This We Believe

By Samantha Hersh ’15 and Tristan Peltenburg ’13

This fall the senior class wrote and presented to the community This I Believe speeches. This was a new project initiated by English and Humanities teacher Nancy Henderson, based on a pre-existing project, described thus:

This I Believe is an international organization engaging people in writing and sharing essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives. Over 100,000 of these essays, written by people from all walks of life, are archived here on our website, heard on public radio, chronicled through our books, and featured in weekly podcasts. The project is based on the popular 1950’s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow.” (

From this website, the seniors either read or listened to a number of essays. They then embarked on their own essay-writing journeys and eventually presented these to the school community over the course of two Wednesday afternoon F block periods—a time in the school’s schedule reserved for council meetings, advisories, or special presentations. Samantha Hersh ’14 interviewed seniors Waverley Engelman, Kellie Rainville, Fangzhou (Heidi) Zhu, and Zoe Neeley.

“My idea actually came from a backup college essay idea, which was to write about my name and how it’s a unique name,” explained Waverley. “‘Wave’— which is like the ocean— but also ‘waver’ which is to be unsteady and weak, and I don’t consider myself to be those things. Through my senior project research about women’s health and feminism, I thought I’d combine the idea into a speech about names and what my name has meant to me.”

Kellie Rainville’s speech was about complaining, and she said she “sort of wrote down when it’s okay to complain and what things it’s okay to complain about.” She got her idea in Humanities class when her peers were complaining about something and she thought, “There are far more important things we could be talking about.” Instead of voicing her feelings to the individuals concerned, she wrote a spot-on, hilarious speech communicating this to the entire school.

Fangzhou (Heidi) Zhu spoke about traveling because, she said, it is one of the things she believes to be important in life. “This has been a really amazing experience for me, because it was fairly early in the year so I wasn’t very comfortable about my English, but it turned out well. It was really fun, and the audience was very nice and not judgmental, which I think is really cool.”

Zoe Neeley,  who wrote about her relationship with her mom and how she got into lifeguarding, recalled being very nervous when reading her essay to the entire school. “We did the speech a series of times, to four people in the class who helped us through the process,” she said.  “Then we had to present our speeches to the whole class, and that got me all freaked out again.” After doing this a couple of times, though, the seniors finally were ready to present their excellent speeches to the wider school community.

Nancy Henderson hopes these speeches will become an Academy tradition. It is a great  project, one that not only forces students to take a close look at themselves and truly consider their own beliefs, but also serves to educate the entire Academy community.