Alex Leo, Class of 2019's student body president, was also known as the @burgerchild. An affectionate social media moniker for his ability to find connection through one of America's favorites – the burger.
Alex is now attending Duke University and was invited to speak at TEDxDuke. Watch his talk, "Any Good Burgers Lately?" here where Alex makes a defense for the burger being the amazing and beautiful connection that can bring us together. Additionally, Ann McCoy, Director of the Waterford Fund and Alumni Relations, found herself in North Carolina this Winter and reached out to Alex. Read their interview below:
As taken from an interview with Alex Leo ’19 in December 2019:
Ann McCoy: When did you come to Waterford, and how did you and your family choose Waterford as your school?
Alex Leo: I arrived at Waterford in 2011, fresh from the east coast and dreading the idea of attending a school so far away from home. We chose Waterford because it provided an education similar to the one I received at a private New Jersey day school. We found that our values aligned and that the teachers were capable of meaningfully imparting knowledge upon children and had the power to change perspectives and lives for the better.
AM: What has been the most meaningful impact that Waterford has had on you? Are there things you learned at Waterford that have stuck with you in your life?
AL: Waterford taught me how to embrace myself as the individual I truly was – enthusiastic, and passionate about food like no one else. I was given the opportunity to connect with my peers and teachers in a profound and invigorating way, spreading my love for burgers with everyone I spoke to. I could be “the burger guy” in AP Literature, Chemistry, Statistics, and beyond. Being able to be myself was something I wasn’t able to do anywhere else, and with such a nurturing environment around me, I felt capable of embracing my identity and achieving in all my classes. Because of the help I received in times of struggle, I felt more confident and capable of accomplishing difficult goals.
AM: What passions did you find at Waterford that you may not have discovered elsewhere?
AL: It’s a bit odd to be defined by a sandwich, but the community at Waterford allowed me to embrace the fact that I had an unparalleled affinity for burgers. I found them to be a universal means of connection, and a great way to appeal to a large number of people easily. I brought them up as icebreakers, to reconnect with friends I haven’t spoken to in a while, and to be a bit more personable with my teachers.
AM: Did you have a favorite teacher or more than one? Why? Which teachers had the most influence on you, and why?
AL: It’s hard to pick a few! If there are three that I would need to pick, it’d be Dr. Davis, Dr. Osipovitch, and Mrs. Woller. All three of them were not only excellent at teaching their respective subjects but also willing to help in times of difficulty so that I could better comprehend subjects that I struggled to understand. Dr. Davis helped me strengthen my capabilities in writing essays while simultaneously allowing me to discuss classic hip-hop with a scholar of the genre, Dr. O helped me grapple with stoichiometry and gave me the opportunity to discuss food with a true gastronome, and Mrs. Woller gave me the confidence and tools needed to persevere through Calculus, and the mindset needed to overcome even the most difficult dilemmas with grit and determination.
AM: How did Waterford prepare you for college and life beyond?
AL: The Waterford experience didn’t come without difficulty – there were many instances that I questioned my own potential and that I felt incapacitated. It was at these times that my teachers came to my aid, encouraging me to power through and find the resolve within me to push through dilemmas and eventually succeed. It was this process that most prepared me for college. I exited Waterford with the idea that I was capable of accomplishing arduous tasks, but only if I had the resolve to do so. I found that resolve in my Waterford education.
AM: Any words to live by?
AL: “Spread Love: It’s the Brooklyn Way”
AM: When you think of your Waterford experience, what are the three words that first come to mind?
AL: Rigorous – It’s hard for many students. You’re asked to do many difficult things, but this allows you to grow both personally and intellectually.
Elaborate – The Waterford experience is designed with the student in mind. Every pupil is treated with equal respect and is given the same expectation that they will work their hardest to achieve their personal goals. If the student takes advantage, they’ll find that the environment around them not only encourages but also expects them to find their niche and pursue it to the fullest extent that they can.
Nurturing – A growth mindset is crucial to your success here. Your teachers and peers will help to foster it, and it will allow you to become a better, more intelligent, and more accomplished individual.
AM: How would your Waterford friends have described you when you were in school?
AL: Calm, eccentric, compassionate, and patient.
AM: What is your favorite memory of your time at Waterford?
AL: I found myself becoming a pop-up chef of sorts for my yearbook class after every deadline we met. I would bring in a portable griddle into our small classroom in Mr. Bromley’s room to make grilled cheeses for the entire staff to celebrate hitting one of our benchmarks. The smell of butter permeated the air, an audible “wow” happened every now and then, and there was a general happiness among us all as we indulged in these delicious muenster-and-sourdough sandwiches. I miss being the grilled cheese guy almost as much as I miss Waterford itself.
AM: Do you have advice for Waterford's graduates?
AL: Keep in touch with your classmates – the friends that you make in college will slowly appear more important than those you made in high school. Don’t forget about the people that were beside you as you made it through Waterford!
February 2, 2022
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