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Alumni Bring Insights and Humor to Panel Discussion About College
Eight students stand arm-in-arm on a stage behind a table

Alumni panelists Kemmia Ghodrat ’19, Eleanor Campbell ’20, Sam Rappaport ’20, Ben Fesko ’20, Sophia Toback ’21, Noelle Hill ’21, Jairus Cook ’22 and Davis Anderson ’22

On Friday, Jan. 6, students in 11th and 12th grades gained valuable insights about college life from some familiar sources: recent Ravenscroft graduates. The event was organized by the College Counseling office and moderated by Bill Pruden, College Counselor and Director of Civic Engagement.

The panel comprised eight alumni attending a range of colleges and universities: Kemmia Ghodrat ’19, NC State; Eleanor Campbell ’20, Columbia University; Sam Rappaport ’20, UNC-Chapel Hill; Ben Fesko ’20, Case Western Reserve University; Sophia Toback ’21, Georgetown University; Noelle Hill ’21, UNC School of the Arts; Jairus Cook ’22, UNC-Charlotte; and Davis Anderson ’22, Wellesley College.

Lia Prugh, Co-Director of College Counseling, explained that the questions Pruden posed to the panelists were submitted by junior and senior advisory groups in advance of the panel.

“We were blown away by how many questions the students generated and the thoughtfulness of the questions they wanted to ask,” she said. “So many of them wanted to know about how to balance school work with being involved in activities on campus, and that makes sense given how well-rounded our students are as they balance many different things in the Upper School. Our students are curious, reflective and eager about the opportunities ahead of them in college.”

As students at colleges and universities of varying size, location and curricular focus, the panelists were able to lean on a range of experiences in sharing details about their college search and selection processes. They also offered insights into course schedules, roommates, time management and majors. Fesko, in a moment of levity that elicited laughter from both students and faculty in attendance, cautioned students that college admissions staff are sometimes inclined to oversell the benefits of their surrounding community in much the same way as Upper School history teacher Mark Laskowski proudly promotes his hometown of Rochester, New York.

For Pruden, the advice the panelists shared echoed much of what he sees in working with students today.

“I thought their comments about not being too concerned about having to arrive right away at a major were very valuable. From my perspective, too much of the college application process forces students to make decisions they may not be ready for; but to hear the kids say that there is time and that they are going to leave college, regardless of their major, with the skills to get a job and work was great,” he said. “They also did a good job of making clear that there was no one right way to approach the admissions process. For some, Early Decision worked best, while for others Regular Decision gave them a bunch of good options. All of that was, I thought, very valuable for the current students to hear.”

Bill Pruden, at lectern, addresses the student panel on stage

College Counselor Bill Pruden, at left, moderates the panel as juniors and seniors look on.

As proud alumni of the school, the panelists said they were excited to return to campus and support their fellow Ravens.

“I was overjoyed to visit campus in early January,” Toback said. “It truly made my heart happy to see a post-COVID Ravenscroft with as much life and energy as the Ravenscroft I left in 2021. I am optimistic that Ravenscroft and its community will continue to play an integral part of students’ lives just as it did for me.”

Cook agreed. “I really enjoyed coming back to Ravenscroft to share my college advice with the juniors and seniors. It felt rewarding to be able to share my experiences and lessons learned, having just finished the application process myself,” he said.

“Watching the college panel every year in Upper School, I hoped that I would be able to return one day and share my experience with current students, and it was a privilege to do so this January,” Campbell said. “The perspective of someone who has been in your shoes is the perfect complement to those provided by your teachers, college counselor, and family and friends; I hope I was able to provide candid, practical advice.

“I’m still charting my path through college every day,” she added, “and it was important to me to share with current students not just what I’ve learned thus far but also that it’s okay not to have it all figured out!”

Co-Director of College Counseling Sean Kennedy noted that the panelists held tremendous clout simply because of who they are.

“Students increasingly consume news, advice and opinions from peers through social media,” he said, “so to hear thoughtful, informed experiences directly from current college students who once sat in the same theater is invaluable.”