Amara Nwuneli

Year of Graduation: 

"Here at Exeter, you have a voice at the table, and you get to push changes and drive your own learning."

When Amara Nwuneli ’25 heard about Exeter’s upcoming mainstage theater production of She Kills Monsters in the fall of 2021, the newly arrived prep didn’t hesitate to audition. Growing up in Nigeria, she acted extensively, making an appearance on the big screen in the crime drama Coming From Insanity (2019) when she was only 10 years old, and later scoring a leading role in a traveling musical theater company.

Despite her experience, Nwuneli found performing with her fellow Exonians a refreshing change — and a new challenge. “I spent a lot of time back home acting, but the atmosphere was different because there were a lot of adults working in the show,” she says. “I have a bunch of friends in [She Kills Monsters], so it was more communal. Plus we got to learn how to fight with weapons —  I had this staff —  so that part was all so different.”

Combat training was just one of the ways Nwuneli and the rest of the cast prepared for their work in Qui Nguyen’s drama-comedy, which explores issues of family, grief and sexuality by way of an adventurous romp through an alternate world inspired by the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Playing Kelly/Kaliope Darkwalker, a grieving teenager who becomes a warrior elf in the D&D world, Nwuneli got to showcase both her acting and dancing talents, and even helped choreograph a key scene. “There was a dance battle, but I definitely asked if we could make it more,” Nwuneli recalls. “So we added more time and made it a bigger thing than it was in the original play.”  

Nwuneli has been dancing since starting ballet at the age of 6, and is a member of three dance groups at Exeter: afrobeat dance team Afro Shade, coed hip-hop dance group Imani and PRECISION, an all-female step group. She also plays the steel drums in the Global Rhythm Ensemble, though her instrument of choice is the guitar.

In addition to music, theater and dance, Nwuneli brings a background in climate activism to Exeter, having started a club at her school in Nigeria as well as an Instagram channel and website devoted to raising awareness of global warming among young people. “In Lagos, we don't have much natural wildlife, and the one forest we do have is profited off of,” she says. “I knew that global warming was a real problem there that no one talked about.” At Exeter, she’s a member of the Environmental Action Student Association (EASA) and during her prep fall took part in a beach clean-up in East Boston with other members of the Exeter Student Service Organization (ESSO).

Apart from her dorm, Amen Hall, Nwuneli can often be found in the Goel Center for Theater and Dance, doing homework in the theater’s red and gold-patterned seats or relaxing in the third-floor lounge and dressing room. She has particularly enjoyed her classes in biology at Exeter, as well as writing poetry with the Word Club. She’s currently playing JV basketball, and gearing up to compete at the state championships with her fellow members of PEA Mock Trial.

Having first learned of the Academy and its distinctive classroom environment from her cousin Solunna Ajene ’24, who arrived a year before her, Nwuneli found the adjustment to the Harkness method another welcome challenge. “In Nigeria, it's more just the teacher at that board speaking, and you write down everything you can,” she says. “Here at Exeter, you have a voice at the table, and you get to push changes and drive your own learning, which is really cool.”