Seniors Excel in Distinctive Programs, Look to the Future

  • Cap & Gown
Seniors Excel in Distinctive Programs, Look to the Future
Karen Lewis Taylor

These members of the Class of 2024 made an impact in the Upper School’s range of innovative offerings, from STEM and the arts to civics, innovation and affinity groups — and plan to take what they’ve learned with them to college.

Ravenscroft’s Upper School offers its students an array of curricular and cocurricular programs through which they can explore their interests, hone the competencies they’ve learned from Lead From Here and make their mark on the school community and beyond.

Here’s what members of the Class of 2024 said about their experiences and how they’ve shaped their plans for the future:

I value community, unity and advocating for positive change. Continuing my participation in groups like Black Student Union will help me continue to be a trailblazer for people who may feel like their voices get lost because they lack a platform.

— Nyla Moore ’24, Black Student Union

The versatility of the strategies I’ve learned will help bring me success in my own career path, and my ability to help others see the value in them as well inspires me to continue improving and developing my understanding of the benefits of entrepreneurial thinking.

— Rachel Zaytoun ’24, Entrepreneurial Problem-Solving

I am keen on integrating the creative aspects of theater into my [major] of creative advertising. The leadership experience I’ve gained is also something I plan to bring into my college life to inspire me to seize new opportunities.

— Aryan Ghodrat ’24, Thespian Society

Read on as we profile these and more outstanding seniors who have excelled in some of the Upper School’s distinctive offerings, from STEM and the arts to civics, innovation and affinity groups.

Nyla Moore ’24

Black Student Union: Nyla Moore ’24 and Henry Grant ’24

As officers of the Black Student Union affinity group, Nyla Moore ’24 and Henry Grant ’24 have worked to build a community of understanding and constructive action among their fellow Black-identifying students.

“This group provided me with a means to connect with new people and a safe platform where I could discuss and bring attention to — and help solve — issues that affect the Black student community at Ravenscroft,” Nyla explained. “I have seen people form connections with other students from different grades and backgrounds. It has been amazing.”

Henry Grant ’24

This year, the group also took the lead during Black History Month, highlighting the contributions of Black Americans through daily announcements to the entire Upper School.

The work has at times been challenging. Henry shared that, early in the school year, some members were feeling disconnected, and meeting attendance had dropped. Leaning on their advisors — Jacki Goodson-Smith, Jordi Baende and Bailey Lamidi — and prior experiences helped them navigate these concerns and ensure that BSU continues to be a force for connection and change.

“[Our advisors] have been extremely important role models for me. Whenever I had something going on or doubts about how I was using my position, they reassured me,” Henry said. “The skills I developed playing sports, especially lacrosse, have also helped me significantly in running BSU — especially teamwork and problem-solving that I learned from my coaches.”

Nyla — who has also been a delegate for Youth and Government and served as a Ravenscroft Ambassador and a student facilitator through Dialogue Across Difference — said she has used many competencies of Lead From Here as well. “I have had to be self-aware and know that I need to know how to effectively handle problems,” she said. “I have had to be communicative and work with my co-leader, sponsors and members of BSU to create a safe space that actively handles issues. I have had to be strategic to know how to create a plan to help solve issues.”

With Nyla headed to NC State, where she plans to major in public relations and minor in business administration, and Henry going into political science at Fordham University, it’s clear these experiences have shaped their plans — and may help them change their worlds.

“I value community, unity and advocating for positive change,” Nyla concluded. “Continuing my participation in groups like BSU will help me continue to be a trailblazer for people who may feel like their voices get lost because they lack a platform.”

“I joined BSU because I wanted to be more connected to my fellow African American students. I would definitely be interested in continuing to be involved [in a similar group in college],” Henry said. “Having groups like BSU to bring members of a certain community together is extremely important.”

Jane McNeill ’24

Entrepreneurial Problem-Solving: Jane McNeill ’24 and Rachel Zaytoun ’24

The Entrepreneurial Problem-Solving course may only be a semester long, but its framework — built around the District C curriculum, which pairs student teams with local companies to help them address business problems — provides Ravens with experiential learning that extends beyond the projects they’re assigned. While classmates Jane McNeill ’24 and Rachel Zaytoun ’24 envision different uses for what they’ve learned, both found value in the takeaways.

“I enjoyed applying what I’ve learned about design thinking in my engineering classes to this consulting work,” Jane, who plans to major in engineering at Davidson College, said. “EPS humanized the steps for me. In my engineering courses, I’ve worked independently to solve problems most of the time, and the problems have been theoretical. In this class, the problems belonged to people — business owners who shared their stories and experiences. So while I may not go directly into business, I will take with me that the problems I solve as engineer are ultimately people’s problems, too.”

Rachel Zaytoun ’24

A four-year letter-winner and senior captain in soccer, a co-lead facilitator for Dialogue Across Difference and a member of the Entrepreneurship Club, Jane said she brought to the course what she’d learned from those experiences as well as a growth mindset, which was important as she adjusted to the course’s collaborative model.

“It was interesting to observe how different individuals think and tackle the same problem, while also presenting and sharing their ideas in their own ways,” she said. “Learning how to leave space for others to share their proposed solutions, including ones that are different from my own instincts, has been really helpful to me personally.”

For Rachel, EPS was one of several opportunities she’s pursued — in addition to being an officer in the Entrepreneurship Club and, at the urging of club sponsor and EPS teacher Jim Martin, a member of the pilot class of the Shuford Program — that strengthened her interpersonal and communication skills, which she knows she’ll use as a sports nutritionist.

“I learned how to be confident in what I was saying as well as how to be vulnerable in front of others … which allows for a more personal connection,” she said. “This personal connection lets people know that you care more about this project than just for a class, because you wanted to get more out of it.”

These experiences have been so foundational that Rachel is hoping to join the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship when she starts at UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall.

“The versatility of the strategies I’ve learned will help bring me success in my own career path, and my ability to help others see the value in such strategies as well inspires me to continue improving and developing my understanding of the benefits of entrepreneurial thinking,” she concluded.

Sofia Herbert ’24

“The Living Hand”: Sofia Herbert ’24

Sofia Herbert ’24’s journey to managing Ravenscroft’s student literary magazine began when Kevin Flinn’s Advanced Placement Language and Composition course sparked a passion for writing and editing. As a senior editor for “The Living Hand” this year, she has refined her craft and stretched her skill set under the guidance of advisor Joel Karpowitz.

“One of the most useful things I’ve learned is the importance of planning big projects. I’m used to doing (nearly) everything last-minute, so working with Mr. Karpowitz on a long-term, low-stress plan for the magazine’s publication was a novel but insightful experience,” she said. “Editing ‘The Living Hand’ has also shown me the value of interdependence.”

As the magazine staff launched its first literary competition this year, Sofia said her experiences reinforced the competencies she learned through Lead From Here.

“Writing is an inherently vulnerable process — it’s baring a part of yourself in Times New Roman font on a Google Doc — and having someone, especially a stranger, read and give feedback on your piece is much scarier than people give it credit for. Remaining empathetic and kind with feedback is a vital part of being a good editor,” she said.

Sofia has grown as a leader in other roles at Ravenscroft, too. As a Mock Trial All-Star in Youth and Government and a four-time letter-winner in swimming and track & field, she’s come to view collaboration and accountability as essential. “At the end of the day, the values won’t mean anything until you gain firsthand experience with them,” she noted.

She’ll be taking those experiences to Yale University in the fall, where she plans to study political science and English. “While I’m not sure I’ll pursue writing or editing as a career,” she said, “I’d definitely love to write for my school’s daily news or edit for the humor/satire publication.”

Nathan Emonson ’24

Robotics: Nathan Emonson ’24 and Maya Agrawal ’24

As an outgrowth of the Upper School’s popular engineering and computer-science electives, the IDE Department’s cocurricular varsity robotics program provides students with opportunities to exercise design thinking, collaborate with teammates and creatively solve problems in real time as they build custom robots and test them at competitions. This year, teammates Nathan Emonson ’24 and Maya Agrawal ’24 — each returning members who have held leadership roles over several years in the program — experienced both the highs and the lows of tournament challenges before ultimately qualifying for the state championships.

Nathan described team Automated Admiralty’s first qualifying meet of the season as a “disaster” that ultimately paved the way to success. “The team had placed all of our focus on a robot design that completely flopped, and we only had two weeks to completely restart,” he explained. “We spent all available time prototyping and rebuilding the entire robot four times over before ending up with what was the most capable robot our teams had produced.”

Maya Agrawal ’24

It’s that opportunity to fail, regroup and try again that makes this program such a valuable experience for students. Along the way, Maya noted, teammates grow in “accountability, resiliency, vision, resourcefulness” and more.

“I think the most important thing I’ve learned is the importance of setting expectations with team members,” she added. “It’s important to know what everyone wants to get from a club experience as well as the commitment levels of each member. This helps plan who should take what task, [understand] what is within reason to achieve and make sure that the club is worthwhile and meaningful to everyone included.”

Co-coaches James McFarland and Mariam Elias — both of whom have been recognized this year with FTC coaching awards — provide technical support where needed while encouraging team members to take ownership of their work and, as Maya put it, “make sure our team’s vision is seen and accomplished.” The program is also aligned with FTC tournaments’ FIRST framework and includes a component of outreach and service that resonates with Ravenscroft students.

For Nathan, who is also a member of the varsity golf team, robotics and other STEM experiences at Ravenscroft have “confirmed the passion” that will take him to Virginia Tech as a mechanical engineering major this fall. “I intend to participate in Formula SAE,” an international competition that challenges students to design, build and test a formula-style race car, he added.

Maya, who is a member of the Women in STEM Club and secretary of the Wellness Committee, plans to major in psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill. “I will likely join clubs that are more geared toward that major,” she noted. “However, I will be taking what I’ve learned from robotics and continue to apply it to my future endeavors.”

Tul Cherukuri ’24

Pan-Asian Affinity Group: Tul Cherukuri ’24

Tul Cherukuri ’24’s commitment to fostering inclusion and belonging includes her co-leadership of the Upper School’s Pan-Asian Affinity Group and her membership on the Student Diversity Advisory Council, both of which she has served for three years. Her goal, she said, is “the same as it is for most people: to make a difference in the communities that matter to me.”

Her involvement with the Pan-Asian Affinity Group, whose advisors are Yi-Wen Liu and Daniel Munns, has ranged from planning a regional Asian Alliance Conference with students from peer schools to spearheading the Upper School’s celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month — and, equally important, enjoying movies and food with the friends she’s made through these experiences.

The key to finding satisfaction in working toward greater inclusivity and belonging, she emphasized, is in understanding that both the “sweeping, big changes” and the small steps to “simply connect with others” along the way are important.

“My affinity group is a large part of my Ravenscroft experience,” she said. “Ultimately, the goal of an affinity group is to build community among people with a shared identity, and we’re working towards that. So, a big takeaway for me will forever be not to let the giant goals intimidate me. Instead, learning to tackle what you can, step by step, can go a long way.”

Tul, who also plays clarinet in the Upper School band, was announced as the Class of 2024’s valedictorian and recognized with the Clarke Worthington III Outstanding Character Award — the highest honor bestowed upon an Upper School student — at the division’s Honors Convocation on May 23. She will attend Columbia University in the fall.

“I’m currently thinking about mathematics and maybe economics or something in the humanities, but I’m not entirely sure yet. I love learning about so many different things, so I’m trying to keep an open mind and see where college takes me,” she said. “I’m excited that being in New York City will lend me so many new perspectives to grow and learn from as I continue to figure out how I can foster inclusivity and belonging in my communities.”

Aryan Ghodrat ’24

Thespian Society: Aryan Ghodrat ’24

For Thespian Society president Aryan Ghodrat ’24, the pull of the theater started early.

“I joined the Ravenscroft Junior Thespians in sixth grade after participating in the fine arts throughout Lower School,” he remembered. “My sister [Kemmia ’19] greatly influenced my involvement, as she was an enthusiastic member of the Thespians.”

Relishing opportunities to practice his craft, Aryan has participated in the Student Shakespeare Competition, joined his fellow “theater kids” at the statewide Thespian Festival and, earlier this year, played the lead role in the school’s production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

He said these experiences, and the mentorship of drama teacher and troupe sponsor Jason Sharp, have taught him important lessons that extend beyond the stage.

“I’ve realized that there is a lot an actor needs to do outside of rehearsals, and staying accountable has kept me on top of my work,” he said. “Collaboration is always important to create an authentic work of art on stage. Finally, being visionary is something that I value, as it helps me continue to grow creatively.”

He’s also stretched himself as a leader, taking on more responsibilities with the Thespian Society each year. This year, he also became a state officer for the group, co-chairing its Social Media Committee and helping plan this year’s festival at East Carolina University, which was attended by more than 800 students.

In addition to the performing arts, Aryan has served on the Student Diversity Advisory Council and as a Ravenscroft Ambassador. He said these and other opportunities have helped prepare him for what comes next at the University of Miami.

“I am keen on integrating the creative aspects of theater into my [major] of creative advertising,” he said. “The leadership experience I’ve gained is also something I plan to bring into my college life to inspire me to seize new opportunities.”

Tessa Lee ’24

Youth and Government: Tessa Lee ’24

As one of many students involved in this cocurricular program — a year-round commitment that culminates in the Youth and Government conference, at which delegates from across the state turn their knowledge of civics into action — Tessa Lee ’24 has distinguished herself with her willingness to take on new responsibilities and step into high-profile roles.

Joining YAG as a junior due to her interest in criminal law, she has been one of Ravenscroft’s two Student Delegation Leaders, joining monthly meetings with other SDLs and serving as a liaison with conference organizers. She also helped run the one-day YAG conference for ninth-graders this fall and played a key role for her Mock Trial team, reviewing their questions and opening and closing statements heading into the conference.

It’s been a tremendous learning experience — one for which she has had to step out of her comfort zone.

“The biggest challenge I’ve overcome through YAG was my fear of public speaking. Standing in front of everyone and making an objection, asking questions or even acting as a witness is very stressful for me, but it is a necessary skill if you want to succeed,” she explained. “I’ve learned a lot about how to be a leader and how to be more confident, along with how to begin networking with attorneys and law students.”

Tessa said the club’s advisors — Sean Kennedy, Shelley Brown and Alex Mahon — and other teachers have helped her develop the confidence and skills to try something new. And while she plans to major in chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill, the courtroom isn’t far from her mind.

“I am considering becoming a criminal defense attorney and am partaking in an internship with the state assistant district attorney as part of my senior project,” she said. “In addition, I plan to join a mock trial team at my college and attend competitions across the East Coast.”