Henry Mali, '22
Covered in blue body paint, dressed in Luke Harmon’s borrowed kilt, and prepared to lose my voice, I marched up Pilgrim Road to the Beauvoir Parking Lot, hands full with apple pies, body full of excitement. After two long years, the pent-up anticipation of Homecoming weekend was absolutely contagious across the Close.
Kicking off the weekend with the Thursday evening pep rally, practically the entire student body (Upper and Lower School alike) packed into the stadium stands and field, ready to throw themselves into the evening’s antics. Beginning the pep rally on a cordial note, BEEF Club Heads introduced the captains of the Varsity Soccer, Football, and Cross Country teams. The most notable introduction was that of Varsity Football Co-Captain Chase Williams, who listed off each senior teammate by nickname with his booming voice.
Then (organized) chaos ensued. Tug-of-war teams assembled.
I am embarrassed to say that the fifth form vs sixth form tug-of-war ended in a controversial fifth form victory. The sophomores lived up to expectations as they dominated the sophomore vs freshman tug-of-war, and to close out the war was a mixed grade Lower School battle. While the teams perhaps may have been uneven and lopsided, every Lower Schooler emerged from the scrum bright-eyed and grinning.
Relay races followed. The race culminated with Lance Gartrell’s come-from-behind sprint, as a wild mob chased him in hot pursuit after his victory for the sixth form. In the end, everyone carried this spirit in coming together, arm in arm, to belt the first verse of the School Hymn. The underperformance in tune was compensated by the boys’ overperformance in volume and spirit. From Thursday evening, the fun only escalated.
Friday afternoon’s IAC soccer home opener against St. Stephen’s St. Agnes was full of zest. The BEEF Club assembled, decked out in their sports jerseys, ready to cheer on the Bulldogs and heckle the opposing Saints. Wayne Frederick’s lone goal proved vital to the Bulldog’s 1-0 victory over the Saints.
Saturday’s football tailgate was not one to miss. The pregame activities ranged from boys painting each other’s faces and chests in blue paint, to applying water to their STA crest tattoos, to cornhole, to, last but certainly not least, the infamous pie eating contest. Eight competitors, four teams, four grades, four pies. The pie eating contest commenced in a frenzy of yells and camera flashes to record this legendary event. While some may argue over the winner of the pie eating contest, I strongly believe that Ernie Revilla and Cal Schaberg, the sophomore duo, were the first to devour their cold apple pie. The rowdiness continued from there.
The Braveheart theme did not disappoint as boys sported colorful kilts, blue face paint, and even sticky fake mustaches and beards. The blue powder throw highlighted the first half as the football game ended 0-0 at the half. The start of the second half opened up the scoring with touchdowns from Miles Harmon and Alex Tilton. In the dying seconds of the game, when it became clear that the Bulldogs would emerge victorious, the BEEF Club made its way from its usual fence and stadium position to the sidelines of the field, ready to storm the field and congratulate their friends on the football team. Keeping the BEEF Club back and away from the field as they whooped and hollered was no easy task. Who knew that telling hundreds of rowdy high school boys to stay off the field after a victory could be such a hard task?!
As the handshake between the Bulldogs and PVI ended and the football players began to turn the corner and slowly accelerate their jog towards the quickly approaching army of BEEF, something just felt right. A Bulldog victory on Homecoming weekend just felt right. The BEEF Club was back; STA football was back; St. Albans School was back.
Mosh pits have existed since the beginning of time, or close to it. Storming the walls of the Bastille during the French Revolution? Mosh pit. The fall of the Berlin Wall? You get the idea. The notion of jumping up and down to “International Love,” packed together closer than pre-Covid lunch tables, feels foreign until you try it for the first time and realize it’s where you were meant to be. Or not–the mosh pit is not for everyone.
In case you can’t make up your mind whether to enter the fray, here’s a list of factors to consider the next time we’re in the tent.
Pro: Mosh pits are a process of self-discovery.
Ask anyone you want–mosh pits can be truly meditative. They might seem like live-in-the-moment experiences on steroids. But something that gives you that kind of adrenaline rush mixed with a healthy amount of terror is bound to help center your mind. There is also an element of Zen Buddhism about it; when carried along by the crowd, you can let go of the troubles of the day, and focus on the present. When asked at homecoming how he felt about moshing at the dance, one STA attendee shouted, “It helps boost my mental capacities, for sure. I wake up the next morning ready to actually do my homework and—” (At this moment, there was a BEEF unity call somewhere behind him.) “Everyone’s in that. Sorry,” he called, sprinting back to the cluster of dress-shirt-clad, raucous giants in the middle of the dance floor.
Con: Participation may lead to serious doubts about life.
How did I get here? More importantly, how do I get out of here? In more serious cases, mosh pits can lead to contemplation of one’s life decisions. Maybe you didn’t mean to get that far in, but an STA boy who’s a foot and a half taller than you was trying to get through and accidentally carried you along with him like a pool floatie, and all of a sudden you’re at the center of it all, with blurry bodies revolving around you like a planetary model in a Lower School science classroom. Or maybe you just didn’t know what you were getting into.
Con (or is this a pro?): Once you’re in, you’re in.
Mosh pits are like exclusive clubs – hard to get into without serious shoving, hard to stay in without constantly watching your step, and almost impossible to get out of. One person shifts and all of a sudden you’re being forced to jump a foot in the air in sync with the ten people encircling you. For all the effort you put into moving through the crowd, the only way you’ll get anywhere is by being body-slammed straight into an STA kid who puts you in a headlock without even realizing it. You might have gone in by choice, but the mosh pit chooses when to let you leave – if ever.
Pro: As the fall chill sets in, you will definitely not be cold.
Sparks fly as you bump into every other person within a 10-foot radius. It can seem a miracle of nature that small fires are not set off each time skin brushes against skin. Combustion level? Perhaps we’ll reach it with the next one.
Con: Germs are, in fact, shared.
You may call this common sense because of the millions of health bulletins we’ve seen over the past year, but a bunch of people pressed together in one space shares more than just body heat. Try not to think about exactly how much you’re trusting your immune system to throw off any and all foreign molecules that made their way into your body when you took a dip in someone else’s sweat. If herd immunity is a thing, however, mosh pits will surely help us get there.
Pro: The only alternative is standing on the side throwing shade on the people moshing while secretly wishing you were one of them.
Don’t be one of those people. They’re always there, just hovering around the side of the dance floor while sort of bobbing their heads up and down off-tune to the beat. They’re the ones who look at you like you’re crazy when you tell them that’s it, you’re just going to have to drag them in. But it’s just a disguise – they’re also the ones who form circles during the Cotton Eye Joe and nearly take someone’s eye out despite there being minimal arm movement required for that particular dance. Risks must be taken, even if the consequences are losing a toe to the end of a girl’s heel.
Con: Maybe you choose life.
That which does not kill you makes you stronger–and yes, this applies to the numerous injuries you are bound to receive over the course of a half-hour in the mosh pit. Bruises, sore muscles, stab wounds you’ll wake up the next day wondering where all those came from, but they’re a natural part of the experience and the sooner you accept it, the happier you’ll be. Yes, mosh pits should come with waivers like the ones they make us sign for every single other school function. But the possibility of a life-threatening experience is just part of the adventure.
Zaara Hussain Ahmed ‘25
Life is full of twists and turns, changes and transitions that disrupt our lives and force us to adjust to new realities. How we react to these transitions builds our character and shapes our identity.
I balk at saying that transitioning from middle to upper school is a pivotal turning point in a student’s life. We are likely to experience many others that are far more dramatic, such as leaving student life behind during online school, starting a family, moving to a different country, perhaps even facing another pandemic.
To my 13-year-old self, though, the transition to upper school seemed like a defining moment where I left my childhood behind and officially “grew up.” I was full of high expectations of hanging out with older students, sipping tea and lounging on the chaise in the library during free periods, forging new friendships, and most importantly, having greater independence and control over my life.
Of course, I expected the courses to be more challenging. But I was not quite prepared for the abstract concept of Upper School Physics, despite being mathematically inclined. It’s early days but I’m still waiting for it to become magical, as I am told it will. The rigors of Physics compounded by the demands of History text/context/subtext (TCS) analysis, sports, service, clubs have left me gasping for breath, while my social life is in tatters due to the pandemic. The chaise… who has the time? My free periods are spent either studying for a test or doing homework. I cherish every minute I can sleep.
Not quite what my 13-year-old self was expecting. But I am not the first freshman to navigate academic demands, extracurricular activities and other school-related work. My cousins who live across the world tell me that they are also grappling with the same demands: too much homework, too little fun, pandemic, lockdown, and virtual hugs. Life is not a bed of roses.
There are a few things that I have learned one month into Upper School that are helping me keep my head above water and may help others in the same boat.
Firstly, stay positive and be confident in your abilities. We are all “smart, confident, creative, independent and resilient.” Those words describe the typical NCS student on our school website. Indeed, we were all admitted into this school after a competitive process. So, we “got this!”
Secondly, lean on your support system. Do not shy away from asking for help. Office hours with teachers really help when I am frazzled and overwhelmed. I get an emotional boost from my parents and friends when I feel caved in. My family keeps me grounded and reinforces my belief in myself. Try ending the day with a dance-a-thon. It can be exhilarating.
Thirdly, I have identified what’s important to me—my health, happiness, value system, life goals—in that order. I am grateful to have the opportunities that many do not, and I am determined to make the most of them. But my goal is to live up to my own expectations only. What’s yours?
I know what you’re thinking. No, I did not just fail a history exam.
I have long had objections to the structure of history class, not because of material, but because of testing. You could probably make an argument for traditional testing as a whole being outdated in the modern American school system, but that is not what I am aiming to do. I know that history is much better without tests and here is why:
You hear at the beginning of every school year: “history is not about memorizing random facts, it’s about using your knowledge to form arguments” and so on. The teachers who state this then turn around the next day, week, or month, and give you a test on random facts you are supposed to memorize. Not only is this misleading the student, but it also completely misses the point of history, analysis and application. What is the best way to teach your students analysis and application? Have them write essays and make arguments.
Essays and other writing assignments, although sometimes boring, should really be the only large form of grading in history class. A student’s ability to understand history and apply it to something meaningful shines through much better in an essay than a multiple-choice or fill in the blank question. I understand that we already have writing assignments and even written test components in history classes, but why not have those be the only form of testing?
During the Covid pandemic, I experienced just that, and it was the best history experience I have had. No longer focused on individual details, I instead looked at big picture ideas, and I was able to have a better understanding of each topic to analyze them effectively. Sure, I used specific examples to prove my arguments, but I chose each moment individually to suit my case, not because they were random things I knew, but because they were important and relevant. Every assignment was made easier but more intellectually stimulating as I was able to form my own views and ideas about the text to write original essays. In terms of studying, it wasn’t memorizing a list of facts and dates, it was going through the textbook and my notes, looking for the most important moments to use. That’s really what history is about and even though history teachers know this, our old traditions never die.
As soon as we returned to school, these quizzes and tests returned. Forcing me and other students into boring memorization of trivial details that we will forget within the year in order to get a better grade on the test, instead of a greater understanding of history. Do I really need to know which state the Moravian Brethren were based in? Unless I am specifically interested in small colonial religions that force arranged marriages, I don’t think so.
Considering each of these factors, unless you believe schools should create the world’s next great Jeopardy! players, history tests just don’t make sense.
Sascha Hume, '23
At face value, the morning of September 24, 2021 looked just like any other weekday morning at STA: I got out of my car wearily and trudged into Marriot Hall, where I became part of the throng of boys plodding towards their first-period classes. Only something was a little different about the 24th: every boy I saw walked a little slower, had slightly larger bags under his eyes, and responded just a bit less energetically to my greeting than normally. The culprit? The dreaded X Day, in which all six classes each student is taking meet, albeit for a slightly shorter time. A class meeting means that homework assigned during the previous class will be due that day, and since normal school days are only four or five classes long, X Days involve somewhere around 20 - 50% more work for students the night before. Once the day itself starts, it is a slog from one class to the next, made worse than a normal day by the extra walking between classes and tiredness onset by the previous night’s work. Even lunch starts a little later.
Obviously, X Days are an ordeal, but they make sense to have on certain days for special circumstances. For example, it is good that the first day of school is an X Day so that students can meet all of their new teachers for the first time on the first day. No extra work will be required before class since it is the first day, and the shorter class periods are also fine given that teachers usually do not teach actual course material on the first day. To add insult to injury on the 24th, however, was that the cause of our misery that day was also a source of joy for some on the Close. It was NCS Spirit Day, meaning NCS had no classes and thus, X Day for STA. Now, I have never been to an NCS Spirit Day, and if the members of my NCS English class are to be relied on, it sounds like a great time, but there is something truly painful about scrolling through Instagram after a long day of quizzes and note-taking and seeing post after post reminding you that while you were suffering through all six of your classes, the other half of the Close was throwing a party. It also certainly didn’t help the general mood around the school to know that the STA seniors were off on a retreat, escaping our collective agony.
The point I’m trying to convey is that no one likes X Days (not even teachers), and it's just downright cruel to make us sit through them when we can literally hear shouts and cheers of joy and mirth echoing over from NCS as they enjoy a day off. I propose that if either NCS or STA is holding some sort of schoolwide activity which would cause the other school to have an X Day, the other school should just get the day off. The change would go a long way for the mental health of students at both schools, as well as improving relations between NCS and STA. While it might seem like overkill to cancel school just to avoid having a class or two more, the overall discomfort caused by X Days’ special nature cancels out any learning that might happen. If anyone is still unsure about the nature of X Days, speaking with any student who has lived through one should clear up any doubts.
Norah Kanukolanu, '23
When you hear Equity Board, you probably think of incessant emails, assemblies, and Diversity Forum—likely, none of which excite you. However, I can promise you, Equity Board is so much more than that. I’ve been my grade’s representative for the past 2 years, a position which I can easily say has been a defining part of my NCS experience. My freshman year, I ran for the position, totally oblivious of the commitment required. Within the first few weeks, the representatives were already planning Diversity Forum and drafting a proposal to the NCS administration. This proposal is one of the main reasons I love the board so much. It was a request for speakers to avoid using gendered terms when addressing the student body, and it was so vital and necessary that it made me feel the same way.
This year’s theme for Diversity Forum is mental health, a focus that was announced at NCS’ assembly this week. Mental health awareness is such an important aspect to consider when thinking about how schools are run. Mental health affects the way people think, feel, and act, and quite honestly schools nationwide are failing at helping students manage stress. In recent studies done by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, 75% of American high schoolers described themselves as “often or always feeling stressed” by schoolwork. Private institutions such as NCS and STA have the rare ability to help manage the chronic stress students face—for example, the “no more than 2 tests per day” rule or the relaxed communication between teachers and students. However, according to the AP curriculum guidelines, students can have one hour of work per class, thus giving NCS students a total of 5-6 hours of homework daily, in addition to sports and extracurricular activities.
When do students have time to process coming out of a pandemic, or reflect on the minutia of day-to-day life? In reality, they don’t. There isn’t enough time to spare in 24 hours to value mental wellbeing, so students place their sanities on the back burner while school and sports take up all of their energy. I know I do this, and as a junior this year it has been so difficult to juggle school, rowing, SAT prep, and my social life. I can honestly say that I have slowly started to give up on sleep in order to finish everything assigned, a coping mechanism that is neither healthy nor sustainable. Students need 7-8 hours of sleep, nutritious food, and hydration. These are all indisputable facts and factors which, if ignored, will detract from mental wellbeing and capacity to succeed. This year, Equity Board aims to engage the Close in a yearlong initiative to prioritize mental health, for the benefit of our students and the community. We aim to not just reduce stress, but also to acknowledge it. We are high schoolers coming out of an unprecedented and historic pandemic—you are allowed to take a moment to breathe and process that.
Pope Brown, '25
From hearing all sides of the NCS dress code argument – from the opinion that uniforms should be stretched out all through high school to a complete abolition of the dress code itself – I support the present NCS dress code in its purpose to prepare students for professional life outside of school.
The beginning of the dress code section in the Upper School Handbook states that, “We primarily represent ourselves through our actions and our words, but clothing can also reflect our individuality and how we present ourselves to the community.” By connecting clothing to personal expression and “individuality”, this statement supports the abundance of leeway that NCS does truly supply to students in the sense of fashion nuances. While narrowly restricting the amount of skin the school finds appropriate for a student to show, the, frankly, limited dress code is objectively straightforward, and strict with the intention of promoting a formal learning environment.
Relating directly to the dress code, the intention of putting students into a habit of dressing professionally for life and job opportunities is completely rational. While presently, the controversial ban of leggings could seem incredibly pointless to some, pinning “athleisure” as a prudent addition to the dress code would casualize certain degrees of formality intended by the writers of the dress code. Some students think that formal attire is only necessary on Cathedral days but coming to school with peers who look generally put together for the first 8:00 am class of the day brings energy and a general positive attitude to the community.
Something else that is worth noting is that the dress code wasn’t written to deny comfort to students. The ability to dress comfortably isn’t restricted to sweatpants and leggings and is simply implementing the unwritten social dress code of certain professional adult lives.
I don’t think limits of the dress code are arbitrary, and I totally support the idea of a formal learning environment. Learning how to get dressed up for different social situations and feeling more composed throughout the day is worth the restrictions. While the dress code will always be a hot topic of debate on the Close, I stand by the opinion that NCS is stronger - at least in small - because of the current dress code.
Sage Stretch, '24
In the wake of an extraordinary COVID year, the discussions of what to preserve from last year have included whether to abolish the dress code. The middle school has already decided to discard its dress code, yet the lower and upper schools have preserved theirs. The dress code, like the honor code, is an NCS tradition that should not just be cast aside without thought and consideration. The dress code sets standards that benefit the students, and it creates cohesion across the close.
The NCS student experience is shaped by meaningful traditions. A minimum standard of dress is something that generations of NCS women have shared. In NCS’s history, first the uniform, and now the dress code has meaningfully contributed to the school’s culture and character.
A hallmark of NCS is that it teaches young women the value of high standards, so that when they graduate, they are well prepared for their future. The students benefit from the environment that the dress code creates. They learn how to be presentable, and they work in a setting where they are required to be professional and appropriate.There is some truth to the saying “Dress well, test well." Changing out of pajamas and into proper school attire then into athletic wear marks a necessary distinction between our personal activities, our academic activities, and our athletic activities.
Removing the dress code would create a significant and irremediable division between St. Albans and NCS. Although there are major differences across The Close, the two schools share guiding principles, school values, and similarities in student life. Taking an elective where one half of the class is wearing sweatpants, and the other is wearing a suit and tie, would be detrimental to the connection and cohesion of the two schools.
Comfort in school is an understandable goal, but comfort and standards are not mutually exclusive. There are many ways to tackle the challenge of presentable clothing at school, including more frequent free dress days, increased second-hand buying/selling within NCS, or even a relatively unrestricted uniform. This issue is not about whether we can or cannot learn and succeed in sweatpants, it is about what defines NCS. Our environment and student life sets NCS apart from its peers, and those differences would be greatly degraded if we were to throw out the dress code. The temptation of comfortable or athletic clothes is strong, but submitting to it would not compensate for the loss of NCS tradition, culture, and unity.
Lucy Kerr, '23
Every time Sarsaparilla, NCS’s all-female a cappella group, performs for the NCS community I find myself so impressed by the talent of my classmates. The talent of each soloist paired with arrangements that lead to beautiful harmonies showcasing the skill of every member of the group always make for amazing performances. After watching their incredible Music Day performance of Shoot and Run by Maude Latour, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out a little bit more about the group by interviewing some of its members.
I interviewed one of the co-president of Sass, senior Georgie Williams, ‘22, along with junior Yenna Chong, ‘23, and the only underclassman in Sass, sophomore Bella Guagenti, ‘24. All three of them were consistent in sharing the positive experiences that accompany their membership in the group and they all enthusiastically encouraged any interested students to audition in the future.
When asked about the most challenging part of leading Sass as president, Williams replied, “I would say the most challenging part of being president would be finding time to schedule rehearsals, just since everyone’s schedules are so different, and the song selection process. You’d be surprised that arranging a song usually ends up taking less time than choosing one to perform”. As a member of Sass, Chong responded that the most difficult part was “finding out the harmony parts, because it requires lots of relistening to the song and creativity”. Along with the challenges, however, there are many upsides to singing in a student music group.
Both Williams and Chong believe the most rewarding part of being in the singing group is the satisfaction of their hard work succeeding: “The most rewarding part is definitely getting to perform and just seeing our hard work during rehearsal pay off. It’s such a good feeling to see everyone happy about their performances and get compliments from students and staff” responded Williams. Chong added that “it is the most rewarding when we finally figure out the parts and have a smooth-ish run through”. Additionally, making connections with other students is a major boon.
Williams and Chong both also remarked that being in Sass has helped them create friendships with students in different grades; Williams elaborated that “Being in Sass has definitely had a positive effect on my school experience. I feel like getting to perform at a variety of different events has helped me get to know NCS and its traditions better, and I’ve definitely gotten closer to students in different grades because of our composition of 10th-12th graders”. Making friends from multiple grades definitely makes Sass a unique opportunity that all of its members want to extend to other students.
All three responded enthusiastically when asked about what they would want to tell students considering auditioning for Sass and emphasized that anyone even possibly interested should consider joining. Chong described the experience as “a good way to make more friends and take your mind off of school. You will also learn more about harmonizing, and it will be so fun for anyone who has any singing interest”. Williams elaborated by saying, “The main thing I’d want to say to prospective members of Sass is to be the most authentic performer you can be during your audition and hold nothing back! Sass benefits from a wide variety of music genre interests, experience levels, singing styles, and personalities. I would encourage anyone even remotely interested in Sass to audition in the future”. Guagenti shared a similar opinion, “At the next Sass auditions I fully recommend that anyone who has any interest in auditioning should! I have found Sass to have such a great supportive community where you can have great opportunities to grow as a singer from guidance from other members and unique song choices.”
When asked about her favorite Sass performance, Williams had a clear favorite, “My favorite performance I’ve done in Sass was for the Spring benefit in February 2020. We sang Elastic Heart by Sia in the Cathedral, sounded absolutely beautiful, and got to spend quality time with each other the day of. It’s kind of bittersweet looking back at it, though, since that performance was on the last weekend before school closed due to COVID, but it’s such a special last performance to have had, and I’m really grateful.”
Olivia Maaia, '25
We all come from nature. We live in nature, we thrive in nature, we try to help fix nature we have destroyed. Despite our many connections, we tend to forget how nature is beneficial to us. The earth grounds us to our very being but is taken for granted because of the many innovations produced by our ancestors. Over the years, mental health has become a priority, especially during the pandemic, and we have come to realize that taking care of ourselves and others is crucial. So much has been learned over the past couple years that has helped raise awareness about mental illness, which has helped us to gain a greater understanding of our bodies, and what they need to be healthy.
One discovery is that nature can benefit mental health. An article written by the Mental Health Awareness Foundation states that people who spend more time outside are less likely to be affected by mental illness than people who don’t, and this often leads to happier lives. In even more detail, it is not only being in nature but the quality of the relationship you have with nature that is important for a positive impact on our health. For students especially, this means we should take advantage of the green space we have access to and the time we spend in it.
On the close we are very fortunate to have so many preserved outdoor spaces where we can go to enjoy the nice weather or just get a breath of fresh air. We are sometimes even forced to go outside because classes can be held in many different buildings, but the burden is really a benefit. I have many times complained that none of my classes are in the same space, causing me to have to cross the street a million times, but the walk gives my body time to rejuvenate and breathe. Even while doing homework, I find that sitting outside makes it more enjoyable because it is a change in environment. I almost lose track of time sitting, feeling the breeze, soaking in the sun, and listening to the many noises; birds chirping, the bustling of people, leaves chiming together, and a faint wisp of cars driving through Wisconsin Ave.
A tradition in fourth grade is to take a walk to the Bishops Garden and find a spot that speaks to us, which becomes our token spot. The one I chose was the gazebo. Simple but also interesting because there are many embellishments that you won’t notice unless you take the time to look. Stonework with wood accents, a wind vane sitting on top, curved archways, and different arrays of gorgeous flowers. Since then, I have discovered many new places around the close, oak court, the great lawn, the courtyard outside Woodley and so many more. As I have settled into the school year, I have found many more opportunities to take advantage of outdoor time, and even just five minutes can help relieve some stress from my head. The next time you walk outside, try to take a minute, and acknowledge where you are right now, tell yourself a positive affirmation, and feel grateful for the world around you. Nature is your greatest gift, so being appreciative of all the green space on our campus is crucial to maintaining a healthy mindset.