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April Ray Foster ’99

Thursday, September 1, 2016

After graduating fromStanford, April joined a biotech compan.yApril Ray Foster (Class of 1999) is a Waterford alumnae and a graduate from Stanford University in Human Biology. While attending Stanford, she did research in cognitive psychology, worked in the Emergency Room as pre-medical intern, competed with the triathlon team and was the financial chair for Stanford Habitat for Humanity. Upon graduation she worked in the bioscience industry as a genetic toxicologist and later studied infectious diseases for the U.S. Department of Defense. April resides in Palo Alto, California with her husband Scott and their three children.

[The following is excerpted from a talk April gave at Waterford several years ago]

It’s such a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak about the profound effect that Waterford has had on my life. Visiting the campus and seeing so many familiar faces here feels like coming home. Waterford was not just a place where I attended classes; it was a community of caring and inspiring individuals who helped raise me. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”. I was able to become part of the Waterford village because of the generosity of others who donated to the scholarship fund.

I first heard about Waterford from my neighbors who were in the Lower School at that time. I’d see them piling in and out of their minivan each day in their plaid kilts and khakis as I headed off to eighth grade. I attended the only public middle school in the greater area that offered the accelerated learning program that I’d been a part of in elementary school, and the classes were crowded to say the least. I remember sitting in history class with about 40 other students and finishing the week’s homework in advance. My teachers spent the majority of class time keeping order and were happy that I didn’t cause any problems. School seemed like a game and I thought I had it all figured out.

Thankfully, my mother was not satisfied with the quality of education I was receiving. She worked long hours as a nurse to support our family, and paying full tuition at a private school was out of the question. When she found out that Waterford could offer me a partial and eventually a full scholarship, she saw an opportunity that was not to be missed. I’m so grateful to her for being such an advocate for my education and for encouraging me to give Waterford a try.

For me, entering Waterford as a new student was like seeing in Technicolor when I’d only existed in shades of gray. The coursework was more interesting, the teachers more approachable and accomplished, and my peers were talented and diverse. I was instantly struck with a huge dilemma — how could I possibly experience all that Waterford had to offer in only four years?

All of us can relate to the challenge of having to choose between several good things, but signing up for classes and activities at Waterford each quarter felt like only getting one pass at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Waterford offers a wide breadth of subjects to study. I took courses in photography, learned how to rock climb, and studied Latin-American literature and AP Biology, just to name a few. But Waterford also provided the opportunity for immense depth of learning in each subject. As I focused on my musical interests, for example, I was able to be a part of the orchestra, two string quartets, the mixed chorus, and to continue private violin lessons. I also studied AP music theory, worked in the recording studio at the Waterford Institute, and visited Juilliard on a Waterford music trip to New York. Exceptional teachers, facilities, and equipment allowed me to pursue my interests to the highest degree. The breadth and depth of study in Waterford’s curriculum taught me that there is joy in sampling a multitude of things, but also deeper fulfillment in focusing on a few choice interests. This lesson was one of the most important ones I learned in Upper school and has helped me lead a more balanced and disciplined life.

At Waterford I also learned to dive into material and dissect it, question assumptions, and look for multiple meanings. As a new freshman I was shocked at finding out that the books I received in each class were mine to keep, and that I was supposed to mark them up! I still have my Norton Anthology of English Literature from Mr. Ralphs’ English class. The margins are littered with notes, questions, and epiphanies, and even though my dog has since eaten the entire cover, I can’t bear to throw it away.

My teachers were passionate about what they taught. They weren’t just reading from a textbook manual for 9 months of the year—they were fully immersed in their subjects. Mr. Bromley didn’t just tell us about predator-prey relationships, he had a dead zoo in his classroom to show us. Teachers traveled to other countries to see ancient artifacts, spent time after school organizing student outings and activities, and somehow found free time to study new subjects. They brought a wealth of knowledge to the classroom and taught creatively and from personal experience. As a student, I knew that they were thinking about how best to teach us long after the bell rang at the end of the day. This passion for learning was infectious -— I couldn’t get enough. The mutual respect between Waterford teachers and students was also very apparent to me. Our teachers recognized that students learned material best when we had to teach it to each other, and they created opportunities for this often. Emulating the example of great teachers around us, we students rose to the challenge.

I’ll never know what my life would be like if I hadn’t attended Waterford, but I DO know what my life is BECAUSE of Waterford. The impact of my Waterford education is far-reaching and has continued long past commencement day. I see this impact both on a daily basis and in the foundation that my life and sense of self is built upon.

After graduating from Stanford I joined a biotech company and performed research on new compounds and infectious diseases for a variety of clients. The company had more business than they could handle, and I was immediately given several clients and experiments to conduct. Oh, and if I messed up a single detail, thousands of dollars would go to waste and potentially life-saving drugs might never make it to the FDA. I remember being a little terrified during the first few months on the job, but the multitasking skills I had developed during my Waterford years helped me manage my clients’ expectations and perform successful experiments. As a typical Waterford student I had learned to juggle a variety of tasks and usually showed up for school lugging a heavy backpack, sports bag, and musical instrument. The ability to handle multiple experiments while maintaining the integrity of my work helped me rise quickly within the company.

I see the lasting effects of my Waterford education in my everyday life. But more important than being able to recall interesting facts and fond memories, more important than the skills I acquired and the languages I learned, is the sense of purpose and self that Waterford helped shape. As a Waterford student I learned to articulate my opinions and listen respectfully to the opinions of others. The confidence I gained through forming my own views and in gaining a greater knowledge of myself is immeasurable.

After experiencing the fullness of learning that Waterford has to offer, I will always be hungry to learn more. I know the joy of having an active mind, the satisfaction after you struggle to create something beautiful and finally succeed, and especially the pleasure of sharing knowledge and in learning from others.

It’s been almost ten years since I graduated, and the years I spent at Waterford were some of the most formative in my life. As I have grown older, my appreciation for my time there has deepened. Now that I have young children and a mortgage I realize just what a luxury it was to be able to spend all day learning and pursuing my interests. The job of a student seems pretty attractive at the moment, and sometimes I wish I could slip back into high school for a day and just soak it all in. But where much is given much is required, and I have a tremendous responsibility to use my education for the greatest good.

Now, more than ever, the world needs young people who are preparing to be our future leaders. The world needs young people of accomplishment who recognize that such accomplishment carries with it the moral responsibility to improve the lives of others. A Waterford education is thus two-fold: It is four years of excellent preparation for college, but more significantly, it is the basis for a lifetime of enrichment.

I arrived at Waterford a bright-eyed freshman, eager to learn but also desperately needing a place where I felt I belonged. I found a place where I was supported by teachers and peers who grew to be like family. When I left four years later, it was only in a physical sense. I will never truly leave Waterford, because it is too much a part of me.