Leading From Here: The Class of 2021

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Leading From Here: The Class of 2021
Ravenscroft Communications

Celebrate the Class of 2021’s leaders in student organizations, athletics and fine arts who created opportunities for engagement and purpose that made their senior year one worth remembering.

When the new school year started on Aug. 13, 2020, many students returned to campus with more than the usual first-day jitters. How would the school’s COVID-19 protocols affect the rhythm of their school day? Would there be opportunities to enjoy social time with friends? Could clubs, sports teams and fine arts groups function under physical distancing and mask-wearing requirements?

For members of the Class of 2021, who had already missed their junior prom and the Junior Mountain Trip and who would not have a Senior Breakfast and Parade on the first day of school, there was the bittersweet awareness that this unprecedented school year would be their last one together. How could they mark the once-in-a-lifetime milestones of their senior year and maintain the closeness that has long been the hallmark of Ravenscroft classes?

Here, we explore some of the senior leaders who worked within and across existing campus outlets — student government, clubs, athletics and fine arts — to foster a sense of togetherness and school spirit, creating opportunities for engagement and purpose that made a challenging year one worth remembering.

Courtesy of Simon Capell Photography

SGA Executive Council and Senior Class Officers: “Change, resiliency and progressive thinking”

By Kevin Flinn

For the seniors elected to Upper School student government positions, working with administrators to maintain some traditions and a sense of normalcy was a top priority — even as they realized that little about their final year as Ravens would be as they had imagined. As senior class president Talia Granick ’21 said, “We had no separate senior study hall, no off-campus lunch, no celebration days, no Stark Raven Madness.”

Working closely with the senior representatives of the Upper School Student Government Association, these leaders strove, as Student Government Association secretary Sage Crosby ’21 put it, “to implement new events that ensured the health and safety of our students and faculty.”

Talia Granick ’21 and Sage Crosby ’21

“Our biggest goal was to make our senior year as normal as possible given all of the new restrictions and changes that were put in place due to COVID,” senior class vice president Josh Youngbar ’21 added.

It was not always an easy process. But this group of seniors — drawing on their considerable experience in student government roles as well as in affinity group, club, sports, fine arts and community leadership — were determined to shape the year into one they and their classmates would cherish in the years to come.

First, they reached out to other independent schools, hoping to find common themes, events and activities that Ravenscroft could implement, not only for seniors but for the entire Upper School. The group spoke with student leadership at 16 independent schools across North Carolina to get an idea of how they were operating during the pandemic. After what SGA vice president Clarke Haywood ’21 described as “hours of research, communication and conversation,” the leaders presented their ideas to the division’s administration.

Along the way, SGA leaders received guidance from faculty advisor Bryce Jones, whom Clarke cited as a “supportive, empathetic and encouraging” mentor who “gave valuable advice about our goals.” Jones, who has led SGA for six of his eight years at Ravenscroft, praised the SGA leadership “for never giving up, asking questions, trying to implement new ideas, working with the Upper School leadership team and continuing to represent our student community in their brightest light.”

Josh Youngbar ’21 and Clarke Haywood ’21 

One of the biggest changes these seniors were able to effect was a reorganization of study halls. At the beginning of the school year, all study halls were grouped alphabetically, but student leaders suggested that organizing them by grade level would allow students to have their hour-long study hall period with classmates and friends. When the second semester commenced, study halls were reorganized as student leaders had proposed.

For SGA president Nick Fay ’21, the change made an impact in a number of ways. “One of our other goals was to help people feel more connected to one another. A lot of students were struggling with the separation from their friends, starting last spring and over the summer. It had a real impact on their mental health. I think reorganizing study halls by grade made a difference, especially for seniors. Even if you weren’t really good friends with the other people in your study hall, it still gave you someone— maybe someone you knew from a class or from previous years — to talk to about everything going on in your senior year.”

Another goal they accomplished was planning and implementing a COVID-safe food drive for all three divisions, keeping alive SGA’s long tradition of supporting the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. In a show of campus-wide resilience, the food drive yielded donations that matched previous years.

Upper School Dean Kat Belk and Assistant Upper School Head for Student Life Kevin Billerman also played key roles as sounding boards for the leadership teams in their quest for a sense of normalcy in a highly abnormal year. Talia said Belk and Billerman “were great resources and truly listened to everything we had to say. They were frank with us and told us what we could and could not do, and they helped us revive some of the fun and spirit we lost this year through new end-of-year activities.”

Nick Fay ’21 and Michael Zucker ’21

“I think we did the best with organizing the April 22 Senior Celebration Day on campus with the food trucks and kickball, because it seemed everyone had a good time,” Michael Zucker ’21, who served as secretary/treasurer of the senior class, said. “We had to do a lot of giving and taking. It wasn’t easy, but the days and weeks of negotiating finally paid off.”

Along with the senior dinner and dance, held on campus the week of graduation, these culminating events were testaments to the senior leaders’ resilience and resourcefulness.

“This year many seniors felt defeated when we missed our traditions because of COVID-19,” Sage concluded. “Hearing their concerns kept me and the other SGA members inspired. We had to remind ourselves that change, resiliency and progressive thinking would help us develop new and safe events for this year.”

Read more about the accomplishments of these outstanding student leaders:

More Class of 2021 Stories

Enjoy more coverage of the Class of 2021 on our Senior Success webpage! Read about and view photos and videos from end-of-year celebrations, ceremonies and awards, plus throwback photos, news stories, senior speeches, fun and fascinating senior-class statistics, and more.

Courtesy of Simon Capell Photography

Morning Meeting: Keeping Ravens Connected

By Janice Lewine

Morning Meetings have long been an integral part of Upper School life, providing students, faculty and division leadership valuable information and togetherness. Normally presented in-person in Jones Theatre, Morning Meetings switched to a video format in March 2020 when the school shifted to remote learning due to the pandemic. When it was determined that the video format would best serve the Upper School this year, the new video coordinators, Bode Ringenbach ’21 and Bella Fordin ’21, worked to keep Ravens apprised about everything from school announcements and upcoming events to new teachers and club happenings — adding their own personal touches along the way. 

“COVID was a tough thing for us to conquer this year, so we wanted to use Morning Meetings to connect the whole Upper School with each other,” Bode said. “We included a song of the week or a song of the day, student highlights and Billerman’s Corner. I knew these videos were a valuable way for people to listen to each other’s opinions about something, like a certain holiday or an SGA election, because everyone’s opinion matters.”

Bella said she enjoyed making Morning Meetings more entertaining. “It was a highlight of a lot of people’s day because we had trivia and music, but one of the most fun things we did was a game called ‘Find the Elf’ using Mr. Billerman’s Duke University-branded Elf on the Shelf,” she said. “We hid it in hard-to-find places, like on the bottom of a locker, in Ms. Lamond’s office and behind a TV in an alcove. When we announced on Morning Meetings that we had hidden the elf, everyone would be out looking for it so they could win a prize. It really helped bond the students together.”

Presenting Morning Meeting videos was just one way these two dedicated Ravens have left a mark on the school.

Morning Meeting video coordinators Bode Ringenbach ’21 and Bella Fordin ’21 

A proud Raven since kindergarten, Bode has earned six varsity letters in swimming at Ravenscroft and is a four-time NCISAA state champion. In May, he attempted to qualify for the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials with USA Swimming but missed the time cut for his event. “The next Olympic Trials are in three years, and I’ll be able to get the cut then, so I’m not worried about it all,” he said. Next year, Bode will join a legion of great swimmers at George Washington University.

Bella joined Ravenscroft as a sixth-grader and quickly found an affinity for drama class. “I performed in ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ and fell in love with being on stage,” she explained. “I also did backstage work before transitioning into costume work, which I did for four shows. The highlight of performing at Ravenscroft was finally getting to do ‘Chicago,’ my dream show. I was cast as the Hungarian girl so I had to learn the lines, the specific pronunciation and the dance rhythm, and speak in time with the music. I absolutely loved it!” As a fashion design major at North Carolina State University in the fall, Bella will explore another particular interest: textile sustainability.

“Bella and Bode have been a godsend this academic year,” Assistant Head of Upper School for Student Leadership Kevin Billerman, who led the Morning Meetings, said. “They compiled and edited all the videos, including filming every segment that I was a part of, because of my lack of skills and knowledge in technology. They were a great help in picking a song to end the meeting, as they have a better understanding of current music. All I can say is a heartfelt ‘thank you!’”

Bella Fordin ’21

College Plans: North Carolina State University

Intended Major: Fashion design

Fun Fact: Bella completed an independent study in costuming by building a full costume from scratch for “Sweeney Todd.”

Bode Ringenbach ’21

College Plans: George Washington University

Intended Major: Biomedical engineering

Fun Fact: Bode’s mother chose his name after reading a magazine story about a young Bode Miller, who became an Olympic and a World Cup alpine ski racer.  

Senior Bricks Honor the Past, Speak to the Future

Our graduating Ravens always leave their mark on our school, whether it’s through outstanding leadership, academic achievement, sports titles and records or artistic excellence. Many senior families opt to leave a different kind of mark on campus — a visible and lasting one — by dedicating an inscribed patio or sidewalk brick to their graduate. Proceeds from the program support the Fund For Ravenscroft, making a difference for Every Raven, Every Day!

Read more


Coffeehouse: Bonding Through Music

By Janice Lewine

Thomas Barker ’21 and David Gring ’21 know that music has a way of bringing people together — something that has never been as critical as it was in the 2020-21 school year. As luck would have it, the two friends had already created a way to share the gift of music and connection with their Upper School classmates: Coffeehouse, a casual, once-a-month performance series welcoming students, faculty and staff to share their favorite songs at LJ’s Place.

Music virtuosos who played for years in the Ravenscroft band, Thomas and David also wanted to inspire Coffeehouse listeners to become participants. “We encouraged anyone who wanted to share their music and talents to sign up to play or sing,” David said. “I remember one time there was a quiet girl who was a singer. She performed an original song, singing over an accompaniment on her phone. Everyone was super shocked and impressed. It showed us the whole nature of Coffeehouse, that anyone can jump out there and do their thing.”

When Ravenscroft transitioned to remote learning to contain the spread of COVID-19, Coffeehouse became a way to stay connected. Students and teachers sent videos of themselves performing, which David and Thomas posted on Instagram as a virtual event. The concerts strengthened Ravens’ overall sense of belonging and helped raise everyone’s mood. Realizing the impact the performances could make this year, David and Thomas worked to get permission for Coffeehouse to resume in a socially distanced, live-performance format in September, enabling students to bond through music during a challenging year. Shows are livestreamed on Instagram so all interested Ravens can enjoy them.

Coffeehouse co-founders Thomas Barker ’21 and David Gring ’21

Both seniors leave Ravenscroft with fond memories of the way Coffeehouse has made a difference through music. “Last year, the advancement office asked some of us to play holiday-themed music as people were walking out of Chapel, songs like ‘Happy Xmas’ by John Lennon and ‘Jingle Bell Rock.’ It was such an honor,” Thomas said.

They also helped the SGA organize and promote its annual talent show. And this spring, the club partnered with My Brother’s Keeper and LGBTQ+ affinity groups to deliver uplifting performances.

Upper School English teacher Kevin Flinn helped the two launch Coffeehouse and serves as the faculty advisor.

“David and Thomas made sponsoring the Coffeehouse club easy,” Flinn said. “They did all of the scheduling and outreach, and all I had to do was bring the sound equipment and maybe play rhythm guitar. They truly led by example by handling all the behind-the-scenes stuff. The best part for me was seeing how many freshmen got involved in Coffeehouse this year. Most of the time it’s primarily juniors and seniors who get up and play for their peers, but this year at least half of the performers were freshmen, which sets the club up for the future even as its leaders graduate.”

In addition to hosting Coffeehouse, Thomas and David helped Ravenscroft plan three St. Baldrick’s head-shaving events to fund childhood cancer research. The events collectively raised more than $180,000. In recognition of their many accomplishments, Thomas and David were both recognized with the Outstanding Student Award for their class during the Upper School Honors Convocation. Closing out their time at Ravenscroft, Thomas spoke at Commencement as the Class of 2021’s valedictorian.

Thomas Barker ’21

College Plans: Duke University

Intended Major: Undecided

Fun Fact: Thomas played varsity tennis and soccer.

David Gring ’21

College Plans: Vanderbilt University

Intended Major: Human and organizational development

Fun Fact: David hopes to pursue songwriting and music production while attending college in Nashville.

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InTutorly: Sharing Service and Learning

By Janice Lewine

Ravenscroft’s Lead From Here framework teaches students to tackle problems and lead with empathy. When schools across the region pivoted to remote learning last spring to contain the spread of COVID-19, Matt Presson ’21 was determined to find a way to continue to serve the community. His solution, an online tutoring program that supported students at a local elementary school, set the gold standard for both ingenuity and impact.

“When the pandemic sent everyone home, it took away a lot of community service opportunities that Upper School students were counting on to meet the 20-hour requirement for the year,” Matt explained. “Also, education was impacted [for students at other schools], because many schools didn’t have systems already in place to keep things going. I thought it would be a perfect way to solve both problems if we started tutoring kids online.”

Matt Presson ’21

Working with math teacher Karen Carroll, Matt created an online tutoring program with the help of classmates Sophia Toback ’21 and Summer Hargrave ’21. After setting up teaching infrastructure on Google Hangout, they encouraged their fellow Ravens to sign up to tutor kids at Raleigh’s Washington Magnet Elementary School in subjects such as math, grammar, Spanish and ESL.

“We had about 50 student tutors at first, and some tutored more than one person,” said Summer, who pushed to convert the program into an official school club for the 2020-21 academic year.

Sophia, a lover of world languages, said the club benefitted from a stroke of serendipity when Alex Joel, a fellow student in her online summer Russian-language class, told her about Intutorly, a nonprofit he had formed to provide free online tutoring at the primary school level. “I suggested a merger, and our tutoring club became the North Carolina branch of Intutorly,” Sophia explained.

Sophia Toback ’21 and Summer Hargrave ’21

Ravenscroft continues to play an integral role in the growth of the organization, which now boasts more than 900 tutors and has expanded to serve students in 24 states and eight countries. But for Matt, Sophia and Summer, the success of InTutorly is measured in ways that can’t be counted.

“The moment when you see a student understand a new concept is incomparable,” Matt said. “I taught math and geometry to one of my students, Vansh, covering the topics he was on track to study before COVID put schools out of operation for weeks.”

“I taught English and Spanish to Miya, our first student in Moscow,” Sophia said. “Not only did I help Miya with her language study, but she helped me with my Russian.”

“I’m really proud that we officially made the program a school club and continued reaching out to other elementary schools,” Summer said. “It provided a way for Ravenscroft students to do community service at a time when in-person opportunities just weren’t feasible.”

Advisor Karen Carroll praised the students’ vision and hard work. “They did a wonderful job, providing a valuable service during this challenging time and giving students the opportunity to connect in meaningful ways.”

“The club genuinely was a way for all of us to take our passions and channel it into something meaningful,” Sophia added. “It’s something we can be proud of, especially at such a young age and in the midst of a pandemic.”

Matt Presson ’21

College Plans: North Carolina State University

Intended Majors: Computer science and mathematics

Fun Fact: Matt won a 2021 National Merit Scholarship and worked with the Cancel Cancer club to help children undergoing cancer treatment.

Sophia Toback ’21

College Plans: Georgetown University

Intended Majors: Business with global affairs and Russian

Fun Fact: Sophia was a varsity swimmer and was awarded a 2020 National Security Language Initiative for Youth Virtual Summer Intensive scholarship.

Summer Hargrave ’21

College Plans: Dartmouth University

Intended Major: Biology or chemistry with a minor in public policy

Fun Fact: Summer played varsity tennis for two years and served as vice president for the Women in STEM Club.


Courtesy of Simon Capell Photography

Multisport Athletes: “Embracing what I was a part of”

By David Klein

In a year in which COVID protocols changed nearly everything about varsity sports, many student-athletes worked harder than ever to make their seasons count. For multisport athletes Scottie Dawson ’21, Thomas Brown ’21 and Mathew Badger ’21, that meant challenging themselves to be their best — as individual players, as teammates and as leaders — in a senior year like no other.

A field hockey, basketball and soccer player, Scottie said excelling meant not only finding success on the field of play but also inspiring her fellow players. “I know my teammates have a lot of talent, and I wanted to go out there and lead as much as possible, stepping up into a bigger role and leading my teams with a good attitude,” she said.

Thomas — who earned letters in football, basketball and track & field — said he also felt driven to lead by example. “As a two-sport captain, you’re looked at to be ‘that guy.’ When everybody’s head is down, you’re looked at as the guy to bring them up. I feel like I’ve always been a leader, but this year I had to step up a little bit.”

A football and baseball player who spent the winter season as a student athletic trainer, Matthew said his goal was simple: “I just didn’t want to leave with any regrets,” he explained. “During football, we really formed a brotherhood, because we knew that any game could be our last. One shut-down and that was it, our season was basically over.”

Thomas Brown ’21 and Matthew Badger ’21

In truth, as COVID protocols shifted with each season in response to the greater community’s pandemic outlook, these seniors dug deep to find the resilience and flexibility they needed to stay in the game — and stay connected. Particularly in the winter season, during which varsity athletes were required to attend school remotely and come to campus only for practices and games, they had to find ways to remain positive.

“Our basketball team did a really good job of supporting each other,” Scottie said. “We ended up having a sort of conditioning competition, which was fun and kept us in good spirits and still prepared for the rest of the season.”

“My strategy was just embracing what I was a part of,” Matthew added. “Making sure that I was doing my best in practice to make everyone else better, and to make everyone else really believe in what we were doing.”

“I was just working out every day,” Thomas said with a laugh. “Working, working, working, whether I was lifting, doing pushups at the house because the gym was closed, running around the block, dribbling the ball in the garage. This year, you just had to make sure you were logged in because there was nobody else pushing you. It was just you and the ball, you and the weight.”

While they have different paths ahead, these seniors agreed that their challenging year of athletics has given them much in return.

Scottie Dawson ’21

Scottie said she was especially gratified to be named team MVP in field hockey and earn the Coaches’ Award in basketball. “It means a lot for me to be recognized for my hard work over the years.”

Thomas spoke with pride about what he’s been able to accomplish. “I’m mainly proud of earning the offer to play football at the next level for Butler. We couldn’t go on any visits or camps, so a lot of kids were left without placings, and I found my placing. That’s something really special to me.”

Matthew, who will attend NC State University with an intended major in sports management, said, “If there’s one bright spot out of this COVID year, I was really able to figure out what I wanted to do now that my playing days are over.”

Scottie Dawson ’21

Quotable: “Scottie is such a tremendous kid,” head varsity basketball coach Mike Ramel said. “She was so invested in my coaching staff’s teachings. By her senior year I felt safe to let her coach a game or run a practice and know that it would get done exactly as I planned or hoped. She was invested purely out of the love of the game and knowing what her role meant to our team and where it could take us.”

Thomas Brown ’21

Quotable: “He’s a classic kind of a kid you just enjoy being around and being able to coach,” said varsity football head coach Ned Gonet. “Thomas is the kind of guy, you put the ball in his hands at the end of the game. He’s a difference-maker.”

Matthew Badger ’21

Quotable: “This year I saw he was a real leader. He stepped up,” Gonet said in praising Matthew’s steadiness and heart. “You can really see him guiding the other players, whether it be in practice, when we were traveling, in the locker room or on the field. He was always contributing ways to support and to motivate his teammates.”


Courtesy of Simon Capell Photography

Performing Arts Seniors: Taking it up a notch

By David Klein

It may be a cliché, but it served as a motto of sorts for Ravenscroft performing arts students this year: the show must go on. And seniors Amir Britton ’21 and Brennan McDonell ’21 did everything they could to make sure it did, meeting their own ambitious goals and embodying the extra effort demanded of all fine arts students at a time when evolving COVID protocols and restrictions around on-campus visitors required determination and innovation.

“They were undaunted,” Director of Fine Arts David McChesney said of the two. “Their commitment to making this year special was contagious.”

A naturally gifted performer — he has studied violin, piano and dance since elementary school and started chorus in ninth grade — Amir didn’t try acting until his sophomore year at Ravenscroft. This year, as a senior, he set out to nab a lead role. “Since I got into acting a little bit later, I wasn’t as confident in freshman and sophomore year, but this year I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to get a lead role,” he said.

He made good on that challenge by earning the role of Kristoff in this year’s creative staging of “Frozen,” but his success reached beyond the personal. “Being a senior in the fine arts was definitely sentimental to me because I got to help out classmates and friends who were going through the same thing I went through when I was in their position,” he said.

Performing arts seniors Amir Britton ’21 and Brennan McDonell ’21

Brennan, who is in chorus and band and played Roxie Hart’s gullible husband, Amos, in 2019’s “Chicago,” had a similar notion as he approached the Upper School Band’s Senior Recital. “I really stepped out of my comfort zone to perform in front of an audience,” he said. “I’d never performed solo tuba up until then.”

Both students decided to stretch themselves at a time when Ravenscroft’s performing arts faculty and staff were, by necessity, trying new things as well. Rehearsals took place under strict protocols. Students were masked and distanced at all times and only sang or played for an allotted time during a given hour. Thin shields covered the ends of wind instruments and covers topped the bells of brass instruments. The bell cover on Brennan’s tuba was emblazoned with a green Ravenscroft “R.”

“We found a company that would put the logo on there,” McChesney said with a laugh. “We figured, ‘Let’s take it up a notch.’”

That may well have been Amir and Brennan’s motto too. The two, who became friends while working on “Chicago,” co-starred in “Frozen.” They also organized a pop-up choir in Raleigh this past April.

Brennan, who took up tuba in fifth grade and the bass two years later, said his proudest accomplishment was his decision to take chorus. “It was a big risk,” he said. “But as soon as I got in, [teacher] Cameron Bolin knew that I was ready to step into a leadership role, and she threw me right in it. And I was more than happy to take it. I feel like I’ve become more confident.”

Chorus has also had a profound effect on Amir, who said he initially took the class during his freshman year to get the fine arts requirement out of the way. “But I honestly fell in love with my teacher and the class,” he said. “And I’m proud that I stuck with it for four years because it’s changed my life for the better. I found my people there.”

Amir Britton ’21

College Plans: Pace University

Intended Major: Musical theater

Fun Fact: While he missed performing for live audiences this year, Amir is proud of everything the program accomplished: “As a Ravenscroft family, we did all we could to make performing arts and fine arts departments as strong as it’s ever been.”

Brennan McDonell ’21

College Plans: Arizona State University

Intended Major: Aeronautical management technology

Fun Fact: Music will remain a focus. Brennan said he’s concentrating on solo tuba material, playing and singing cover songs, and planning to get back into the bass.