Custom Class: post-landing-hero

For the second-consecutive year, a Rowland Hall student has taken home the grand prize in the middle school category of the McCarthey Family Foundation’s Lecture Series Essay Contest. Eighth grader Omar Alsolaiman won $1,500 for his cogent interpretation of a famous Walter Cronkite quote on how freedom of the press is the bedrock of democracy.

Omar entered the contest because he thought it would be fun, he said, and a good opportunity to learn more about the Constitution and our rights. In the process of crafting his submission, he discovered a lot about the topic and his own writing style. “I learned that I prefer writing a detailed outline that allows me to organize my thoughts and then practically copy and paste them into the final essay,” he said. “I also learned that I am often a writer who struggles to ‘cut the fat.’” But cut the fat, he did: Omar’s essay clocked in at 493 words, just under the competition’s 500-word limit. He was surprised, excited, and grateful, he said, to learn his hard work paid off with a win.

In addition to Omar’s win, seventh grader Aiden Gandhi and senior Kajal Ganesh landed finalist nods in their respective categories. Aiden was also a finalist last year.

In addition to Omar’s win, seventh grader Aiden Gandhi and senior Kajal Ganesh landed finalist nods in their respective categories. Aiden was also a finalist last year, when then-eighth-grader Arden Louchheim won. Read last year’s story.

The total number of contest submissions grew to 456 this year, up from 400 last year, and the number of middle school entries doubled. Foundation Trustee Philip G. McCarthey—also the vice chair of Rowland Hall’s Board of Trustees—complimented the quality of submissions. "The essays reflected an exceptionally well-informed student population keenly aware of the challenges facing press freedom in our society today,” he said. 

Omar will be recognized during the November 9 McCarthey Family Foundation Lecture by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and presidential historian Jon Meacham. Rowland Hall hosts this popular annual event but that doesn’t factor into the contest: judges aren’t told essayists’ names or schools.

Below is Omar’s essay, unedited by Rowland Hall.

Views expressed in the following essay are those of the writer and don't necessarily represent those of Rowland Hall and its employees.


Essay Question for Utah Students in Grades Six Through Eight

“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” —Walter Cronkite

In an essay of no more than 500 words, (1) explain the meaning of this quote and (2) provide examples to support your explanation.

Winner

By Omar Alsolaiman, Rowland Hall eighth grader

We inherited our democratic government from people who believed that freedom of the press was valuable enough to be enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The American belief in this right dates all the way back to a time even before America in one of the most famous pre-colonial trials, the Zenger Trial. Peter Zenger, an immigrant in New York, published articles critical of the royal governor William Cosby. Cosby was so angered that he charged Zenger with libel and jailed him, a strategy that backfired when the public supported Zenger. The jury quickly freed him, establishing that in a democratic society, anything that could be proved could be published. 

History proves Walter Cronkite right; freedom of the press came before American democracy. But to truly understand his quote, we need to understand the two main reasons that freedom of the press is so essential to democracy. First, the power of the press can expand democracy. Secondly, democracy is about the ability of communities to make informed decisions according to what they want. Without a free press, the people can be kept in the dark about the issues that affect their communities.

Democracy is about the ability of communities to make informed decisions according to what they want. Without a free press, the people can be kept in the dark about the issues that affect their communities.—Omar Alsolaiman

Throughout American history, the press has been a tool for expanding the ability of people to participate in democracy, allowing the U.S. to become more democratic over time. David Graham Phillips was a muckraker, a term for journalists who exposed problems and advocated for solutions during the early 20th century. In The Treason of the Senate, he exposed the corruption of the United States Senate at the time which eventually led to the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, an amendment that established a popular election for senators. In this way, freedom of the press allowed for an expansion of democracy, handing more power to the people. The amendment made corruption more difficult since senators needed to rely on the support of many people, not just a few state legislators. 

It is not only national journalism that matters though. The communities we live in each have their own problems which can’t be solved without exposure through the press. In 2017, Rebecca Liebson, a student reporter at Stony Brook University broke the story that the administration would be cutting their budget, many different departments, and laying off over 20 professors from the school. The campus became outraged by this plan which would not have been exposed without Liebson. The administration attempted to scare her into silence. However, this only proves the power of the press. Stony Brook wanted to preserve its reputation while doing unpopular things, hiding the truth from the people who could punish it by leaving, not donating, or protesting. Democracies only work when people like Liebson do their civic duty to keep people informed about what goes on in their communities. Leaders always prefer their actions happen in the dark so that they can encounter no opposition, but as Justice Brandeis said, “sunlight . . . is the best disinfectant.”


Top photo: From left, seventh grader Aiden Gandhi, eighth grader Omar Alsolaiman, and senior Kajal Ganesh.

Student Voices

For Second Year in a Row, a Rowland Hall Middle Schooler Wins Statewide Essay Contest on First Amendment

For the second-consecutive year, a Rowland Hall student has taken home the grand prize in the middle school category of the McCarthey Family Foundation’s Lecture Series Essay Contest. Eighth grader Omar Alsolaiman won $1,500 for his cogent interpretation of a famous Walter Cronkite quote on how freedom of the press is the bedrock of democracy.

Omar entered the contest because he thought it would be fun, he said, and a good opportunity to learn more about the Constitution and our rights. In the process of crafting his submission, he discovered a lot about the topic and his own writing style. “I learned that I prefer writing a detailed outline that allows me to organize my thoughts and then practically copy and paste them into the final essay,” he said. “I also learned that I am often a writer who struggles to ‘cut the fat.’” But cut the fat, he did: Omar’s essay clocked in at 493 words, just under the competition’s 500-word limit. He was surprised, excited, and grateful, he said, to learn his hard work paid off with a win.

In addition to Omar’s win, seventh grader Aiden Gandhi and senior Kajal Ganesh landed finalist nods in their respective categories. Aiden was also a finalist last year.

In addition to Omar’s win, seventh grader Aiden Gandhi and senior Kajal Ganesh landed finalist nods in their respective categories. Aiden was also a finalist last year, when then-eighth-grader Arden Louchheim won. Read last year’s story.

The total number of contest submissions grew to 456 this year, up from 400 last year, and the number of middle school entries doubled. Foundation Trustee Philip G. McCarthey—also the vice chair of Rowland Hall’s Board of Trustees—complimented the quality of submissions. "The essays reflected an exceptionally well-informed student population keenly aware of the challenges facing press freedom in our society today,” he said. 

Omar will be recognized during the November 9 McCarthey Family Foundation Lecture by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and presidential historian Jon Meacham. Rowland Hall hosts this popular annual event but that doesn’t factor into the contest: judges aren’t told essayists’ names or schools.

Below is Omar’s essay, unedited by Rowland Hall.

Views expressed in the following essay are those of the writer and don't necessarily represent those of Rowland Hall and its employees.


Essay Question for Utah Students in Grades Six Through Eight

“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” —Walter Cronkite

In an essay of no more than 500 words, (1) explain the meaning of this quote and (2) provide examples to support your explanation.

Winner

By Omar Alsolaiman, Rowland Hall eighth grader

We inherited our democratic government from people who believed that freedom of the press was valuable enough to be enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The American belief in this right dates all the way back to a time even before America in one of the most famous pre-colonial trials, the Zenger Trial. Peter Zenger, an immigrant in New York, published articles critical of the royal governor William Cosby. Cosby was so angered that he charged Zenger with libel and jailed him, a strategy that backfired when the public supported Zenger. The jury quickly freed him, establishing that in a democratic society, anything that could be proved could be published. 

History proves Walter Cronkite right; freedom of the press came before American democracy. But to truly understand his quote, we need to understand the two main reasons that freedom of the press is so essential to democracy. First, the power of the press can expand democracy. Secondly, democracy is about the ability of communities to make informed decisions according to what they want. Without a free press, the people can be kept in the dark about the issues that affect their communities.

Democracy is about the ability of communities to make informed decisions according to what they want. Without a free press, the people can be kept in the dark about the issues that affect their communities.—Omar Alsolaiman

Throughout American history, the press has been a tool for expanding the ability of people to participate in democracy, allowing the U.S. to become more democratic over time. David Graham Phillips was a muckraker, a term for journalists who exposed problems and advocated for solutions during the early 20th century. In The Treason of the Senate, he exposed the corruption of the United States Senate at the time which eventually led to the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, an amendment that established a popular election for senators. In this way, freedom of the press allowed for an expansion of democracy, handing more power to the people. The amendment made corruption more difficult since senators needed to rely on the support of many people, not just a few state legislators. 

It is not only national journalism that matters though. The communities we live in each have their own problems which can’t be solved without exposure through the press. In 2017, Rebecca Liebson, a student reporter at Stony Brook University broke the story that the administration would be cutting their budget, many different departments, and laying off over 20 professors from the school. The campus became outraged by this plan which would not have been exposed without Liebson. The administration attempted to scare her into silence. However, this only proves the power of the press. Stony Brook wanted to preserve its reputation while doing unpopular things, hiding the truth from the people who could punish it by leaving, not donating, or protesting. Democracies only work when people like Liebson do their civic duty to keep people informed about what goes on in their communities. Leaders always prefer their actions happen in the dark so that they can encounter no opposition, but as Justice Brandeis said, “sunlight . . . is the best disinfectant.”


Top photo: From left, seventh grader Aiden Gandhi, eighth grader Omar Alsolaiman, and senior Kajal Ganesh.

Student Voices

Explore Our Most Recent Stories

Troy Price with the 2019–2020 All Mountain Rippers.

After a four-month delay caused by the global pandemic, the US Ski & Snowboard Intermountain Division (IMD) announced on September 22 their 2019–2020 season awards. We are thrilled to share that Rowmark Junior Program Director Troy Price was named IMD Official of the Year.

Rowmark Junior Program Director Troy Price

An already well-recognized coach (Troy was most recently named US Ski and Snowboard’s Development Coach of the Year in 2018), Troy’s career is marked by an exceptional commitment to his student-athletes and colleagues, as well as to the larger division—he is actively involved with IMD, running yearly officials’ clinics and, this month, completing studies to become a International Ski Federation (FIS) technical delegate, the senior alpine official at internationally scored events. With the completion of this certification, Troy has become the division’s first new FIS technical delegate in 25 years—a necessity for this area of the country.

“There is a desperate need for this certification in our division and region,” said Rowmark Program Director Todd Brickson, who also noted that Troy takes on both his IMD and Rowmark tasks “with tremendous passion and knowledge of our great sport.”

As someone who is enthusiastic about helping to improve the ski-racing experience for athletes not only in Utah, but throughout the West, Troy is honored to be recognized by his peers for his work—although he is quick to point out that he is one of many working toward this goal.

“All alpine officials play a critical role to ensure our athletes have a safe environment and to enforce the rules of our sport. Our division is full of great individuals willing to donate their time and expertise,” Troy said. “I have had the pleasure to follow the lead of many great officials that have guided me throughout my career. I now have the pleasure to share my experience with the next generation and some outstanding folks who volunteer their time throughout our division. I look forward to continuing my education and giving back to the sport for many years to come.”

In addition to Troy’s recognition, five Rowmark student-athletes were recognized by IMD:

The breadth of the awards, both academic and athletic, across all ski racing disciplines is a reflection of our Rowmark values of teamwork, balance, and determination.

  • Carter Louchheim ’20 was named the 2019–2020 season’s Alan Hayes Intermountain Scholar for his athletic and academic achievements.

  • Harry Hoffman ’23 earned the Bryce Astle Intermountain Cup Award for men’s overall, as well as Intermountain Cup Awards for men’s slalom (first place), men’s giant slalom (first place), and men’s super-G (second place).

  • Elisabeth Bocock ’23 earned the Bryce Astle Intermountain Cup Award for women’s overall, as well as Intermountain Cup Awards for women’s slalom (third place), women’s giant slalom (first place), and women’s super-G (second place).

  • Jack AbuHaidar ’22 earned an Intermountain Cup Award in men’s giant slalom (third place).

  • Dagny Brickson ’21 earned an Intermountain Cup Award in women’s downhill (second place).


“I'm so pleased to have so many Rowmark athletes receiving awards from our Intermountain Division,” said Troy. “Carter, Harry, Elisabeth, Jack, and Dagny all came through the Rowmark Junior Program. It is extremely rewarding to see them continue their love for the sport and their pursuit of excellence.”

Todd echoed Troy and said Rowmark is proud of its award winners. “The breadth of the awards, both academic and athletic, across all ski racing disciplines is a reflection of our Rowmark values of teamwork, balance, and determination.”


Banner photo: Troy Price, left, with coaches Megan Hanrahan and Jay Sawyer and some of the members of the Rowmark Junior 2019–2020 All-Mountain Rippers team.

Rowmark

Upper School girls soccer coach Colette Smith on the Steiner Campus fields.

Rowland Hall is thrilled to welcome Colette Smith to Winged Lion Athletics.

Rowland Hall girls soccer head coach Colette Smith.

Colette Smith

Colette joined Rowland Hall in summer 2020 as head coach of the Upper School girls soccer team, taking the reins from longtime coach Bobby Kennedy (BK, to players), who now teaches physical education and coaches girls soccer at Rowland Hall’s Middle School. With her impressive resume, Colette is an ideal successor to BK, who led the Winged Lions to three State Championship victories.

“Colette brings with her a wealth of soccer background, both as a decorated player and as a successful coach,” said Athletics Director Kendra Tomsic. “She has brought on board two equally qualified assistants, Annie Hawkins and Haylee Cacciacarne. Together, this dynamite staff—full of positive energy, enthusiasm, and love of the game—is inspiring our team to a very successful 2020 season.”

To help introduce Colette to the Rowland Hall community, we asked her to play a round of 20 questions. Her answers—lightly edited for style and context—appear below.


1. Welcome to Rowland Hall! This summer you joined our community as head coach of the Upper School girls soccer team. Why did you choose to come to Rowland Hall?

I applied for the job and after the first interview knew it was a special community. I wanted to be a part of something that I believed in, both on a soccer and community level.

2. Soccer has been a major part of your life. How did you first become interested in the sport?

I have four brothers that played. My dad also played soccer, and he and I would go to the park to play. It was the best because we’d just play. He didn’t coach or expect anything. I just followed him with the ball.

3. You’re not new to coaching. You previously assisted Davis High School to three state and two national championships, and you coached the Utah Royals FC Reserves to a runner-up spot in the Women's Premier Soccer League National Championship in their inaugural season. What’s the number-one thing you’ve learned about coaching (so far)?

It’s all about the players. I genuinely care for every player and respect their needs and feedback. My job is to help them be their best. That takes us understanding each other.

4. What do you think is the best thing about coaching at the high school level?

Being with the team almost every day. We are able to implement tactics and build off each game and practice. I also enjoy getting to know the girls. It is a rather quick season, but we spend so much time together and that makes it so much fun.

5. In addition to coaching, you have an impressive background as a player—you played for Brigham Young University, where you captained the team to two West Coast Conference Championships and an NCAA tournament run to the Elite Eight, and you played professionally for Real Salt Lake Women and Utah Royals FC. What moment from your own athletic career are you most proud of?

I am honestly just happy I got to play the game I love competitively for so long.

The girls have learned that they can do hard things. They are sacrificing to be able to play the sport they love. I am incredibly proud of them every day.

6. We’ve been hearing a lot about challenges in athletics this fall due to COVID-19, but do you think there are unique opportunities or benefits to this season?

The girls have learned that they can do hard things. They are sacrificing to be able to play the sport they love. I am incredibly proud of them every day.

7. Let’s take a moment to learn a little bit more about who you are off the field. What three words would you use to describe yourself when you’re off duty?

Mom, playful, adventurer.

8. Where’s your happy place?

Outdoors.

9. Where do you want to travel next? (You know, when air travel isn’t quite so scary.)

Greece.

The Rowland Hall girls soccer coaching team looks on at a September 2020 game.

Colette and her coaching staff look on as the Winged Lions play the Logan High School Grizzlies on August 27.

10. What’s your favorite way to unwind at the end of a busy day?

Reading books with my boys.

11. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Plums.

12. What book do you read over and over?

Atomic Habits by James Clear.

13. What was your favorite subject in high school?

Psychology.

14. What’s your family’s favorite thing to do on the weekend?

Mountain bike.

15. What’s one fun fact about you that you don’t often get to share?

I broke my jaw and had it wired shut.

16. Who’s your favorite soccer player of all time?

Mia Hamm.

17. Is there a sport you enjoy watching or playing besides soccer?

Spikeball and pickleball.

18. Who has been one of the biggest influences in your life?

My husband.

Every action you take is like a vote for the type of person you want to become.

19. To wrap things up, let’s talk a bit about your goals during your first season at Rowland Hall. We know that playing sports helps young adults build important life skills. What top life skills do you want to help build in your student-athletes this season?

Confidence in themselves and empathy for others.

20. What’s one piece of advice you have learned over your career that you want your players to keep in mind this year?

Every action you take is like a vote for the type of person you want to become.

Athletics

Rowland Hall alumna Charis Smith '12 on the campus of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.


At Rowland Hall’s September 4 all-school Convocation, alumna Charis Benjamin ’12 reminded students, “How you engage with others and interact with your peers matters.”

“We’re not only building our own confidence in our lives, but we also have an opportunity to help build the confidence of our peers,” she told them. “The gift that we give each other is the chance to interact with others and help each other be our best selves.”

We’re not only building our own confidence in our lives, but we also have an opportunity to help build the confidence of our peers.—Charis Benjamin ’12

As the 2020 alumni speaker for Convocation, Charis was asked to join other speakers—including Head of School Mick Gee, Chaplain Jeremy Innis, and Student Body President Maddy Frech—to reflect on the theme Welcome Everyone. She used this opportunity to think back on her nine years at Rowland Hall, weaving stories of her own experience into her speech to illustrate the power of relationship and spoken words in a learning community.

“Our interactions matter—we’re constantly learning from each other,” Charis said when asked about why she chose to focus her speech on peer-driven confidence-building. She wanted to show students of all ages that they have the power to encourage others simply by being a friend—something that everyone can relate to. “Building elements of confidence or using your words kindly is universal for young or older learners,” she said.

And because she knows that students often hear about people clashing over differences, she also wanted to use her experiences to encourage them to build space for others’ uniqueness—to embrace, rather than fear or avoid discussing, differences. “We have to spend time celebrating differences,” she said. Charis further noted that Rowland Hall’s size benefits kids who are getting comfortable with these skills: “At Rowland Hall, you get a chance to have a smaller group of peers. You can spend time asking unique questions to get to know the people around you.”

Charis knows firsthand the benefits of peer confidence-boosting—how it spreads beyond the individuals who feel safe and welcomed to classrooms, where students take risks and engage in deeper learning. This builds skills they then take into their adult lives. “How engaged you are in the classroom impacts how comfortable you feel to speak up,” she said. “The space that you spend a lot of time in helps cultivate how you move through the world.”

Charis’ experience illustrates just how far this confidence can take students—and how it prepares them to continue living with a community-minded focus. Since graduating from Rowland Hall, Charis has studied how to make individuals and communities healthier, first earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and society from Cornell University in 2016, then a master of public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2019. While earning those degrees, she also worked as a research assistant, a graduate PHASE intern, and a program administrator—opportunities that, she explained, helped her “really understand some of the big-picture issues” around public health. In August, Charis began the newest chapter of her journey, entering the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health as a first-year medical student.

Charis can readily call up memories of Upper School teachers who prepared her to grapple with real-world problems and to think beyond herself: In Doug Wortham’s French class, she learned how to be uncomfortable and to have empathy for others learning a new language. In Carolyn Hickman’s English class, she learned that reading comprehension skills go far beyond texts. And in Ryan Hoglund’s ethical learning class, she took part in life-changing group discussions around ethical dilemmas.

As a physician-in-training with a background in epidemiology during the time of COVID-19, Charis is confronted with challenging questions every day—but she stressed that she feels prepared to take them on, thanks in large part to the confidence she built at Rowland Hall, which she credits for true friendships and her first encounters with “big questions, and how we tackle some of the world’s biggest problems.” Charis can readily call up memories of Upper School teachers who prepared her to grapple with real-world problems and to think beyond herself: In Doug Wortham’s French class, she learned how to be uncomfortable and to have empathy for others learning a new language. In Carolyn Hickman’s English class, she learned that reading comprehension skills go far beyond texts—in her case, preparing her to ask the right questions to diagnose illnesses in patients (“Reading comprehension really is life comprehension,” she pointed out). And in Ryan Hoglund’s ethical learning class, she took part in life-changing group discussions around ethical dilemmas.

“Most prompts did not have one clear, correct answer—and that’s the point,” Charis said. “Getting comfortable with ambiguity at the high school age is important, because in life you’re going to have gray areas.” This is especially true in her line of work. “Right now with coronavirus we have a lot of questions,” she continued. “We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.” But being comfortable in the gray area keeps scientists like her moving forward, looking for ways to fight the pandemic as well as to protect communities—global examples of the kind of community-building that takes place daily at schools like Rowland Hall.

“Charis is a keen reminder that Rowland Hall graduates are community builders long after they leave this community,” said Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund. “Listening to Charis' inspiring speech, I hope we all can understand the importance of taking care of each other in a community and recognize how interdependent we really are. Her reminder that our sense of self-worth and confidence is co-created by our peers and mentors speaks to the importance of little moments when we can show greater patience, compassion, and curiosity to each other. Taking the time to see ourselves as caretakers for each other is critical to our own well-being and to the well-being of the communities we rely upon.”


Banner photo: Charis on the campus of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. As a first-year medical student, Charis is continuing on her journey to make individuals and communities healthier. Photo courtesy Charis Benjamin.

Alumni

Senior Ashlee Jackson performing at alum dance show INTERsect.

As the sun set on September 5, its golden light illuminated a masked dancer, casting long shadows that fell on audience members watching her from blankets and benches spaced six feet apart. The dancer’s arms and legs crossed and uncrossed, mimicking the freeway overpasses rising above the group that had gathered in this industrial area of downtown Salt Lake City. The sound of cars whirring overhead mixed with live music, all of it echoing off the area’s concrete columns and warehouses.

This alum-organized dance event, called INTERsect, was designed as a special collaboration between Rowland Hall performing arts students and alumnae dance artists. INTERsect came together after Sofia Gorder, Lincoln Street Campus director of arts and co-director of dance, had heard from several alums who were looking for a creative outlet during COVID-19 restrictions.

“There was a desperate outpour from students I hadn’t talked to in a long time, saying, ‘I want to create, I want to respond, I want to connect,’” Sofia said. Remembering an underground show she had attended in the industrial area located at 600 South 600 West, Sofia proposed that these alums, along with interested current students, use that same space for a physically distanced dance performance. She knew that this opportunity would not only help them feel connected during an uncertain time, but also help them process the emotions they were feeling due to the heavy news of 2020, from the ongoing fallout of the coronavirus pandemic to racial injustice around the country.

“It was a platform for artists to respond to the world around them,” Sofia explained.

Each artist was asked to choreograph a dance or build a performance art piece at home, to use minimal lighting to take advantage of shadows cast by sunset (and by construction lights, after the sun went down), and to wear a mask (a requirement for attendees as well; the event poster specified WYOM—wear your own mask). For alum and student dancers who had felt disconnected from their passion for months, the opportunity was therapeutic.

“Dance is a very important part of my life and I have missed collaborating with others and performing,” said Rowland Hall senior Katie Kern. “This project safely allowed me to connect with other artists and feel the joy of performing again after six months of missing out.”

In dance class, we always talk about how, compositionally, we take bits and pieces from each other. Each of us is a combination of our peers melded by our own style. In other words, all of the dancers from Rowland Hall are connected by an artistic link, even if we never physically danced in the same space.—Ashlee Jackson, class of 2021

INTERsect featured dances by current seniors Katie Kern and Ashlee Jackson, sophomore Mikel Lawlor, and seven alumnae: Laja Field ’08, Elissa Collins ’15, Sophia Diehl ’15, Eliza Kitchens ’16, MiaBella Brickey ’17, Adie Christiansen ’17, and Sydney Rabbitt ’18. The show also included the talents of Matt Jackson ’13—who provided live music with his father, Rowland Hall Jazz and Pop Band Director Bret Jackson—and Oliver Jin ’18, who designed the promotional poster and ran day-of tech. (Sofia also called out four alumnae—Sophia Cutrubus ’18, Grace Riter ’18, Cassidy Clark ’19, and Tori Kusukawa ’19—who were unable to perform due to scheduling or geography conflicts, but who were instrumental in building inspiration for the event.) The evening’s success was due to the enthusiastic collaboration between these students and alums, many of whom had never met before the event. Participants were quick to credit Sofia's ability to make connections among current and former dancers—a testament to the Rowland Hall faculty’s focus on building, and maintaining, meaningful relationships.

“We all have a connection through the education and guidance we gleaned from the one and only Sofia Gorder,” said alumna Laja Field. “The strength of this community is shown through generations of connections coming together.”

The dancers also discovered that, despite varying graduation years and styles, they were connected through a similar approach to dance, thanks to the years they spent in the Lincoln Street Campus studio studying under their esteemed instructor.

“Watching these dancers communicate through the medium of dance—while keeping traces of the same fundamental teachings of Sofia Gorder—has been beautiful to watch and amazing to be a part of,” said sophomore Mikel Lawlor. Senior Ashlee Jackson added, “In dance class, we always talk about how, compositionally, we take bits and pieces from each other. Each of us is a combination of our peers melded by our own style. In other words, all of the dancers from Rowland Hall are connected by an artistic link, even if we never physically danced in the same space.”

For Sofia, these connections, and the show they inspired, are reminders of how Rowland Hall is a place to find calm within chaos.

Sofia isn’t surprised to see dance act as a healing balm during chaotic times. Dance has the power to remind us of our collective humanity, she explained, and it is one way we make sense of life. Because of this, the dances coming out of the pandemic are some of the most creative, intelligent work she’s seen.

“I am so happy to see people coming back to the space of Rowland Hall to find connection and purpose,” she said. And Sofia isn’t surprised to see dance act as a healing balm during chaotic times. Dance has the power to remind us of our collective humanity, she explained, and it is one way we make sense of life. Because of this, the dances coming out of the pandemic are some of the most creative, intelligent work she’s seen. “It’s taken COVID, and being separate, to see why movement has such connecting power,” she said.

Laja, a professional dancer who has devoted her life to sharing the art form with others, echoed her former teacher: “It’s clear that most—I would argue all—people live through some kind of art. We seek out conduits of expression and portals that transcend us elsewhere,” she said. “The arts are the vessels that make us feel whole, allow us to laugh, to mourn, to speak our multilayered emotions that are sometimes difficult to articulate.”

And even, perhaps, to inspire change.

“In a time where COVID-19 has exposed the very pitfalls of our country, and technology has made history and the present of systemic racism an undeniable fact, it is only through art that I find my will to continue working, dreaming, and fighting for a better future to come,” Laja said.


Banner photo: Rowland Hall senior Ashlee Jackson performing in INTERsect. Photo courtesy Joel Long.

Alumni

You Belong at Rowland Hall