Excellence Without Limits

Students at Western Reserve Academy will now have more opportunities than ever to showcase their talents, now to an audience outside these fair halls amid a lawn’s wide sweep.

Recently, the External Opportunities for Student Distinction List was released by English Department member Samuel Douglas Ray and WRA administration. The list, which includes categories for all major subjects and more, provides students with a cumulative but not exhaustive directory of ways students can grow in their learning and distinguish themselves from their peers around the nation and the world.

This list includes the National Merit Scholarship Program and the Google Science Fair. Ray referred to such programs as “varsity academics.” He believes such opportunities provide ways to help students “refine their narratives, create a competitive edge, and stand out amongst a crowd of others.” He thinks it is important for students to showcase their potential outside of the WRA bubble because the world is larger than WRA. “Education is about growth,” he postulates, “and pursuing an articulated passion catalyzes growth.”

Charlie Kolodziej ’18 is one recent WRA success story through the Facing History and Ourselves Essay Contest. It may surprise you to learn that he did not even plan on turning in an essay until he got an email from, who else, Ray. Kolodziej spent three days over spring break writing and editing the essay, and once he found out he was in the top 15, all he was focused on was getting out the votes. “I wrote so many messages to people on Facebook saying “Yo, read my essay!” that my account actually shut me out of the messaging feature because it thought I was a bot,” he laughed. “I got the news that I won while doing homework in Open Door and it took a lot of self-control not to run around the shop in my excitement.” Kolodziej went on to say that winning the contest was a “confidence booster” and provided the validation he needed to see that writing was something he was good at. He also greatly appreciated the support shown to him by the WRA community and those outside it. “So many people, many complete strangers, contacted me to tell me my essay had a real impact on their lives of how they see the world and that, (not to sound too cheesy), was even better than actually winning the contest.”

Ray wants students to realize that writing and other schoolwork has value greater than a grade. When in 10th grade, his English teacher told him to “write as if for publication – always. Contribute to the scholarly community beyond yourself and me.” It changed his conception of audience.

If students are interested, Ray encourages them to sit down and have a conversation with him. “There’s really no risk here,” he says, “and there’s much to be gained in terms of self-knowledge, personal growth, and potential success in a field of interest.”

Thanks to Ray, WRA students have even more opportunities to succeed and improve themselves.

– Ellie Frato-Sweeney ’20

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