Four Years: A Snapshot
In September 2018, we asked seven freshmen to have their photo taken, and to tell us how they felt about starting Upper School. Our goal was to connect with them at the beginning of their freshman year, and again at the end of their senior year, to see how things went. All of the students were recommended to us by faculty members and administrators, but there was no guarantee that they would enjoy their four years here, want to discuss them, or even still be attending USM by the time their senior year rolled around.
Thankfully, the gamble paid off, and this past spring each of the seven students returned to our office as seniors to have their photos taken once more and fill us in on what they’ve been up to these past four years. They have faced difficult hardships and experienced incredible successes, each in their own way.
As a freshman, Rosa Rivera thought she might pursue a career in law. After all, everyone told her she’d make a good lawyer. But an unexpected health issue changed the course of her life.
During my freshman year I developed an ovarian cyst. For about a month it went undiagnosed, and my pain was ignored or explained away by my doctors, coaches, and trainers. Ultimately, when it ruptured, I had to be taken to the ER. Before the diagnosis, I felt very alone.
During my sophomore year, we had a community engagement class, and it opened my eyes to bigger problems happening in Milwaukee. It got me interested and made me feel like I wasn’t alone. My junior year, I took a social issues and services project elective course, where you research something for the whole year and then write a paper on it. I decided to research women’s issues in healthcare. That gave me the opportunity to take a deep dive into an area I wanted to learn about. Because I was still really confused as to why, my freshman year, no one believed me.
This year, I completed a Tower Project promoting Latina accessibility to reproductive health care. I connected my Hispanic community with reproductive issues that stem from things like language barriers, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Based on that, I’ve decided to major in public health at Tulane University, which is very big in public health and a big research institution. It’s one of the main reasons I chose Tulane. I have that drive and I just want to keep going.
Rivera served as captain of the varsity swim team her senior year, and will pursue a degree in public health at Tulane University this fall.
Dara Omoloja worked hard to be successful in academics, athletics, and her social life. But over time, she learned that success was meaningless if it came at the expense of her mental health.
I came to USM in 7th grade, and on that first day of school I remember watching the senior prefects give their opening day speeches about that year’s Common Trust tenet, honesty. Ever since that moment I wanted to be a prefect. I structured my academics, extracurriculars, and service opportunities around aiming to be one. But I also tried to be a good person, because to me, that’s what all the prefects were. When I was elected to be a prefect, it was surreal. And when I gave my opening day speech, it was on the exact same tenet—honesty—as my 7th grade year. It had come full circle. I was so happy that I was able to accomplish that goal.
As a freshman, I was most concerned about being able to balance my academic, social, and athletic lives. It was incredibly overwhelming. If I suffered in one area, my mental health would take a huge hit. Until one day I woke up and thought, I don’t want to go down this spiral. So I started taking care of myself more. I grew as a person because I started to care more about my mental health than my desire to succeed. Now, I feel like they don’t have to be separate; they can also be together. And that’s probably the most important thing I learned over my four years here.
Omoloja served as a prefect her senior year, and is attending Harvard University this fall. She plans to pursue a career in the medical field.
Ashton Karademas finished Upper School with a different name, gender, and sexuality than what he started with—as well as a much-improved outlook on life and the future.
I was in a very bad place emotionally at the beginning of Upper School, and it didn’t really get better until junior year when I got professional help. I definitely had a lot of anxiety back then, and I didn’t want to deal with anything. I had pretty bad grades and I wasn’t applying myself like I could have.
I remember one day in 2020, I hit a breaking point. I thought, this is enough, and I got help. I missed two months of school my junior year for outpatient treatment, but it was really helpful because I learned how to cope with stuff and how to actually get work done. When I got back to school, even though I had missed two months, my GPA went up so much because I actually started applying myself.
Emotionally, I’m in a way better place now. I’m actually able to envision a future for myself and plan what I want to do with my life, which was a struggle for me at the beginning of Upper School. I was a very, very guarded person. I didn’t really let people in. Today, I have more of a cemented group of friends who I can hang out with and confide in. If I could, I would tell my younger self to be more open with people. I feel like if I had let people in sooner, I would have been able to get better faster.
Karademas served as co-head of the Gender Sexual Alliance his senior year at USM, and plans to enroll at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh this fall.
As a freshman, Michael Kennedy was influenced by the student leaders in his life, especially varsity hockey captain Ethan Ford ’19. The lessons he learned in 9th grade would prepare him well for senior year.
I came to USM in 7th grade, and I’ve loved every second of my time here. I could never have fathomed being friends with my teachers, or having teachers who care about how the hockey team was doing or how my college searches were going. The amount of support I got from my teachers has been shocking.
One of my favorite things about Upper School was the assigned seating at lunches, which is a very unpopular opinion amongst students. But I’ve always been a pretty outgoing guy, so I liked being able to recognize faces in the hallway of someone I had lunch with.
Hockey has been a big part of my high school experience. As a freshman, I had a really good team captain, Ethan Ford ’19, and I saw how leadership can make or break the team and how important team culture was for our success. That’s something I kept in mind this year as a team captain and also as a prefect.
If I could give advice to my freshman self, it would be to go in and talk to your teachers, and to actually study for tests. I learned very quickly that if I put in the time and the effort, success will come. I was able to take advantage of the opportunities that came my way, and there’s an abundance of them at USM. That’s what I try to get through to the freshmen on the hockey team. But freshmen can be stubborn.
Kennedy served as a prefect and captain of the varsity hockey team his senior year, and was a member of the varsity golf team. He will attend Wake Forest University and plans to major in business.
Oftentimes the only way to overcome our fears is to face them head on, something Beverly Walters ’22 experienced first-hand beginning in her 9th grade public speaking class with Mark Edwards, Upper School drama teacher.
Public speaking was a spark for me freshman year, even though I was terrified of presenting in front of people, and I still am, a little. It’s a required class in 9th grade, so I had to take it, but I was also drawn to it partly because Mr. Edwards taught it. He’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. Then I saw “The Drowsy Chaperone,” that March, and it was so beautiful to me. I went to all three performances and that’s probably what sparked me wanting to step out of my comfort zone; I really wanted to be a part of what they created. So, I participated in “Fiddler on the Roof” my sophomore year. I didn’t have a big role but it was still amazing. I bonded with a lot of the juniors and seniors because they were so supportive. We had a kind of theatre family and that’s what I loved about it. I thought, I will never experience something like this ever again outside of USM.
And then I did it again this year with “The Addams Family” musical. At the very last minute, Mr. Edwards asked me to do the introduction speech for all three performances, and I said, “You’re asking me? Are you sure?” The first night, I was so nervous that I cried right before I got on stage. But I wiped my tears away, and went out there and pretended to have confidence. And then it turned into real confidence. I’m proud of myself for it.
Walters was nominated for a 2021–22 Jerry Award for her supporting role in the Upper School’s production of “The Addams Family.” She will attend Georgia State University this fall.
As a freshman, Jillian Bloch was excited to play volleyball and varsity soccer, and have more freedom. She combined her love of football and baking when she made a bust of Aaron Rodgers out of rice crispy treats and frosting.
I started running with the Girls on the Run program in Middle School, and I stayed involved throughout Upper School, even serving as a junior board member for the past two years. This year, I did a Tower Project about girls in sports and the impact of physical activity on young girls in inner cities. When I was a freshman, I never imagined I would be able to write a 15-page paper and give a 30-minute presentation, both of which are required for Tower Projects in the Upper School. I didn’t think I had the work ethic. But I spent hours and hours researching my topic and the impact was profound. In addition to learning about how sports can positively affect young girls, I found out what obstacles women in sports often have to overcome.
I will likely continue my pursuit of equity for women in athletics in college. I’ve been at USM since I was 4 years old—it’s been the center of my life. The summer before freshman year, I toured Homestead High School and I noticed how different it was—not in a bad way, but I just felt overwhelmed with the number of students and the size of the school. I’ve had many of the same teachers from year to year at USM, and the relationships I’ve made with them have been very personal. At another school, I probably wouldn’t have made the same connections with my teachers, coaches, administrators, and peers that I did at USM.
Bloch is attending the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management this fall, where she will major in international business and sports management. She still loves to bake.
As a freshman, one of the things Zadan Mason was most excited for was the Upper School’s challenging curriculum. Until, that is, he actually experienced it.
Thinking about the beginning of my freshman year, when I was excited to have more difficult classes, I just have to laugh. Having gone through the curriculum, it’s not really something to look forward to. My sophomore year was the hardest because I was playing varsity basketball and taking AP Calculus BC. Those things together were a big time commitment. My course load junior year was probably even harder, but I think I was better able to handle my assignments because I had that experience from sophomore year.
Besides developing better study skills, one of the biggest ways I’ve changed since 9th grade is being more confident in my interactions with adults and classmates. My first two years of high school, I was more closed off and only wanted to surround myself with people I was already comfortable with. But since then, I’ve been able to interact with classmates I didn’t really know in a more open way, as well as build deeper relationships with teachers. If I could give my younger self advice, I would say to branch out more. Try to meet and be friends with as many kids as possible. Because everyone has something unique that they can contribute, and something to be appreciated for. And if you close yourself off, you’re not going to experience that.
As an 8th grade student, Mason was instrumental in getting USM designated as the first Project ADAM Heart Safe school in the North Shore area. He is headed to Yale University this fall, where he plans to major in ethics, politics, and economics.
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