Brendan Largay, Head of School

BrendanLargay, Head of School

Capstone 2022: 40 Incredible Journeys

As we head into the April break, it is my hope that you will join me in reflecting over the course of this break on all that we have had the privilege of learning from our eighth grade Capstone presenters. Over the past seven school days, we have had the honor of learning from this group of young experts on everything from sustainable fashion to blacksmithing to cancer immunotherapy.

I have the great privilege of attending every Capstone presentation, and each year I am left in awe at the expertise of the presenters. As has become a bit of a tradition, I get to share–here in the Scoop–what I’ve learned from each of our soon-to-be graduates. With my thanks to the Class of 2022, here’s what I’ve learned this year:

Eliza K: Dog’s noses (Mentor: Minna Ham) From Eliza, I have learned that there is simply nothing so daunting as going first, but Eliza made it look easy! I will also look differently at my early morning dog walks and the non-stop sniffing of my dogs as they seek to gain a better understanding of the world around them through their noses!

Olivia Z: Sustainable Fashion (Mentor: Liz Gray) From Olivia, I learned that whether reimagining and repurposing a red sweater into three different and highly fashionable garments or simply stealing her brother’s clothing, Olivia has her eye keenly focused on the sustainability of fashion and the human right perils of ‘fast fashion.’ I also learned about ‘greenwashing’ and the ways in which companies are manipulating our desire for sustainable practices for their own gain.

Nadia L: The Misrepresentation of Wolves in Literature (Mentor: Ana Maria Restrepo)

Ever heard of the big bad pig and the three little wolves? Perhaps not, but the ways wolves have been misrepresented through children’s literature, and the impact on the endangered wolf is profound. Fortunately, Nadia is on the front lines of elevating our awareness to protect the wolf and its future.

Kaitlyn T: Media, Mental Health and Stigma (Mentor: Larissa Rochford) From Kaitlyn, I learned how very close our eighth graders are to the next half of their educational journey–high school, undergrad and graduate learning–because Kaitlyn could easily have doubled as a college professor. Kaitlyn’s sophisticated understanding of mental health, its portrayal in the media as a source of comedy, and the potential harm such representation can create was eye-opening.

Bridget P: Ancient Mesopotamian Medicine (Mentor: Bea Rooney) Sometimes, to imagine our future, we should look to our past, and in Bridget’s case, our most distant past. A natural-born performer, Bridget brought ancient medicine to life, and if the research gig doesn’t work out for her, it appears stand-up comedy may be a viable option for her!

Colby M: Sharks  (Mentor: Ellie Brennan) For those of us in the “Jaws” generation, there was a great deal Colby taught us about sharks, their horrific mistreatment, and the fact that we are statistically more likely to be struck down by a falling vending machine than a great white. And yet … despite her best effort to convince me otherwise with a riveting presentation on sharks, I remain terrified by them. Sorry, Colby.

Nora O: Decision Making (Mentor: Brendan Largay) From Nora, I learned that sometimes, the mentor-mentee titles we are granted at the start of the process are misaligned. I certainly learned more from Nora as her mentor than she from me. I also learned that when you find yourself in a decision-making moment, you’re at your best with fewer than six choices, and when in doubt, best to flip a coin if you can. Thanks for a great Capstone journey, Nora!

Alex F: Ethical Hacking (Mentor: Ellen Brandt) Received any suspicious email lately offering you a big cash prize if you click on the link? Alex explained to us all that that’s probably not the best idea as it could unleash a virus capable of all sorts of damage from technological to financial to identity theft. However, clearly imbued with BDS’ six core values, Alex may be our hacking-hope! He knows the difference between malicious and ethical hacking, and if he’s the one who sent that link, it was only to keep you safer!

Sophie T: Climate Change on a Local Scale (Mentor: Jen James) Whether as a climate activist inspired by Greta Thurnberg, or as a burgeoning filmmaker, Sophie has an important story to share and all the tools to share it! Sophie’s presentation–and her clear articulation of the difference two degrees Celsius can make–made a clear and critical impact on her audience. I have little doubt she can do the same for a broader audience as well!

Ana M: The Science of Baking (Mentor: Angela DeVecchi) They say, “leave your audience wanting more.” I don’t know if they meant more souffle, but after finishing Ana’s presentation we were all a bit hungrier and a bit smarter for her thoughtful and impressive work. Ana’s work combining her understanding of chemistry and baking brought the sophistication of her work to a new level. Now, if we could just get our hands on that chocolate chip cookie recipe …

Niamh O: The Benefit of Sports (Mentor: Leesa Mercedes) Leave it to an athlete as talented as Niamh to inform us of the importance of sports to our physical and emotional health. Niamh left me staggered at the notion that only 20% of Americans play sports and was inspired by the benefit of movement, motivation and community that organized team sports can provide. Suddenly, all of those goals she scored this past fall make even more sense to me now …

Matthieu S: Cold War Espionage (Mentor: Dale McGhee) As a child of the Cold War, stories of the CIA, the KGB and Cold War espionage ran through the background of my childhood. With his Capstone, Matthieu’s presentation on the Rosenberg trials and Robert Hanssen brought those memories directly to the fore. And, while his presentation was deeply informative, it was his ‘Spies!’ board game–complete with bald eagle and Russian bear–that really brought his hard work to life.

Olive K: Evolution of Video Games (Mentor: Kaleen Moriarty) Olive’s opening hook, a moment in time from 1985 of a child discovering a $10 bill and instantly hoping to exchange it for quarters and an afternoon spent at the local arcade, hit pretty close to home for me. Her presentation on the evolution and history of video games, however, reminded us that Sony, Microsoft, Atari, and Nintendo have a young programmer headed their way in the coming years and she and her Pixolotl game are ready to revolutionize the industry once again.

Alice G: Exoplanets (Mentor: Judy Bright) Looking for alien life? Alice has found a good place for you to start your search: exoplanets that are orbiting stars in other galaxies. The exoplanet is the closest we have come to reasonably expecting to find life out there in the universe as they can occupy the so-called ‘habitable zone’ of orbit, and Alice may well be the one who helps us understand what we find there!

Juliana L: Forensic Science (Mentor: Alex Tzelnic) Ever seen CSI or any other show that relies on forensic science to solve its mysteries? If Juliana has anything to say about it then the show you’re watching is probably misrepresenting the arduous and specific work of true forensics. However, in Juliana, we may not only have the next great forensic scientist, but someone who brings her exquisite art as well, and we can all rest a bit safer knowing that she is on the case.

Peter K: Alternative energy (Mentor: Tara Lightbody) Whether solar, wind, or nuclear, alternative energy sources are becoming increasingly prevalent and undoubtedly necessary as an alternative to fossil fuels. Fortunately, with students like Peter to guide us toward the most efficient and climate friendly sources, we may slow the climatological impact that nonrenewable sources have left for this next generation.

Anisah J: Hip Hop in the 2000s (Mentor: Susan Dempsey) From the Sugarhill Gang to Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G to Missy Elliot, Jay Z, and beyond, Anisah provided us with a look not only at the icons of hip hop, but the impact of hip hop on culture in this millennium. Don’t be surprised when we find her name among the stars of the industry as a rapper, clothing line designer, or dancer.

Betel Z: What is Womanism? (Mentor: Jen James) From Betel, I have learned that there is a clear and important distinction between feminism and womanism and that some people can inhabit both identities at once. I have learned, too, that Betel’s understanding and deep commitment to her multiple identities are certain to showcase her myriad strengths as a leader of this movement for women of color.

Ella T: Perfectionism in Ballet (Mentor Liz Parfit) As graceful in front of her Capstone audience as she is dancing on stage, Ella brought not just the beauty of ballet as an art form but the dangers of it as well to life before our eyes. A young woman with a clear conviction to call attention to the lack of representation in ballet and the mental and emotional health demands it places on young dancers, Ella reminded us that sometimes the cost of perfection is a damaging one.

Ruby K: Life on Other Plants and Space Telescopes (Mentor: Fred Colson) If there is life on other planets, Ruby is going to find it. Informing her audience of some of the world’s most powerful telescopes being put to use in space, the search for extraterrestrial life is happening with increasing interest. Ruby’s work as a scientist and as a journalist brought this pursuit of discovery to vibrant life with this simple notion: the odds are simply too great that other life is out there. Now we just need to find it …

Nicky M: Hearing Loss (Mentor: Charlie Baird) Sometimes Capstone is born of our natural curiosities about the world, and sometimes, it comes from our own lived experiences and desire to improve things for others. The latter was certainly the case for Nicky who introduced his audience to the science and challenges of hearing loss and the innovations that have helped to reduce the impact of that loss over time.

Sam A: Space Exploration (Mentor: Leal Carter) As the world starts to wrap its head around the privatized space travel opportunities of Blue Origin or Space X, Sam may yet be designing his own space travel company of the future. Certainly, there would be few who could question his knowledge or insight on the matter. Sam shared with us the origins of space exploration, his own animated video game, and the power curiosity can have about the wilderness of space.

Lucy T: Abortion Legislation: Roe v Wade and beyond (Mentor: Heather Woodcock) It is one thing to watch an eighth grade student lead her audience through an in-depth analysis of the history of women’s rights and legislation on abortion with such thoughtfulness, balance, sophistication, and grace. It is something else altogether to watch her field questions from her audience with the expertise of a law school graduate and the poise of a seasoned public speaker. None of us will be surprised to see Lucy become BDS’ first US Supreme Court justice should she choose that path.

Marlon K: Malaria (Mentor: Nathalie Pellenq) While the rest of the world has been preoccupied with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Marlon has been busy researching another pandemic that has been a part of our world for far longer than COVID: Malaria. Equal parts researcher and climate change activist, Marlon is ready to bring his research and understanding to the world’s stage as he seeks to help Africa conquer this longstanding illness.

Alexander D-C: Soft Robotics: The Future of Robots (Mentor: Sandra Trentowsky) We have seen the future, and it is flexible, malleable, programmable, and very much in the hands of Alexander. His understanding of soft robotics, a far cry from the rigid robots of your science-fiction imagination, and how they will help and shape everything from common household jobs to sophisticated medicine and beyond, was equally inspiring and thought provoking.

Emma K: Title IX (Mentor: Anderson Santos) A talented athlete in her own right, Emma guided her audience through the landmark 1972 Title IX ruling that fundamentally shifted the landscape of college athletics and began to level the playing field for female athletes. Emma also showcased her own strengths and abilities as a coach and highlighted the disparities that remain between men’s and women’s athletics: most notably, the underrepresentation of women in roles of athletic departmental leadership at the college level.

Bella L: Processing Speed (Mentor: Lana Holman) From Bella, I was reminded of the importance of differentiated instruction and the power that comes with honoring different types of learners. I also learned that Bella’s vision for a more equitable classroom includes the prospect of WISC-IV testing for all students, and that she may someday be the one evaluating those results!

Asher S: Formula 1 Racing and Lessons on Success  (Mentor: Julia Juster) Ever heard of Max Verstappen or Red Bull Racing? If so, you are one of more than half a billion Formula 1 racing fans. If not, Asher has something he’d like to share with you. A student of the sport and of leadership and success, Asher used Capstone to articulate his love of racing alongside his own ethos and identity as a leader.

Evan G-E: Cancer Immunotherapy  (Mentor: Elinor Klein) From Evan, I have learned that sometimes seeing the future is easier than you think: for example, how easy it was after their excellent Capstone for us all to imagine Evan as a professor at the lectern of Harvard Medical School or offering caring guidance in an oncology waiting room. We also learned about everything from CAR T-Cell therapy to checkpoint inhibitors and the other innovative ways in which medicine continues to fight back against one of its mightiest foes: cancer.

Bernie M: Differences between Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse (Mentor: Abbey Nyland) Move over traditional lacrosse: Bernie Ball–a hybrid of the best of both men’s and women’s lacrosse–is here, and Bernie is the one who has designed and brought it to us all. His design is born of a thorough understanding of and passion for both men’s and women’s lacrosse, and whether as a player, ref or coach, Bernie’s mark on the game will be a long lasting one.

Vanessa M: Story of Sushi (Mentor Leigh Twarog) From the early history of salt preserved Zushi to the American sushi restaurants now starting to open up in Japan, Vanessa’s interest and curiosity for the art and intricacy of sushi was clear. Add to that her clear penchant for cooking with family, and we may have discovered the next great sushi chef here at Belmont Day!

Ben A: Board Games  (Mentor: Nicole Buck) From Ben, I learned that Monopoly was originally designed to discourage monopolies, and yet, today, the purpose of the game is to create one.  More importantly, however, I learned that Ben is a game board visionary who has created a 3-D printed chess set that honors the history of the game–with kings and queens–by modernizing it with bald eagles, the press, the citizen, and the millionaire.

Sunday M: Bees (Mentor: Kathy Jo Solomon) A phenomenally talented artist who has had a lifelong fascination with bees, Sunday shared their interest and passion and the threat to bees’ existence created by pesticides, climate change, and modern-day farming.  She also showcased their talent as an artist with their children’s book Flora, and the Bees. With Sunday as their advocate, the future of bees is abuzz with hope.

Ella B: Social Media Marketing for Small Businesses (Mentor: Jim Walker) There is no doubt about Ella’s entrepreneurial spirit or talent. A businesswoman who already has a retail line in place, Ella knows the challenges of small businesses intimately, and knows, too, the power of a good social media campaign! Next step? Ella may well be the next super-powered social media influencer!

Nikos A: Blacksmithing (Mentor: Michelle Weisman) A trade from another time, blacksmithing lives on in Nikos who donned a leather apron as he bent and shaped metal on an anvil as blacksmiths have for thousands of years. I learned that, given the chance, Nikos would likely make himself a sword … just in case he needs it. Of course, we’re all wondering the same question: will the return of blacksmithing line up with the return of the dragon?

Tomás W-K: Celebrity Politicians (Mentor: Anne Armstrong) Embracing a tradition as old as Plato, Tomás explained the ways in which celebrity and politics have been partners since the Greeks. A young political mind to be reckoned with, Tomás’ skill as a filmmaker is rivaled only by his deep understanding of government. And he had plenty of nodding heads when he answered this question: “If you could change one thing about politics, what would you change?” His answer: “all of it.”

Calder W: The Deep Sea (Mentor: John O’Neill) If people don’t know about the wonders of the deep, their lack of awareness is certain to result in the mistreatment of the environment and the life to be found there. We can all rest a bit more comfortably knowing that Calder is on the front line of activism for this fragile part of our world, and that he has the courage to scuba dive through deep sea caves.

Finnoula W: Frances Glessner Lee and her impact on Legal Medicine (Mentor: Amy Sprung) Sometimes, Capstone allows a student to approach their work from the outside in–thematically exploring a topic of study–but in Finnoula’s case, she worked (rather appropriately) from the inside out: with a close study of Frances Glessner Lee, the miniaturist who created tiny crime scenes for her Harvard Medical students to study as one of the earliest forms of forensic research. Lee’s legacy is an impressive one, but no less impressive than Finnoula’s.

Wisdom B: America and Advertising (Mentor: Pati Fernández) With one of the grandest Capstone scopes, Wisdom took on the history of advertising in our country over the past two hundred years as a reflection of what was happening in our country at the time. To no surprise, she handled it with ease, and her perspectives on what today’s ads might have looked like back then, and more importantly what they might need to look like in the years to come was informed and inspiring.

Lila A: Genetics, personality, and gene editing (Mentor: Emma Nairn) So, where do you fall in the nature vs. nurture debate? If you find yourself wondering, you can simply ask Lila whose comprehensive understanding of the science behind genetics and gene editing rivals any professor from one of our many local universities. A student of personality traits, gene editing and CRISPR, and the ethical challenges associated with the genetic tinkering she introduced, Lila is the right voice to have at the fore of this potentially revolutionary science. Or, you can just watch her dystopian film.

Another year, another extraordinary set of Capstones. Of course, none of it would have been possible without the extraordinary guidance of mentor teachers and the support, in particular of Charlie Baird, Caroline Glass, Kate Burns, and Capstone Coordinator extraordinaire, Jen Friborg.

BrendanLargay, Head of School

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