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Reflections On Westwood
College Essay written by Sami Schwendeman, The Westwood School Class of 2003, NYU graduate 2011
I’m a Montessori kid, born and raised. I stacked the pink tower, counted on the thousand bead chain, and walked down the halls of my school with my hands behind my back until third grade. I started memorizing poems at the age of six, learned long division in second grade, performed Shakespeare from fourth through eighth grade, and graduated eighth grade with a whopping three other people. Needless to say, my elementary and middle school experience wasn’t exactly what anyone would call stereotypical.
I attended The Westwood Montessori School, later to become simply The Westwood School, from the first through the eighth grade. I started first grade with two of the three people I later graduated with, all of whom know me better than I know myself. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that I find myself a senior in high school, and still reminiscing about the ‘good ol’ days’ at Westwood. I still go back to visit at least once a week without fail. I guess it’s the amazing sense of community I feel the instant I walk through the doors of Westwood. Think about it, where else can you find a fifth grader walking down the halls with their best friend, who happens to be a seventh grader? Not many places, and that’s what makes Westwood so special. All the social stereotypes that appear in middle school and hang around for the rest of our lives, seem to disappear within the hallways of Westwood. No one cares what brand of clothes you are wearing or what color your skin is. No one considers the fact that their best friend may be three years younger than them, and in a completely different social class. None of that matters, and it’s what makes Westwood such a welcoming and unique place.
It never ceases to amaze me how each time I walk down the tiny hallway that I walked down every day for so many years, I still feel welcome at Westwood. The majority of the teachers taught me at one point, and the rest of them know me from my days as a student. I look forward to visiting the principal’s office now to give her the update on high school. My best friend’s mom works in the office, and sometimes I’ll just drop by to say, “Hi.”
Each time I walk into the warm arms of Westwood, I feel like I am coming home. And I guess that’s what Westwood is to me, my home away from home: my safe haven. It’s where I know every little secret, I recognize every face, I can openly be myself, and I can always find something that reminds me of all the good times I had at Westwood. And knowing that I can credit those memories to my Westwood family gives the school a very special place in my heart. After all, Westwood is not only the place where I learned more than how to multiply and diagram sentences; it is the place where I learned about myself. I grew up at Westwood, and Westwood will forever be a part of me.
So, I may be just that girl who came from the school with only four people in her graduating class. However, this girl knows that what she got at Westwood was something special and unlike any other middle school experience and it is something that she is lucky to have been a part of. And she knows that not only will Westwood always have a place in her heart, but that Westwood will always keep its doors open for her. And that is something she wouldn’t give up for all of the money in the world.
Speech presented by Meghan Mahaney, She is a 2011 graduate of St. Louis University
I remember my first day at Westwood vividly. The year was 1999 and I was entering the 5th grade. I walked into the classroom full of strangers; a shy and petrified nine-year-old girl dressed in a pair of purple Winnie the Pooh overalls. I sat down at a table by myself. It wasn’t long before I was approached by a loud and boisterous 4thgrader dressed in fingertip-length khaki shorts. Her name was Daniela Acosta and, despite my shy demeanor, she became an instant friend.
Although I barely said a word that day, I recall quietly observing my classmates, noting that they vaguely resembled a larger version of the Brady Bunch, or some other related group of individuals, famous for their ability to get along. I thought happily to myself that this was a family and a community I was glad to become a part of.
Fast forward a few years to May 2003 and my 8th grade graduation and you would find a talkative, inquisitive, and confident young woman in the place of the shy, purple overall-wearing 5th grader. As Ms. Butler wrote of me in the book I received for graduation, “You have blossomed into such a confident person. You have become a leader and are able to state your ideas and principles clearly. You cannot be swayed from your convictions and that will make you a rare gem in this world.” And that is what Westwood gave to me–the nurturing environment and freedom to explore who I am–that allowed me to become the person I am today.
Rather than focus on simply transmitting knowledge, my teachers gave me the liberty to experience and learn by doing tasks that engaged my whole personality. It instilled in me a natural joy of learning that helped me succeed in high school. Most significantly, it gave me courage to confront any fear I may encounter. I am proud of my years at Westwood, of the strangers who quickly accepted me as family, of the fond memories I created with peers; and, I am confident in knowing that wherever I go in the future I will always have the support of my family at Westwood. My years at Westwood shaped my character and provided me with the foundation I built on in high school. In a few days time I will be a high school graduate and, though my time as a Westwood student ended years ago, I will always be a part of the community here.
Approaching this milestone in my life, I often find myself looking back with nostalgia on the memories I created here. I mean, honestly, where else could you recite Shakespeare at a time when other kids your age are weaning themselves off of Dr. Seuss, have your entire middle school class fit at one picnic table for lunch, or have Spanish class in the back of a pick-up truck with your energetic guitar-playing Spanish teacher?
With these memories in tow, and the confidence to pursue my dreams and goals in life, I am ready to begin a new chapter in my life 1442.98 miles away from Westwood in Rochester, New York. But, watch out Sami, because I’m only 334.56 miles from you.
So thank you to Ms. Butler and to all the amazing teachers and the staff here for giving us students the tools to succeed in life. And congratulations to the Westwood class of 2007. I’m sure you’ve made just as amazing memories as I did as a student and I would advise you not to be sad that your time here is coming to an end, but happy that it happened. I could try to give you a lot of advice that many of you will forget so, instead, I find it appropriate to end with Shakespeare, “Above all else-to thine own self be true.
Speech presented by Lara Kakish, Ursuline Academy graduate 2011 and freshman at the University of Texas at Austin
There are three things that Westwood has promised to provide each student with and now, graduating 8th grade, I know I have been provided with as well. The first being character, followed by community, and, last but not least, academic excellence.
Thinking back on the past 11 years I have been a student here, there are some things that I never thought I would be able to do. For example, I know for a fact that without the help of my amazing teachers, I would never have had the courage to pretend to be a man in a Shakespearean production, or explain the process of how a Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell works in front of a panel of engineers.
Most of the people I am in class with, I have known since my first day here. We have grown up with each other. Westwood is a school, but could also be defined as a place where a huge family comes together to learn and to help each other exceed their personal expectations. This community has made me feel safe, confident, and has given me the opportunity to make some extraordinary friends.
Academic Excellence. Even though we all gripe about the homework we receive, in the end, it’s all worth it. I can only begin to tell you how great it feels to tour a sophomore science class, and understand exactly what they are talking about. Although I am anxious about high school, I feel secure about the academics Westwood has provided me with, and am ready to read Beowulf for the second time.
When I talk about how Westwood has made me the person I am today, the Westwood I am referring to is Ms. Butler, and all of my teachers. Thank you Ms. Butler for putting up with me when I was three years old, crying my eyes out, in Mrs. Sherill’s preschool class, and for guiding me every single day. And thank you to all of my incredible teachers who have given me the tools to excel in the future.
Westwood has given me the confidence to be myself, regardless of the situation. The people I have met here, and the experiences I have had, have shaped and molded me to be the person I am today. Thank you Westwood, for a remarkable 11 years.
Latest Wildcat News From Facebook
“School administration has gone all out over the past couple of years to provide a great athletic program for its students. A parent volunteer has handled the preschool and elementary grades most notably getting Westwood students involved with Marathon Kids. The school emphasizes lifetime fitness. By Middle School and High School students can participate in volleyball, flag football, soccer, swim and track and field. But again, most importantly, students participate in ALP – Adventure Leadership Programs. Students attend overnight trips that include scuba diving, mountain biking, surfing, canoeing and rock climbing. These are the types of activities that build student confidence, respect for the outdoor environment and encourage lifelong fitness. My children have only had wonderful athletic experiences at Westwood!” — K. Lockhart