By Rachael Jennings
Maddie Pelissier is a self-proclaimed visual arts student, open-minded athlete, and “huge nerd” who joins us at Dublin after eleven years at Friends Academy in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. She is a freshman at Dublin School who is eager to meet new people and learn everything she can from a place she describes as so unlike any school she has seen.
Being open to learning and trying new activities is crucial for Maddie, who, with her sense of humor and candid optimism, has already, in just under three weeks of school, had a colorful journey when it comes to athletics.
Maddie had never done the sports that Dublin offers.
“I started with soccer. The first day, I kicked maybe four different people in the face with the ball. Including the coach. So, I switched to Dance,” Maddie explains with a laugh. “I really love it. I’ve made a lot of friends. I am terrible at it. I have two left feet and look like a dying duck. But I love it. I get really excited about it,” she smiles.
When it comes to setting a goal for her first year at Dublin, Maddie keeps it simple: her goal is to “kind of just survive.”
Where academic have always felt pretty steady to her and she acknowledges that she will “probably freak out around once a term,” she is more interested in growing socially.
“Before this,” she says, “I only went to one school for eleven years. My dad had been working there for twenty years, my teachers babysat me. I basically lived there. I never had to meet new people!”
Of course, moving to a new school after knowing every place and face for her whole academic life came with anxieties and concerns. At first, Maddie thought, “Oh my goodness, I am being thrown into this giant pool, and I just have to figure this out somehow. Over the summer, I was thinking, if I can make one friend on the first day, I’m gonna be okay. It’s all going to be okay.”
After living with her own bedroom and one older brother through her childhood, Maddie found herself in the Corner House Loft, a shared space for five freshman girls. The communal living experience was, at once, intense and exciting.
“We all like to hang out,” she says, “but we also all need our alone time. At first, it was like one big sleepover every night! But then it hit, like, wait, ‘I’m so tired!’”
Navigating her space with roommates and getting to know and befriend other students has been a challenging task to which Maddie has risen gracefully and energetically. As she describes it, “I think I am on a good path to getting there. To surviving.”
With two weeks in the books and one week halfway through, Maddie can already reflect on many positive changes and challenges conquered. “I thought that when I got here, I’d be a complete mess, have panic attacks,” she explains. “At first, I was preparing for the worst, wondering what I’m even doing here. Then I realized, wow. This isn’t so bad. In fact, the people are really nice. The teachers, faculty, and staff are so inviting. If you need to talk to someone, you know that somebody’s going to be there. Even if they don’t know you well yet. They are there for you. It’s like, ‘all right, well, talk.’ It’s reassuring.”
Knowing that she has friends and mentors to support her as she “survives,” Maddie knows that she can formulate a “stretch goal,” too. Beyond surviving, she wants to start to move past just the present moment, as she has been acutely fixed on the “right now.”
“I think I’ve gotten [the right now part] down,” she says. “Now, I am thinking about, what do I want my time at Dublin to mean to me? I am looking at the Amnesty International Club. I am interested in Human Rights. I want to help people. I applied for the Big Sisters and Big Brothers program. I want my time here to be beneficial to someone other than myself. I also want to do a bit of living while I’m surviving. That sounds pretty nice.”
For goals, big and small, Maddie has most surprised herself by how open she has been. She told herself from the opening days of the year that, every day, she would say “hi” and introduce herself to someone new.
This strategy has made her new friends as well as bolstered her relationship with older friends, like the friend she made on Revisit Day last spring.
“On Revisit Day,” she says, “I met one student, and we were both like, ‘I don’t know anyone here!’ We stuck together [that day]. When we saw each other on Opening Day, we realized we are like peanut butter and jelly. She is amazing. I got the opening of school sickness, or, well, plague, and she brought me crackers and we just chilled and talked. It has helped me branch out beyond my age group [since she is in a different year].”
But something else compels Maddie to step outside of her comfort zone when it comes to making new friends. She describes it as Dublin’s curious way of inviting students to expand themselves through new activities.
“There’s some times when someone is like, do you want to go try this new thing? And [that quality] has made me get better at being open to new things. I’m sort of like, ‘Yeah, sure, I’ve got nothing to lose!’ Being around people who try new things has urged me to be more adventurous and open while still knowing my boundaries. I wouldn’t try anything that would hurt me. Or others. That’s why I don’t play basketball,” she laughs. “Or soccer.”
Take Mountain Day, for instance. This week, a number of students climbed a mountain for the first time. Maddie, well, she was “jonesing for a good hike” but she was also feeling under the weather, so she took the time not just to enjoy the hike but to take her time and walk with different groups of students and teachers.
“When I found Dublin I thought, ‘this is so different from what I’m used to, and I love it,’” she says. “The first few weeks are proving what I believed about [the school]. Dublin has a great variety of personalities and backgrounds. It’s a beautiful little mashup of happiness.”
What’s next for Maddie after life at Dublin feels far away. Four years seems a long time. But Maddie has had dreams since she was very young: of going to a great college, of going to The Culinary Institute of America, of studying abroad in France.
“I definitely want to know that after Dublin, I will be on a good path. I want to know that I’m going to have a plan wherever I’m going. From what I’ve seen so far, and I know we are only a few weeks in,” she smiles, I think that I can get that from here.”
With the “mashup of happiness” that is this community, the resources she has, and the group of students inviting her to dance, laugh, try new sports and activities, she feels confident about where she is going not just in the next few days, but in the next few years.