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‘WMA was just the place where I could be my nerdy, outspoken, daydreaming self’

‘WMA was just the place where I could be my nerdy, outspoken, daydreaming self’

By Sommer Mahoney ‘11

A few months ago, I was eating dinner in a restaurant in Rabat with five of my students. As we were laughing and talking, I got up to check my phone outside and noticed, for the first time, that there was a table for the adults on the trip. The other faculty leaders from other schools were sitting together with our tour guides — and I hadn’t noticed. Should I switch tables? I felt a twinge in my gut. I didn’t want to switch tables . . . I wanted to sit with my kids.

And I wanted to sit with my students because, let’s be honest: Wilbraham & Monson Academy students are really good conversationalists. They’re funny, but never crude or mean; they’re insightful without being pedantic; they’re curious, but not overbearing; and they’re genuinely interested in people and their stories. I’d prefer to share a meal with a WMA kid than pretty much any other adult that I’ve ever met.

I’ve been a Titan for 12 years now, almost half of my life. When I was 14, I was one of the last “Bicentennial Scholars” and the first of the Global Scholars. The generosity of this school and community have shaped me in both predictable and subtle ways, and I am grateful for everything I’ve learned here  — including the things I’ve yet to discover about this school, and about myself.

As a child, I didn’t know anyone who loved to read as much as I did. Literally. I did not know anyone else. I thought that when Young Adult authors wrote about “bookish” characters they were pandering to me. I identified with Hermione Granger from “Harry Potter” because she was the “smart one” and I was the smart “one.”

Hermione helped me imagine a future for myself where I could be openly intelligent and my friends and adults would appreciate that about me. Hermione is also brave and loyal, and she has a strong moral compass that she’s cultivated on her own, influenced by her vast knowledge. Maybe, I hoped as a kid, maybe I could be like her.

When I was 14, I came to WMA with a secret, small hope that maybe now I could be that person I always was, and always wanted to be. And, due to some incredible luck, and the hard work of teachers, administrators and students who came before me, WMA was just the place where I could be my nerdy, outspoken, daydreaming self.

But WMA is not a school full of Hermiones. Our students are diverse — not just in where they come from, but in their perspectives, their strengths, their challenges, their priorities, their hopes, their fears, their dreams. I wasn’t able to be “me” because everyone around me was the same. I was able to be myself because this school gives its students the space, the time, the resources, for each teenager to become their best self. Wilbraham & Monson has created a culture where each student — and, I am now noticing, each community member —  is encouraged to craft their own unique identity.

A school full of unique identities, each given the same level of respect, is what makes us the “Global School.” That’s what I learned as a student. And that’s what guides me now as a teacher.

A few months ago, I brought my freshman class to the library to do some research for a history paper. They’re a funny group, the Class of 2022 — smart, sardonic, compassionate, self-conscious, self-deprecating. I like them a lot, but they do tend to ask a million questions. They’re afraid of getting something wrong.

I stood in the midst of some blessed quiet, watching my students work. My thoughts lingered on a pair working at a table together. Suddenly, it all came together as a scene: two young girls, whispering in the library, one showing the other a quote in a book she had found. The soft light of the morning floated down on them, while the mysterious and comforting whispers of shifting paper and brief murmurs created the soundtrack for my scene. 

I was transported, somehow, both back into my own past and into an unknowable future. Those girls could have been me and my best friend 10 years ago. And I felt a peculiar clarity: I work here to preserve this place where these moments can happen. I have to help continually affirm, create, and protect this place where kids are free to be their best selves.

And this is, of course, why WMA kids are the best people with whom to share a meal. They are — we are — individuals, with individual tastes, senses of humor, intelligences and passions. I’ve sat down for lunch in New Delhi, Rabat, Beijing, Cambridge, Moscow, Taipei, Athens, Kusadasi, and Wilbraham with Titans, my students or my friends or my colleagues. And no matter where in the world I am, and no matter the age or ethnicity of those at the table, I’d always prefer to sit and talk with a Titan.