May Students of the Month: Jahirah Thurber and Lilian MacVeagh

May Students of the Month: Jahirah Thurber and Lilian MacVeagh

Given that TA alternates between recognizing a junior and a senior as Student of the Month, May is the last opportunity to award a member of the Class of 2020. We couldn’t let this chance go by without awarding two particular seniors: JJ Thurber and Lily MacVeagh. Congratulations to both!

Jahirah Thurber, Class of 2020

JJ, Kate Owen, and Ms. Brennan on one of two school visits they made to learn from others in Vermont about advisories

JJ is the queen of efficiency. Throughout high school, she has worked many hours at jobs outside of school while shouldering demanding course loads. At school, she always makes maximum use of her time to complete her work, and she does more than simply go through the motions. 

Karen Heinzmann noted that in Geometry last spring, JJ “asked questions in class that helped drive the conversation forward and seemed to especially enjoy puzzling out how to solve the constructions. The cooperative format of the class worked especially well for her, and she was always generous in sharing her knowledge and understanding with her peers. Even given the many demands on her time outside of the school day, Jahirah invested considerable time and effort on the problem sets, and it showed.”

JJ’s investment in her work and her commitment to improve is tangible. In English classes, she has shown that she cares deeply about both the quality and personal importance of her writing as important in itself regardless of grades. 

JJ’s actions fit with her philosophy about work: “I think finding the worth in the work you do at school can sometimes be harder than the work itself. Asking questions like, ‘Why do we have to do this?’ ‘When are we going to use this knowledge in life?’ ‘At what point, anywhere down the line, is this going to be even remotely relevant?’ The truth is there are no definite answers to those questions, but there is a definite use for knowledge itself. So we might as well learn as much as we can, the best that we can before it falls right through our fingertips. Knowledge is work worth doing.”

It is no wonder that JJ volunteered early to take part in the student-adult committee working on PLPs and the related process of reflecting on and documenting one’s growth as a student over time. Ms. Brennan and Kate Owen have called her a “leader” and “real standout” on the committee, even joining them on visits to two other schools to further their work.

Likewise, Mr. Mann, JJ’s teacher in Human Nature in Literature, noted that she is “a leader in the classroom and frequently pushes against conventional thinking in our discussions. She does the same thing in her writing, which is predictably controversial and interested in pursuing the unvarnished truth. I came to admire her candor and intelligence.” Along those lines, colleague Ray Chapin appreciated the way JJ “has navigated the challenges of being a person of color in a predominantly white community. She wrote and spoke honestly and eloquently about experiencing subtle racism on a regular basis.” 

School counselor Mark Pichette notes that JJ has shown maturity and drive throughout her years at TA. Teacher Dawn Deibler concurs: “She took Algebra 2 Honors without having a real solid Algebra 1 experience.  She never complained, and instead worked incredibly hard, teaching herself Algebra 1 at the same time.” Mark lauds JJ for remaining curious and following her own path, taking Challenge or Dual Enrollment courses in photography and graphic art and advocating extremely well for herself.

As mentor for JJ’s current Challenge Course entitled “Illustration and Design,” Marisa Cotilletta praises JJ’s “improvement over the course of many studies of the human form and how to translate them onto the starting panels of a comic.” Marisa adds that “JJ is a beacon of delight when she enters rooms on campus, and when she meets with her peers and teachers. She is curious about the visual and mental worlds that are around us, and it is reflected in both her written and sketched works.”

Congratulations to, as science teacher Gary Engler describes JJ, a student with a commitment to personal growth and self discovery, and a willingness to experience vulnerability in order to meet new challenges.

Lily MacVeagh, Class of 2020

Lily MacVeagh volunteering at the Woods Trail run (Photo by Dan Grossman)

When Madame Heinzmann first taught Lily MacVeagh in French 1B her eighth-grade year, she used to joke that Lily would grow up to be a lawyer, and regularly referred to her as Lawyer Girl in class. “Lily asks questions,” Madame explains, “that begin with What if or How about, considers the potential exceptions to rules, and can find the weakness in any argument. In Geometry, she took proofs, constructions, and the myriad definitions and formulas in stride, asking questions that revealed her innate curiosity and spectacular ability to pay attention to detail.” 

English teacher Abby MacGregor notes that Lily possesses academic prowess, but it’s the way she went above and beyond in the classroom that really impressed her: “Her writing is naturally strong, but she put in the time to edit and revise her work to make it the best it could be.” Ms. MacGregor adds that Lily’s confidence also stood out to her: “She was very much a leader in my class because she was willing to speak up, and that confidence in turn encouraged other students who were more nervous.”

Mr. Deffner witnessed this important skill, too: “I have had the pleasure of being Lily MacVeagh’s instructor three times––I guess we might call it two-and-a-half since we didn’t get to finish Senior English in person. Nonetheless, Lily continues to impress me with her thoughtful contributions to class––even remotely. In Literature of the Civil Rights Movement class last year, she was at home with all kinds of learners and in all kinds of situations. Her ability to get along with everyone was not earned at the expense of keeping quiet, though.  On the contrary, Lily was respected by her classmates because of her willingness to stand by her convictions. She is someone who gracefully states her opinion without diminishing the convictions of those around her.”

During Remote TA in Gary Engler’s virtual Environmental Science classroom, Lily sits among the other students “listening and observing like a wizened owl.” Mr. Engler continues, “Occasionally, I’ll see the upper left side of her mouth tighten up into a semaphore-like smile—the signal that she has something to add to the conversation. Once called upon, her thoughts tumble out—succinct, astute, reflective observations that establish connections between the immediate subject at hand to the larger environmental issues facing the community, the state, and the world at large. 

One of the benefits of a small school is that students and teachers get to work with each other over several years, and they get to participate in a variety of activities without specializing. Instrumental music teacher Greg Mellinger began working with Lily even before she came to TA: “Lily has been a dedicated band student of mine for the past eight years. She plays the trombone and is a strong overall musician. Lily always greets me with a smile, works hard and consistently during every rehearsal and thanks me when she leaves.  She is a model student.”

Science teacher Derek Burkins sings Lily’s praises as well: “Lily has been a rock star in all the years and classes in which I have worked with her, not to mention on the soccer field! Over the last four years, I have had Lily in four different science classes and have gotten a chance to watch her play soccer both as part of the TA team and the indoor Grantham league. She seems to thrive on challenge and is always willing to push herself as a student and athlete and clearly wants to grow as a person, while at the same time remaining understatedly humble. However, I always knew that if I made a calculation mistake in class, Lily was going to catch it and let me know! 

Reserved, steadfast, exceptional. Those are the words that come to mind when Stacy Barton thinks of Lily MacVeagh: “Her intellectual capabilities were abundantly clear the very first day in my 7th grade social studies class, and grew exponentially by the time I got her back during her senior year for Psychology. One could go on and on about her academic accomplishments or capabilities, as they are numerous. But truly, she is a rare gem of a student, who defines quiet leadership through example. Never one to complain, always one to ask thought provoking questions, and always the one student I can count on to give me a little smirk when I tell lame jokes in class, Lily is truly one of a kind.”

Congratulations to an exceptional learner, leader, and benefit to our community: Lily MacVeagh.