Positively Powhatan: Four Valedictorians Reflect on their Experience

Published On: November 6th, 2019 | Categories: Alumni Voices, Food for Thought |

We had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with four alumni of the Class of 2015 and talk about their Powhatan School years right before they headed off to college:

Julija Martin, Clarke County High School (University of Virginia)
Maggie McFillen, Saint James School (Georgia Tech)
Suditi Shyamsunder, Handley High School (College of William & Mary)
Maddy Kidd, Highland School (Harvard University)

What is unique about this outstanding group of young ladies is that each was the valedictorian of her respective high school this past June. They were eager to return to campus and share their experiences.

A Positively Powhatan Conversation

What skills did you come away with from Powhatan School that helped you in your high school years?

Suditi Shamsunder: The most important skill I learned from Powhatan that helped me in high school was how to work hard. At Powhatan we were expected to study hard, and we were taught proper study skills that I was easily able to transfer to my high school experience. We also learned how to enjoy the process of working hard and learning.

Maddy Kidd: The base that Powhatan provided me helps me in almost every aspect in school, but more than anything else, my writing skills have served me the greatest. With all of the varied types of writing we did over and over again from poems to the long chapel talk, I had much more experience and skill than a lot of my peers as a direct result of Powhatan. My freshman English class was more focused on reading and discussion, yet going into writing-intensive Sophomore year, I was still perfectly prepared from eighth grade even compared to classmates who had had the same writing-focused teacher the year before.

Maggie McFillen: I learned how to make friends. I was a very shy child, but growing up with the friendly faces at Powhatan, I came out of my shell and prospered.

Julija Martin: Powhatan taught me how to find fun in what I was learning. This really helped me in high school by keeping me engaged in whatever subject I was learning at the time.

What first comes to your mind when you think of Powhatan School?

SS: Learning for the sake of enjoyment.

JM: When I think of Powhatan School, I’m reminded of all the field trips and activities we were able to experience. At the time, I didn’t recognize that these “breaks” from academics were still lessons. Now, when I think of Powhatan, I think of all the life lessons we learned outside of the classroom and how they’ve proved incredibly useful throughout life.

MK: The grounds and just driving up every day. I loved coming to school.

MM: My entire childhood. Powhatan School has always been a part of my family since all of my sisters attended. So, with that being said, ever since I was a toddler in diapers, I have been involved in Powhatan events and the surrounding community. That love and sense of inclusion only continued when I went through my elementary and middle school education.

What do you remember as the most challenging activities during your experience?

JM: The most challenging activity for me, personally, was the Shakespeare play in eighth grade. My class performed Much Ado About Nothing, and it was a lot of fun to put on, but I was not the best actor, and I was not great at memorizing lines! It took me a while, but I fell in love with reading Shakespeare during that play and have enjoyed all of his literature that I have read since then.

MK: The Geometry Pop-Up Books. I was supposed to be one of the best in the class in math, so this project drove me crazy (laughing). It was math, and math comes easily to me. So this was a huge challenge because math was not usually a class that you had to use creativity very often. I was up late into the night on multiple occasions trying to get it perfect. It was extremely precise. I had to slow down, problem-solve, and focus on the work.

SS: I was never very strong at reading until I reached the Upper School. The way we were taught to read beyond the text, to think critically, and to look for the inferences was not easy for me at first. But we had great teachers who worked with us and didn’t give up on us.

Tell us about a favorite activity on campus?

MM: Most, if not all, of the art projects we did in Mr. Royston’s were my favorite. I particularly enjoyed the plastic wrap mannequins we made; I think it’s called the Tape Art project. My other favorite project was an art project that involved creating a mural to hang around the campus. I was placed in a group of all boys. It was difficult, to say the least, but beyond fun. I was able to design the mural, and with some help from the boys, we created something beautiful.


JM: Science Fair. Because it taught me how to organize and prepare ahead of time (time management). By the time I got to high school, I was so much more prepared and used to the demands necessary to be successful. Looking back, it really wasn’t about the project but about understanding the process of how to get organized.

Tell us about a time that you felt the most confident?

JM: Powhatan helped me find the activities that I love the most. I found my interests in music, drama, and various sports because Powhatan required me to try them. I felt the most confident performing on stage.

SS: For me it was MATHCOUNTS. We practiced each week and it was challenging – but fun. It made me feel good to win. But we definitely felt the pressure to win at regionals because of our tradition of success.

MM: I always felt the most confident in art class. I’ve always been more of a creative and artistic person, but Mr. Royston always made it fun to learn. It was also a release from the pressures of the more academic classes, so I always looked forward to art.

SS: I also felt very confident with my Chapel Talk. I was nervous at the start, but as I finished I really felt a sense of accomplishment and pride. It was fun too, I had classmates dressed up as Disney Princesses on stage as the props and we just had a fun time. It was educational and amusing.

MK: For me it was always POSTS/RAILS Field Day. That end of the year celebration where we are all out there competing with each other. I think it just brought out the best in all of us and I really felt confident – especially when we won. I’d say that goes for sports in general.



*One of the favorite traditions for eighth graders is that they get to ‘tag the wall’ in the Upper School art room. They all wanted to go find their name and artwork!

(photo credit top image Ms. Barr)