By Juliette Gaggini ’20
As the school year comes to an end, the Gunnery community begins its celebrations sending off the 88 seniors and seven post graduates that make up the Gunnery Class of 2020. In the spirit of the occasion, The Highlander has decided to reach out to members of the senior class and the rest of the community to reflect on the positive impact the Class of 2020 has left on the school and remember some of the class’s best attributes and moments over their four years at The Gunnery.
Starting way back in the fall of 2016, the four-year Seniors will go down in history for a couple big events. The four-year Senior girls will forever be the first group of girls to live in Graham House. In September of 2016, the entire school gathered as the ribbon was cut in front of Graham House by former Head of School Susan Graham.
Another thing the class will go down in the books for was the finding of an old version of the Stray Shot, a cannonball that, per Gunnery tradition, students hide somewhere for future students to uncover and hide again. Sometimes, however, these Stray Shots are hidden too well: in the fall of 2016, a group of five freshman students found a long lost Stray Shot in the river by our campus. That particular Stray Shot had been hidden and presumed lost for many years!
From the beginning, the Senior class has been made up of students from all across the world who joined the community through each stage of high school. Whether a four, three, two, or one-year Senior, the Class of 2020 looks back on their time at The Gunnery grateful for the opportunities the school provided and proud of their accomplishments.
Four-year senior Hannah Richards ‘20 looks back on her time at The Gunnery and is happy to have spent her four years of high school as a member of the community. She said, “The best aspect of being a four-year Senior has been getting to see how the school has developed and changed with each coming year. As the student body goes through changes, our community has only gotten stronger. I have also been so lucky to have such a tight knit group of four-year Seniors that I have made countless memories with. I will never forget all of the sleepovers in the dorm, Lake Placid memories, my novice year of rowing, and many more memories from Freshman year!”
The Class of 2020 includes seven Post Graduates. Although different from the four, three, or two-year Senior experience, the PGs still have the same opportunity to have a great year with their classmates, one in which they can learn and grow as they prepare to head off to college. When PG Dylan Donnery ‘20 was asked about his year at The Gunnery, he said, “My experience at The Gunnery was definitely life changing. The friends I made this year are ones that I will have for the rest of my life. It has prepared me for college in the fact that I am living away from home and that I had to manage my time. I am thankful for everything The Gunnery has done for me.”
When it comes to academics, the Senior class was also noteworthy. This year, five Seniors took on the challenge of doing Gunn Scholar projects. These students spent the entire year working on a paper about a topic of choice relating to The Gunnery. They spent a lot of time studying the history of the school in the archives, and at the end of the year their projects are published.
Four-year senior Gwen Brown ‘20 focused her project on the use of technology at The Gunnery. When looking back over what she learned through her experience being a Gunn Scholar, Gwen said, “My project has been focused on technology’s integration into campus both socially and academically. When tech first joined campus, it wasn’t particularly popular (the first computer club only had three members who were also the founders). But I got to interview one of those presidents and the way he talked about the small club was inspiring. They were all super passionate about their niche, and I think those ideals have really only become a standard nowadays.
“Besides that, technology has been a pretty dividing force at The Gunnery except for right now. People are using Zoom and Facetime to reconnect (sometimes with people they were not close to before). In a time when our parents used to tell us ‘Get off your phone,’ getting off our devices now can almost seem like social isolation.
“In past years, Gunn Scholars told us it was the hardest course at the Gunnery, but it is definitely difficult to believe them when it seems like they have an entire year for the project — it is very difficult though. But the experience is also very uniting. I fostered new/better friendships with Andrew and Liyin to the extent that I even dedicated my project to them. I don’t know how I am supposed to be productive without those two; Andrew always helped me relax in stressful situations, but Alex was always there to remind me I couldn’t just slack off. I think the Gunn Scholar year, despite developing educational maturity, also is a chance to find friendships in some of the most unexpected places (such as the archives).”
Athletics play a large part in many students’ experiences at The Gunnery, as it is required for students to have an afternoon co-curricular each term. This encourages students to try sports that they never thought they would and to develop skills and interests in more than one activity. Playing multiple sports also allows for students to make new friends and develop relationships in multiple teams throughout the year. Senior Corinne Bolding ‘20 is grateful to have had such great athletic opportunities during her two years at the school. When asked about her experience in athletics at The Gunnery, she said, “The opportunity to play multiple sports at Gunnery has made me a more well rounded athlete. It has given me exposure to many different coaching styles and teammates that I feel will ultimately prepare me to find success in my college sport. My favorite part about Gunnery athletics is the bond with my teammates. The team dynamics are the best I’ve ever been a part of. I’m so lucky to have had amazing teammates that I could learn from and that would push me to get better everyday!”
The Gunnery’s Athletic Director, Mr. Marich, is proud of the positive influence this year’s Seniors have had on the athletic programs. When asked about the Class of 2020’s impact in athletics over the years, Mr. Marich said, “The Senior class has left their mark on the athletic program during their time at The Gunnery. On the fields, water, ice, or courts, they have represented us with class and character in all of their endeavors. The senior class established a new tradition with the pep rally that the returning classes can build on. During their time here the seniors have competed at the highest level. Whether at the Head of the Charles, winning New England Championships, or perhaps, more importantly, The Gunnery / Canterbury Cup. The school spirit and enthusiasm they have shown for our programs has established a solid foundation for the classes to come.”
Music has also played a large role over the years for the Senior class. Charles DeVos ‘20, has been a member of the Rock Band for all four of his years at The Gunnery. Looking over his time incorporating music to his Gunnery experience, he said, “Being in the bands throughout the years has made my Gunnery experience so much better. It’s been the place where I’ve been able to truly express myself and where I’ve had the most fun. My favorite memory has to be the holiday concert, the atmosphere at it was just unreal.”
Along with the class’s musical contributions, the Class of 2020 has played a large role in the success of the theatre program. Two-year Senior, Alex Zhang ‘20 wrote her Gunn Scholar project on the theatre program at The Gunnery. When asked about her project and her experience participating in the arts, she said, “Over the years, we have not only been constantly keeping up with what is popular, like redoing plays like Teahouse of The August Moon and Skipper Next to God shortly after their debuts on Broadway, but also made several attempts to provoke discussions around the campus, such as 2018’s Rent and 2020’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.
“Along with the efforts to be thought-provoking, The Gunnery showed utmost encouragement in student engagement. We have welcomed every single student that auditions, whatever their resume looks like, and there has always been a part for everyone, full-timers or part-timers. The considerable participation rate goes side by side with the impacts of its educational efforts. When more students take part in rehearsals, no matter how many, the more that they get to see the backstory of each and every character, and in turn come to a greater understanding of what values are represented by each and every line as well as gesture.
“As a two-year senior, I would never come so far if it wasn’t for the directors’ step-by-step blocking in my first Fall Play You Can’t Take It With You, or the support of all my fellow cast and crew when I feel lost in a role. Though I was always a “diva” on stage for all four of my productions, I learned to distinguish the different diva-ness among the four women, by analyzing the slightest detail about the way they talk, the way they walk, or the way that they throw a tantrum. By portraying four cranky featuring roles, I’ve come to learn that there is a loveable side in every person as well as resonate with Mrs. Dayton’s claim that “there are no small roles, there are only small actors.
“I think the experience goes with our ongoing conversation about identity too. Only were you able to look deeply into one’s experience and their story, could you see their values and find how much you could connect with them soulfully regardless of their skin colors, age, gender, appearance, etc. That is precisely why I decided to complete my senior year by researching about Identity in The Gunnery Theater, because it is where we could most freely explore who are we and why we are. (that’s the title of my project btw, ‘Identity in the Gunnery Theater: Who are we and Why we are’).”
The Class of 2020 is full of talented artists, from the performing arts to the visual arts. Two-year Senior Joyce McFarland ‘20 is just one example of the fantastic artists in the class. Looking back over her experience doing art at The Gunnery, she said, “The Gunnery Arts program, specifically Mr. Richards, has impacted my life in ways I never thought it could. Art has always been a passion of mine and an outlet for my emotions. Mr. Richards not only allowed me to continue to have creative freedom with my art, but he also pushed me out of my comfort zone. In the beginning I would often get frustrated and want to just draw what I was good at, and stay in my comfort zone. I was pushed to keep trying and learned to fail a few times. But with that, I created some amazing pieces that I never thought I could. Over the last two years I grew so much in my art, and grew as an individual. I learned about my capabilities, and how much a mindset can limit you. Thank you Gunnery Art, and Thank you Mr. Richards for all you have taught me.”
Dorm life also plays a huge role in the success of the class. The Senior Residential Advisors have done a wonderful job uniting their dorms and the grade as a whole. Four-year Senior Dillon Ziolkowski ‘20 was the RA of Gunn dorm this year. When asked about his experience as an RA this past year, he said, “Being the RA of Gunn dorm has provided me with a sense of leadership and has made me feel more a part of the community. It has also allowed me to work with the dorm parents more closely and have a more dynamic relationship with them. I have definitely matured a lot over the past four years and the Gunnery has provided a stable and caring environment for that to happen. Seeing my friends and fellow classmates develop and become responsible young adults has also been a standup part of my time at the Gunnery as it goes to show what the Gunnery can do. The friendships that I have formed during my time at the Gunnery are by far one of the most valuable takeaways that I could have asked for.”
Jolie Kaplan ‘20, three-year Senior and RA of Van Sinderin, was pleased with how close the girls in her dorm became this year. She said, “The Senior girls in Van bonded right at the beginning of the year – a bond that extends to today’s times. As an RA it was so nice to witness these great relationships. There really isn’t one memory that stands out throughout the year. Instead there are a multitude of memories like in the fall during quad baseball and hanging out on hammocks. Or in the winter going sledding and celebrating Secret Snowflake. Or simply at night, ordering food together and laughing in the common room. Van really had a terrific group of girls this year!”
Although boarding life is an unparalleled experience at The Gunnery, day students are no less a part of the school community! Four-year senior and day-student Harry Harwood ‘20 had an awesome experience as a day-student, as he took advantage of all the opportunities available to him. When asked about his thoughts on being a day student, he said, “The Gunnery is the best school to be a day student because of our small size and friendly community. It is truly hard to tell a day student from a boarder because of how integrated they are in everyday life at school. Sharing a room with a boarding student has always been a useful perk, as I’ve used it to store my books and clothes as well as a hangout place in the dorm. On top of being able to keep stuff at school, having a room also has given me a place to sleepover after dances or during snow storms. Sleeping over at school has always been a blast and I’m really glad I took advantage of it as a day student. At the Gunnery, I would personally say being a day student is the best of both worlds, as I’ve always been able to be a part of the fun events on campus, while still being able to go home after dinner and study hall.”
For three-year senior Kelly Hill ‘20, The Gunnery was such a special place to her that she decided to become a boarding-student for her Senior year after being a day student for two years. Looking back on her decision, Kelly said, “I started boarding at The Gunnery this year because after an amazing two years as a day student my family and I made the decision that boarding senior year would be the best way for me to prepare for college and get the most out of my senior year. I was a bit nervous at first because even though I was only 15 minutes from home, this was still my first time living away from my parents and siblings. For the first few weeks going without seeing them all week was hard, but the girls in Van were so supportive and comforting and made me feel at home right away. Living in the dorm has taught me how to manage my time better and get closer with other people that I don’t have classes or play sports with. This year has been my favorite year at Gunnery and I have had so much fun with all my Van girls!”
The Class of 2020 is made up of a great diversity of students, with both domestic and international boarding students as well as day students. Four-year senior and international student Charlotte Xu ‘20 looked back on her years at The Gunnery and said, “My experience as a four-year international border at The Gunnery has been nothing but incredible! It was such a pleasure to be able to live with so many amazing friends and share all the unforgettable stories and moments with them! Faculty and students have always been keen on integrating the international community into the bigger Gunn community and have worked hard to make sure the Gunnery becomes my second home abroad. I could not be more grateful for my years being at Gunn as this school allowed me to not only meet wonderful people in a foreign country but also teach me to be independent and responsible in many ways.”
This year’s senior class also includes multiple faculty kids who had the luxury of growing up on campus. For four-year senior and faculty kid, Isabel Martin ‘20, The Gunnery has an even greater sense of the word home. When asked about growing up within the community, Isabel said, “What I don’t think people realize when they walk around campus reliving their memories outside on the quad or in the library, along with those memories for me come thirteen years of childhood memories. When I see the school house patio area I think of the time that me and my brother and a few other kids spent ages trying to rescue his bike from a wasp’s nest, but I also think of standing in the doorway waiting to get enough courage to walk through the rain up to the science building, because I forgot a raincoat. Throughout my years at The Gunnery I have been able to live the lives of the students who I looked up to when I was younger and I am now so excited to graduate with all the people who I have grown with for the past four years.”
The Gunnery Class of 2020 have really stepped up as leaders and advocates for the school, with 32 seniors as tour guides this year. Director of the Tour Guide and Head Tour Guide program, Mr. Cantlay, was ecstatic with the work put into the program by the senior class. Mr. Cantlay said, “To the senior Tour Guides and Head Tour Guides of the Class of 2020: thank you for your relentless effort. I got to see you mature and grow from freshmen to who you are now. What an amazing journey and body of work you have to look back on. In my mind, your legacy on the program will be your positive energy and your love of the school. What could be better than that? Thank you and take the lessons you learned forward into your college and professional careers.”
This year, seven seniors took on the role of prefect. With a focus on increasing school spirit and bridging the gap between students and faculty, the Prefects worked hard to bring the community together and to help the Senior class leave a positive impact on the community for years to come. The prefects are excited to pass the torch to the next group and cannot wait to see all that they accomplish next year within the community.
Three-year senior and Head Prefect, Andrew Byrne-King ‘20 looks back on the class’s impact on the community with pride about what it has accomplished. He said, “The Class of 2020 has evolved a lot over its four years. I for one was not a part of it until Sophomore year. Over its time, however, I think a common theme has been kindness and friendship, as there has always been a sense of comradery that was special within our grade. This feeling spread throughout the community, as our class members did. Our grade, still having an identity within itself, spread out into every grade as leaders, athletes, and friends. Not just our leaders and athletes, but everyone, found a place in the community beyond our class. We helped shape a culture of kindness and friendship by doing as we preached. Our leaders, from The Prefects, Head Tour Guides, RAs, and more, helped carry on this message in larger ways, while still sticking to their grade’s underlying goals. As a member of the class myself, I hope I can speak for everyone in saying that we hope this will be our legacy. That we were kind, that we were your friends, that we had an impact that was profound on campus. Or, we can just be the corona class, I guess we can’t always control our legacies!”
The Gunnery’s Dean of Students, Dr. Matthews, has been at The Gunnery for the entire four years of this senior class. Getting to work closely with students in classes, as a coach, in her advisor group, and on campus in general, Dr. Matthews is proud of the growth she has seen within the senior class. She said, “I have been honored to watch the Class of 2020 learn and grow together over the last four years. This class has a true commitment to each other and to making the world a better place (in the tradition of Frederick Gunn). This class is graduating in a truly historic moment and I have every confidence that when they return to campus, they will amaze us with all they have accomplished.”
Although the school year did not end as anyone had hoped, the Class of 2020 kept a positive mindset and finished the year strong. The senior class is excited for all the end of year events, despite them being online, and they all hope to get to celebrate together on campus in August.
Photos courtesy of The Gunnery and the 2020 Senior Class.