34 Seniors Honored for Academics, Athletics, Contributions to School Life

Virtual meetings with teachers turned into surprise award presentations, with family members and other teachers popping in to bear witness, for a few dozen seniors on Friday. They were honored for success in all facets of student life, including academics, arts, athletics and service to others — recognitions that are typically bestowed in an awards assembly in Kenan Auditorium, but were moved online throughout the afternoon on Friday to wrap up Senior Day.

A portion of special recognition award recipients’ citations are below. Video recordings of the full awards presentations for the majority of both special recognition awards and departmental awards are available via the links below.

Special Recognition Awards

Senior Deans' Award: This award recognizes attributes valued by the dean: effort, dedication, integrity, honesty and character. We seek to honor those students at our school who show dedication to not only doing their best, but also being their best.

Crosby Williams: “And, more important than academic or athletic achievement, Crosby has become a young man with integrity. A young man who won’t allow himself to take the easy way out, but will choose to do the hard right thing each and every time. He stands up when he sees unkindness or injustice without fear of judgment or retribution. This courage influences others to do better and be better and serves to make the community a kinder, more just place.”

Sydni Wright: “Sydni’s positive impact extends beyond the classroom and permeates throughout the Durham Academy community, and has since she came to our campus as a new ninth-grader. We quickly recognized Sydni’s authenticity and agency when she founded the Upper School’s first-ever Black Affinity group. What an impressive and important move by a young woman brand new to the school!”

Head of School Award: The Head of School award is given to that member of the senior class who, in the opinion of the Head of School, gave of himself/herself well above what is normally expected in the areas of involvement and dedication, and, in so doing, upheld the standards of the school as well as the student body.

Annie Ma: “Moral. Happy. Productive. These words are at the heart of Durham Academy’s mission statement — because at DA, character matters. All of us here at Durham Academy want our students to be successful. But we know that it is their character — their honesty, sense of responsibility, kindness, grit, courage, sense of justice, and compassion — that matters most. This year’s recipient of the Head of School Award, to the benefit of her friends, classmates, and teachers, embodies each of those qualities.”

Benny Klein: “... you are a unique, one-of-a-kind leader. The kind that is unafraid to talk to anyone, get to know them, find the good in them, and get them to believe in themselves so, they in turn, give their best. The kind that, faced with a new situation, throws himself forward — unafraid, eager to learn, humble and with an open heart. And, I dare say, having that effect on people, being able to inspire them in this way, is your best quality. It is something that will distinguish you throughout your life.”

Ginny Buckner Award: The Ginny Buckner Award is given to that senior who exemplifies the admirable traits Ginny Buckner displayed in her academic and performing arts accomplishments: a great passion for learning and achievement, perseverance, discipline, and a tireless commitment to excellence in the field of performing arts. This award was established in 2011 in memory of Ginny Buckner, Class of 2004, with gifts from family and friends.

Alayah Tedder: “This year’s co-winner of the Buckner Award is, according to Mr. Meyer, a ‘top-shelf talent blessed with a phenomenal voice.’ And while this co-winner’s performances in Acapocalypse, In the Pocket, and two different winter musical roles have enriched our school, she is not winning this award because of her talent; she is winning this award because she is, as Mr. Meyer says, ‘an untouchably good human being.’ ”

Julia Phu: “To watch Julia perform on stage at one with music and surrounding space is to witness seemingly effortless flow. But like the underlying power and complexity of Nature, her fluid movement belies her years of practice, sacrifice and rigor. Even the frustration of foot injuries could not stop Julia and, instead, directed her towards choreography.”

George Watts Hill Community Service Award: The George Watts Hill Community Service Award is given yearly to that member of the senior class who best perpetuates the care and concern for community exhibited by Durham Academy’s founder George Watts Hill, through unselfish service to others, either within the school or in a broader scope of the community.

Katie Hunter: “Whether it be her ninth grade history research paper focused on the famine in Somalia, or her 10th grade articulation of her own personal mission statement rooted in taking action to serve others, or her choice junior year to dive more deeply into issues of wealth and poverty through the AP Research Seminar, or her enrollment senior year in the ‘Augustine Teaching Literacy Skills’ course, this student intentionally crafted her intellectual pursuits to align with her values.”

Elizabeth Adams Old Senior Award: This award is given annually to that member of the senior class who has demonstrated the highest degree of character, leadership, academic and athletic accomplishment, and extra-curricular participation. The attributes of the recipient exemplify the school's philosophic commitment to the personal, intellectual and physical development of each student.

Davis Beischer: “He is a young man who has made a habit of putting his best self forward in all that he undertakes, whether in the classroom, in the gym, or leading a group of children at SOCK Camp. His continual pursuit of excellence makes Davis a role model among his peers. However, the grace, kindness, and giving spirit that Davis continually exudes while pursuing excellence are the qualities that truly make him a natural leader.”

Madeleine Genova: “She listens with all her being — her eyes, ears, heart, soul and mind — and, in doing so, weighs the balance of things and speaks her truth, for she also possesses ‘the courage it takes to stand up and speak.’ As Honor Council President, Madeleine described her role as one that requires empathy and the ability to listen to ‘a lot of different people with different ideas and different reads on cases’ and ‘come to some conclusion that makes sense for everyone.’ This is not an easy task, but one that Madeleine performed with respect, kindness and wisdom.” 

Scott Jameson Filston Award: To a senior whose athletic and academic accomplishments best reflect the qualities characteristic of Scott Filston: the love of learning, the joy of participating with his friends and representing his school in interscholastic athletics, perseverance and an unselfish commitment to the school and the school community.

Caroline Sapir: “Caroline leads and guides her teammates with kindness, confidence and authenticity, inspiring them to their best performance and character. We find this not only on the lacrosse and field hockey fields, but also in the classroom and with her friends and family. While she might liken her efforts to that of a duck — smooth movement on the surface with frantic pedaling under the water — the humorous, honest, self-effacing analogy reminds us just how hard she works while brilliantly balancing and sharing her talents.”

Will Nichols: “So many of his teachers, past and present, when asked to add a word or two to this citation, commented on his spirit and how inclusive he is of others. All saw him as a well-informed, enthusiastic, and warm-hearted peer who makes others want to participate in projects for the common good as well as give their all on the teams on which he participated as an athlete. Coaches added, ‘He bleeds DA green!’ ”

Frank Hawkins Kenan Medal: The Frank Hawkins Kenan Medal is given annually to a member of the senior class who demonstrates leadership and outstanding achievement in academics, athletics, and the fine arts. This award is given in memory of Frank Hawkins Kenan, a lifetime trustee of Durham Academy, by his widow Betty Kenan.

Julia Villani: “Julia is universally described as kind-hearted, compassionate, and helpful. Yet somehow also has a ‘warrior spirit’ and the ‘gift of fury.’ She treats teammates, coaches, classmates, everyone with a gracious respect, while simultaneously pushing them to expect more from themselves by setting a high bar of excellence.”

Departmental Awards


(for honorees without video recordings)

Christopher Chaves

The Senior History Award recognizes four years of curiosity, meaningful engagement, and elite levels of achievement. This year’s award winner has done nothing but impress his history teachers throughout his run through the Upper School. Always seeking to expand his historical horizons, he has sought both breadth and depth in his study of the past. There isn’t another student at Durham Academy who has succeeded at such a high level through such a diversity of history courses: this person excelled not only in the department’s core courses, but also Cotton, Coffee and Cocaine; Crimes and Punishments; AP European History; and he’s currently wrapping up an Independent Study about corruption in the late Roman Republic.

In fact, this independent study is the perfect culmination of this student’s work in the history department because, in it, this student develops the kind of original and relevant perspective that defines historical scholarship. And this young man is just that — a scholar. He routinely masters complex information with seeming ease. And yet, he’s never under the impression that comprehensive knowledge is the goal of historical inquiry. Rather, he’s always seeking out interpretive angles that will lead him to develop his own critical perspective. As a sophomore in Cotton, Coffee, and Cocaine, Christopher seemed to delight in questioning and challenging the arguments of established scholars. And, even though he was just a sophomore in a class of 10th, 11th, and 12th graders, Christopher’s critical analyses of those scholarly works were the strongest of the bunch. And those scholarly instincts grew to even greater heights in the following two years.

In class, he provokes in the most useful ways; he asks nuanced questions that can only come from deep understandings of the historical information; he resists simplistic explanations; and he adopts confident, informed positions that challenge both his peers and his teachers. In these ways, this student helps to create a classroom environment that is intellectually active and deeply analytical. For pursuing his intellectual curiosity with rigor and creativity for the past four years, the Senior History Award goes to Christopher Chaves.

Victoria Lawton

The Spirit of Science Award recognizes students who display insatiable curiosity,
unbridled enthusiasm, artistic creativity, tenacity, dedication and exemplary work in
all facets of science during their years at Durham Academy’s Upper School.

Over the past four years, the science faculty have been consistently impressed with Victoria’s passionate pursuit for knowledge, enthusiastic approach to leadership, and courage to tackle difficult problems in the field of science. Victoria possesses the keen, insightful, analytical mind of a scientist, but retains the fearlessness of a young child who makes no excuses for their curiosity and endless fascination about the world. These characteristics, along with a seemingly endless stream of energy and a steadfast determination, have allowed her to unravel and understand scientific concepts at their core. Her devotion to learning, her patience, and her compassion for others make her a role model and leader among her peers. Both in the classroom and on the DARC SIDE, she shares her passion in a way that brings people together, encourages collaboration, and generates excitement. 

Victoria does not shy away from difficult problems, but views them as puzzles to explore, and consistently draws on her arsenal of strategies to generate ideas, analyze possible solutions, and forge a path ahead. Most importantly, she reminds us that learning can, and should, be a fun and rewarding lifelong endeavor. For all of these reasons, the Durham Academy Science Department is honored to announce Victoria Lawton as a co-winner of the 2020 Spirit of Science Award.

Jackson Futrell

I am thrilled to present Jackson Futrell with a Senior Award in Cultural Themes in Spanish this year. Jackson has been a dedicated and enthusiastic Spanish student not only throughout his time at the Upper School, but especially since being inspired by Señor Glass in the 5th grade, who has been his constant support and companion throughout this journey.  After fulfilling his graduation requirement, Jackson continued to dedicate himself in the Spanish culture electives the last two years.  From teaching the class about the history of the evolving US-Mexican border, to creating a 10-foot massive work of art to illustrate Operation Condor in South America, to leading his class to better understand the three acts of the Spanish art of bull-fighting, Jackson has enthusiastically and sincerely explored the Spanish-speaking cultures of the world. Jackson has displayed tremendous growth in his critical thinking skills and in the maturity of the questions he has posed to his classmates. In all, Jackson deserves to be recognized for this growth and reflection, for his sincere and dedicated interest, and for the earnestness of his contributions.  Bravo, Jackson “El Pato” Futrell!

Linus Dannull

Linus, it is my pleasure to present you with this year's Senior Award in Latin. I know that I was only able to see you at the end of your high school Latin career, but I am so glad that I have had the chance to teach you and to see you in action in a Latin class.

Our Latin program is small, but mighty. The few that complete (or survive) the curriculum — Advanced Latin as well as AP Latin — come out with the ability to read authentic Latin texts in a variety of genres and from a variety of time periods. Linus has come out on top as the only senior survivor, a fact that in no way diminishes this accomplishment. Rather, it demonstrates his commitment to a challenging and eclectic language. The AP Latin syllabus is notoriously tough and the sheer amount of vocabulary, technical terminology, historical and cultural contexts, and text that students master leaves many pondering Aeneas' words to his weary and disheartened comrades: "perhaps someday it will please (or help!) us to remember even these things."

As this was my first year teaching Latin at Durham Academy, I was incredibly grateful to have Linus in my class. I could not have asked for a better leader or a better sport. Linus approached every challenge with confidence, without ever being arrogant and he was frequently the first one to dive into challenging passages when others hesitated. Linus has been consistently engaged in the material, curious, and, of course, a very strong Latin student. He approached our texts without self-consciousness, seeming to understand that part of the learning process — particularly for a language — is diving in, being willing to make mistakes, and adjusting from there. I try to cultivate this attitude in all of my students, but few truly embrace it. Linus, however, naturally understood this.

Linus, it has been such a delight to get to know you this year, and I hope that you will keep us posted on the amazing things you will accomplish beyond DA.