A year away: Newmyer reflects on unique junior experience

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Photo credit: Alyssa Skelly, a teacher at The School for Ethics and Global Leadership

Senior Billi Newmyer speaks at a meeting with Lissa Muscatine (Hillary Clinton’s head speechwriter) last spring in D.C. at the School for Ethics and Global Leadership. Newmyer said she was able to engage in conversation with “crazy people who she would never get to talk to before.”

By Rose Sarner, Staff Reporter

Imagine a 16-year-old about to board a plane to spend a year away. Leaving behind parents, siblings, friends, her school and the city she has known her entire life.  

This is exactly what senior Billi Newmyer went through last year when she left Los Angeles to spend a semester each at two different schools on the East Coast.

“I was like, I do not feel I deserve this at all,” Newmyer said when describing her initial fears about starting the program. “I came in with a lot of imposter syndrome — there were so many really cool kids and all of our teachers were Harvard educated.”

A semester school program is a program where one attends school for a semester in a different city or state. Newmyer attended two different semester schools: Chewonki, a school in Maine where she lived on a sustainable farm, and The School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington, D.C., where she focused on political communications and policy.

Newmyer said that the experience at Chewonki was more about understanding herself than academics.

“You had to work on a sustainable farm and understand food injustices,” Newmyer said. “So it was a lot more about adjusting to a rural lifestyle and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

The School for Ethics and Global Leadership offered a different experience, where Newmyer said she “learned a lot about the world” rather than about herself. At this semester school, students lived in town houses that were two blocks from the Capitol and Supreme Court. Additionally, she attended small, intimate classes that consisted of 24 students and 12 faculty members. She said that most of her classes had five to seven students or 10 at the very most.

“The program was all shaped around hearing from influential people,” she said, “hearing about their experiences, and learning from them.”

Newmyer said that the greatest part of this program was that she got to talk to many extremely influential people. Newmyer heard from Lissa Muscatine (Hillary Clinton’s head speech writer), Mara Liasson (head negotiator for the Israeli-Palestinian crisis), former congressmen and a variety of journalists.

“I became much more socially open to new ideas and new people,” she said. “Beyond that, I just learned how to step back and look at a problem ethically. I would have never thought that the 2008 financial crisis is an ethical issue — then, after doing a case study on it, I realized it was.”

Carolyn Janssen, Newmyer’s AP studio art teacher, kept in touch with her during her time on the farm in Maine and in D.C. Janssen described Newmyer’s experiences as though “she moved to another planet” and “had this wild adventure.”

“I noticed that shes a different person and really grew from this experience. She seemed to think in a new expansive way — she had a lot of insight about how nature was impacting her views, or, like, how working on a farm impacted her views on environmental justice, that seemed really changed,” Janssen said. “And then her experiences being in DC — I could see and feel how her view of the world had kind of expanded beyond LA, and she had this more open perspective.”

Gracey Wyles, Newmyers’ friend since sixth grade and fellow Archer senior, commented on Newmyer’s growth from the experience.

“She became very knowledgeable about her surroundings and that maybe sparked something in her that she hadn’t quite realized before,” Wyles said.

Newmyer said her choice to leave Los Angeles and attend semester schools was the “best choice [she] ever made.”

“I made friends all around the country and talked to people who are pro-life,” she said. “I haven’t really encountered people who are pro-life who I considered close friends until now. I think it just rounded out my political knowledge of what Americans are thinking now.”