Zaara Ahmed, '25
Note: NCS does not have a scheduled affinity group time like STA
I deeply value my time with my affinity groups SAMEU (South Asian Middle Eastern Union) and MSA (Muslim Student Association). Meeting in these groups gives me the opportunity to connect with my peers and share cultural and social aspects of our lives. We share sweet jalebis and spicy samosas, fast and pray together during Ramadan, talk about our families, special holidays like Diwali and Eid, Bollywood movies and “desi” songs, but also about stereotypes and expectations from within our community and around us. Over the weekend, MSA organized a reading time with Afghan refugee children. We read to young children and shared stories and snacks with them. The kids were shy at first but opened up quickly. We ended up laughing together over silly things I not only got a chance to connect with the larger Islamic community and a bunch of adorable kids, but also to bond with my MSA affinity group members. These are invaluable life experiences. These affinities are an abundant source of knowledge, no less than forma conventional book-based education.
Affinity groups are safe spaces based around a shared identity or specific identifier. These identifiers can include but are not limited to race, religion, ability, family structure, socioeconomic status, age, gender, and sexuality. Members share stories, table concerns and cry on each other’s shoulders. More than anything else, they listen to each other. It’s an emotional and psychological space that allows people to be authentic. Affinity bonds us with people whom we share common interests with, helping to build emotional communities. Human beings are social animals, so we tend to have the desire to belong. Identifying with people and feeling that sense of belonging is a key aspect of our identities and sense of self. A strong sense of group identity can provide a buffer when we experience pain, bias or bigotry. These spaces provide an opportunity to discuss prevalent issues and experiences unique to us and find comfort in a community that mirrors aspects of our own identity.
Speaking for myself, I have not had many spaces to unpack that side of my identity apart from casual conversations with friends/family and religious holidays. This sense of camaraderie within the school is unique and not something that happens in many other places. My affinity groups have been very affirming. With growing tensions and division around us, it is important to embrace our differences rather than our colorblindness. Differences matter because they make us unique and they make our community diverse.
I value the time given to affinity groups and alliances as an important aspect of building a community where participants can feel seen and empowered. I am happy that we have one block in our school schedule dedicated to affinities and alliances. I understand the time constraints and difficulties with scheduling due to class, study, ensembles, and assembly periods, but I would love to have more time to spend with my groups.
Alyssa Bui, '23
To my Precious Acuvue Oasys Contacts,
I hope we are reading this letter together. Ever since I became aware of your existence two years ago, I couldn’t help but want you. You see, my optometrist had mentioned you to me once. I didn’t want to scare you away, so I never told you that I searched you up online before meeting you. According to my sources, you were better than all the rest—strong, flexible.You were different. You wouldn’t hurt me. You wouldn’t leave me with red, teary eyes. After our first encounter, I knew our relationship would be long-lasting.
We’ve seen so many things. You’ve been with me through it all. I don’t need anyone but you, dear Acuvue Oasys. Who else would pull an all-nighter with me to study or binge the latest update of Attack on Titan? I even do my homework and take tests with you! You, Acuvue Oasys, are the only exception to my personal rule of working alone. Your clear lens opened my eyes. Now that you’re in my life, I can see the beauty of the world. Before I met you, I was struggling. I could only get glimpses of my surroundings through a murky lens. Glasses frames were inconvenient and Dailies always tore apart. Before you, everything was a blur; it was as if I was stumbling in the dark. I’m no longer blind with you, Acuvue Oasys.
I need you, so please don’t leave me, dear Acuvue Oasys. I know we’ve had our rough patches, like when I forgot to take care of you, and you shriveled up. Or when I forgot about you and never took you out. Or when I began eyeing your cousin, Acuvue Moist. I am ashamed of how I stopped appreciating the wonderful impact you had on me. It wasn’t until I attempted to complete a day without you, Acuvue Oasys, did I realize that desperately I need you.You make me better. You make me happy. You give me sight. On my own, I can only see the past and future. But with you, I can see the present. I love you.
I’m glad to hear from you. I have quite a few things to tell you, but I was not sure when to bring them up. First, I’m quite glad that you appreciate me. However, if you truly did love me, you would know better than to discard me on your desk carelessly each night. It’s not just me who is appalled by your actions. What would you mom say if she saw all the dried-up plastic lenses scattered on your desk? I’m not trash that you toss away.
Secondly, please refrain from staring at yourself so often. I hate to break it to you, but you’re not all that interesting. I’m more curious in your surroundings than your hair in the morning or whatever blemishes are on your face. I can understand your incessant need to take “selfies” with your friends, but your habit of glancing in every mirror baffles me. Don’t you want to see the world? Or at least let me see it? You should try people watching more. It’s quite interesting. So many colors and textures and new things to see! Why keep looking at the same-old you? I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t love you enough to enjoy constantly staring at you. I hope you can accept this and move on, so we can better enjoy life.
Thirdly and fourthly, spend less time looking at a screen and more time admiring beautiful 2-dimensional characters. Don’t you know that blue light is bad for my complexion? Don’t you know that you have dry eyes? It’s not a pleasant experience for me when your burning histamines try to melt me into your eyeballs. I can’t even look at anything then! I’ll dry out staring at your computer all day. Can you please let me look at something nicer instead? Something like the dashing Levi Ackerman from Volume 30 of Attack on Titan? Or perhaps the awesome Winry from Fullmetal Alchemist? They’re both beautiful people, you know. Very pleasing to the eye. Anyhow, admiring pretty pictures could possibly be a bonding experience for us, you know. I know that you wrote your letter to me sitting in a Barnes & Noble, by the way. Next time you go to the bookstore, please give me a break. We could’ve lovingly viewed the aesthetics of the manga section instead of glaring at your blank Word document. This response will be the first and last time I support staring at homework, since your teacher generously gave me the opportunity to file some complaints about our partnership.
1-DAY ACUVUE® OASYS®
Dear Stomach Problems,
Hello, again. It’s not good to see you. Thank you for constantly reminding me to watch what I eat and opt out of trying the questionable meat options in the cafeteria. It’s the highlight of my day to enjoy lunch and throw it back up two hours later. I love constantly feeling nauseous in my last period class, the one after lunch where we’re all already too tired. And of course, trying not to choke on Tums or Pepto Bismol during sports is such a blast. I hope you know that I will never, ever enjoy the taste of tums dissolving in my mouth. I also hope you screw off.
You’re so kind, to try and remind me that my stomach’s relationship with food isn’t how it should be! Perhaps if you didn’t remind me that I’m suddenly so very hungry I could cry, then I’d like you better. Or maybe if you didn’t make me regret eating everytime I finish a meal. Hmm, I wonder…what about you do I despise? Perhaps it is the fact that you never cease to leave me alone. Should I eat less to prevent nausea? Should I eat more to end the reflux? With you, it’s always “damn I do, damn I don’t!”
I would tell you to have a nice one, but that would be to wish for my own suffering. I hope there won’t be a next time.
Sigrid Drefke, '23
Dear NCS sports,
As I become increasingly aware that my time on the Close is dwindling, I have started to look back upon my time at NCS and what has made it special. School traditions, interesting classes, and fun clubs come to mind, but the most significant portion of my best NCS memories come from sports.
Back in the winter of my 8th grade, in the midst of attempting to learn algebra and thinking I was so cool for being the oldest grade in the middle school, one moment sticks out. I was riding home from school with my two older sisters when one of my sisters asked, “Sigrid, what are you looking forward to most in high school?” I weighed my options but quickly replied, “Playing on the squash team.”
A little less than a year after that fateful evening, the time came for me to actually join the squash team. My first experience with a high school sports team, the squash team immediately became a source of joy and light in the darkness of winter and freshman year. Soon after, the squash season ended, and the softball team became my newest NCS community. Steeped in subtle traditions and specific, unspoken practices, the softball team provided me with a way to make friends in different grades and feel a part of a legacy of impressive and accomplished teams. (For context, in the four years before my freshman year, the NCS softball team had won all four DC State Championships and multiple players had won Gatorade Softball Player of the Year.)
From each of these teams I have deepened and made new connections and friendships. Without my sports teams, I wouldn’t have friends in grades above me to serve as amazing role models and mentors, or friends in grades below me to force to do my bidding (I’m kidding—kinda).
Now, as a senior, I have found myself wanting to go support my friends and classmates at their sports games more than ever. One brisk Saturday afternoon in November, I drove an hour out to the Cross-Country team’s senior night and was thrilled to witness a glimpse of the tight-knit community I had heard so much about. I sat on the sidelines of the homecoming field hockey game with my fellow seniors and cheered on our classmates at their last homecoming game, still jittery with the excitement of the beginning of senior year.
Earlier tonight, I watched my first and last swim meet. I grinned while watching the swimmers cheer in bursts as one of their teammates came up for air. I screamed and videotaped one of my best friends running through the tunnel of her teammates and friends as I knew she had thought about that moment since her freshman year. I watched the whole crew team get excused from practice to show up for one crew senior who swims in the winter. I haven’t found dedication like that anywhere else in the NCS community.
This year, as the captain of two sports teams, NCS sports have taken an even more extensive role in my school life. Some of my best memories this year have been from helping to lead my sports teams. Screaming “1 2 3 Cathedral! 4 5 6 Ronny!” before each squash match, huddled together with teammates and friends, is something I look forward to every week. I have laughed my hardest at the squash team sleepover when some sophomores take on the charades round of bucket of nouns. I’ll choose to lose sleep to get up early for a team breakfast, any day of the week (except F Day).
Even though the squash season hasn’t even ended yet, I’m already thinking forward to softball. I plan to force underclassmen to listen to my questionable music taste as I drive them to Yogitopi or as we sit on a bus on the way to a school I’ve never heard of. I plan for many Cactus team dinners. I plan to bring chocolate milk to every team breakfast (again this year). I plan to do these things because I’ll try to do my best to make my teams into communities if it’s the last thing I do at this school.
The sense of community that NCS sports have given me is truly something indescribable and irreplicable. So thank you, NCS sports, for four-ish (stupid corona) years of wonderful teammates, friends, and memories.
Sigrid, a very grateful senior
Sebi Hume, '25
When the NFL announced that Rihanna would be performing at halftime of Super Bowl LVII, the internet almost broke. This show would mark her first live performance since a rendition of “Wild Thoughts” at the 2018 Grammys and it ended her multiple-year refusal to participate in an NFL event. Her halftime show made history simply by its taking place, as it was the first ever by a female billionaire. It was also the first performance by a pregnant woman, a rumor not confirmed by her representatives until after the show. Nearly 119 million people tuned into her halftime show, the most in the history of the event and a 5% increase compared to the game average. Solely from a perspective of numbers, it is safe to say that Rihanna left us with an all-time great performance.
However, a few aspects of her act left room for debate among viewers. There were no monumental set changes or guest appearances, two gimmicks which are normally staples of the halftime show. The 13 minute show involved only Rihanna, dressed in an all-red outfit that revealed her baby bump, and her team of dancers, donning baggy white pants, puffer jackets, and sunglasses. For some, the decision to make Rihanna the only star of the night was a prayer answered. It forced the world to acknowledge her versatility and ability to headline the biggest show of the year so far without any help. However, others were disappointed at not only the amount of attention that Rihanna got but also the way she used her spotlight.
Former WWE star Bill Goldberg said he thought the show was “frickin’ horrible”. Goldberg specifically commented on Rihanna’s risque dance moves, which he said “disgusted” him. Former President Donld Trump weighed in as well, saying it was “the single worst halftime show in Super Bowl history”. Shaquille O’neal, former NBA superstar, responded to criticism of Rihanna by focusing on Rihanna’s ability to perform so well while pregnant: “She did a wonderful job, she’s pregnant, she blessed it, she didn’t fall. Just leave it there.”
Rihanna’s performance served as a reminder to me and my friends of her legendary career in the music industry. At multiple points during the performance we said to ourselves, “I forgot she had this song too!” as she sang hit after hit. Songs like “Where Have You Been” and “B--- Better Have My Money” filled us with nostalgia as we thought back to an era when Rihanna dominated the music scene. It’s safe to say that those songs will be stuck in my head for weeks to come. On the other hand, as much as I loved seeing Rihanna show the world her vast repertoire of powerful music, when she started to bring out songs featuring other artists, I fell in the camp of viewers that hoped for a guest appearance. As the chorus of “Run This Town” filled the arena, I started searching the faces of the backup dancers, thinking to myself “Which one of them is Jay-Z?”. Ultimately, none of the dancers turned out to be an artist in disguise, and as a result the performance left me thinking about what could have been if Jay-Z had been out there with her. Nevertheless, it was impossible for me to not be amazed with her performance after witnessing her final act. As she sang “Diamonds” while being lifted up into the night sky, the entire arena and perhaps the entire world sang with her, and she cemented her performance as one of the greatest of all time.
Hale Snyder, '24
I love music. For as long as I can remember, music has been an incredibly important part of my life. I remember driving to taekwondo lessons in 2nd grade with my best friends, blasting the “Best Day of my Life" by the American Authors. The song would fill the car with a new energy, making every drive and practice feel like it was, truly, the best day of my life. I also remember, in 3rd grade, driving to soccer games out at the Sportsplex in Rockville. As we rolled up to every game, my dad and I would put “Eye of the Tiger” on the radio.
Even when we were playing a team much better than us, the song would pump confidence into my bloodstream, sometimes to the point where I would lose the ball after convincing myself I could get past three defenders at once.
But that’s not really why I love music. Sure, it’s great to get pumped up for taekwondo or a soccer game, but its power truly is so much more than that. When people are gathered together, nothing can bring them closer than music. Take my sleepaway camp, for example. On the last night of camp, we sit around a bonfire, singing “Rocky Raccoon” and “Wagon Wheel,” and all of a sudden, you feel like the eleven-year-old sitting next to you, that you’ve never talked to at camp, is your best friend. You can’t even really see people’s faces, and everyone has their arms around each other, swinging to the music and fighting back tears.
Now, when I hear these songs, all I am reminded of are those moments, which still constitute a major part of my life. What’s funny is that I make fun of my sister for the same thing. I’m not allowed to play “Rivers and Roads” with her because it was her graduation song. I always groan when she says that, because it's a great song, but in writing this article, I’ve realized the reasoning behind it; by listening to certain songs, we are transported into the past, whether for better or worse.
Not only does music bring people together, but it can also be something to turn to when you don’t feel like talking to someone. After bombing a math test earlier this year, I hopped in my car and started blasting Pitbull and Taylor Swift, and for a couple of minutes, I completely forgot about my problems. In that way, music serves as a distraction. There are also times when music can just make any situation peaceful. For example, when my friend and I were driving around in the dark in the rain in rural Virginia, we should have been stressed about getting home and getting to bed before school the next day. But instead, we just sat there, not even talking, listening to Tory Lanez and The Weeknd, and it was incredibly peaceful.
It’s also important to note that music still serves the purpose that I first mentioned. Last summer, before every race, my boat would gather around in a circle, listening to “Thunderstruck” and pounding on our chests. It simultaneously hyped us up and calmed us down, becoming a ritual of sorts that led to laser focus during our six-minute races. Our boat also never would have been the same without blasting “Stir Fry” as we sat in the boat by the Georgetown Waterfront, waiting for our coaches, starting off practice on the right note.
In all these examples, music serves a completely different purpose. It can be a distraction, background noise, a motivator, a memory, or hundreds of other different things, and that is why I love it.
Wesley Solomon, '24
I recently started driving, and I am proud to say that I have rapidly improved from a skittish newbie to a confident driver. However, my improvement has not come without its challenges.
I squeezed through the neighborhood streets, navigated around those confusing circles of D.C., and even survived the ever-feared Beltway. Then, out of nowhere on the George Washington Parkway, a patch of thick white fog enveloped the SUV. Only after I hit the first wave did Waze alert me of the weather condition. My mom was riding shotgun. Conditions changed so quickly that there was nothing my mom could do. The parkway was too busy, the speeds too high, and the terrain too dangerous to switch drivers. She said that there would have been no benefit: her visibility was less than mine. I had to power through this fog. I had to steer this two-ton vehicle carrying the people I love most. And while loved ones were present, they could offer no help, guidance, or assistance.
“Mom, what should I do?” I stammered. She responded calmly: “Son, I have never been through fog this dense. Slow down, put on your hazards, and do your best.”
This would not be the final instance where I had to navigate a tricky situation, ultimately relying on my own instincts. Like when blinded by the fog, I was blinded by the fast-approaching winter season after the football season ended. There were two options: I could play basketball, which I loved and had played for years, or do crew conditioning to prepare myself, along with my teammates, for the upcoming spring season. Once again, similar to the fog, people I loved were involved. My mom went to college based solely on academics, so she had never had to make a similar decision, but she advised me to consider myself when deciding. Unlike in the fog, where the road ahead was unclear, I was presented with two completely distinct choices. I would have to choose a side. Whichever sport I chose, I would disappoint someone. For multiple days I talked to everyone I respected and cared about, some telling me to put the school above myself and play basketball. In contrast, others alerted me to the fact that my dreams were important (I would love to row in college) and that this conditioning season would be paramount to achieving my dreams. However, after all the consulting, the decision came to me. I had to choose a side, the other would be hurt, and part of me would be hurt too.
It dawned on me that this fog, this unforeseen problem is a metaphor for life. I am sure that there will be many more decisions that will be tough to make. There will be burdens seemingly impossible to bear. I will ask for guidance, and people I admire will offer sage advice, but it will be me that has to forge ahead to determine my fate. I must rely on myself, my judgment, and my instincts to maneuver through life.
While St. Albans forces us to make difficult decisions like this, it is these decisions that help us to grow as people, and we are supported along the way. That is why I really love St. Albans. It might seem weird for most everyday high school students to say they love their high school, but not me. I genuinely love my high school. I love it because of all of the lessons it has taught me. I love it because of its evolution that makes space for a student like me to thrive. I love it because of all of the relationships I have cultivated. I love it because of all of the hard work I must do physically and academically. Just as the fog came and went, my time at St. Albans will eventually be in my rearview. However, just as I learned a lesson from the fog, I will never forget the lessons I have learned on the Close. The friendships made here will be among the voices that matter most in future decisions. Through tough times and times of joy, I will consult my family, dear friends, and Bulldog advisors; however, I will have to chart my own course. Because of this special place, I will be ready!
Eva Vickerman, '23
When I heard that this year’s musical would be Mamma Mia!, I quite literally jumped for joy. As a massive ABBA fan and an avid Mamma Mia! viewer (I’ve seen both movies approximately 10 times each), I knew I had to audition.
To preface: I cannot sing. I did choir for maybe two years in middle school, but my singing experience as of recently has strictly been limited to singing in the shower. I also cannot act. I participated in the Nashville Children's Theatre when I was in the 5th grade, but other than that fruitful experience, I've never acted a day in my life. I would, however, consider myself an intermediate dancer: I danced for 5 years—during middle school and my freshman year of high school—before moving to D.C.
Because I had never done an actual theatre production prior to Mamma Mia!, I figured that this was the obvious start of my future Broadway career. I pulled up to the audition, and I sang, danced, and acted my heart out (or as much as I could with my limited experience). I left the audition feeling excited about starring in the ensemble, and for the next couple of days, I eagerly awaited an email with the much-anticipated cast list.
I was sitting in my kitchen, recovering from squash practice with a well-deserved Coke Zero, when suddenly a notification popped up on my phone: “Mamma Mia casting.” Scrambling, I opened the email and hastily scanned the list of names, hoping and praying my name would be in the ensemble section. I read the list once. Twice. Oh God, I thought to myself as the realization dawned on me. I’ve been cut. And indeed I had.
Luckily for me, my second chance at fame came no sooner than a couple of days later when Mr. Bishop sent me an email asking if I wanted a part in the ensemble. Obviously, I said yes, and my acting career was back on track! When I went to my first rehearsal, I didn't know what to expect. I was an outsider, a newcomer—a novice Thespian, if you will. I somewhat expected to be pushed onto center stage and have tomatoes thrown at me while the whole Thespian Society watched. However, quite the opposite was true. I was welcomed with open arms, and I was even applauded when Mr. Bishop announced to the cast that I would be joining the ensemble (true story).
What I love about participating in the musical is how much fun it is. I genuinely get so much joy from dancing and singing to ABBA’s most famous songs alongside my fellow classmates. Each rehearsal brings something new and exciting, and while, of course, there are nights I would prefer not to go, it always ends up being worth it. I’ve met and gotten to know so many more underclassmen from both NCS and STA, and I have made the most incredible friends along the way.
To anyone considering whether or not to come to see Mamma Mia!, I highly encourage you to attend. If you're a big fan of either ABBA or the Mamma Mia! movies, this is the perfect show for you! Even if you don’t like either one (surprising), please come and support your friends and classmates (Personally, I’m making all of my friends come to all 5 shows and bring me a bouquet of flowers each time). It’s going to be an amazing show!