Capstone 2020: Tradition and Innovation

Brendan Largay, Head of School
Post Date: May 22nd, 2020
Brendan Largay

When learning offsite began in March, and when it became clear that we would not be able to return to campus, my mind, like so many others’, turned to our eighth grade students and what it would mean for them to experience the rituals of closure from a distance. For many schools, of course, those rituals include experiences like graduation. Still, I do not know of any others whose rituals include something as meaningful and important as the Capstone presentations.

In the past ten weeks, I have watched our eighth grade under the remarkable leadership and vision of Capstone Coordinator Jen Friborg, along with the dedicated care of social studies teacher Suzanne Caruso and many faculty mentors, respond to this unforeseen and unimaginable challenge with energy, conviction, and grace. As in previous years, each Capstone enriched the mind and the soul, and the students delivered them with an excellence that could rival the most popular of TEDTalks. Here, by presenter, is a bit of what I have learned from each of our experts this spring:

From Miles S.: It’s never easy to go first unless you’re used to it the way Miles has been throughout his running career here at Belmont Day. That is due, in no small part, to Miles’ understanding of the brain’s relationship with the body in endurance sports and what it takes to push through the psychological barriers that stand in the way of excellence. Look out world; Miles has learned yet another way to pick up speed.

From Ashley L: The principles of sustainability extend into the realm of fashion and clothing design and have a real and meaningful impact on everything from the global economy to the climate. I also learned that I should save up a few dollars to invest in eterniti fashion when it hits the market. The owner, founder, and CEO of the brand is soon to be a BDS alumna who could already impress her peers in the industry with her business plan.

From Scott A: In a world where climate change is having a meaningful and adverse effect on crops, the benefits of hydroponic crop growth—food produced without the need for soil—can make a real difference for the earth’s health without compromising quality or taste. I also learned that Scott has the curiosity of a microbiologist and the passion of a craftsman. The greenhouse industry may soon have a new player in its midst, and he is a force to be reckoned with!

From Anni T: I learned that music has been and continues to be more than an expression of art alone as it has been the vehicle by which the oppressed and underrepresented have discovered and used their voices for change. I also learned that whether composing, singing, playing, or producing music, Anni has a career as a musician waiting for her should she choose to pursue it. Her beautiful bilingual protest anthem can prove it. 

From Xander: In a world where technology has disrupted and transformed every facet of our lives, Xander has seen the opportunity to leverage that disruption to stabilize the global food insecurity. It is also nice to see that apples don’t fall too far from their trees, especially when your mother is the head chef at a school that regularly utilizes its garden as a food source.

From Kiki: The history, influence, and impact of art has power that extends far beyond its time and modality. I also learned that we might have one of the world’s next great artists within this Class of 2020. Kiki not only understands what makes art powerful but can walk her audience through her stunning process, stroke by masterful stroke.

From Cole: I learned that meaningful change does not happen overnight, and even in 2020, we still see evidence of the inequalities between men and women in the world of athletics with Title IX. I also learned that it will take voices like Cole’s—clear, well educated, and compassionate voices—to further advance our aspirations towards gender equity.

From Michelle M-L: I learned that Bryan Stevenson’s suggestion that the issues closest to our hearts and those that carry the greatest emotional demands are often the most rewarding to learn about. I learned that the world is open to Michelle in any direction she might choose—reporter, policymaker, immigration lawyer, professor, author—the list is a long one.

From Piper M: Piper taught us all that the advances in gene therapy start closest to our heart and our kinship with those who may have rare genetic disorders like Angelman Syndrome. I learned about the synthesis between 3-D artwork like a tape person, the medical understanding of a genetic disorder, and the instruction of fifth graders captures the whole child education that Piper showcases at Belmont Day.

From Orion S: At a time when many are searching for cleaner energy sources, one was made crystal clear for the Capstone audience by Orion as he discussed the power and possibility of nuclear energy. I also learned that one of the key inhibitors to nuclear energy's progress is the storage of nuclear waste. Anyone have a rather sizable desert they are willing to donate to help the cause?

From Theo W: I learned that hip-hop is more than just music; it is culture, art, self-expression, dance, and power. I also learned that Theo might have a career waiting for him in the music video production industry if his rap career doesn’t work out.

Elizabeth A: Teenage anxiety has been on the rise for far too long. Elizabeth provided the voice of a generation as she explained the challenges and consequences of anxiety and its impact. I also learned that I might want to reconsider the start time for students in the morning so that they can get the requisite sleep an adolescent needs to help prevent teen anxiety.

From Owen K: I learned that the business of football in our Division I colleges and universities has been exploiting our student-athletes for a long time. Only now are we starting to see some measure of compensation for the NCAA football player. I also imagine that Owen K is the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell’s worst nightmare as a future agent or player’s rep.

From Aaniya R: I learned a lesson in empathy as her research explored the two polarized sides of the national debate on abortion rights. To help people find common ground in this dialogue, I learned that it will take the leadership and compassion of someone as fearless as Aaniya to do it.

From Noah B: We should pay close attention to our world and how the path around us may be more intentionally tangled than we think! I also learned that I might want to keep a closer eye on my budget if Noah is making requests for $1,000 per eighth grade student for their Capstone participation!

From Theo VG: I learned that for as much as climate change may be a national or global debate, its impact is most acutely on the ground, where industries like skiing and the towns they support feel it most acutely. I also learned that Theo might have helped everyone take one step closer to a solution with the creation of his artificial snowmaker.

Miranda H: I learned that representation not only in terms of gender but of all identities across any spectra is, as she put it, “so, so important” as we seek to inspire a more equitable and inclusive world. I also learned that I should expect a student-led collection of ideas and proposals on my desk to ensure that BDS remains an institution that honors differences long after Miranda graduates this June.

From Julia C: I learned that Clayton Academy, a school designed by students for students, rooted in research and best practices in educational theory, could represent a threat to any other institution that would be competing with it for excellent faculty and strong enrollment. I was reminded (because I already knew) that I should be lucky to have Julia as a peer head of school someday; I know there’s a lot I could learn from her.

From Camille D: I learned a lesson that my parents (and now, my wife) have been trying to teach me for 46 years: sugar is everywhere. While it may provide an initial energy rush, the crash is coming shortly after that, and maybe there’s another option. Camille was also gracious enough to offer healthier alternatives. (Please note: my hand is currently hovering over a bowl of Swedish Fish and a clementine. Will someone tell Camille I picked the clementine, please?)

From Lauren K: I was reminded of the conviction of Lauren’s beliefs and voice as she taught us all of the often overlooked travesty of American history: the internment of the Japanese in the 1940s. I learned of its echo through history as many Asian-Americans today face the same discriminatory treatment due to the origin of COVID-19 in China. 

From Owen F: I learned about the advent of sneaker culture and how Nike, Jordan, Adidas, and Run DMC changed the sneaker game forever. I also pre-ordered the ‘Finnerty 1,’ Owen’s first sneaker prototype that will no doubt revolutionize the game once again. (I doubt I’ll look to resell it on the secondary market for sentimental reasons, but if Finnerty goes the way of Jordan, you never know.)

From Lynn L: I learned about the ethically compromised world of the Cavendish banana, the mistreatment of banana plantation workers, and the potential threat to many people’s favorite breakfast fruit. I was also reminded of the diversity of Lynn’s talents as a musical, visual, and digital artist (as well as her sense of humor) in her satirical recreation of the famous Chiquita Banana song. 

From Michael T: e.e. Cummings once noted, “the most wasted of all days is the one without laughter.” The great poet has nothing on Michael whose Capstone presentation didn’t merely remind us of the power of laughter, but where we may most easily find it. I also began my search for tickets to his stand-up comedy routine (which was postponed by the pandemic) and cannot wait to laugh my way through his set once he’s allowed back on that stage! 

From Jack A: I learned about synesthesia—the condition where people associate sounds or particular words or even people with color—and how remarkable and mysterious the brain continues to be. I also imagined that were I to have an aura, as Jack described them, I can only hope mine would be some combination of blue and gold and that Jack might capture my silhouette with his impressive artwork. 

From Quinn F: I learned about the systems and industry of fishing at every level from commercial to recreational, and the negative impact that climate change is having throughout the industry. I also learned that a bluefin tuna is pretty much the same size as an average eighth grade boy, as evidenced by Quinn’s remarkable life-sized paper mache version that was part of his project.

From Davin R: I learned that there is no topic too daunting, too complicated, or too controversial for the Capstone journey as Davin researched and thoughtfully presented his case on reparations. I also witnessed, to my knowledge, the first-ever bill introduced to the BDS Congress. BDS-HR-1 would affect material change for our nation, an early step, perhaps, in Davin’s burgeoning legal career.

From Elena F: I learned about the incredible advancement of stem cell therapies and how they continue to revolutionize the field of medicine and science. I learned that Boston Children’s Hospital has either a burgeoning artist or a burgeoning pediatric leukemia doctor waiting in the wings for her opportunity to save the world.

From Evan S: I learned that the world of video gaming has made significant advancements since my early days of playing Donkey Kong and Space Invaders and that the video gaming world's sophistication is profoundly reshaping the ways young people think. I learned, too, that Evan S may be the future of gaming as he has designed (and defeated) a very challenging game of his design!

From Maya G: I learned more than I ever could have imagined: not only about quantum physics or black holes but about the humility with which she approached trying to educate her mentor in things that he clearly did not understand. I also know that Gregor’s Theorem about wormholes and alternate universes may be closer than any of us think. I couldn’t have imagined a more gracious mentor… I mean, mentee.

Congratulations to all of the Capstone presenters from the Class of 2020!

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