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Brendan Largay, head of school
Brendan Largay, head of school

BrendanLargay, Head of School

Capstone 2023: Celebrating 20 Years

During opening remarks for this year’s presentations, the culminating part of our eighth graders’ seminal Capstone experience, Jen Friborg, who coordinates the program like a symphony conductor, explained that Belmont Day might have the longest-running Capstone program in the country. It shows. The program grows, changes, and endures each year, and still, it showcases the excellence of Belmont Day’s eldest students with each presentation.

Over the years, I have been asked what my Capstone would be if I could participate, and I have settled on this answer: a Capstone of Capstones. As you will read in the summaries of what I learned from each student’s presentation, Capstone provides a window into the not-so-distant future. Fourteen-year-old students who have their eyes on the horizon of change, opportunity, and possibility are important indicators of how the world is turning. Consider a presentation on the Metaverse or machine learning as a stock market predictor. Could you imagine the possibility of this in 2013, when several of our presenters arrived at BDS as pre-kindergarteners?

Please enjoy these takeaways from our eighth grade Capstone presentations. I expect you will agree that our eldest students have their eyes cast in the right direction and are empowered with the agency to affect the change they are highlighting.

Note: The faculty mentors are in parentheses by the student’s name.

Maddie C. (Ms. Twarog) “Surf and Sexism” Going first, I suppose, feels a bit like catching that first wave. You might feel some doubt before it gets there, but once you’re up, you’re on top of the world. I learned from Maddie that there is a long way to go to achieve gender equity in all professional sports, particularly surfing and the ways it is advertised to the world.  Thanks for kicking things off, Maddie!

Daniel P. (Mr. Azzone) “The Meta-Verse” Going second may not be any easier, especially when you are tasked with helping an audience of curious peers, teachers, and parents contemplate the wonder, mystery, and possibility of the Metaverse. I learned that the future of Belmont Day might very well take place without a physical campus, as education may be accessible from a VR set in one’s home.

Quincy T. (Mr. Largay) “Animals and Their Relationship with Music” From Quincy, I was reminded of the power of the mentor/mentee relationship and how so many of the adults throughout this process feel more like the mentee than the mentor (I certainly did). I also enjoyed watching everyone learn from her about the power of sound and music to animals. Of course, whenever I am asked, I will proudly say I was there when Quincy’s song debuted publicly. I am hopeful that may result in being able to get a ticket to one of her soon-to-be-sold-out shows.

Ellis A (Mr. Smith) “The U.S. Power Grid” According to Ellis, the power grid may be one of the more powerful forces we rely on yet know the least about. Thankfully, we have future engineers and innovative scholars like Ellis to help us understand and better harness it for a more sustainable and brighter future.

Ilana B. (Mr. Beatty, Ms. Pikcilingis) “Organ Transplantation” The future of medicine and organ transplantation is in the good hands of Ilana. With the expertise of a med school grad, Ilana walked us through a transplant procedure, and with the composure of the world’s best surgeons, she described the history and future of organ transplants. Belmont Day’s next IMPACT Lab purchase may need to be a 3D Bioprinter.

Sebastian C-R. (Mme. Pellenq) “What Makes the Perfect Taco?” Feeling spicy? Well, Sebastian has a recommendation for you. A true student of culture, cuisine, and Yelp! reviews, Sebastian’s understanding of the Mexican culinary staple is matched only by his deep understanding of code. His invention, the Tacofinder™, is the ultimate review website for the perfect taco in the area, and even if you don’t follow his coded guidance, you can find a spot on your own.

Aria G. (Ms. James) “Nature’s Impact on Mental Health” From Aria, I learned that a childhood spent outdoors could have a lasting impact on our choices later in life. I also learned that while the pandemic accelerated and exacerbated a mental health crisis in our country, the solution to our woes may be as simple as a step outside, a walk in the woods, and a serotonin-infused look skywards on a sunny day.

Brendan B. (Mr. Hamilton) “Success” Whether in professional sports or industry, Brendan has already set his sights on the keys to success: pursuing a passion, expecting failure, and approaching it with a growth mindset that sees opportunity in every challenge. I have little doubt that whether it’s on the baseball diamond or in a corner office somewhere, Brendan is sure to meet with some self-made success.

Nina C-P: (Mrs. Bettinelli) “Riot Grrrl” With a window into the feminist zine movement of the 90s, Nina introduced her audience to the music, the voices, and the power of the Riot Grrrl Movement. She also reminded us that the best way to continue the momentum of the movement, to borrow a phrase, will be not to revive it but to make it better, a lesson she helped to impart to today’s audience and her fifth grade class during the project phase.

Liam B. (Mr. O’Neill) “Cape Cod and Climate Change” From the moment a beloved restaurant was destroyed by a violent storm and the rising tide along Orleans, Liam has dedicated himself to restoring his beloved summer retreat and solving the global challenges of climate change. I also learned that in the next century, if we can’t figure out a way to slow it down, climate change will turn the peninsula of Cape Cod into a series of barrier islands.

Oliver G. (Ms. Woodcock) “ADHD” From Oliver, I learned that the ‘disorder’ known as ADHD might be a misnomer: “superpower” may be more accurate. I also learned that we have a burgeoning cinematographer in our midst, ready to promote the strengths and possibilities that come with an ADHD diagnosis with every ounce of the superpowers he showcased throughout his presentation.

Eidan K-T. (Ms. Brandt) “Developments in Space Technology and Exploration” Space is even vaster than we realized, and the James Webb Space Telescope has broadened our understanding of its vastness and made us realize just how much more there is left to discover. I also learned that a co-pilot, in Eidan’s case, a life-sized model astronaut, can make an important difference in a compelling Capstone presentation.

Madeleine W. (Mrs. Smith) “The Confidence and Leadership Gap” The statistics remain clear: women earn $0.84 for every dollar a man earns, and C-suites remain predominantly occupied by men. Madeleine has worked to shine a light on these inequities and has the answer to them, too: Be Fearless™. This process will help close the confidence and leadership gap girls face as they are raised so that when they enter the workforce, they will be willing to take the same risks with the same confidence as men.

Kesariya N-J. (Ms. Trentowsky) “Salt and Social Evolution” Kesariya helped her audience understand that sodium chloride (table salt) is so much more than a seasoning you might sprinkle on your movie popcorn. It is everywhere, in just about everything, and is one of the world’s most important natural resources. Salt is fundamental to our existence, with a long, rich, and deep history that includes the countless animals that carved paths to salt licks that later created some of the primary pathways of travel across the globe.

Emme T. (Ms. Kikuchi) “NBA v WNBA” With a fraction of games played compared to their male counterparts and an even smaller fraction of earnings, the WNBA is getting short shrift compared to the glamor and celebrity of the NBA. Whether by amplifying the excellence of the women’s game herself or by coaching up the next generation of WNBA players, Emme is on a mission to elevate the game.

Avery S. (Ms. Nyland) “Nature and its Effects on Child Development” For an athlete and a scholar like Avery, whose excellence is on display every time she laces up her lacrosse cleats, it should be no surprise that she would turn to the outdoors as a source of inspiration. Whether hiking her favorite mountain or thoughtfully articulating the attentional benefits of exposure to nature, Avery is a scholar and naturalist who knows what she speaks of and its immense value in learning.

Natalie J. (Ms. Rochford) “Banned Books” After articulating the staggering rise of requests to ban books nationwide since 2003 (up nearly 400%), Natalie’s caring, empathic, and thoughtful look at the nature of those requests and the power of literature should come as no surprise. Similarly, it was no surprise to see Natalie leading the way in articulating the value, purpose, and inspiration that literature—perhaps especially those under the scrutiny of a proposed ban—can provide.

Gabriel B. (Ms. Gray) “Cryptocurrency: The Future of Money” I learned that despite what we may have heard in the news about the fall of FTX, crypto is still likely to be the currency of the future. If it were Gabriel’s to collect, he’d start accepting BDS tuition on the blockchain today. The next hurdle will be how to make the mining process a more environmentally friendly one.

Kavi K-W. (Ms. Ryan) “Green Ways to Travel” A young man keen on making the world greener and travel more sustainable, Kavi introduced us to the prospect of the future in travel. Hydrogen-powered planes and battery-powered vehicles are the tip of a mighty iceberg that might save us all. Until then, Kavi will be doing his part biking back and forth from Belmont Day this spring.

Marco F-C. (Mr. Walker) “Formula 1” Not only is Formula 1 one of the world’s most popular and fastest-growing sports, but it may also have a new driver in its midst in Marco soon. A natural enthusiast, Marco’s love for the sport was rivaled only by his remarkable presentation skills as he pulled off a rare Capstone feat: an entire presentation without a single note card for reference.

Nebiyou E. (Mrs. Gibson) “Education in Ethiopia” BDS may have its first international school partnership. Once Nebiyou’s Menelik Academy is up and running in Ethiopia, the partnership opportunities are as boundless as Nebiyou’s imagination and design. I also learned that in only fifteen years, Ethiopia made extraordinary strides in educating women, improving the literacy rate across the country by over 30%.

Ken M. (Ms. Rooney) “Human Decision Making v Machine Learning in the Stock Market” The world of investing is changing as rapidly as any industry out there, and Ken MacDougall is ready for it. A young man whose understanding of the market is already comprehensive, Ken has coded a bot that can accurately predict the market’s behavior with 85% accuracy.

Joshua F. (Mrs. Armstrong) “Can Happiness Be Cultivated?” The short answer, thankfully, to Joshua’s powerful and important question is a resounding ‘yes.’ Happiness can be created by building relationships with others, getting a good night’s sleep, exercising, or spending less time on electronics. I also learned that Joshua’s film editing talent might result in happiness unto itself.

Alden L. (Ms. Dempsey) “Schizophrenia” From Alden, I learned that the portrayal of schizophrenia—in the media or anywhere else—presents a great challenge for our inability to empathize with those afflicted, but that shouldn’t stop us from seeking to understand it. I also learned there is no ceiling to the pride a parent might feel watching their child present their Capstone. (Also, great job, kiddo. Mom and I are super proud of you.)

Kamila R. (Chef Lightbody) “Negative Impacts of Nicotine” I learned from Kamila both the emotional and physical harm that nicotine addiction could create and that the impact of addiction can extend far beyond the person themselves. I also learned that Kamila is an extraordinary artist, capable of visually bringing the heart and lungs to life to impart an important message.

Lydia S. (Ms. DeVecchi) “Diversity and Representation in the Fashion Industry” I learned from Lydia about the oppressive and sometimes unimaginable restrictions sewn into women’s clothing and how a more equitable look would allow the reimagining of fashion. I was reminded what an exceptional artist Lydia is as she showcased her inclusive fashion drawings moving forward.

Petros S. (Teacher Cotner) “Japanese Internment Camps” From Petros, I was reminded of an ugly and often brushed-over chapter in American history: the detainment and internment of Japanese Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor during WWII. I also learned from Petros that a strong work ethic, a clear focus, and a little foam core and wire could create a powerful visual representation of that history.

Quinn M. (Mr. Baird) “Baseball Analytics” From Quinn, I learned—finally!—the difference between a batting average and an OPS or the relative value of a pitcher’s WHIP compared to their ERA. I also learned that the days of baseball purists are numbered: analytics are here, and they are not going anywhere soon. I learned, too, that Quinn is ready for that shift as a baseball analyst in the making.

Angel G. (Ms. Klock) “The Impact of Divorce on Children” With her capacious heart, deep scholarship, and sincere curiosity, Angel’s look at the impact of divorce on children was heart-rending and hopeful, and her guidance for children living that experience was sound. I also learned that Angel might have a future career in delivering emotionally challenging content with grace and professionalism that rivals the best presenters.

Aleta S. (Ms. Buck) “The Vinyl Revival” For those music purists who have lamented the global move to streaming services and digitized music, there is a bright ray of hope, and her name is Aleta. With an old soul and a keen ear for great music, Aleta walked us through the value of imperfection and the importance of vinyl in music. She also reminded us that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon recently celebrated 50 years. You’re welcome.

Owen H. (Ms. Ryan) “Space Exploration” What was once a symbol of the Cold War and the antagonistic relationship between the U.S. and Russia has turned today into a symbol of peace and the power of collaboration. There may be no one more knowledgeable about the history or future of space exploration than Owen, whose depth of knowledge may be as vast as the cosmos.

Zachary K. (Ms. Sprung) “Boston Busing” A young man whose personal experience as a black-identified student in a predominantly white school informed his incredibly thoughtful work, Zach’s passion for and understanding of the history of segregation in Boston schools runs deep. I learned from him that schools in the city and the suburbs have a long way to go toward achieving a true sense of equity as it continues to reconcile a history of racism and segregation that reached a boiling point over Boston busing in the late 60s and 70s.

Alexandra K. (Mrs. Fell) “Sports and Mental Health” A powerful athlete in her own right, Alex has her eyes cast on a critical and often underprioritized need in sports: attendance to the mental health of athletes as they navigate the pressures of high expectations. Don’t be surprised to see Alex as a professional athlete, coach, or sports psychologist someday offering the same care and guidance she provided to her Capstone audience.

Audrey C. (Mr. Phan) “Sustainable Fashion” From Audrey, I learned that wearing something a mere seven times is the typical life cycle of a garment—far fewer than it should be!—and that the impact of fast, disposable fashion on the environment is far more damaging and consequential than we realize. I also learned that Audrey’s message has power enough to ensure that all of our eighth graders are wearing recycled Capstone t-shirts this year and into the future. Thanks, Audrey!

Anurag M. (Mr. Ridore) “Social Media’s Turbulent Relationship with Hip Hop” From Anurag, I learned that over the past fifteen or so years, the sound and messages of hip hop have changed dramatically, with deep and nuanced sound shifting from one year to the next. I learned, too, that Anurag may be the next producer of excellent hip hop after listening to his unique beats to emulate each of those years.

McKenna D. (Mrs. Barrow) “How Do Animals Help Us?” From McKenna, I learned that animal-assisted therapy—that includes as many as twenty different types of animals!—is more than just a wet nose and unconditional love. From cortisol-sniffing dogs to a non-judgmental audience to a new reader, animals hold the key to our peace. And McKenna’s dog Scout is a great example of animal-assisted therapy’s power.

Bodhi D. (Mr.Fox) “Freestyle Skiing” From Bodhi, we learned about freestyle skiing, one of the fastest-growing alpine sports in the world. Bodhi explained how freestyle skiing, from slopestyle to aerials, has transformed from a hobby to a sport and is now one of the most competitive in the Winter Olympics. We also shouldn’t be surprised to see Bodhi featured in some upcoming games after showing us his talent on video.

Elise G. (Ms. Weisman) “The Impact of Communism” Consistent with the student we have known throughout her time at Belmont Day, Elise took on a challenging topic with undaunted curiosity and trademark wit. We learned that the “ideal” communism that Marx imagined has never been truly realized, even within the five communist nations today. We also learned that Elise is not the biggest fan of board games. “Bored,” she explained, “is right there in the name.” To each their own, Elise.

Caleb F. (Mr. Colson) “Evaluating Fossils” From Caleb, we learned that paleontology, while certainly a deep exploration of the past, may also be a critical indicator of the future. We also learned that Caleb is ready for his college classroom or a Ted Talk—his twenty-minute presentation without a single note card could have continued for another hour, to the audience’s delight.

Ezra W. (Ms. Small) “How Poaching Affects African Elephants” I learned from Ezra that the plight and near extinction of the African Elephant would potentially occur within our lifetime if we don’t develop protective legislation to keep them safe in the future. I also learned that Ezra is quite a sophisticated animator, spending over 50 hours developing more than 2000 frames of his “Timmy the Elephant” story. (I also learned that his brother does a great elephant voiceover!)

Sahana M. (Mrs. Bright) “Striking a Chord: The Power of Music” From Sahana, I learned that the relationship between music and the brain cuts across hemispheres (literally, it lights up both the left and right halves of the brain) and that it has the same impact as exercise on the hormones it elevates, like dopamine and serotonin. I also learned that Sahana is a phenomenally talented singer, as she sang both major and minor scales of Carnatic music in front of the live audience.

Ben Dowers (Ms. Solomon) “Biomimicry and Climate Change” From Ben, I learned that over 3.5 billion years, nature developed some of the best practices in sustainable design, from the bumpy backs of beetles to the sun-facing behavior of leaves. We might do well to mimic them as we seek to solve the climate change crisis. I also learned that Ben’s innovative skills and perspective as a scientist, architect, or programmer might save the world someday.

Yara Ibrahim (Dr. Starks Chaves) “The Importance of the Hijab” From Yara, I learned that the traditional garment of the hijab for Muslim women carries deep cultural and religious significance. I learned, too, that the hijab is now a welcome garment in many international athletic competitions making room for Muslim female athletes. Most of all, though, I learned about Yara as a confident young woman whose identity is beautifully shaped by her relationship with the hijab.

Eike Kiecza (Mr. Muskat) “Black Holes and Neutron Stars” From Eike, I learned that despite our curiosity about the contents of a black hole, to find out would first require becoming ‘spaghettified’ to enter the singular density of space. I learned that my fear of Belmont Day being sucked into the abyss is unfounded unless we pass the event horizon—then, my fear would be realized. I also learned that Eike is as talented a presenter as a solderer of a Geiger counter.

Perin Fine (Ms. McDermott) “The Importance of Summer Camps” From Perin, first, I learned the power of patience. As with Maddie going first, there’s nothing quite like going last, and Perin nailed it. I also learned that there might be no better way to nurture a child’s independence or risk-taking ability than by letting them go to summer camp and, if you can, make it Dean Spencer’s Killoleet in central Vermont.

Congratulations, Class of 2023.  We are so proud of you all.

BrendanLargay, Head of School

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