID tests). Tuesday was the first real day of school – we had only twenty-minute classes on Monday – and in the afternoon on Tuesday we had our first off-season sports day (we have fall sports three or four days a week and then off-season sports twice a week). My off-season sport is varsity tennis, of which I am a captain. Tuesday was actually my first day acting as the captain, and it was pretty cool for me to lead and direct the practice. After Tuesday, the rest of the week went pretty smoothly. I alternated between conditioning (my fall sport) and tennis for the following days. Schoolwork hasn’t been too tough yet, giving me a chance to hang out a lot with my friends on the Circle, which I’ve really enjoyed, especially since I hadn’t seen them in so long.

A Whole New World

Waking up on September 7, I had a jittery feeling. It was a good kind of jitters, though. After months of staying at home with my family in quarantine, I was finally able to come back to campus–a place I’ve made a second home. On the morning of my departure, I quickly finished any last-minute packing and hopped into the car with my dad to embark on a 2-hour journey. 

At just 10 in the morning, it was quiet. Not many people were on campus as most were to come later or were currently in their dorms quarantining. The first day was quite tranquil, looking back. I had a surplus amount of time to unpack and familiarize myself with my dorm, which resides in the Lower School. This is my first time living in a Lower School dorm–specifically a 4th form dorm–so I’m excited to become closer with the Lower Schoolers, especially during this strange time!

For the next few days, I became one with my room. I had plenty of time to catch up on some shows on Netflix and got to read a good amount. However, with a nice view of the Chapel and the Circle, I anxiously awaited the notorious green dot signifying that I was free to leave the compass of my room and go into the world once again. The moment I got the heads up to leave, I immediately left to walk around campus. Others had the same idea, as I saw many people strolling about (socially distant of course)! It was so refreshing to see many familiar faces and new ones as well! It felt nice to catch up with friends after so many events happened throughout our elongated break. Although I left at noon, I couldn’t bring myself to return to my dorm until a bit after seven because of all the fun I was having outside. 

When class started a few days later, everything felt as if it were coming together. Although the school day was longer and we have to abide by different regulations, it brought a sense of normalcy. I felt once again in my “habitat,” learning alongside friends. 

As unpredictable as the future may seem now, finding those small memorable moments throughout your day is what makes your experience at Groton so unique. Who would’ve thought I’d miss the simplest of moments in life: late-night check-ins, sports games, and sitting in the Dining Hall with friends after a long and gruesome sports practice? From crew practice at the boathouse to lunch on the Circle on a chilly yet sunny afternoon, each day provides a new opportunity to create new memories. With that mindset, I will continue to march on as the fall term progresses!

A nice day on the Circle for dinner with Zoe’21, Tai’21, Harriet’21, and Zoe’21!

Return to Campus

I have to admit, it was a struggle to watch boarders return to school a week before classes while I sat at home, locked away in my quarantine cave. For months and months I had been dreaming of going back to school, and then all of a sudden I saw my friends there, and I wanted to go even more. But I couldn’t, and in the days preceding the start of classes, I began to experience the typical back-to-school butterflies. However, in spite of all my doubts about returning, it was a great first week back. I realized that, although it’s hard to be a day student at the moment, I am still on campus six days a week, still able to see my friends, still able to play my favorite sports. Over the summer, I think I began to forget how much Groton sports meant to me. Even though I missed out on playing a spring sport, I had a blast playing soccer and then basketball last year, and I was so excited to see all of the familiar faces as well as the new ones joining us this fall. 

 

Here is a picture of me (left) and Karenna (right), enjoying our lunch, and the much needed mask break, before heading off to practice.

Looking back, it’s crazy how much I took Groton’s beautiful campus for granted. Growing up in Massachusetts, it looked like every other suburban town… until now. Now I recognize that having so much outdoor space has made the restrictions so much more bearable. Trails in the woods for calming walks, huge fields to play spikeball and soccer, apple trees that provide us with rotten fruit to throw at each other from six feet away, all of these things have made my first week back seem as though my life is finally returning to normal. Almost.

At Home, Away from Home

On a Tuesday evening in August, as I was packing my bags for my return to Groton, I felt a sense of uncertainty about how long it would be until I am reunited back with my family in Bulgaria. Would that be weeks or a few months? Nonetheless, I decided to treat my departure as if I wouldn’t be returning for a while. As a farewell, I walked down the main street in the center of the city, ate at my favorite restaurant, said goodbye to all my closest friends, and most importantly, I spent memorable time with my grandparents. Having to live through times with an uncertain future, I have learned to cherish the present much more.

After my sister Sophia ’23 and I almost missed our ten-hour flight via Istanbul, we were picked up at JFK by a couple of friends, with whom we fulfilled the recommended two-week quarantine before returning to campus. In those two weeks, I completed my summer reading alongside spending quality time with everyone through conversations, kayaking, and binge-watching random TV shows on Netflix. Time flew by, and before we knew it, we were back on the Circle. 

I would be lying if I said Groton is not different this fall. I’ve had trouble recognizing some of my classmates with their masks on, and I deeply miss some of Groton’s most hallowed traditions such as sit-down dinners, Roll Call, and a full Chapel. However, I like to see everything as “the glass being half-full, not half-empty.” Eating outdoors on the Circle has been a blessing in disguise for me. I’ve been getting the chance to interact with many whom I haven’t spoken to much before. At least for me, a meal is also much more enjoyable outdoors in the fresh air and a cool breeze. Being a Third Form (Freshman) dorm prefect has also been an excellent opportunity for me to get to know some great guys, and to be there for them as they navigate through their first year on the Circle. 

I’m blessed to have been able to go back to school this year and I have a very optimistic outlook on how the year will turn out, regardless of whether it’s what I expect or not. That’s how life is. When I left Groton at the end of the winter term, I had no idea that we wouldn’t return that same spring, let alone almost not have a fall term on campus. Nevertheless, I’ll embrace whatever comes my way. For now, Groton is home and always will be.

 

Myself, Kat ’21, Andrew ’21, and Trey ’21 during our group quarantine

Annndddd We’re Back!

I’ve really been enjoying my time back on campus. I arrived on campus last Saturday. I was lucky enough to get a loft in my dorm, so my room is bigger than the average room and we have two floors. After forty+ long hours of quarantine, I was finally able to explore campus and see most of my friends for the first time in over six months.

I also started classes on Monday. So far, my first week has been a lot different than last year; I have fewer classes, and therefore my schedule is spaced out (I have a lot of time in between many of my classes). This gives me an opportunity to go to the dorm and relax, or start my homework early so I have less to worry about later.

Finally, this week I started what we’re calling the Zebra Combine—it focuses on football skills but isn’t quite football, since that’s not allowed due to the pandemic. This is my first time playing football, so these first few practices have definitely been learning experiences. On the first practice, the coach had to pull me aside in the very first drill and show me how to hold a football the right way. Little moments like that have happened a few times (and have been a little embarrassing), but I’ve really enjoyed learning the game and meeting new people. Hopefully we can have a season at some point.

I’ve had a great first week of the school year. Even with the new restrictions and guidelines on campus, I’ve made a lot of memories with my friends and had a lot of fun. I hope the rest of this year continues to be just as amazing!

189 Days

A few months ago, I was watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with my brother, and one of Ben’s quotes really stuck with me. About halfway through the film, he remarks: “It’s a funny thing about coming home. Smells the same. Looks the same. Feels the same. You realize what’s really changed is you. . .”

Walking off campus on March 7, I thought that I was coming back in three weeks. . . nearly everyone did. I had college visits planned and a spring term to look forward to. The pandemic was a world away, and we felt invincible. That was 189 days ago.

Last Saturday, I finally had my homecoming. After quarantining for the last two weeks of summer in Greenwich, my return to Groton happened in an oddly routine fashion, and I entered campus through the same gate that I’d left six months ago. A mask was my only noticeable wardrobe change.

As I strolled onto the Circle for my initial COVID-19 test, I felt at peace. . .and at home, too. Students who had been medically cleared were tossing Frisbees back and forth. Many others were sitting down together, chatting through masks, and several more were walking around the grounds, just enjoying the breeze.

When I received my own “green dot” this morning, which signifies that one has registered a negative test, I joined them. Feeling the sun again was AWESOME, and the grass had only grown greener since the spring time. I probably spent 5 or 6 hours outside.

Today, classes began at last. Having the chance to finally attend in person is huge, and it’s something we’re all ecstatic about. Senior year. Wow. For so long, I’ve looked forward to this milestone, and while my excitement hasn’t ceased, it simply feels unreal. I can’t believe that we’re back, and I can’t believe that we ever left. What a time to be in high school.

So, I have to run to bed now, but I just watched the Dallas Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights, so that might be a bit of a challenge for me; I’m pumped up for my team, and I might have to wear my jersey to class. . .I guess it will be a game-time decision.

In the meantime, all I will say is this: The return to campus just keeps getting better and better, and after months away from Groton, I couldn’t be more thrilled to be back.

Noah ’21, Andrew ’21, Kat ’21, Me, and Sophia ’23, the Connecticut Quarantine Group

A Different Kind of “Back to School”

Coming back to school has been a somewhat new but amazing experience. I arrived on Thursday, September 7, and while I was eager to see my friends again, I had to quarantine in my dorm for about thirty-six hours before I was allowed to move around campus. This was very different compared to my arrival on campus last year, obviously because of changes that had to be made due to COVID-19.

One aspect of the whole move-in process that stood out to me was the sense of community that still existed, despite the many months that many of us had been away from campus. I found it really easy to reconnect with my friends, and even establishing relationships with new students and teachers I had never interacted with before was not difficult at all. It is really special that everyone was able to find a state of normalcy even with the new rules and regulations, and I am eternally grateful that Groton was given the opportunity to reopen. 

Looking Forward to Fall

I’m really looking forward to getting back to Groton for the fall. Although there are going to be changes with COVID, I’m excited to be back with my friends (whom I last saw almost six months ago). This year, since students can’t leave campus once they arrive, Groton is accommodating athletes who play their sports in the offseason by offering offseason sports on campus two days a week. I’m really looking forward to this because last year we had difficulty organizing tennis in the fall so it will be nice to have a set time to be able to play this year.

This is our tennis team from two seasons ago, before a match on our home courts.

Hands-On Work

In the beginning of this year’s spring term, I had a pretty clear idea of what my summer was going to look like. I had a month-long internship set up with a newspaper in LA and had been accepted to a three-week summer program at Columbia. With COVID getting worse, however, my internship got canceled and Columbia announced that their program would be virtual, which I wasn’t as interested in. Looking for something else to do, my parents told me that I could work for them at their business (they own an apartment complex thirty minutes from our house in Cleveland). I accepted the job offer and, right after school ended, I joined the maintenance team at the complex.

Prior to this summer, I had no experience whatsoever working with my hands, and so my co-workers had to teach me every single part of the job. While I did a bit of painting and flooring (as you can see in the photo below), most of my job consisted of “turning” units, which essentially meant replacing all old components (doors, closets, lights, fans, sinks, bathtubs, window blinds, etc.). While the first couple of weeks were definitely tough, I eventually became more comfortable and started to enjoy the job more and more—I became resourceful in a way that I hadn’t really been before at all.

I can’t say my time at the complex went without any mishaps, however. One day, as I was leaving my lunch break to go back to work, I reached into my pocket to pull out my master key. To my dismay, I found that my pocket was empty. Convincing myself that I had put it in a drawstring bag that I had brought, I spent the rest of the day telling myself that I had no need to worry. After work, I checked the bag and found that the key wasn’t in it. In full-fledged panic, I began to search the complex. About thirty minutes in, my co-worker, who was helping me search, found it on the steps of one of the buildings I had entered in the morning. I actually don’t think I had ever felt so relieved in my life.

Other than my misplacement of the key, the job was a great experience, and I ended up working there for two months. Each day I would play tennis—my main sport—for two hours in the morning and then work for the rest of the day at the property. At the beginning of August, I stopped working to begin preparing for the SAT, which I took at the end of August.

Here’s a picture of me installing the flooring in an apartment that we were turning.

Leaving the Last Frontier

Pioneer Peak is the prettiest mountain in the world.

Now, I understand; that’s a bold claim to make. With mountains like the Matterhorn, Kilimanjaro, Denali, Everest, and Fuji all vying for the title, one could definitely overlook the 6,398-foot peak nestled in the Chugach Mountains. However, I rest my case:

As the cliché goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s fantastic right?! The pride and joy of Palmer, Alaska. . .A breath-taking photographic experience.

Right now, you might be thinking: “What is this guy talking about? There are thousands of mountains that are more beautiful than this. Lies!” And to be fair, you are probably correct. Beauty is a subjective science, so I will confess: I’m a little biased. After living in the shadow of Pioneer Peak for the last thirteen years, that mountain came to symbolize everything that I loved about my home—Alaska—and everything that I was distraught to move away from last June.

We initially moved up to Alaska when I was four. My father—a C-17 Pilot in the military—had been re-stationed to Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, but we decided to live an hour north of the city in Palmer—a small, agrarian community of about seven thousand. Mountain ranges surrounded the town on three sides, and the Matanuska River bisected the city center. Overlooking Palmer was Pioneer Peak—the crown jewel of the Mat-Su Valley.

Every time that I mowed the lawn, threw the football with my brother, or built a snow fort, that mountain framed the scene. Whenever we drove to hockey, rode the bus to school, or biked around the neighborhood, Pioneer Peak was in the background. I’m sad to admit it, but I took that summit for granted, and now the image has devolved into a dream. . .I only realized how important it was to me in those last few weeks.

Ugh, the typical last-minute epiphany moment—I know. Moving is tough—especially in between your junior and senior year—but during my final Alaskan moments, I had some time for self-reflection.

As Jack London wrote in his novel, Call of the Wild, “There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.” In his book, the main character, Buck, is a St. Bernard from the Bay Area who has to adjust to life in the Last Frontier—becoming wild in the process. My own family moved from Sacramento to Palmer—completing a similar geographic journey to Buck—but the similarities don’t stop there. In our own unique way, we had to acclimate to the Alaskan cultural climate. We became a stronger, more tightly-knit family. . .and a little wilder in the process.

To me, Pioneer Peak is a physical representation of London’s “summit of life.” While it was always there—always beautiful—we often forgot it existed because we were so preoccupied with living in the moment—enjoying life with each other on a day-by-day basis.

There are a lot of things in the world that I remain uncertain about, but if there is one thing that I know to be true, it is that everything is written. Destiny—no matter how much you try to run from it—still arrives all the same. It is what carried me from Palmer to Groton, and it is what has now carried my family to Kentucky. If my own life were a novel, the first chapter has just ended, and while exciting pages lie ahead, I couldn’t be more grateful for the starting point of my story. . .and for that “summit of life” I had the privilege of waking up to for thirteen years.

That is why Pioneer Peak is the prettiest mountain in the world.

Galvin-izing Alaska: My Summer on the Campaign Trail

Everyone loves an underdog. From the 1980 Men’s US Hockey Team to Buster Douglas, an underdog rises up against the odds to shock the world—moving mountains and shattering expectations.

This summer, I have had the opportunity to work with an underdog, though at the rate she’s climbing in the polls, I’m not so sure if that title fits anymore. Alyse Galvin is an independent, Alaskan candidate running for Congress against Don Young—the Dean of the House and the longest-serving Republican congressman in history. Young has been in office since 1973—three years before my dad was born—and yikes. . .that’s a long time (Dad, if you’re reading this, you’re getting kind of ol—I mean wise haha).

This is my second year on her campaign, and her character continues to amaze. A resolute devotion to bettering Alaska’s educational system pushed her to run, and prior to campaigning for congress, Alyse saved over $200 million in budget cuts from Alaskan public schools. She is a superhero.

While the rest of the United States drifts apart, she strives to bring people together. As a center-left candidate, her campaign accepted me, the head of Groton’s Young Republicans club, as an intern and opened my eyes to what politics could be like: Across the aisle cooperation to enact real change. So many politicians are just words, but Alyse is more than that: She is a beacon of hope for bipartisanship and a woman of action.

When she launched her campaign last year, I was one of the few people on staff, so I became a “jack of all trades”—doing everything from running errands for campaign events to organizing a thank-you note initiative. This time around, however, things were a little different.

In late April, I returned to the campaign as a virtual field intern. I reported to Nick Mack, one of the head organizers in the field, and alongside my fellow interns, Miguel and Gus, I jumped back into the world of Alaskan politics. I was tasked with making thirty calls a day, recruiting volunteers into the fray, and presenting Alyse’s platform to people from across the state. Every Tuesday, I helped Nick run a “phonebank” by coaching volunteers on campaign policies, values-based conversation, and the art of persuasion.

On Wednesdays, relational organizing was our focus. We hosted meetings on statewide strategy and increasing voter turnout. House meetings—programs where volunteers could invite their friends to an informational Q&A session with campaign officials—were another part of our agenda and prepping the volunteer hosts became a task that Gus, Miguel, and I could tackle together. As a team, we dove into the internship—learning from each other every step of the way.

In a given day, I could speak to people from Bethel to Utqiagvik to Juneau and everywhere in between. Alaska is a huge state with an incredibly diverse people, and with coronavirus preventing the campaign from meeting in person, we had to find creative ways to reach potential voters. Luckily, our biggest impediment actually turned out to be a huge benefit. Travel costs are expensive in Alaska, but in an era when nearly everyone has a phone or computer, communication was not as difficult as it initially seemed. By conducting meetings virtually, we were able to establish a widespread, active, and enthusiastic supporter network.

The hourglass is running out of sand. As of today, the election is ten weeks away, and Galvin and Young are neck-and-neck in the polls. National news outlets are beginning to follow the race more closely, and in a state that has had the same rep since 1973, change is on the horizon. Is Alyse still an underdog? Yes. She’s fighting an uphill battle against a man that has worked in Washington for almost half of a century. Is being an underdog a bad thing? Not at all. When you have something to prove—something to fight for—the win becomes all the more rewarding.

I don’t know how this election is going to turn out, but I do know this: I have faith in a future where people like Alyse lead the way. I return to Groton in two weeks, where I will continue to work for the campaign—albeit, in a limited capacity. I’m proud of Alyse, and I felt lucky to have been a part of such a cool intern team with Nick, Miguel, and Gus.

November 3rd awaits! #Alyse4Alaksa

 

An American Odyssey

When my younger brother, Braxton, and I were driving to Louisville a few weeks ago, a song came through the stereo that triggered some serious nostalgia. Growing up, one of our favorite movies was Cars, and during Lightning McQueen’s road trip montage, a Rascal Flatts song carries him from one end of the country to the other. Perhaps at no other point in my life have the lyrics been more appropriate: “Life is a highway / I want to ride it all night long.”

This summer, I have been on the go. . .a lot. My dad was relocated from Alaska to Kentucky with work, and my brother and sister’s hockey and school years ended early in Pittsburgh. On top of it all, our house sold amidst all of the chaos, and we had to move in March. In my honors chemistry class a few years ago, we talked about entropy as the increasing degree of disorder and randomness in a system. If there was ever a tangible example of entropy in the world, it was the Whitehead family summer.

Here’s what happened:

Starting at Groton in March, Mom and I began traveling around New England to check out a few colleges. Then—in the midst of our trip—BOOM: coronavirus hit Boston. Universities started to shut down left and right, so we skedaddled—driving all the way to Pittsburgh the next day. We picked up the rest of the family, and then spent two more days in our 2015 Ford Expedition on the interstate to San Antonio. Our beautiful rig already had 160,000 miles to its name, and it ended the trip with quite a few more.

In rural SW Texas, we quarantined on our grandparents’ farm for about four weeks, and then we found out that our house in Alaska had sold. I flew north, went to virtual class at 5AM every morning, and helped pack up our home. Afterwards, we returned to Texas and piled into the Expedition again—this time, headed for Louisville. We made it there in two days, house-hunted, and then retraced our steps to Pennsylvania. From there, I got on a plane to Boston, retrieved my belongings from campus, and flew back to Pittsburgh. On the last leg of the journey, my brother and I drove by ourselves. While the trip to Louisville was only 400 miles, we were jubilant when we reached our new house.

But, the madness isn’t over yet.

Today, I’m writing this blog post from seat 10A on a Southwest flight to Houston. From Houston, my sister, Berkeley, and I will take a plane to San Antonio—where I will drop her back off at the farm. Four days from now, I will be flying to New York, driving to Connecticut, and quarantining there for two weeks.

By the time school starts, I will have traveled well over fifteen thousand miles. If a fortune teller had prophesized that in January, I would have called them crazy.

2020 has been a trying year. From moving out of our house to escaping the coronavirus pandemic, expecting the unexpected has proven to be nearly impossible for the Whitehead clan, and yet as I reflect on the last few months, I feel lucky. My fifth form year was derailed, but with the flexibility of virtual classes, I was able to be with my family again. I got to assist with the move from my childhood home, and I had the chance to tell my Alaskan friends goodbye in person. Plus, I got to work on a congressional campaign, and because it—like everything else—went virtual, I took my job around the country with me. Most importantly, though, I reprised my role as an older brother, and I hung out with my grandparents a ton!

With every twist and turn, I became a better driver on the road of life, and while my summer did not turn out like I thought it was going to, I wouldn’t have traded my extra time behind the wheel for the world!

Countdown

You know a person in quarantine has become really desperate when they Google “countdown creator” and set a time for September 12th: their arrival date for the new school year at Groton.

I’m not going to lie–the quarantine life has its ups and downs. Though I spent a lot of time in the comfort of my own company, the retirement neighborhood I stayed in (with its lack of anyone my age) started to weigh on me. My lonely summer had me building up to this grand date of September 12th. 

During this period of anticipation, my mind wandered around the Groton campus. I daydreamed about being back at school: the lush greens of the Circle, the breathless laughter of late-night dorm conversations, and the majestic sunlit backdrop of the Chapel. I had missed the energy of campus life and all the people that made Groton such a great place.

 Through routine weeks of waking up, eating, studying, watching TV, and staring into black space, I kept opening that countdown tab to check as the days counted down to zero … and, sure enough, that day came. I gladly traded out my usual 13-hour flight for a road trip from New Jersey and set foot on campus. After looking at the Circle through Instagram for the whole summer, seeing Groton in person again was absolutely beautiful. 

The sun reflected from the Athletic Center windows as I stepped out of the car, and it reminded me of a moment in Third Form; I had tried to get a perfect shot of the picturesque shine of the glass. As I walked up through the fields, I was reminded of my short-lived JV lacrosse career. And the pavement around the Circle–site of last-minute sprints to the Chapel and late-night PB&J trips. When the wave of memories rushed over me at that moment, I knew I was back at my second home.

After some friendly greetings and nose swabs, I was back at my dorm with a castle of packing boxes. Yes, I dreaded sorting my terrifying mess of belongings, but I found a certain warmth in unpacking again. 

And … here I am, writing from my new room in Kelly’s Dorm. There’s a view of a tree-filled backyard from my window, and the sunlight peeks through onto my desk perfectly. Snuggling against the back of my chair, I finally removed the countdown from my bookmark tab. 

 

Looking Toward the Fall

This fall is definitely going to be interesting. There are numerous new changes to the school and its procedures, and many things such as school events, classroom setups, and dorm spaces are heavily affected by them. Along with these changes to Groton, there are other things I’m looking forward to in the fall.

First, and most importantly, I can’t wait to see my friends. I haven’t seen anyone from Groton in person since March, and even though the circumstances of our interactions will be limited, I am eager to see them. My friends made Groton even more enjoyable and comfortable for me, and they always brightened my day and pushed me to be the best person I could be.

Second, I’m excited about move-in day. As mentioned before, a lot of things have changed at Groton, and move-in day is one of them. Along with seeing some of my friends for the first time, I will also be essentially moving myself in for the first time. While this may not seem like a big deal, I’m excited to design my room and choose where things should go, opposed to my parents having that job last year.

Third, I’m interested in how the classroom environment will feel. It will obviously be different from anything I’ve experienced before at Groton, and I’m curious about how certain things will flow.

This fall is going to be unique, and that makes it exciting for me. As I’ve said before, I’m definitely looking forward to it!

My Summer

This summer has been very different for me (as it has been for most people) considering COVID-19. I’ve been at home for most of it, trying to keep busy.

For the most part, I’ve been playing basketball in my driveway almost every day. Playing basketball is one of my favorite pastimes, as it combines physical activity with a fun and fast pace. Besides that, I’ve been playing video games a little bit, and writing.

Outside of those mostly individual activities, I’ve spent a lot of time with my family as well. We watch movies, go on bike rides, play games, and do so much more together. I’m happy that I’ve taken advantage of this extra time with those I love, seeing as I am away from home for most of the school year. I’ve also seen a few of my friends over the course of the summer, but those interactions have been few and far between.

Overall, my summer has been great. I hope I have just as much fun during this school year.

Vintage Trip

A couple days ago, my mom and I were able to escape our house and go to an amazing vintage shop in Somerville. I had been waiting, rather impatiently, to go to this store for so long (but hey, quarantine). I was excited to finally get the chance to browse its selection of clothes, shoes, vinyls, cassettes, and other odd tidbits, dating back to the 1960s. Walking into the store was like walking through a whirlwind of the past. The blur of odd items was a bit overwhelming for me, but so fun for my mom, who was thoroughly engrossed in the records the moment we entered.

The front of the store was mostly dedicated to records and old cassette tapes, which I found really interesting (even though I’d never actually seen a cassette player before this). Next came a crazy mix of shirts, sweaters, and jackets: tweed, leather, bomber, you name it. The selection of different styles and eras was incredible, and more than once I found myself completely absorbed by a piece I knew I would never buy, but nevertheless enjoyed looking at.

I loved watching my mom’s eyes light up whenever she came across some article of clothing that reminded her of her childhood. One bomber in particular caught my eye. It was color blocked in neons and bright purples. As I lifted it off the rack she scoffed and said, “Not cute then, not cute now.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the look on her face, one of utter disgust at past fashions.

On the back wall, past the crazy tops and suede calf-length skirts, was the most elaborate collection of vintage dresses I had ever seen. I wish I could have tried some of them on, but the dressing room was closed due to COVID-19 regulations. Some of the dresses were heavily embroidered with glittery beads while others were covered top to bottom in frills. A few reminded me of things I had seen Marilyn Monroe wear, while others I couldn’t imagine a person wearing at all!

After a much, much shorter time than I would have liked, my mom ushered me out saying that we couldn’t spend too much time inside. I ended up purchasing a record by Simon and Garfunkel, a favorite of both mine and my mom’s, a navy blue sweater from an old brand even she didn’t recognize, and a purple leather skirt (a very bold choice, as I was informed at the cash register). I spent less than thirty minutes in the store, but it was a captivating blast from the past. I will most definitely be returning, hopefully soon, to see if I can find any more rare gems in this treasure trove of a store.

A Camping Misadventure

When I was little my family went camping all the time but, as I got older, weekends became devoted to sports. So this summer my mom decided we should go to Vermont for a quick camping trip, just us and my dad, my younger sister, and our two dogs. This was one of my mom’s impulse decisions, and for some reason she forgot to check the weather as thoroughly as one might before going to live outside for multiple days in a tent. When we left our house in the morning it was bright and sunny, but as we got farther and farther north, the sky began to darken and the clouds moved in. As we arrived, we were caught by a rainstorm in the very, very wet woods. Did I mention that we forgot to bring tarps to keep the bottom of the tents dry? Well, we did.

Thankfully, the rain passed quickly and we were able to set up our tents on some only slightly soggy, super comfortable rocks. Unfortunately, rain makes most things wet, things like trees and wood needed to start fires, fires that are needed to cook dinner. My mom was tasked with gathering dry wood, which turned out to be an exercise in futility to say the least. At this point it was pitch black and getting colder by the minute. I was blundering through the woods with only a headlamp strapped across my forehead, praying that a bear wasn’t about to jump me.

After nightfall our adventure took a turn for the worse as my mom and dad were both unsuccessful at building a fire suitable for cooking the sausages we had brought. As campers know, a fire is actually pretty important, especially on a damp, cold night, out in the middle of nowhere, halfway up a mountain. After waiting less than patiently for an hour or so, hoping some spark would finally ignite the damp wood, we decided to give up and eat cold salami sandwiches instead. Not TOO big of a tragedy (unless you have tasted my mom’s famous camping sausages). The dogs seemed to be the only ones not unhappy with our plight, as they were delighted to eat the bits of meat my sister fed them and then run off to romp about in the nearby meadow.

Thankfully we were blessed with beautiful weather for the rest of the weekend, but I did learn to ALWAYS check the weather frequently before heading out to the woods.

Looking Around

I spent the first eight years of my life in Chicago and then moved to Shanghai. I’ve always found myself stuck in between both of my homes—these lively metropolitan cities. Living in each place is drastically different, but I love them equally. However, the past months have forced me to settle in the antithesis of my previous neighborhoods: the calm New Jersey suburbs.

Unfortunately, I found myself literally “stuck.” With my U.S. passport, amidst raging coronavirus cases in the country, flying back to Shanghai was difficult. Thankfully, over time I eased into quarantine life in my new setting. Like anyone else, I experienced online high school and watched way too many movies, but being far from home during the pandemic forced me to take a look at what was going on around me.

Attending Groton, I spent a lot of time in America, but I was in a bubble of studying and school life. I never really took a moment to understand what was really happening in the U.S. Sure, I grew up in America, but only lived here as a child. I began by admiring the suburban landscape, but eventually started tuning in to news channels and took an interest in being politically informed. In such a polarizing time in America, I was incentivized to start educating myself.

Incorporating watching the news into my daily routine, I gained a fuller understanding of the current government, and how people in power can affect individuals and the America that I will live in. I also learned about the meaning of the social movements happening around me. Using social media to follow accounts like Black at Groton and to read stories from my BIPOC peers, I was able to gain insight into personal stories and truly understand the power and cruciality of Black Lives Matter.

My time in quarantine has had its fair share of boredom and frustration, but my stay in New Jersey has allowed me to learn so much—an experience I might have missed with a summer back in Shanghai.

Musicmaking, But at a Distance

My current makeshift practice room set-up is quite representative of the quarantine situation I’ve been subjected to: my violin case is propped up on a chair with the support of a few suitcases, my foldable wire music stand resting in the corner of the room. Music can seem especially difficult in a time like this, with performance opportunities dwindling and social distancing preventing in-person music lessons or collaboration. Strangely, in the midst of lost opportunities, quarantine improved my relationship with music.

When learning at Groton transformed into a totally different online experience, my music lessons stayed the same. I’ve been doing FaceTime lessons with my violin teacher for years, and the steadiness of my music routine was very comforting, especially when it seemed like every other aspect of my life was changing. I first started with my teacher when I lived in Chicago, and there would be weekly studio classes. They were mini-recitals where all of my teacher’s students would come together to perform a piece they were working on. Unfortunately, after my move to Shanghai, I wasn’t able to attend studio class anymore. Once coronavirus hit, all her students transferred to virtual music lessons, and I got an invitation to studio class for the first time in years. Though this zoom version of studio class lacked the cutting nerve of a live audience, the weekly performances were incredibly nostalgic, bringing me back to some of my earlier violin memories.

My spare time also allowed me to take a deep delve into an application at the bottom of my computer screen: GarageBand. I had occasionally played around with the program on my off days, but the past few months have allowed me to really have fun with some arrangements. With the help of my headphone mic, I tried my hand at arranging some a cappella songs and recording some Pentatonix covers. Though my mixing and audio quality were far from amazing, I ended the summer with a folder on my laptop dedicated to all my creations.

It didn’t really matter that I was playing off an unbalanced music stand or singing into a flimsy mic—this summer has been one of the most fulfilling periods of time for my music. I definitely miss collaborating with other musicians, but there is a certain charm to music-making in the comfort and solitude of my bedroom.

Summer Jobs

Due to COVID-19, one of the hardest things to do this summer was finding a job. A lot of places had just re-opened by the time school got out, and it was too late to apply. Additionally, most of the stores and coffee shops in my neighborhood required their employees to be sixteen or older, and I was not due to turn sixteen until the middle of July. I looked up job availability online, but I was not very successful, so I decided to go ahead and participate in the GRACE program.

At the beginning of August however, one of our family friends called my aunt, asking her if she knew of any babysitters that she could hire to watch her kids. Knowing how much I love working with and being around children, my aunt recommended me to her. So for this past month, I have been spending most days and sometimes nights with two-year old Meghan and four-month-old Demi. This has been a very special time for me because I have always loved being with children. Their innocence and happiness is very contagious and heartwarming. Another reason this experience is so important to me is because I want to be a pediatric surgeon when I am older, so learning how to deal with kids and understanding their mannerisms is something that will help me for my future.

Even though the summer is coming to an end, I am glad I got to spend this past month with them. I hope that I will have more opportunities to spend time with little kids as I work toward my goal of eventually treating them.

The Giver

One good book I read this summer was The Giver, by Lois Lowry. It tells the story of a twelve year-old boy growing up in a sort of utopia, and how he is able to change the lifestyle of his community for the better. I enjoyed reading this book because it reminded me of how easy it is to settle and become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, when there is so much more out there that I can do. The book is a reminder to step out of my comfort zone once in a while, even though it might be against the judgment of others.

This book also reinforces the common saying that one can never be too young to make a difference. The main character is only twelve when he accomplishes all kinds of things, reminding readers that determination is really all we need to move forward. I really recommend this book to anyone who has not read it, and it also has a movie. Read the book before you watch the movie, though, because as always, the movie alters certain aspects of the book and adds scenes that were not in the book. In my opinion, books are always better than movies anyway. But the movie is amazing as well; I even watched it for the second time once I had finished reading the book. Also, check out more books by Lois Lowry! She is definitely a cure for boredom.

Precious Time with a Great Storyteller

For a month this summer, I had the privilege of staying with author/researcher/activist Paul Polansky in the small village of Knez Selo in southern Serbia. His home is filled with three decades of academic research materials on the origins and the plight of Romani (aka Roma/Gypsies) in Europe. My task was to organize his many years of research materials to facilitate the creation of a PhD program on the Romani people for a U.S. university in the future.

Mr. Polansky is one of the most incredible individuals I have ever met. A former very successful real estate investor who made millions; over 30 years ago he donated all his money to family and charities and has spent his life writing books and poetry while serving the most vulnerable. In America he wrote about—and lived amongst—the homeless long before it was an issue for cable news. In Europe his focus has been on the Roma. Polansky is one of the leading authorities in Europe on these subjugated people.

While living in his house, I was helping him cook, and during our meals he would always let me in on one of his many life stories. The one that captivated me the most was a story another man told Mr. Polansky after his poetry reading at a Barnes and Noble in New York. During the  reading, he read his poems based on the oral histories of Roma Holocaust survivors he interviewed, who reported that they escaped from Auschwitz through a sewage pipe.

Right after his reading, he was approached by a man who said, “Everything you just read is true.” The man was a car mechanic and explained that an elderly Jewish woman came to his front door to get her Cadillac fixed one day. The second she saw him, she froze for thirty seconds and asked him if he was Roma. He was stunned since nobody had ever asked him such a question in the U.S. and replied that he does indeed come from a Roma background. She smiled and handed over her car keys, saying, “It’s yours to keep.” She later explained to him that the Roma in Auschwitz helped her escape with them through the sewage pipe, confirming the oral histories that Mr. Polansky had collected on a different continent.

After hearing this amazing story, I tried to do a little research of my own and see if I could find anything on Roma escapes from Auschwitz. Amazingly enough, I couldn’t find any articles. This got me thinking about how much history is left out of our history books, or how those writing them chose not to bother to record the heroics of others—and the tragedies of many.

During another meal, Mr. Polansky told me about an experience he had while going through archives in the Czech town of Lety looking for information about his own genealogy. Through his research, he stumbled upon documents about a concentration camp for Roma that was established, managed, and eventually closed down by Czechs in the Czech Republic. The camp was up and running even before the Nazis occupied the country, and during the occupation, the Czechs did such a good job on their own that the Gestapo left the locals alone to run the camp. The camp’s information had been buried decades ago by both the previous communist regime and the newly established democratic government of the world-renowned late Czech president, Vaclav Havel. When Polanski tried to bring attention to it, he started receiving multiple threats from the Czech Republic and other countries. The narrative of the always “historically polite” Czechs, who were subjugated by the Nazis and then the Soviets, was shattered by Polansky.

During my stay he also inspired me to write poetry, and we held daily writing seminars at a cafe with my sister and another young teenage writer. Polansky critiqued my writing, telling me that I shouldn’t let the truth come in the way of a good story in poetry/creative writing. However, stories such as these are more powerful than anything someone can make up because they actually occurred in real life. Having published thirty-eight books and traveled worldwide to collect oral histories, Mr. Polansky has led a life that very few will. The beauty of oral histories is that through them, families remember their heritage and details about their ancestors. Now not only will I be able to hold dear the experience I had with Mr. Polansky, but I will also carry a tiny bit of the knowledge that he dedicated his life to collecting.

Mr. Polansky and me, sitting on his porch

 

Bulgarian Impressions at First Glance

This past June, my friend and formmate Andrew ’21 came to visit me for a week in Sofia, Bulgaria. The second he came out of the empty airport’s glass doors, for a few awkward seconds, we debated hugging or just fist-bumping it out. We insisted on a hug. Regardless of the rain, we were both excited to go downtown and walk the main street. Our first stop was Starbucks. There’s no better way to experience “another city’s culture” than coffee from the local Starbucks. We ended up being confined in the café until the monsoon-like rain subsided.

We slowly started making our way to my favorite part of the city: the main pedestrian street, known as Vitosha. The name stems from Mt. Vitosha; the mountain that towers over Sofia and acts like a giant lung for the city, providing cool breezes in the evening. Walking through the city center, we traversed many of the historical layers of the capital that date back thousands of years. This includes structures from the Thracians, Romans, Ottomans, and the typical prefab panel buildings: “architectural masterpieces” endowed upon the city during communism. Andrew and I ended up sitting outdoors in a street-side restaurant and enjoying delicious local Bulgarian food, such as beef tongue fried in butter. Yum.

Since he wasn’t staying in Bulgaria for too long, our schedule was jam-packed. The next day we drove two hours to the most historically rich and best-preserved little town in Bulgaria, called Koprivshtitsa. The name doesn’t really roll off the tongue, and even I have trouble pronouncing it sometimes. We got to spend a night at a friend’s house and explore the town by going to a couple of museums and conversing with locals, whose families have been there for generations.

Other highlights of Andrew’s visit include him winning in squash, losing in tennis, meeting a few close friends of mine, and going on walks with my dog. While Sofia wasn’t as animated as it has been before, Andrew still had a great time, and I can’t wait for his next visit and other friends’ first visits!

Intersectionality

With the changes in how our world operates due to the ongoing global pandemic, it was a bit hard imagining what I would be doing over the summer. With solemn thoughts, I firmly believed that this summer was bound to be an assortment of greys and glooms. What I did not know was that I would be participating in a recently changed program that would open my eyes to a new passion and ignite many more.

Before the summer began, I was accepted into the Barnard Pre-College Program. The original plan was to spend two weeks on the Barnard campus alongside other students from all over the world to take supplementary classes on specific topics. From Journalism to Activism in New York City, there was a wide variety.

Specifically, I was in the Young Women’s Leadership Institute (YWLI) and was taking Intro to Reproductive Justice. Before taking this course, I was not necessarily well-versed in this topic. Of course I found it of importance, but I hadn’t given it as much thought until I took this course.

Classes would run from the late morning to late afternoon. My specific course—of around thirty participants—would consist of us discussing the previous night’s readings or podcasts regarding reproductive justice. I think being able to listen to a wide variety of views opened my mindset, and the environment was very supportive! We placed an emphasis on creating a safe space and encouraged messy thinking (or speaking whatever came to mind).

The biggest takeaway from this class was looking at the bigger picture and how different issues come together through intersectionality! I focus a lot on racial justice, and now I often integrate feminist ideas into my thinking, as both correspondingly affect each other. After finishing this course, I’m pretty sure I’ve talked my parents’ ears off at this point.

In the YWLI, we were assigned to groups (based on similar interests), without much instruction, to create a zine. Now, you may be asking, what is a zine? I had the same question initially. A zine is a self-made publication focusing on just about anything! My group was tasked with creating a zine about breaking stereotypes. Given the diversity of the group, we talked about stereotypes regarding race, sexuality, and ability, and explained how stereotypes are detrimental as a whole. Using an inside joke about quaggas (a subspecies of zebra) created during one of the first meetings, we stole the spotlight during the group presentations and even gained ourselves a quagga fan club!

Looking back, creating a program that was supposed to be in person had a lot of challenges. However, Barnard did an exceptional job integrating virtual tools to create a unique experience for its participants, both in and outside of the “classroom.” Reflecting on the bigger picture, I know this year at Groton will be the first of its kind. Things will look different for sure. However, I have full confidence that we will be able to—whether virtually or in-person—create a lifetime experience for everyone!

Together at the Dinner Table

After spending a good deal of time at home with my family, I have a greater appreciation for the time we spend together at the dinner table. Initially, it was a bit strange. I hadn’t spent much time with my family—especially at the dinner table—since I attended my previous school.

Mealtime has always been a source of excitement for me. Coming from a Hispanic household, we had a variety of cuisines. Many of them were tropical and seafood-based, as my mom grew up in a seaport facing the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes it was more Mediterranean, based on my grandmother’s southern Iberian heritage. What was interesting though was the story that came with each meal.

My mom would always tell me stories of how she grew up eating fish every day and how the fruits were always fresh off the trees. She carried these recipes with her when she emigrated to the U.S. during her adolescence. So when she began teaching me these recipes over the summer, I felt as if she were passing down those stories to me. I felt a greater connection with the ingredients used—most of them come from a supermercado Latino, especially the perfect corn tostada—and subsequently with my heritage and culture. When squeezing the limes, I would imagine the warm sea breeze of the Pacific coast. Or when cutting the cilantro, I’d imagine myself in a hectic yet serene plaza of an Andean town. I would go so far as to say that, yes, I am a foodie, but I feel like that connection with food goes way deeper than what meets the eye.

My favorite meal I made this summer most definitely has to be tostadas (as pictured). Although this meal originates from Mexico, it’s a common dish in my household. With the mixture of fried beans, lettuce, seasoned chicken, and an assortment of cheese and herbs, every bite is a surprise. It’s usually the go-to dish I’d make for friends who are interested in Latin meals! I’ll be a bit sad when I won’t be able to have my mom’s home-cooked meals … but the wait will be all worth it!

 

“How ’bout them Zebras!”

Never in my life have I been so proud of a team.

After the triumphs and tribulations of this season, we were eliminated in the semi-finals of the small school tournament yesterday. . . and the loss stings. Two years in a row now, we have concluded our season on home ice in the playoffs, and while I get another chance to skate next year, there was something special about this group of players—this band of brothers.

After going down by four goals in the first period of our quarterfinal matchup against Tilton, a comeback seemed nearly impossible. Yet by the end of the second period, we’d cut their lead to two, and when the final buzzer rang out, the scoreboard smiled down upon the Groton crowd. We won that game 6-4 last Wednesday, and as my jubilant teammates climbed over the plexiglass, they were absorbed by the crowd. I tried to get over the wall too, but I just didn’t jump high enough haha (check out the picture below, I’m in between #24 and #21).

As soon as I walked through the door, however, screaming friends, fans, alumni, and teachers mobbed me. It was so fantastic that had Gabe ’20 not poured water down my back five minutes afterward, I would have passed out in the locker room. Every skater on our team was both emotionally and physically fatigued, but striding into the room, Coach Riley brought us back to our feet by yelling his signature catchphrase, “How ’bout them Zebras!”

That playoff victory was our 22nd win, and it capped off the most successful hockey season in Groton School history. While we couldn’t find the same success against Pomfret, the team still exhibited incredible character in defeat. Last night, we said goodbye to our rink and to each other. Never have I played on a harder-working team. Never will I miss a group of guys more.

To the seniors: Eamon, Kevin, Henry, Gabe, Marc, and Luke

Thank you for everything. I love you all.

 

Peer Counseling: Coming Full Circle

Eleanor ’24, Arianna ’24, Tommy ’24, Cassidy ’21,  and me at a Second Form peer counseling meeting

 

Dropping the red circle into position, Tommy glances in my direction–flashing a grin from his beanbag. Seconds away from a Connect Four victory, we both start giggling as Arianna and Eleanor realize what’s about to happen. “Oh no,” Eleanor chuckles. “We’ve been bamboozled!” Shuffling Tommy another chip from the box, he places the piece into the middle slot, and with a satisfying click, the win is ours!

After chatting for a few minutes, we hear footsteps in the stairwell. Cassidy–jogging in from a late practice with the girls varsity hockey team–enters the Wellness Center with an enthusiastic, “Hey guys, what’s up?!” Joining us on the couches, her smile brightens the room as all of the Second Formers boomerang her hello. The five of us–finally together–excitedly exchange stories from the past week before Cassidy produces three sheets of lined paper from her backpack. Speaking to Tommy, Arianna, and Eleanor as their peer counselors, we explain the reason for our rendezvous: to help them write their Second Form letters-to-self.

Essentially, the letter serves as a time capsule. In their final year on the Circle, the Second Form gets to reread their sentiments from the beginning, which I think is pretty awesome! Coming in as a sophomore, I never had the chance to attend Groton’s Lower School, but through my Second Form peer counseling group (and former thirds soccer teammates), I have been able to experience it vicariously. Having two younger siblings that I am incredibly close with, Braxton and Berkeley, the Lower Schoolers often remind me of them and of home. The peer counseling group is like an extended family, and I’m so grateful that Groton provides this dynamic for its students.

At the beginning of this year, I joined the peer counselor program–a group that embodies the Groton ideals of service, selflessness, and camaraderie. Inspired by my dorm peer counselor, Andrew Mazza ’20, to enroll, I didn’t know what to expect or necessarily what being a peer counselor entailed; I just wanted to help those that needed guidance, a friend, or simply someone to talk to.

Now, after spending six months in the role, I would argue that I have benefitted just as much (if not more) than those I have been lucky enough to support. By forging closer relationships with both my fellow dorm residents and with the Second Form squad that Cassidy and I counsel, I have become both a humbler individual and a more empathetic leader. From a peer counseling perspective, my biggest hope is that I have been–or will be–able to inspire someone to apply for the program, as Andrew did for me. Kindness is contagious, and I dream that one day, everyone will be infected:)

A Hot Start for Hockey

As the ref blows his whistle—ending the timeout—Thomas ’21, Luke ’20, Marc ’20, Ronan ‘21, and I skate toward the faceoff circle. Fourteen seconds remain on the clock, and as the bright lights blind me, I line up—shoulder-to-shoulder with a Roxbury Latin forward. In the stands, the student section—decked out in red, white, and blue for the night’s patriotic theme—roars wildly and shakes the netting above the glass. “FWEET!” The referee’s whistle brings my focus back to the rink. As Luke steps up to take the draw, time seems to slow down. The puck falls from the official’s hand—spiraling downward—and bounces—once and then twice—before Luke pulls it to my side. Roxbury Latin’s net, 200 feet away, is wide open. Automatically, I rifle the puck between the enemy defenseman, and it sails down the ice. I hold my breath. The trajectory looks off, but maybe not; I can’t tell. Finally, at the last second, the puck curls into the net, and the crowd goes berserk! Once play restarts and time expires, the boys varsity hockey team secures their fifteenth win of the season to the sound of a cheering fan section. The feeling is nothing short of magical.

Taft, St. Paul’s, Andover, Deerfield, Cushing, Rivers, and Roxbury Latin (twice). . .All trampled by the Zebras. Behind the leadership of our fearless captains, Luke ’20, Marc ’20, Thomas ’21, and Gabe ’20, Groton BVH has experienced incredible success this season. Every guy on the team has bought into Coach Riley and Coach LeRoy’s system—which places an emphasis on speed and camaraderie—and as a result, our on-ice chemistry has flourished. Right now, we head into winter long weekend on a seven-game win streak, and upon our return from break, we can’t wait to earn a few more Ws. Exciting times lie ahead!

#WinFo2020

After months of creative proposals and hilarious roll call announcements, Winter Formal, one of Groton’s major school dances, recently took place. Held in the Upper School library, the event was filled with everything from photo booths to candy stands and disco lights to a swing dancing room. Plus on music, DJ Julio Sanabia kept the crowd bustin’ moves all night long!

I figured for this blog post, a picture was going to be worth a thousand words, so here are a few snapshots from the evening:

                                                           

Lessons & Carols: A Groton Tradition

Adjacent to the doorway of the Chapel, I fiddle with my red tie as students begin to flow in. The boys—clad in sport coats and khakis—and the girls—dressed in skirts and sweaters—take their seats. Having (literally) just run over from our hockey team’s 4-3 victory over Andover, I am a bit out of breath, but excitedly anticipating my reading. I retie my shoes—once and then twice—and afterwards peruse the Lessons & Carols program. As I prepare to recite the fourth lesson—a reading from Isaiah—the orchestra starts to play. The audience quiets down, and following the performance, the members of the orchestra vacate the front of the Chapel to find their places among the pews. “Here we go,” Mr. Birney, our chaplain, whispers. “Are you ready?” I smile. “Let’s do this.”

Lining up behind the choir, I join the procession and pair up with Lucy ’20. Together, we stride down the Chapel’s central aisle and sit in the front row. Mr. Birney commences the evening’s events—addressing the expectant crowd—and soon afterward, the choir opens with another song. The next thirty-five minutes progress rapidly as Jeremy ’24, Riya ’23, and Aine ’22—the first three readers—all deliver their lessons. Suddenly, my turn to stand at the podium arrives. Straightening my tie one last time, I carefully climb the stairs and gaze out at the audience. Examining my lesson, I clear my breath, smile, and address the crowd.

Since 1928, Lessons and Carols has been a fundamental part of the Groton Christmas tradition. On Tuesday, December 17, the entire student body assembled in the Chapel to listen to the orchestra, the choir, and the readers’ nine lessons. A festive way to celebrate and commemorate the holidays, the event unites the community before we head home for winter break.

 

Surprise Pizza Party!

Dim at first, the headlights grow brighter as the Lazy Mary’s delivery car creeps toward Hundred House. The smell of six giant party pizzas wafts through the air as the driver stops the vehicle—taking the keys out of the ignition. Checking the receipt, he announces, “Umm, I have an order for. . .the Fifth Form?” Excitedly, I reply, “Yes sir, I can take them.” After piling the massive rectangular boxes into my arms like the blocks in a Jenga tower, the driver takes off, and I begin waddling toward the student center. A few minutes later, I arrive at the doors—where Gracie ’21 and Sam ’21 walk out to meet me. The party was about to begin.

Exam week can be a hectic part of the Groton School year, so as a form, we decided to come together for forty-five minutes and have a pizza party in the student center—a venue with pool, foosball, and ping pong tables, TVs, sofas, and more. The term’s final English essays were due that same morning, and afterward, students spent the afternoon studying for Wednesday’s language exams. Luckily, pepperoni pizza and Post Malone proved to be the perfect excuse for the form to take a relaxing break.

As co-form officers, Gracie and I organized the event with Mr. Leroy, the director of student activities. In about two weeks, we are excited to host a holiday-themed outing. Before December break, our form will get together again, this time for a cookie-decorating party. With Christmas on the horizon, we can’t wait to celebrate!

Lincoln’s Dorm: The King of Spirit Week

Gathered together in the common room for check-in, the nineteen boarding members of Lincoln’s Dorm and a few of our day student affiliates excitedly chat with one another. After a highly competitive Spirit week, we anxiously await the results of the inter-dorm contest. A “feed” for the victors—which is a meal catered from off-campus—is on the line. Boooooom! The ten o’clock tintinnabulations ring out from the school bells. Sixty seconds later, another set of rings captivates the common room. On each of our phones, we receive the same alert—an email from Spirit Committee head Elizabeth Girian, entitled “SPIRIT WEEK WINNERS.” I open it and scan for a dorm name. Sure enough, in bold print, the email reads: “Spirit Week winners! LINCOLN’S & CHUNG’S!!”

We were ecstatic. Happy and hollering, we high-fived and hugged each other until the end of check-in. Before returning to our rooms however, we unanimously decided on Chick-Fil-A for our “feed.” Currently, we have yet to select a day, but remain optimistic about the waffle fries in our future.

Prior to exams every term, Groton schedules a week of spirit where students can earn points for their dorm. Each day of the week has a unique theme and minute-to-win it game. By having the best Roll Call announcement, wearing the most creative outfit, or winning the contest at conference period, a student can propel their dorm to the top of the leaderboard. Also, the Spirit Committee sponsors a meme wall outside of the Schoolroom. While my dorm put up a respectable effort, Fernandez’s Dorm won the “funniest meme” title this fall.

However, we nearly monopolized the points for “best dressed.” Wednesday was Pajama Day, and my prefect, Teddy, and I shared the prize. Thursday was “country” themed, and decked out in stars and stripes apparel, I split the win with Matt Kandel, a friend from a rival dorm. To complete our rally, Gardner, another Lincoln’s prefect, was crowned the king of “Fresh Friday.” With those points and a few Roll Call announcements, we managed to climb to the top by St Mark’s Saturday. Lincoln’s was elated, and the experience helped us bond as a dorm.

PS: Looking forward to winter, we not only hope to retain the throne, but we want to win the meme wall back, too. I guess for now, we’ll just have to eat our spicy chicken sandwiches. . .better luck next time Fernandez.

 

I’m with Nick ’21, in our Christmas suits on Pajama Day.

A Seminar on the Philippines

“Trey, it’s your turn to pick,” Ms. Wallace says. I smile, nervously, as I draw a slip of paper. Hoping for Mahan, a proponent of U.S.-Naval superiority before the Spanish American War, I examine the name in my hand: Mark Twain. “Oh no, anyone but Twain!” I laugh. Following my pick, the teams for our in-class debate, or seminar, split in two. Half of the students walk to the pro-imperialism side of the room, and the other half to the opposition corner; I move my books to the anti-imperialist table.

Sharing Mark Twain with Powers Trigg ’20, we take our seats alongside Senator Hoar and Andrew Carnegie—played by Brooks Anderson ’20 and Caroline Beran ’20 respectively. Across the Harkness Table, Captain Mahan, Senator Beveridge, Rudyard Kipling, President Teddy Roosevelt, and President William McKinley stare us down. Speaking about Joint Resolution 53—a proposition to allow the U.S. to claim the Philippines as territory in 1900—our discussion commences, and afterward, we drop the roles and deliberate the issue ourselves.

One of my favorite classes this fall, America Empire in Liberty: Philippines, has been fantastic. Centered on U.S. foreign policy and Philippine relations, discussion dominates the classroom atmosphere; I love the constant conversation. Before arriving on the Circle, I took U.S. history and the school allowed me to bypass the required credit. So in lieu of U.S. history, I decided to take more U.S. history, haha. Our tests are in-class essays, and homework is not graded, but rather preparatory for our talks in class. We use dates and facts we learn from the readings to compose a timeline, and then as a group, we discuss everything from language to infrastructure and economics to military.

This upcoming winter, I will take a similar class, except with an emphasis on Vietnam. In the spring, I continue history with a course on U.S.-Iraqi affairs. I’m super excited and can’t wait!

At the school’s birthday: Captain Alfred Mahan (Henry ’20), Mark Twain (me), Senator George Hoar (Brooks ’20)

Fun Fact: We are all in the same advisory!

Public Speaking: The Chance to be an Extrovert

The light almost blinds me as I take my seat—adjacent to Mr. Leroy and across from Ambrey ’20—on the CPAC stage. Nearly four hundred guests sit in attendance as we pass Gracie ’21 and Caleb ’21, who just finished their section of Groton’s Open House presentation on athletics. We smile, and Mr. Leroy begins, “Today, we would like to touch base on student life here on the Circle.”

It might be a little weird that I enjoy public speaking as much as I do, but when Mr. Pomeroy asked me to talk about everyday Groton life, I jumped at the opportunity. I was honored. For my two-and-a-half-minute speech, I got to tell the crowd about my advisory, my Spanish class, and my fears about coming to Groton—or rather about leaving home. Not only did I get the chance to represent my school, but it was a very introspective experience for me. I was able to reflect upon how lucky I was to have found this community.

The morning prior, I also had an opportunity to address a large audience, though instead of prospective families, I spoke to my own friends and fellow students. As a peer counselor on campus, I was tasked with performing a skit alongside Anna ’21, Mike ’21, and Doug ’20. Together, we tackled Groton’s “Sanctuary Policy,” which is a program that helps students receive emergency medical assistance. While our skit was lighthearted, and our jokes received some good laughs, we were able to bring awareness to a serious topic.

While the Open House and peer counselors’ “chapel talk” were two different venues, my core message was the same: At Groton, we care for one another—in fun and in stress. I was thrilled to share my outlook with others and look forward to the next time I get to speak in a public forum again.

 

The peer counselors’ post-chapel talk picture

A September Stroll

Walking alongside Peabody Street, Cornelia and Magnus beckon to me before disappearing into an opening between two maple trees. The tips of the maple leaves, a tell-tale sign of the coming autumn, look as if they have been dipped in a red paint. Looking through the canopy, the sunlight filters through onto the path ahead—sending splotches of light onto the forest like a Jackson Pollock painting. All we can hear are the sound of our footsteps as the five of us step, in sync, through the sylvan trail. The scenery is beautiful, and smiling I try to take it all in.

Growing up in Alaska, I fail to remember a fall season that lasted longer than two weeks. Back home, the leaves would fade—turning a palish yellow hue—and then, at the mercy of a glacial wind, blow into the air and away from our yard forever. I never enjoyed fall back home, but here at Groton, it might be my favorite time of year. It was recently Surprise Holiday, a break from class for students and an opportunity for us to venture off campus. Instead of hopping on a bus into Boston, I opted to walk into the town of Groton with a few friends and have lunch.

Together, we meandered through the forest on a bike trail, and eventually found our way to the restaurant. Sipping a berry lemonade while waiting for my Reuben to come, I got to catch up with Lola and Will. We reflected on our year so far and laughed over stories from the past. It was a refreshing change of pace.

Challenge Trivia: A Battle of the Wits

“It’s the blockade runner, it’s the blockade runner!” Magnus shouts.

“No, it’s gotta be the eagle,” Mike retorts. “The Millennium Falcon literally has the word ‘falcon’ in it. An eagle is a bird, so maybe they just switched the name before production.”

Time begins to run lower and lower on the clock out as a buzzer ominously rings out. “Ten seconds everyone,” announces a voice from the front. Our group is in disagreement, when suddenly, a random piece of Star Wars knowledge triggers a lightbulb in my brain. “No, no, no. It’s the blockade runner. Han Solo was a smuggler, so he had to pilot his ship through the empire’s blockades—undetected. I’m sure of it.” Grinning goofily, I look around for approval. “Alright bro. We’ll give it a try,” says Josh, our team scorekeeper. Laughing, we all look up at the big screen near the front of the Dining Hall. A Black-Eyed Peas song blares on the speaker as our team waits in anticipation. Finally, the poll pops up, and it’s dead even across the board. Each of the four answer choices sits at nearly 25 percent, so we know that this question could give us a big boost in the standings and bring us even closer to the Chick-fil-A dinner promised to the winning squad.

“The correct answer is—” our trivia host hesitates. We hold our breaths. “The blockade runner!” Jumping up, we simultaneously scream, “WOO-HOO!” Everyone high-fives around our table as other competitors drop their heads into their hands. Jumping jubilantly around in the air, we are off to a good start.

Last weekend, my team and I competed in the Groton School trivia night. The challenge—put on by brothers Brett and Nik Outchcunis—was a not only a battle of brains, but a contest of luck and coordination too. The questions covered topics from the United Nations to Spotify and Australia to the White House, and I will admit, we did get a little rowdy when we got them right. We chanted—drumming our table to the beat of “We Will Rock You”—and ate white cheddar Cheez-Its as we climbed up in the standings. The atmosphere was lively, and at one point, Karenna Beckstein—a Second Former on an opposing team—even got out of her chair and started dancing to Blanco Brown’s “The Git Up” as the crowd cheered.

After the first round of questions, Brett announced a special event to level the playing field. The first test involved a Kendama—which is a traditional Japanese toy. The point of the game for the user was to land a wooden ball into a cup as quickly as possible, and thus earn our squad bonus points. We decided to send Will Molson; however, he quickly returned to our table because it only took him one try to win the game. We went absolutely wild.

The next intermission, our team filled out a halftime quiz involving dog breeds. Led by Josh and Annie, we managed to get many of the answers correct, and our score continued to rise. I participated in the third game—a ring toss—and earned a few more points to add to our tally. Finally, somewhere near the head of the pack, we approached the last question, the Equalizer. We could almost taste the spicy chicken sandwiches in our future, but the prompt, which had the potential to add or negate twenty points from our score, proved difficult. Brett—staring down the room with a smile on his face—asked, “What is the only Pixar movie not to include the Toy Story Pizza Planet truck.” We all sighed and threw our hands up in the air. Our finish was in fate’s hands. After narrowing our selection down to Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles, we took a chance and decided to go with Mike Wazowski and Sully. Time froze, and the board lit up. Three of the answers were in red, one in green. Our hearts dropped. It had been The Incredibles.

While we missed out on our beloved Chick-fil-A prize, we gained far more than we lost that night. I got the opportunity to meet two new Fifth Formers on the Circle, Har Vey Yuen and Will Molson, and remain excited for the memories I have yet to make with them both this year. Trivia brought us all closer together, and in Har Vey’s words, “We’re gonna run it back next time.”

Left to right: Me, Magnus, Noah, Har Vey, Annie, Will, Josh, and Mike

Politics in the Last Frontier

Clement ’19, Alyse Galvin, and me

“We have a lot more in common than we don’t,” said Alyse Galvin, an independent candidate for Alaska’s sole U.S. Congress seat. It was the final day of my internship with Alyse’s campaign and, waiting on an order of eggs Benedict with a few strips of bacon on the side, I sat down with my candidate and her campaign manager, former Groton house prefect Allie Banwell ’12, to have a conversation.

For three weeks, I learned how to write memos regarding Alaska’s industries, conduct political research, analyze surveys, keep track of campaign finance records, and appreciate ’80s rock ’n’ roll. After getting my driver’s license on the last day of spring break, I also spent a lot of time making wrong turns in Anchorage’s labyrinth of streets, but as I became more confident on the road, I also became more competent in my role with the campaign. On the second day of my internship, Alyse declared her 2020 candidacy for Congress. After narrowly losing an election to Don Young, Alaska’s House rep since 1973, she was more determined than ever to run again, and not only bridge the partisan divide on Capitol Hill, but in Alaska as well.

Right from the start, Clement Banwell ’19, a fellow intern, and I were thrust into positions of responsibility and trusted to organize and aid many of the early initiatives of the campaign. Our time together overlapped for a week and a half, and in between cataloging thank you notes, setting up campaign signs, and scrutinizing the office for an elusive box of labels, we would slip out for lunch and talk politics over a City Diner milkshake or a cheeseburger from Tommy’s. While we had our differences on policy, there was so much more that brought us together than kept us apart. Compromise and agreement are key to any friendship, and they are paramount to Alyse Galvin’s campaign too.

Alyse, a strong proponent of public education—which she described as the “core of democracy”—campaign finance reform, and jobs, jobs, jobs—is a lifelong Alaskan and the mother of four. At breakfast, I took the opportunity to ask her about her thoughts on the importance of listening to both sides of the political aisle, and she enthusiastically replied. “Big pieces of legislation need cooperation,” she said. “We need to come to the table with an open heart…Team America haha.”

Allie Banwell echoed many of the same sentiments. Following her time at Groton, Allie continued on to Yale and afterward received a fellowship in Alaska that involved rural journalism. Intrigued by the Alaskan political scene however, she partnered with friends and began a company to manage electoral races across the state. Eventually, Allie came into contact with Alyse—who she described as “a different type of candidate”—and “the rest is history.” Like Alyse, Allie criticized the “increased polarization” of our two-party system and media, and when I asked her if any Groton instructors or courses helped cultivate her love of politics, she commended John Lyons and his Court and Constitution class—remarking that he was “good about elevating both Republican and Democratic voices in the classroom.”

While Congress is divided on issues from immigration reform to the economy and from climate change to abortion, it is clear that politicians are excited about the youth. When I brought up the importance of the next generation in healing our political climate, Alyse and Allie both smiled. “It’s yours. The future is yours,” Alyse declared. “Share that enthusiasm with [the youth], that they have power.”

Allie nodded her head. “Show up. Show up to vote. Show up to volunteer. Show up to things that you care about.” She stressed, “And don’t do it alone.”

Though I learned so much over the span of my internship, my three biggest takeaways from my time with Allie, Clement, the Galvin family, and the many volunteers I was lucky enough to meet, would be this: Café Amsterdam has the best eggs Benedict in Anchorage, bipartisanship can only be achieved by listening to the voices of all people—regardless of their party—and lastly, but arguably most importantly, the teenagers of today will be the leaders of tomorrow. It is up to us to be there for our democracy; it is up to us to be there for each other.

USA Hockey National Camp: My Week on the Ice

Skating across the blue line, I slash to the middle—in between two defenders—and jerk my head to the left. Cross Hanas—a forward from Dallas—glides into the zone and rifles a pass my way. The puck—floating through the legs of a rival player—meanders through a crowd of people before finally landing on my stick. Glancing at the goalie, I snap a shot on net, and a second later, my teammates and I celebrate on the glass as we take a 1–0 lead in our game against Team Navy at the USA Hockey National Player Development Camp.

For a week this summer, I had the opportunity to play with 180 of the best sixteen-year-old skaters in the United States. Staying in the dorms at the University at Buffalo, I competed in two practices and five games with Team Grey—which was composed of players from Boston to Detroit and Washington DC to Minneapolis. After two separate tryouts—one in Anchorage and one in Las Vegas—I received a spot at the National Camp along with three other defenseman from the Pacific District (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada) and was able to attend the camp for a second consecutive year.

Over the course of the week, we had three wins and two losses, and I had two goals and three assists, but the camp was so much more than just the on-ice competition. As a team, we attended seminars on nutrition, age-appropriate training, and skill development, but my favorite presentation revolved around USA hockey pride. Having the opportunity not only to represent my family and my state, but my nation at the camp was something I’ll never forget. Every skater had USA emblazoned on the front of their jersey, and two former Olympians coached my team—one from the 1984 men’s team, the other from the 2010 and 2014 women’s team. Regardless of regular-season rivalries and different geographic backgrounds, we were all brothers under one flag and a part of something bigger than ourselves; I was very proud.

Besides the seminars, my teammates and I played a lot of “Sewerball,” a game in which players try to keep a soccer ball in the air with their feet. We also composed minute-long recreations of our favorite movie scenes, and on the final night, we held a joint barbeque and cornhole/Giant Jenga contest with another team.

If I could only use one word to describe how I felt that weekend, I would say “grateful.” USA Hockey created an incredible atmosphere on campus, and it was surreal to see the NHL Central Scouting Agency watching our games. Moreover, I’m thrilled to face off against many of the friends that I made during camp—especially my teammate from St. Mark’s—in the future, and I can’t wait for the battles to come! Skating alongside some of the country’s best was a very humbling experience for me, and I am excited to bring all that I have learned to the O’Brien Rink next winter. Hockey season can’t come fast enough!

Team Grey “Sewerball” warm-up

Me (left) and Brendan Gibbons from St. Mark’s

Team Grey bonding over a showing of Happy Gilmore