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Emma Miller ’12

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Emma attended the Ivy League school Columbia University to study liberal arts.Emma Miller attended Waterford from Grade 6 through Grade 12 and is now an undergraduate student at Columbia University.

How was the transition to college?
My Waterford friends and I had predominantly good experiences with the transition. Orientation week is not fun, but it went really well. I was nervous about the change from Sandy, Utah to Manhattan but that was actually seamless. I am definitely at the school that is right for me and I wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t gone to Waterford. If I had gone to the local public high school, I wouldn’t have had the amazing college counselors that I had here at Waterford, I wouldn’t have had the same classes, and I wouldn’t have been quite as motivated. At Waterford, you are surrounded by people who are high achievers. At Waterford you can be taking four Advanced Placement classes at the same time, but all your friends are too, so its not crazy to shoot for the moon.

Why was the transition so seamless?
Part of it was my personality and the personality of Columbia. That match-up was perfect. The reason I found my perfect school, was Sari Raucher, my college counselor. She is amazing. I knew where I wanted to go, and I found the school that was the right fit for me. Not just a school that looked good on paper or in theory. Academically, Waterford prepares you for college. I think that is a given. My classes right now are very difficult, and I don’t think I would be doing well if not for the classes I took at Waterford to prepare me. The surprise to me was how the Waterford community prepared me for my Columbia community. My time at Waterford helped me learn to be independent, which served me very well when I got to college.

Was there a certain moment or a certain aspect about your time here at Waterford that put you on this trajectory?
Well, there were lots of things. My math teachers here were incredible. Ms. Rands and Mr. Brennan helped teach me that I can do hard things. I learned that if I didn’t understand something that I could work hard and figure it out.

We talk a lot about Waterford’s mission to create a love of learning. Was that true for you?
Definitely. In fact, in comparing my high school experience to that of the people around me at Columbia it was very different. A lot of them went to these schools that were like factories that churned out Ivy acceptance letters, so they got to Columbia and they knew how to work, and they were prepared, but they are already burned out. I think I am enjoying my experience a lot more. I get excited to go to class, and I am excited about my reading material, because I know how to dig into it and how to talk about it. I enjoy learning. That is fulfilling to me.

Waterford is described as academically rigorous. How does your experience compare to your classmates.
All of my classmates went to schools that were rigorous. I think it is important that Waterford is hard academically. I know how to study. Of course, if it is unreasonably difficult for you, then maybe you are not in the right place, but high school needs to be hard, because college is hard.

Is there anything you miss about Waterford?
I do miss the relationships I had with my teachers here. At Columbia, it is possible to create relationships with your professors, but it is a lot harder. You are one of hundreds of students. I really missed my Waterford math teachers. I missed Mr. Brennan so much when I was taking Calculus last year. My Waterford teachers were always available to me. Every single teacher here does an amazing job in their role of educator, but also they were so much more to me. They were mentors and cheerleaders and neighbors and friends. I miss that dynamic the most.

Is there a moment you can remember when a faculty member went above and beyond the call of duty to help you or to inspire a passion in you?
There were so many moments like that. Our performing arts and art teachers here at Waterford go way beyond what is required. I participated in theater for a couple of years and I was in photo for all four years of high school. I also was in debate for a couple of years. These teachers put in so many hours, and they really want to see you succeed. Most high school kids are not creating professional pieces of work that change the world, but Waterford teachers treat their students as if they are fully capable of that. They treat every student like their accomplishments are incredibly important.

One of the unique things about Waterford is the opportunity to try all kinds of things, from athletics to art. Can you talk about your experience?
At Waterford the variety of things you can try is amazing. It is actually kind of overwhelming because there are so many options. You can be on the debate team and in the choir and on the lacrosse team. When you make commitments to teams or extracurriculars, they require time and effort, but the coaches and teachers understand that there is more to your life than that one thing so they work with you and help you to do it all.

Talk about diversity at Waterford.
Well, the diversity at Waterford is a lot different than the diversity at Columbia. At Columbia you can walk down the street and hear nine different languages being spoken. But at Waterford, you have a lot of strong, unique personalities interacting very respectfully with one another. I think at Waterford you feel less pressure to fall into a certain stereotype or a clique because there aren’t the quintessential groups. The athletes also play the cello or sing in the choir.

What do you hope to do after Columbia?
I have no idea! Maybe that is the one pitfall of loving learning. It is hard to specialize. Coming from Waterford where I had the opportunity to do ten different things at once, it is hard to choose. I have a lot of options.

Any final thoughts?
I am just really grateful for the people here who shaped me as a person. Not just the teachers who shaped me as a student or the coaches who shaped me as a debater, but the people here in the Waterford community. I am really, really grateful I had the opportunity to go to Waterford.