For our Spring 2019 Alumni Spotlight feature, Peabody is pleased to feature Peabody alumna Lydia Funk (big sister to Sam, Class of 2019)!

Lydia graduated from Peabody in 2011 and received an advanced diploma from Charlottesville High School in 2015.  She will graduate in May 2019 from William & Mary with a B.A. in French & Francophone Studies and a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. This summer she will be working at the International School of Charlottesville’s immersion summer camp and afterwards will be serving as a group leader with the Iraqi Youth Leaders Exchange Program, working with undergraduates who are visiting the U.S. to develop leadership skills and learn about community engagement. Moving forward, she recently accepted a position as an English teaching assistant in France and will be moving to the academic region of Lille in September 2019.

When reflecting back on Peabody, Lydia notes that she attended for seven years, from 1st through 8th grades (she skipped 6th grade). “My fondest Peabody memory was when I was in the 3rd grade, and construction was completed on the new, two-story wing of the school,” she said.  “I remember the day that we were allowed to go see our new classrooms, and how new and bright and thrilling the bookcases and windows and hallways felt. There was an elevator! We didn’t have to run through the rain to get to the music classroom anymore! We had a new art room, a drama room with a stage with a trap door, and a beautiful new atrium. I’ve always loved exploring new spaces, and I remember the opening day of the new wing of the school as a wonderfully exciting one.”

Lydia believes that the two most valuable skills she learned at Peabody “were how to absorb information and how to be curious. Neither was taught explicitly, but the culture at the school encourages students to ask questions and seek out knowledge,” she added. “These skills have proven incredibly useful, especially in college, when the burden of seeking out academic opportunities began to fall on me, instead of on my teachers.”

Looking back, what most stands out for Lydia about her Peabody experience are “the many years of French with Madame Meyer. The continuous exposure to another language cemented my passion for cross-cultural communication. Peabody’s inclusion of world language as a core class is unique; I don’t think American schools generally put too much focus on bilingualism — which is a shame!”   

Lydia observed that she is “beginning to shape a career that is fundamentally dependent on my bilingualism; I know my French wouldn’t be as good as it is if I had only had an hour or two of French a week for the seven years I was a student at Peabody. In my personal experience traveling abroad, I have noticed that Americans have a reputation for being stubbornly monolingual. I think that our education system, in failing to prioritize world language education, is increasingly isolating us from the richness of the rest of the world.  I think it’s commendable that Peabody continues to emphasize world language classes, as it contributes an invaluable tool to the minds of its students.”

Lydia says Peabody “definitely prepares its students to be more than capable in high school courses, both in content and in critical thinking and writing skills. Beyond simply considering benchmarks in high school coursework, I believe Peabody’s dedication to subjects across disciplines helped facilitate my appreciation for a liberal arts education.”  She noted that “taking high school level math and science classes in middle school at Peabody allowed me to fulfill high school diploma requirements early. This opened up my schedule considerably my senior year of high school, allowing me to apply my academic curiosity to a number of elective courses I wouldn’t have been able to take without my experience at Peabody.”

In terms of what she wishes she had known before she graduated Peabody, Lydia says, “I do wish I had understood how my academic and social environment in elementary and middle school differed from many of my peers entering ninth grade.”  She noted that oftentimes middle school students do not talk about “mental health, social issues, diversity, and other topics that tend to fall outside the content of core subject classes. Because of this, I think I felt unprepared socially for the diversity of experiences and backgrounds at my high school.”

Lydia’s advice for the Peabody Class of 2019? “When you go to pick classes for your freshman year schedule, pick one elective that you know absolutely nothing about. Peabody has offered you a lot of awesome opportunities, but the subjects taught there aren’t the only ones that exist! Maybe find a psychology class, or an engineering class, or join a new kind of music ensemble or a theater elective. Don’t limit yourself to things you know you’re good at; it’s when you’re struggling with something unfamiliar that you have the chance to grow the most. I joined a sport team! The possibilities are endless.”

Lydia concluded by providing one other piece of advice “that can be helpful when writing a research paper, but also in everyday life: always be aware of who is telling stories about whom. In listening to the news, reading a book, or even lighthearted gossip: is the narrator telling their own story, or someone else’s? What is the relationship between the speaker and the subject? Which voices are or aren’t left out of the narrative, and what bias might that create? Considering these kinds of interactions can go a long way in developing critical thinking & healthy social relationships.”  We are so grateful to Lydia for taking time to reflect on her Peabody experiences, and we wish her the best of luck next year in France!