“These interactions remind me of who I want to be as a person.”
”It really adds color to my life!” lower Grace Gray says about her involvement in several Exeter Student Service Organization clubs. Grace started with ESSO in the fall of her prep year, when one of her cross-country teammates invited her to a meeting of Gal Pals, through which female ESSO volunteers meet bi-weekly with local special needs women. “I just went along, mainly to be with my running friends,” Grace recalls. She had no idea what role she would play at ESSO or at Gal Pals, nor did she guess at what role the organization would play in her life.
Since then, Grace has forged close bonds with several Gal Pals and connected with one woman in particular. “We’ve gotten really close,” Grace says. “I love to hear what’s going on with her and can talk with her about my own life.”
Grace is also active in Reading Buddies, another ESSO group; its members go to a local elementary school to read each week with third graders. “I loved it so much!” Grace says with a smile. She has made close friends with her fellow Exonian readers and also connected with the students. Occasionally, Grace will see a Reading Buddy getting an ice cream at Stillwell’s in downtown Exeter; knowing local children enhances her trips to Exeter’s stores and restaurants and deepens her connection to the wider community.
A regular at Gal Pals and Reading Buddies, Grace found that her involvement with ESSO “blossomed from there.” A running friend encouraged her to “jump outside of my comfort zone” and attend a meeting of ESSO’s Global Health Initiatives. In that organization, Grace works with her fellow Exonians to understand and raise awareness of various global and local health threats, such as Lyme disease. She participates in Support Our Troops, traveling with other Exonians to the local Air Force base to welcome home or send off soldiers. Grace also makes time for the Giving Thanks Club, where Exonians express their appreciation to donors to The Exeter Fund. She is the children’s coordinator for the ESSO Board, an e-proctor, and a student leader of the Trash to Treasure program, which aims to minimize waste for the end-of-year clean-out.
As a middle school student in Richmond, Virginia, Grace wasn’t involved in community service activities. She says, “I didn’t have much exposure, so it was a lack of opportunities and a lack of knowing my passions.”
In her first two years at Exeter, Grace has also discovered passions in the classroom, unleashed by the Harkness approach. “In middle school, I didn’t like history,” Grace reflects. “We read textbooks and were tested on what we learned from them.” At Exeter, Grace has found the Harkness table fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of the subject. She loved her course in Classical Rome during winter of prep year and Absolutism and the Revolution during her lower winter. “We form our own ideas,” she says. “I get to explore the way I think about issues and also connect with others at the Harkness table.”
Grace is a member of the varsity cross-country, winter track and spring track teams. She specializes in the longer races, competing in the one-mile, two-mile and 3K distances. She also makes time to participate in the Dean’s Council, where she is one of 15 students selected to work with Exeter’s deans to strengthen the school and its programs.
But her ESSO work remains central to her life. As she has discovered, giving to the community results in a gift to herself. Of her connections with Gal Pals and Reading Buddies, Grace says, “These interactions remind me of who I want to be as a person.”