Wooed by Exeter, Not by Andover

Every morning, Michelle Diamant, 14, rises at six, showers and starts getting ready for school. On the way to the kitchen, she might pause at the long hall window for a view of the Las Vegas strip at dawn, to watch the glamour and lights fade with the city-dimmed stars. She has breakfast with her mother, Jody, and heads off to a day of school, volleyball practice, science Olympiad, and piano lessons. To some of Michelle’s friends her life seems hectic, but Michelle is rarely without a smile. Though busy, she knows that she is working toward what she and her parents consider to be the best secondary school in the nation: Phillips Exeter Academy. Standing on the Andover side of the stadium at Andover-Exeter Day, cheering wildly for the Big Blue, and bragging about a lack of Saturday classes, it is easy for PA students to take for granted their school affiliation. However, many PA students at some point in the past made a life-altering decision of whether to attend Andover or its arch-rival, Exeter. Most laugh off that stage of their budding high school careers, saying they obviously made “the right choice.” Despite the friendly rivalry between the two schools, it is impossible to ignore that Exeter is a sister school in size, quality and history, and every year minds just as great as those encased in blue PA caps choose Big Red for their mascot. “Exeter is the only school I’m applying to. My mom doesn’t really want me to go away,” said Michelle. Nevada, quite a trip from Exeter, so it is easy to understand Mrs. Diamant’s reluctance. Despite this parental reluctance, Michelle says she is more than ready for boarding school. “I want to be away from home for a longer period of time. I don’t really like being at home that much. You love your parents, but sometimes it’s a little too much.” With her busy schedule, Michelle seems ready for the responsibility that accompanies independence. Michelle attends Hyde Park Middle School Academy of Math and Science. The “Academy Program” is a magnet program in which students take accelerated courses in all subjects, with an emphasis on math and science. Though she currently attends public school, Michelle has also studied at secular and parochial private schools. From kindergarten through fifth grade she attended The Meadows School, a secular private school. For part of her fifth grade year, Michelle attended school at Our Lady of Las Vegas, a Catholic school, and she has attended Hyde Park Middle School since the sixth grade. “I liked the public schools because for one you don’t have to wear uniforms, and also there’s a variety of kids at public school. You can learn more about them and their differences…It’s really the people who make the experience.” Michelle also plays volleyball competitively and has been playing the piano for nine years. When asked how a girl from Las Vegas heard about Exeter, Michelle said Exeter came to her. “[Exeter admissions officials] came to our school and showed a video to our class describing the life of one of the students there. They talked about living in dorms, living by yourself, and the boarding school lifestyle. It’s got a stellar program.” Michelle does not seem bothered by the elitist stereotypes often associated with schools like Exeter and Andover. In fact elitism is not the first thing she associates with boarding school. “Usually, when you first hear of boarding school you think ‘bad.’ It’s for kids who haven’t done what they’re supposed to do,” said Michelle. She says the delegation from Exeter helped dispel this misconception. As enthusiastic as she is about Exeter, Michelle claims to know little about Andover beyond conversation with this reporter. With the application deadline lurking in the not so distant future, Michelle and her family are giving the matter a great deal of thought. “I didn’t realize how many people apply to boarding schools. So many apply and so few get in,” said Michelle. Though she admits New England and Exeter will be very different from Las Vegas, Michelle is optimistic about the second home she hopes to make there. “There are kids from all across the country who go to these schools, who want this good education. It looks like a really comfortable environment.” Should she not gain admission to Exeter, Michelle will attend Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. Even if accepted, whether she will attend or not is ultimately not her decision. “That will be up to my parents. It’s for them to decide.” Despite this uncertainty, Michelle remains hopeful. “I like having choices and living away from home gives me those choices. If I did go for the first year and didn’t like it, I could come home. If I didn’t go, I wouldn’t know what it would be like in the first place. If you don’t go and you don’t try something new, you will never know.”