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Members of community share ‘balance and excellence’ stories

What do playing the violin, running, climbing Mt. Everest, debating, swimming, and playing football have in common? The answer is: not much, other than that they are all examples of activities students at Westminster participate in while trying to stay “balanced” and achieve excellence at the same time.

Several of these students have shared their understanding of what it means to be balanced, or how balance can be achieved, in a series of devotional assemblies in the high school. In previous years, series topics have been “Teaching across America” (09-’10), and “This I Believe” (’10-11). This year the Campus Corps, the group that plans assemblies, decided to organize a series of assemblies focusing on how to achieve excellence and balance in students’ lives.

“We felt like the ‘This I Believe’ series planted a seed of increased focus on individuals in our own community,” said Dean of Girls, Frances Fondren, who sponsors the Campus Corps. “From there, I think the topics turned to subjects that are “in the air” at Westminster. We focused on stress level and balance. We’re a community of type A personalities, and so sometimes we feel as though those two driving forces come into friction: how do we excel at something while maintaining health and balance?”

The group, which meets on Wednesday mornings in the Peer Leadership room, thought hard about what speakers they wanted to bring in for the students

The assemblies have since featured four students, one teacher, and one faculty parent. In the first assembly on Jan. 10, seniors Laura Pereira and Willy Xiao talked about how they balance their lives while still managing to achieve excellence in their extracurricular pursuits. Xiao discussed how he balances his life with his demanding schedule of varsity debate. Pereira then discussed how she keeps up with school and friends all while training extensively for violin.

“I thought the speeches were very relevant to our school,” said senior Joe Cullen. “A lot of people are in the same boat of stress and having a lot of activities, and I think they helped relay the message that you can have balance in your life”.

On Jan. 20, a distinguished guest speaker weighed in on the same issues. Bill Curry, who is English teacher Kristin Hunter’s father, played in the NFL before starting a successful career coaching college football. He has coached at the University of Alabama and Georgia Tech, and is the current head coach at Georgia State.

“[Curry] did a great job of talking about big picture ideas through the lens of football,” said Fondren. “He was very easy to listen to and he gave great stories to show his points. In English class we always tell our students to show, don’t tell, and I think that he did a great job of showing what he was talking about.”

Curry’s message revolved around the values of hard work and tolerance. The speech was met with a standing ovation from the entire audience. At one point, he took off his pair of sunglasses to show the idea of how we all get caught up in the idea of looking “cool.”

The latest balance assembly featured boys’ cross country coach, Joe Tribble and juniors Sara McGahan and Jamie Christy. McGahan, an active mountain climber, shared her experiences of training and climbing Mount Everest at the end of her sophomore year. McGahan had to balance training not only with school, but also with music, sports, and friends.

“I was really excited when Ms. Fondren asked me to speak in the assembly,” said McGahan. “I was a little nervous because getting up in front of the whole high school is a really nerve-wracking thing to do, but I’m glad I was able to do it.”

Christy discussed how balance in her life means “doing well in school, and in the pool.” Accomplishing this means she has to balance school with hours of training and hectic swim meet schedules. Both students talked about how they had to learn how to manage their time and make sacrifices when necessary to achieve their goals.

“Don’t do everything,” reflected Christy, who is aiming for the Olympic trials in June. “ I know a lot of people around here want to get everything done, but choose a couple of things that you’re really good at and commit to that. It’s about committing to excellence instead of trying to spread yourself too thin.”

Tribble, who led the boys cross country team to a state championship for the 21st time this past fall, offered a different perspective to the students, suggesting that sacrificing balance in some areas of life is necessary to achieve greatness in any one thing.

“Part of my inspiration came from my daughter [Grace Tribble, ‘11], who’s a freshman at university now,” said Tribble. “She says [college] is easy compared to what she did here–so easy it’s boring”

All three assemblies have been well received by students, and the Campus Corps is excited about the success of the series.

“For me, success of a series is creating conversation,” said Fondren. “It’s not just about informing–informing is great, but getting people to think and react and have conversation is better.

In that respect, the assembly was a success. Not only did the assemblies inform people in our school about others in their community, but they also pushed people to think about balance and excellence in different ways.”

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