fbpx Sean Davis | Adrienne Harrison | Phillips Exeter Academy

Sean Davis and Adrienne Harrison, Admissions interviewers

Year of Graduation: 
1992 and 1997

"It is a great privilege when I have the opportunity to interview someone who is incredibly enthusiastic about the possibility of going to Exeter.”

When Sean Davis ’92 returned to campus for his 25th reunion in May, he attended Harkness classes and reconnected with classmates. He also caught up with Jonathan Lee ’17 from Highland Beach, Florida, whom he had last seen when he interviewed Lee for admission to Exeter.

For Davis — class agent, reunion organizer, and current class vice president — volunteering to help Exeter meet off-campus interview demands is just one more way of staying connected to the Academy. Admissions representatives conduct some 700 interviews between October and February each year, sharing first-hand information with applicants and providing the Admissions Committee with interview notes and feedback.

The desire to learn

“What I’m looking for [in candidates] is that intangible — unbridled enthusiasm,” says Davis. It was just that kind of enthusiasm that brought him to Exeter from Buenos Aires. His debate coach gave him a book on U.S. boarding schools and from there, he says, there was no turning back. Today, Davis is based in Jupiter, Florida. He does development work for the Salvation Army and has teaching commitments and a consulting practice on the side. During interviews, he says, “It quickly becomes apparent which kids are hungry for Exeter. Jonathan had that spark — the desire to learn.”

“What I’m looking for is that intangible — unbridled enthusiasm.”

After meeting Lee in 2013 Davis wrote, “It is really a great privilege when I have the opportunity to interview someone who is incredibly enthusiastic about the possibility of going to Exeter.” He cited Lee’s eighth-grade class schedule, which included taking advanced math classes, water polo and music lessons at other area schools because he had outstripped the offerings at his own middle school.

Megi Topalli ’18 and Adrienne Harrison ’97.

Admissions representatives conduct one-on-one meetings in or near their hometowns, and those in major cities sometimes assemble in groups to meet families and conduct interviews. Others, like Adrienne Harrison ’97, conduct interviews by video conference. Harrison lives and runs a legal consultancy firm in the Netherlands. “Being an admissions representative … keeps me involved with the Academy,” she says. “And, until I have amassed a certain amount of wealth, the best asset I have to give back is time and information.”

Advice between generations

Back in Amsterdam after her 20th reunion (for which she was committee chair), Harrison hosted a newly graduated Exonian who was traveling around Europe. And, during her reunion, she squeezed in a visit with Megi Topalli ’18, of Tirana, Albania, whom Harrison interviewed and recommended for admission: “I try not to look at candidates and see myself … but I saw in Megi a lot of me, and I recognized that her confidence and drive could lead her to feel embarrassed at encountering a challenge. I remember telling her that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, and to not wait until it is too late.” Harrison says it was rewarding to hear that when they met recently, Megi mentioned that advice and said she had taken it to heart.

As for Jonathan Lee, he will head to Brown University following a summer internship at Massachusetts General Hospital studying stem-cell therapies for cancer. He remains grateful to Davis for predicting his future: “When I was interviewing, he told me that at Exeter, I would be surrounded by students who were motivated and inspirational, and I would want to emulate what they’re doing. He was right.”