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Meet the Saints Steppers
Unity. That’s the word at the heart of the new St. Andrew's step team—a first in SAS history.
“Step is something I’ve always been interested in. First, it’s something we’ve never had at St. Andrew’s. Second, it’s connected to Black culture and that resonated with me. Third, the whole point of step is to be together as one, and that’s important to me.”
Step team co-founder Shania Adams ’23
The Linear Path is a Myth
Gregory Gourdet ’93 delivered a stunning Commencement address detailing his journey of walking away from a premed major to overcoming addiction and becoming the person he is today: award-winning chef, restauranteur, cookbook author, Top Chef contestant, ultrarunner, and so much more.
Joe Baker ’24 Breaks School 2k Record
Joe Baker started rowing competitively last year, and already he's one of the top recruits in the country. Read about his journey to St. Andrew's and rowing a sub-6:10 2k here
Since the founding of the school in 1929, St. Andrew’s has been a school affordable to all students who are qualified for admission, regardless of their financial means.
What matters most is your character and the contributions you will make to our community and our world.
of your family’s financial need will be met if you are admitted to St. Andrew’s
For 93 years, we've offered revolutionary need-based financial aid to all admitted students. Our mission is—and always has been—to be a school accessible to all, regardless of means
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We not only learn together, but live together—and that fundamentally changes the nature of your high school experience.
Hear from current students on the ways in which living at St. Andrew's has transformed them.
An inside look at the two newest leaders of the student body
Classes, homework, college applications, clubs, varsity sports: Charlie Lunsford ’24 and Riya Soni ’24 have a lot on their plates in their final year at St. Andrew’s before they head off to college. But this duo has another weighty responsibility to balance, too—serving as school co-presidents. But as any SAS student knows, St. Andrew’s is not just a “school.”
“The line between school and home here is so incredibly blurred that we not only have to create a good school experience for students, but a good home life, or as close to home as we can get,” says Soni.
Stepping into the shoes of former co-presidents Trinity Smith ’23 and Ford Chapman ’23 is no easy task for Lunsford and Soni, but the two are eager to tackle their new roles, as their past experiences have led up to this moment.
Soni came to St. Andrew’s as a new IV Form student after completing her freshman year in her home state of New Jersey. Soon into her time here, she founded the Social Justice Club with a few of her fellow students.
“Through organizing projects and coordinating with teachers, I got a really tangible taste for what leadership meant,” Soni says of her experience founding the club.
Lunsford, a three-sport athlete from North Carolina, took one of his first forays into leadership in his IV Form year as captain of the squash team. He also feels that in his three years at St. Andrew’s, he has become an informal leader of his class.
“When the opportunity to be [co-president] came up I kind of just jumped at it because of the love I have for everyone in my class and these connections we’ve built,” says Lunsford. “I feel like there’s nothing that I care about more than my class.”
As co-presidents, Soni and Lunsford’s responsibilities include heading Form Council, giving daily announcements, working with faculty to serve as a voice for the students, and sitting on the Honor Committee and Discipline Committee.
“Our priorities include having a really solid and communicative Form Council so that planning events like Casino Night and the Haunted Trail go smoothly,” Soni says. The duo would also like to plan more weekend social events, like movies on the Front Lawn, or bonfire and s’mores nights. “[We want to do this] so students feel more encouraged to take breaks from their work, opt-in, and socialize,” she says.
With SAS culture restored to its former glory after the pandemic, Soni and Lunsford would like to explore bringing some old-school traditions back, like the schoolwide Olympics or assigning students to Hogwarts houses.
As much fun as that all sounds, the co-presidents consider one job to be more paramount.
“The biggest goal of the co-presidents is to protect the school’s culture,” says Lunsford.
The students serve as role models for others, and step up when they see something going on that does not align with the school’s values.
“It is all about culture. That’s the one thing that differentiates us from [other schools],” says Soni.
She adds that practicing what she preaches is not always easy, especially because she is still learning and growing at a place where progress is the mission, not perfection. However, she says that taking accountability for her own actions is what matters, and that’s what she expects from her fellow students as well.
The seniors plan to stay on top of their responsibilities while taking care of themselves by relying on each other, students in Form Council, and faculty, and by giving themselves grace.
But the two say that it isn’t hard to juggle their responsibilities when they feel so passionate about their roles.
“People don’t remember what you say to them, or what you do for them, they remember how you make them feel,” says Soni. “And if we can, amidst all the stress and all the jam-packed schedules … if we can make people stop and experience pure happiness … that just means the world to me.”
There are two ways to identify a genuine encounter with John Teti ’23 in the wilds of St. Andrew’s: you either see him before you hear him, or you hear him before you see him.
Scenario one calls for Teti to be outfitted in one of his bold, vibrant (and potentially ironic—it’s hard to tell, as Teti has a flair for the impish) looks, which, as the anointed ambassador of Hawaiian shirt culture at St. Andrew’s, is most days. It also helps when spotting him that he’s very, very tall.
Scenario two calls for you to be within any building in St. Andrew’s that houses a single musical instrument. Piano, drum, guitar, bass, melodica, it doesn’t matter: Teti’s all in. It’s a magnetic, urgent pull between human and instrument. And what lovely, thoughtful noise Teti makes.
If you were to query any St. Andrew’s faculty or staff HQ’d in the O’Brien Arts Center, they’d be quick to tell you that the very best thing about that space is the constant sound of genius in progress from student artists and musicians. This year, in particular, Teti’s achingly earnest, honest vocals have bloomed throughout O’Brien as he works through a personal senior thesis of sorts: Watching and Waiting, the burgeoning singer-songwriter’s first full-length album, completely recorded on campus with a little help from his friends.
“John Teti is probably the reason I love music the way I do,” says Jayson Rivera ’23, a founding member of The Freshman Band, which has seen many different names (“My personal favorite was Toads on Parade,” says Teti) and bandmates throughout the years. “He got a group of us together our first year. I was intimidated on bass because everyone was so talented, but what John helped put together for that very first Open Mic Night our III Form year has been one of my favorite things about St. Andrew’s. It’s from John that I learned music is not something you make because a parent or teacher asks you to. Music is something you make out of love alone.”
Like any good bestie-of-the-band, Rivera already has a favorite single from Teti’s soon-to-be released album. “I play on ‘Here and Now,’ and the song is so good,” he says. “John has the potential and the talent to absolutely go crazy with music. I’ve watched him mold the clay and become more confident in his playing and mature in his writing. The cool thing is John’s always known what he wants to do with music, but he also happens to be smart enough to pursue anything else in the world he wants.”
Teti is peak-Teti the morning we meet: Humming one of his originals, Hawaiian shirt poppin’, dropping the kind of dope and sage wisdom that makes you wonder if this kid is, in fact, actually a high-schooler. He’s considering the lyrics of one of his songs, which he characterizes as “simple.” “But I find it’s the most simple experiences, moments, and truths that really connect us as humans exploring the human condition,” he says. “That’s so beautiful to me.” (Dope, sage. I told you.)
While today Teti has resisted the siren lure of the Dining Hall piano that we sit dangerously close to in the Main Common Room, he gestures toward it. “That’s where this started for me here,” he says. “I was known by the seniors as the annoying freshman kid who always woke them up because I would come for breakfast check-in and just start playing.”
Teti contends he wasn’t brave enough as a III Former to make the sartorial choices he makes now, but it was never a question of being audacious enough to jump on the keys.
“The music wasn’t for them,” Teti says of his peers in the Dining Hall (and the seniors, who eventually came around). “I was playing for me. I was playing because there was an instrument handy and I had a few minutes.”
Soon, Teti’s breakfast interludes started to gain traction. “Soon people took the stance of, ‘This is really nice,’” Teti says. “That's one of the things that I think is thematically true of my relationship with music, which is I use music as a builder of community. I'm very grateful that everyone else in the St. Andrew’s community seems to be as grateful as they are for me simply just doing something I love to do.”
That love of music stems from a musician dad; early fandom of Billy Joel, The Beach Boys, Randy Newman, and the Pauls (Simon and McCartney, naturally); and a few years spent singing at The American Boychoir School in New Jersey, a choir boarding school for middle-graders.
“I learned a lot about singing, music, choir, and independent life while I was there,” he says. “I did a lot of country-touring and stayed with a million host families, singing at tiny churches across America. I've seen the interior of 200-odd middle-class American homes, which was pretty cool.”
When the school closed, Teti found himself a seventh-grader at parochial school with a music curriculum that was lacking, to put it kindly. “I was feeling antsy without music in my life in a big way,” says Teti, who, backed with some of the theory knowledge he’d picked up along the way, soon turned to chord sheets and YouTube to teach himself piano. It didn’t take long for him to arrive at a place where, upon approached with any request, he could look up the chord sheet and boom.
“What’s most flourished for me, creatively speaking, with music at St. Andrew’s has been piano,” he says.
Director of Instrumental Music Dr. Fred Geiersbach has had a front row seat to all the flourishing.
“It's been amazing to watch John's already strong talent grow over the last few years,” Geiersbach says. “He's obviously a strong singer-songwriter, but it brings me great joy to also see him developing as an arranger on this album. He's been a fabulous addition to the Jazz Ensemble this semester, and I've been really happy to contribute my playing to his album.”
As for “Doc G’s” contribution? “I'm using a brass quartet made up of Dr. Geiersbach layered over himself,” Teti says with a grin. “I love it. It makes me laugh every time I think about it.”
Other SAS collaborators on the album include Cora Birknes ’23 on oboe, Silas Grasse ’23 on drums, and Sophie Xu ’23 on violin, among others. It makes sense that Teti would cast his friends and fellow Saint musicians as supporting characters on his album. After all, he is telling a story of becoming that happened to unfold on the banks of Noxontown Pond.
“I think broadly I’m trying to paint a self-portrait of the last couple years of high school,” he says. “A lot of that has to do with the relationships I created here, in these spaces.”
While all the songs are written, the actual recording of Watching and Waiting began after Christmas Break this year. Teti, who has invested a grand total of $20 into his artistic endeavor, has made good use of St. Andrew’s recording studio, with an assist from film and music instructor Peter Hoopes. Outside of the studio and the talent of Teti and his musical squad, Teti’s using Apple’s Logic Pro recording software and voice memos he calls “sound collages.” A trained St. Andrew’s ear will hear the sounds of campus embedded in his music: Oar-meets-water, recorded from his crew boat. The pealing of the bell tower. The din of Dining Hall conversation. Geese taking flight.
“Music for me is a form of therapy, and I went through some rather serious bouts of anxiety and other mental illness over the last couple years. I think I felt kind of stuck,” Teti says. “There’s one song that I wrote last spring where you’ll hear the repetitive sound of the oars clacking. It’s this mechanical pattern. It speaks to my headspace. It’s sort of shocking how much I feel like I’m in it when I close my eyes and listen. It’s almost an audio landscape painting or time capsule. To make myself spend time ruminating and soaking and steeping in this really difficult time was an emotional feat. Ask any student here: sometimes it feels like we’re caught in this endless loop. I guess the song is my version of that.”
Teti has both amused, surprised, and impressed himself when it comes to the songwriting. “Sometimes I’ll look at something I wrote and think, ‘Wow. That’s interesting. I wonder where this is coming from,’” he says. “Other times I’ll write something and sit back and it will occur to me that what I wrote is not something I ever dreamed of writing.”
English faculty Will Torrey—a mentor of Teti’s—knows a thing or two about Teti’s craft.
“From the first day of class, I could see John was an artistic, sensitive young man, someone who felt strong emotions deep down, and someone who knew, intuitively, that studying art and literature might help him make sense of the confusion so endemic to everyday life,” Torrey says. “It wasn't until he enrolled in Creative Writing that I began to fully understand him as a person. Along with the work he did in class—composing thought-provoking poems and pushing his peers to write as honestly and openly as they could—John also began coming by my office for regular visits. During these chats, John opened up about his love of music, as well as his ambition to produce a full-length album before he graduates. Such an undertaking would be a great challenge for anyone, but for a student at a school where one's days are totally scheduled, it seems almost impossible. That is, unless you're John.”
Much like one would submit early drafts of writing to their favorite teacher, Torrey has been treated to early studio sessions of Teti’s songs. “They’re beautiful,” Torrey says. “But what inspires me most about him is his preternaturally mature relationship to the process of making art. He puts in the time, not because it's easy or because it always yields gold, but because the making of the product, and not the product itself, is what fills him up.”
Teti knows the pressures on—in a little over a week, he’ll be graduating, and then off to spend “13th grade” at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. “Yes, another boarding school on another pond,” he says wryly. While he admits he’s battling a sense of imposter syndrome about getting into the choicey arts school to focus solely on his music, Teti is thrilled. “Music will be the sole academic focus,” he says. “Most musicians don’t get that opportunity until post-undergrad.”
There is, of course, Watching and Waiting to contend with first. Of the 10 tracks, two—“Strawberry Moon” and “Here We Are”—are now streaming on Spotify; the eight others are in various stages of completion.
“I don't want to get too in the weeds on what is the existential purpose of recorded music, but I don't want to make something that nobody hears,” Teti says. “I've sunk a lot of time and effort into this project and it would be incredibly disappointing for it not to be finished before I leave.” (Yes, of course, there will be a listening party.)
As he considers his musical growth, the friends and faculty who helped along the way, and finding his voice, Teti is almost surprised to admit it might not be the people he misses most. “I expected that to be the answer, as it’s the obvious one,” Teti says. “But I think, increasingly enough, I’ve found myself already mourning the loss of the physical spaces. Delaware sunsets in the fall, Noxontown Pond, the grass docks, the recording studio—the sounds of it all.”
On the first day of math class, I write an equation on the board:
love = attention
Each school year, I work to create a classroom culture that helps the students in the room feel safe and loved. I tell the students that I love them, and I ask that they love one another. We set the ground rules of listening to each other. We are polite. We ask questions. We work together. And, I remind them, whenever our attention is divided—whenever we are distracted—we miss an opportunity to love.
I believe our work as humans is to wake up to our lives. As we practice waking up together, we cultivate the ability to focus our attention and, therefore, our love. By writing this equation on the board, I call on students to sow the seeds of mindfulness and love for each other. When we become aware of the intrinsic relationship between attention and love, it is an opportunity—as Sharon Salzberg says—to do something different with our lives.
Though my SAS nametag states I am a teacher, I am a student, too. As students, we are seekers. As seekers, we wonder about the nature of ourselves, our world, and our lives. I have many teachers, including Dipa Ma, a Buddhist adept, who was once asked whether she recommends mindfulness meditation or loving-kindness meditation to students. Her response was that for her, there is no difference between the two: “Meditation is love. Enlightenment is great love.” So Dipa Ma is also the first mathematician that the students meet in my class; she is the author of the equation above.
Another of my teachers was Dave DeSalvo, legendary SAS math teacher and chaplain. In his last year of teaching, I overheard Dave end some of his classes with the goodbye, “I love you; God loves you.” As a secular Buddhist, I usually think “universe” when I hear “God.” By virtue of the very fact of our existence, the universe, itself, quite literally, is “aware” of us. You could say that we are being loved into existence in each moment. I think Dipa Ma and Dave are sharing two perspectives on the same truth. It is this truth that I want my students to glimpse. I believe The Beatles were right when they harmonized: “All you need is love.” Our lives consist of waking up, over and over, to the truth that love is all there is.
Does this mean that there is no hate, sorrow, war, or division in the world? Of course not. I would argue that these rise in proportion to our collective mindlessness. In Buddhism, there is the concept of bodhicitta, the aspiration “to wake up with wisdom and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings.” In our age of distraction, I have found this to be both a skillful and timely prayer. Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice about meditation puts this idea another way:
“Happiness is available. Please help yourself to it.”
The work of inclusion and belonging at St. Andrew’s is to lift up the voices of our students, faculty, and staff; to appreciate the diversity of our community; and to fully recognize each other’s humanity. Our classrooms, our residential spaces, and our playing fields offer countless opportunities for us to embrace inclusive practices, celebrate differences, and consider our collective responsibility to create the just and equitable world in which we want to live.
To share a bit about myself, I am a native Delawarean who also calls South Carolina “home.” I am a fourth-generation educator who follows a long maternal line of Black women who’ve served both within the classroom and in school administration. My great-grandmothers were teachers and principals in segregated high schools in Montgomery, Alabama. My grandmother and mother, both English teachers, were outstanding influences in my life—and are the reasons I chose English as a major in college. My late mother, Alice Carson Tisdale, was selected as District Teacher of the Year in Smyrna, Delaware, in 1986. As one of a handful of Black teachers in the district at that time, this distinction was one in which she, and our entire family, took great pride. My mother retired in 2019 after 21 years in secondary education, and a subsequent 25 years of service as a college administrator.
Standing on the shoulders of these women, I see education as a calling and feel grateful to work at a school where my talents can be put to good use. I am a very proud graduate of Spelman College, a private, historically black, women's liberal arts college in Atlanta, Georgia. I completed an M.A. at Temple University and a doctorate at Emory University. My career has taken me all over the country, and I have had the great fortune of working in both higher and secondary education settings. To share what I’ve learned as a student, as an educator, and as a servant leader with this community is an incredible privilege.
My decision to join St. Andrew’s as a dean of inclusion and belonging was not made lightly. In my first conversation with Head of School Joy McGrath ’92, however, I began to understand just how special this school is and how committed our students, faculty, and staff are to the practice of inclusion and belonging. When I visited the school last spring, I met with students who were enthusiastic about rolling up their sleeves and working diligently to ensure that St. Andrew’s is a place where all students can thrive. I was also deeply inspired by the faculty and staff whose unwavering commitment to students is unmatched. I knew, after that visit, that St. Andrew’s was not only a place where I could be impactful, but a place where every day would offer me—and my family—opportunities, as American author and social activist bell hooks writes, “to work in community, and to be changed by community.”
I am honored to be entrusted with the awesome responsibility of building upon the foundation laid by those committed to this important work at St. Andrew’s before me: Treava Milton ’83, Stacey Duprey ’85 P’04,’10, Giselle Furlonge ’03, and Devin Duprey ’10. I lift these names up to acknowledge the considerable contributions of alumnae of color whose dedication to advancing diversity and inclusion at St. Andrew’s, both past and present, cannot be overstated. My goals for this year extend from their work and include developing a formal infrastructure for the office of inclusion and belonging; offering effective and meaningful diversity education programming for students, faculty, and staff; and providing robust educational opportunities for affinity group faculty leaders and affinity group members.
I look forward to working in collaboration with colleagues, students, parents, and alumni to meet these broad goals and to reconnect. I welcome your ideas, your curiosity, and your honest feedback on our work together. I am deeply grateful for your generous support and am excited about all that is to come!
Danica Tisdale Fisher
Dean of Inclusion and Belonging