Alumni Spotlight: Sam Martin (’15)
How do MLWGS students choose where to apply to college and ultimately where to attend? How do they handle the transition from high school to college? Our youngest alumni have the freshest perspectives on college applications, admissions, and selection. Sam Martin (’15) is a junior at Middlebury College in Vermont.
“I was into everything in high school,” Sam says. “I took all the chemistry classes MLWGS had to offer, which I loved, but I also loved English, and all the great books I read in those classes. That’s not to mention Maggie Walker’s focus on languages. I took Latin, French and Arabic while I was there. I know that we’ve got a really explicit focus on government and international studies, and that’s what a lot of people at MLWGS are really interested in and passionate about, but I think that the school was pretty supportive of a liberal-arts style education of the type I’m now consciously and excitedly pursuing in college.”
Sam surprised himself by choosing to double major in Theatre and American Studies at Middlebury. “I took most of the science electives at MLWGS and never for a second thought that I wanted to go into the arts,” he explains. “Anyone reading this who knew me in high school knows that I was constantly active with Maggie Walker’s Drama Club. I think I worked on basically every MLWGS Drama project during the four years that I was there, but at the end of the day, I really considered it a hobby. I was pretty adamant about that coming into college, which is why it was so powerful to get here and almost immediately rediscover all that stuff and to start thinking about it in totally new, much more structured and sophisticated ways.”
Sam took “Acting I: Beginning Acting” during his first semester of college, and the class enhanced his appreciation for what it means to make art and to live as an artist. “Any art-making is basically all about truthfulness and authenticity,” he says. “It’s about figuring out who you are and what you have to say, and then stripping away all the artifice. People think acting is all about ‘becoming’ someone else, but it’s not. It’s about being as real and personal as you can, and forming real connections with everyone else in the room so you can try to tell a story.”
He has continued to find his way into meaningful and even transformative classes. “’Introduction to Dance’ totally changed the way I think about so much of what I do,” Sam says. “Most of what we do in high school involves one mode of scholarship—one way of thinking about the world that privileges words and arguments. It was super eye-opening to get to college and realize that that’s not the only way people do things. There are a whole lot more ways of thinking and being—entire classes and departments devoted to embracing the subconscious, and communicating through the body, via visual—rather than verbal—expression.”
Sam is also thinking about what it means to be a student at Middlebury in 2017, partially in light of the an incident last March that made national news, in which Middlebury students shouted down a controversial speaker who had been invited to appear on campus. “My campus and community are still dealing with the aftermath,” he says. “I think I have a responsibility to address that here, and for my part, I’m extremely proud to belong to a group of students who refused to allow white supremacy to be given an institutional platform or held up as a subject for reasoned, scholarly debate. As students, current and future, we have a tremendous responsibility to disrupt the status quo, avoid complacency, and fight institutional oppression in all its forms using whatever means necessary.”
His advice to current Maggie Walker seniors considering where to go to college? “Trust your gut. You don’t have to be able to articulate a reason for everything choice you make, and sometimes the worst thing you can do is overthink. I have a strong suspicion that where you go matters a whole lot less than what you do there.”
Sam chose Middlebury in part because he wanted the opportunity to go out of state, but being away from Richmond has given him a new appreciation for his hometown. “I think Richmond is a really special place,” he says. “I did a lot of work with the local theatre community when I was in high school—I got a bunch of community service hours volunteering with Firehouse Theatre and what was then Richmond Shakespeare—but it’s only after moving away that I’ve come to really appreciate what a cool, artistic, vibrant city I grew up in. It had a way bigger impact on me than I realized at the time.”
Sam spent six weeks this past summer in New York City performing Off-Broadway, and he is currently looking forward to appearing in a production of Middletown, by the contemporary American dramatist Will Eno. “It’s the kind of project that just feels like an utter privilege to get to work on,” he says. The show opens at Middlebury on November 30th.
And after that? “I’m not sure where I’m going with my college degree yet, but I’m pretty sure that I want to be part of the art world, a contributor to pop culture in some way, whether that means being a creator or a critic. I still have no idea whether or not I want to pursue a career as an artist, but I think that these skills—creativity, empathy, honesty—have been and will continue to be invaluable in my personal and professional life.”