Kate Cavanaugh '10

How did Berwick Academy prepare you for college?
The two biggest academic obstacles that I have seen my peers struggle with in their transition to college are writing and time management. I learned how to properly research, take notes, and plan out long-term assignments during my junior year, which has proven invaluable in college. I could already write at the college level by the time I graduated from Berwick, and so I bypassed introductory English courses. 

The busy schedule that I maintained for all four years of high school (and the Berwick Academy planners that I used to organize that schedule) taught me how to budget my time. When I got to college I was amazed that I had so much free time and equally amazed that so many people around me had no idea how to use their time wisely.

Socially, the smallness of Berwick classes and of the community in general, proved to be an advantage in ways I did not expect. I was comfortable speaking in front of my peers, whether in a discussion or a presentation format, because I was accustomed to contributing to class discussions and to giving speeches in front of assembly. I had no trouble forming bonds with professors immediately. My relationships with teachers and the School had always extended beyond the classroom, so I was quick to approach professors with questions and to visit them during their office hours.

Who was the best teacher/coach you had Berwick Academy? Why?
There are several Berwick teachers who stand out as integral parts of my academic and personal development. If I can only elaborate on one as “the best,” though, I have to talk about Mr. Fletcher. My first Fletcher experience was in American Studies during my junior year. From his position at the head of the table, Mr. Fletcher captivated me with his telling of the American narrative. I found myself equally riveted by his analysis of the signing of the Declaration, slavery in America, American Gothic, the 1920’s flapper, Elvis, Bob Dylan, and everything in between. I left class each day feeling as though I had learned something worth knowing. I signed up for both of Mr. Fletcher’s senior electives, and I would have regardless of the subject matter.

Over the course of those two years, Mr. Fletcher became a mentor and a friend to me. During a time when I was mostly focused on getting into college, he inspired me to learn for the sake of learning rather than for the grades. He challenged me to become a stronger leader among my peers, a more informed citizen, and just a better person in general. I always sat up a little straighter in Mr. Fletcher’s class and chose a seat close to him at the table. I think that subconsciously I wanted just a little of his wisdom to rub off on me. I like to think that it did.
What is the best class you took at Berwick Academy? Why?
During my junior year of high school I chose not to take the conventional US History or AP US History track like most of my friends, but instead signed up for American Studies. American Studies was designed as a two-in-one kind of course. Mr. Fletcher taught the American history portion of the class and Mr. Kasprzak the American literature portion.
The year that I took American Studies was the first time those two teachers had worked together, and so the class had an experimental feel from the beginning. We analyzed paintings and photographs, sometimes spending an entire class on just a few works. When we read the autobiography of Ben Franklin, we were assigned the task of drafting a list of virtues of what we considered the most important virtues just like Franklin did. We argued and debated but ultimately produced a list to be proud of. A more solitary and reflective assignment was to write our own autobiographies, which we later bound into a book.

On the last day of class we all said our thank you’s, but when the bell rang no one moved. American Studies pushed me as a student because our coverage of the material demanded deeper thought. The bond of our small class and the interactive nature of our discussions challenged me simultaneously to teach my peers and to learn from them. We all lingered around the table after that last class because we didn’t want it to be over quite yet.

How did Berwick Academy help you with the college process and with finding a college that was the right fit for you?
The college preparatory environment motivated me to do a lot of the college research on my own. By the time I had my first college counseling meeting I already knew that I wanted to attend a small liberal arts school so that I could continue the type of balanced, student-centered education that I had received at Berwick. I made use of all of the usual college counseling resources that Berwick has to offer, like essay workshops. What stands out about the college application process at Berwick is that the counselors and other faculty guided me but knew me well enough to support my ultimate decision.
In October of my senior year, I left for a long weekend of college revisits thinking that I was going to apply for early decision to a particular school. When I arrived on the campus I was not as in love with it as I had been the first time. The buildings were still beautiful, but my interactions with the admissions office and with my interviewer left me questioning the atmosphere. In the brochure, everything still looked right, but suddenly I had an unshakable feeling that I did not belong there.

The next school that I revisited during that weekend was Skidmore College. I spent two hours just walking around the campus looking at the students and eavesdropping on their conversations. In some sort of college epiphany, I realized that this could be my school.

The following week I made an appointment with Mr. Smith, my college counselor, the Dean of Students, and someone who understood both my academic achievements and my personality. I told him that I had changed my mind. I still wanted to apply via early decision but to a different school. He raised his eyebrows at me and asked me to explain. I must have sounded crazy telling him that it was just “a vibe” but that I was entirely sure that I wanted to go to Skidmore.

Mr. Smith didn’t make me feel like I was crazy. He was surprised, but not argumentative. We discussed my reasoning, and he later called my parents to talk with them about my change of heart. I could not be happier at Skidmore. I am so thankful that Berwick offered me a network of faculty and advisors who knew me well enough to trust my instincts and my final decision.

What is the best thing about Berwick Academy?
No high school experience is perfect. Teenage years can be fun and formative, but they also come with the hurdles and challenges of transition. When the time came to don the cap and gown on graduation day, I was ready for a new start.

What speaks volumes about Berwick Academy though is that I will always come back. I have a few best friends from Berwick, one of whom I shared an apartment with this past summer, and they have all been my friends since sixth grade. I am still in touch with a handful of teachers, and whenever I go back to visit campus, there are always several more who make time for a hug and a quick chat.

When I arrived at Berwick at the age of eleven, I was so shy that I got butterflies when I raised my hand to speak in class. Two years later I was elected president of the middle school. I graduated as the president of my senior class and as a student representative on the Honor Committee. Berwick brought me out of my shell and shaped me into the kind of friend and student I am now. It was a community in which I learned to speak up, to share ideas, to befriend easily, and to forgive quickly.

There’s something about Berwick that is hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand. All I can say is that now that I have some distance from the high school experience, I realize how much of my identity I owe to Berwick. My time within that community helped to shape me into someone that I’m happy to be, and that, for me, is the best part about Berwick Academy.
Berwick Academy, situated on an 80-acre campus just over one hour north of Boston, serves 600 students, Pre-Kindergarten through grade 12, from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Deeply committed to its mission of promoting virtue and useful knowledge, Berwick Academy empowers students to be creative and bold. Berwick strives to graduate alumni who shape their own learning, take risks, ask thoughtful questions, and come to understand and celebrate their authentic selves. Founded in 1791 and rooted in a tradition of college preparation, our culture of innovation prepares students for a complex and dynamic world.