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Letting Her Life Speak: Clara Shapiro '23

Letting Her Life Speak: Clara Shapiro '23

Despite being an enthusiastic thespian and former TORCH Clerk (Student Body President), Clara Shapiro ’23 is a self-described introvert. She felt nervous about the transition from Sandy Spring Friends School (SSFS)—“where I felt comfortable and cozy”—to Northwestern University. But she surprised herself. “I handled the first week of college much better than I thought I would,” she reports. She credits SSFS with nurturing a sense of bravery and self-worth, skills she needed to make the leap: “I graduated feeling valued, smart, and prepared.”  

Two short months into her freshman year, the likely theater/psychology double major reflects on her SSFS experiences—the college counseling process, Quiz Bowl memories, and the Quaker values that keep her grounded. 

I love that at SSFS, I didn’t have to choose between the arts and other interests. As someone who loves the arts, I’m also super academic and love the more traditional subjects, like math (my favorite class was AP Statistics with Leslie McDonald). When I was looking at colleges, I wanted to preserve that freedom to explore: How can I find a school that is both artistically fulfilling and academically challenging?

I saw how supported my older brother Jasper ’20 was by College Counseling. He wanted to study supply chain logistics. Chris [Miller P ’28, Director of College Counseling] was such an asset to him with his specific interests. And Chris was there for me, too. I could drop into his office anytime or email whenever, even just to say “I’m panicking—I need you to remind me that this is going to be OK.”  I also talked to Scott [Carneal P ’09, ’11, ’17, Upper School English Teacher] a lot about college. He went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and introduced me to the intersection of theater and psychology. Chris was also a great liaison between me and my parents. College is the first big decision you make as an adult, and it's sometimes murky about whose decision it is. He helped me to realize this isn’t the end-all, be-all of my life. College does not define who you are or what you ultimately do.

People think I’m very extroverted but it’s not true. I get anxious meeting new people. But because of SSFS, I’m not scared to put myself out there and talk to people who are different from me. I’ve noticed friends at Northwestern who struggle just to write an email to a professor. Someone at my recent choir audition said to me, “You carry yourself so comfortably. Where did you learn to communicate with adults like that?” I answered: “SSFS.”

I see the value of Quakerism, especially now that I’m at college. I’ve attended Quaker schools since Kindergarten (between my mom, who also attended a Quaker high school, my brother, and me, we have 28 years of Quaker education!) And I’ve learned how to be in tune with myself, how to sit in silence and think. In college, there's not a lot of silence, so I’m able to recognize when I periodically need to sit in my room alone for a while. I feel comfortable being alone and I use that time to recharge; Meeting for Worship taught me how to do that. At SSFS, you get a close-knit community without anyone pushing religion on you and telling you what to think. Instead, they teach you how to think.

My college admissions essay was about growing up, through the lens of SSFS’ Quiz Bowl Team. Sometimes I still read it—not in an “I’m so great” sort of way, but I’ll read it on a bad day because it reminds me of who I am and what’s most important to me. It reminds me that “I’m not good at this right now, but I’m going to work my butt off until I am.” Being a girl in Quiz Bowl is crazy because almost every team is all boys. I would hear other schools’ teams scoffing at me and I would say to myself, “That’s not the Sandy Spring way!” One of my proudest moments was beating two all-boys teams who clearly weren’t taking us seriously. 

SSFS Advisory feels like a second family. The advisors go above and beyond; they aren’t just there to make sure you graduate, like in other schools. I loved that we were put in diverse groups with people I wouldn’t normally talk to, and we grew together. Leslie, my advisor from Grades 10 through 12, got my drama. She was the rational side of my brain and nurtured my love of math.

Northwestern is a great place to not know exactly what you want to do. The theater program lets you try things out—for instance, I’m taking a technical production class this semester (I always acted in the shows at SSFS even though I love the tech side, too). I would love to work in the arts in some capacity. I love to perform, and I also love to teach (both my parents are professors). Or maybe I’ll become a clinical psychologist . . . 

I’m Letting My Life Speak by honoring everything SSFS taught me—sure, academically, but more so about being a human being. SSFS prepared me to do things that are hard, even scary. It taught me not to shy away from a challenge, that it’s okay to fail. Even though I’ve graduated,  I know I’m still part of the community, and they are always rooting for me. 

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