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Emily Tan '24

A Welcoming Campus, a Friendly Community

In her third year as a Mercersburg student, Emily Tan '24 reflects on two aspects of the school that brought her here—the people and the campus.

"When I first visited this place, and I had an interview here, I fell in love with the people immediately because they are so nice and friendly, and I could feel this energy around the campus that I really loved," says Tan, who is from Beijing, China. "The second thing is the campus because we have a gorgeous campus. We also have great facilities. Both of these things contributed to my enthusiasm of coming here and studying here because both the people and environment can help me grow, both as a student and as a person."

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Tan's first year as a Mercersburg student was online. "Mercersburg had really good online programs, and I really appreciate the effort put into all the international students. I was a freshman, so that was a really precious experience for me."

Once on campus as a second-year student, Tan became fully immersed in the community. She is in the Jazz Band, is an athlete, serves as a Blue Key tour guide and dorm prefect, and is involved with the Green Team and the Dead Artists Society art club. 

"I'm really glad that I have the opportunity and privilege to participate in all these activities, programs, and groups, but I am also aware that there are a lot more in the school that I don't have the time or the chance to participate in, and I know that a lot of them are really, really good," Tan says. "I'm looking forward to trying new things at Mercersburg. The things I'm participating in have a huge impact on me.

While Tan, 17, has played piano for 13 years, focusing mainly on classical music, she had not been part of an ensemble before coming to Mercersburg. Jazz Band "is a totally new experience. I love it because the people we have here in Jazz Band, they're so talented. We work really well together. Mr. Morgan is really impressed by the group this year," Tan says, referring to Bryan Morgan '07, Jazz Band director. "I learn a lot from participating in these group activities because I need to listen to others' music while playing mine, so this experience really teaches me a lot on how to work with other people."

Morgan describes Tan as "a wonderful young lady. I remember when she first auditioned for the Jazz Band. She had never played jazz before, but she wanted to give it a shot. When she played during the audition, you could tell how the music moved her. Improvisation seemed to come naturally to her. She is attentive in rehearsal each night and has clearly practiced and prepared her music outside of rehearsal. If she has to miss, she's proactive in letting me know ahead of time."

As a prefect, Tan is a dorm leader for 9th-grade students on the first floor of Fowle Hall. "I actually chose to be on the freshman wing because I understand how much they might struggle with a totally new environment," Tan says. Prefects have dorm duties, including monitoring study hours and room checks. They also help check people in and out of the dorms.

Being chosen as a prefect was a "shining moment" for Tan because she looked up to her prefect, Natalie Kochova '22, last year, viewing her as a big sister. "She's actually a major part of why I applied to be a prefect because she helped me a lot."

Tan's athletic pursuits keep her busy year-round on the tennis, basketball, and lacrosse teams. "I am a group person. I love team sports. I love working in a team. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I contribute to the team."

When asked about her most rewarding experience at Mercersburg, Tan says she fondly remembers receiving a weekly athlete award last year for lacrosse. 

"Last year was my first year learning lacrosse," says Tan, who played goalie, first for JV and then as a swing player for varsity. "It was a completely new sport for me. I like being a goalie. It is a really hard position to play. It was a little scary. I was fighting against my fear, and I think it worked pretty well. I got a pretty good blocking number at the end of the term," accumulating 30-plus saves.

If she could choose a sport to play in college, it would be basketball. A shooting guard, she encouraged her friends to try out for the basketball team so they could enjoy the sport together.

Faculty member Emily Schoenberger '15 says she had the "pleasure" of being Tan's JV basketball coach. "She was a team captain, and her quiet leadership helped shape the positive culture of our team."

Classroom Challenge

Tan's most intense challenge at Mercersburg has been in the classroom: "Mr. Caretti and Mr. Schroer's classes are the hardest classes I've ever taken." Erin Caretti P '24, '26 teaches Ancient-Mediterranean world history. Andy Schroer P '07, '08 teaches precalculus and calculus.

"I had both of them in my freshman year, which was a little bit harder for me to get through," Tan says. "The materials were really hard, and their classes were really hard, but they helped me work on the fundamentals of logical and critical thinking. My writing skills, reading skills, and math skills all improved so much by taking their courses. On one hand, I would say their classes are really hard, but on the other hand, I would say I'm also really thankful and grateful for their classes."

Caretti says his course is aimed at the acquisition of both basic organizational and study skills as well as writing and research skills. Since history is not static, students work on using evidence to create analysis rather than just learning "facts." Analytical writing was the main assessment.

"The class, which is usually a year long, was taught in nine weeks due to the COVID online format, so there was a lot of asynchronous work," Caretti says. "Emily was very attentive in class and diligent not just completing assignments, but also using the feedback to improve as the term moved along. She could be counted on to do the asynchronous work, but most importantly, she was a self advocate when she was not clear on a skill, concept, or the content. She grew tremendously as a student, scholar and academic writer throughout the term."

When asked to select a favorite class, Tan says it's hard to pick, but she can narrow it down to two: Human Geography and Mixing Music.

Human Geography, the study of humans and their interactions with the land on which they live, is a course that "uses current events to help students understand the complicated interactions that take place when people, with embedded and significant cultures, control and change their land," shares Schoenberger, course instructor. 

Tan says she appreciated the class because history is not her strongest subject, and she struggles with memorizing events chronologically. "I chose Human Geography for my history class last year because I saw the class description. It was really interesting how we were learning about the relationship between a place and the people living in that place. We had great people in our class, and Ms. Schoenberger is a really good teacher, too. A lot of people had the misunderstanding that Human Geography is so much easier (than other history classes), and that you don't need to put a lot of effort into the class, but that's not true. We learned a lot. We had to memorize a whole world map. I put a lot of effort into that. The class was fun, and I really enjoyed the learning process of it."

Tan is "an awesome student," Schoenberger says. "She is insightful, kind, and inquisitive, and she cares deeply about the world and people around her."

In Mixing Music, Tan says Morgan taught the students how to use the GarageBand app to create music. 

"This class taught me how to do my own music, how to express my feelings. Mr. Morgan is also a really positive person, so I love having class with him. His enthusiasm in music—literally in everything—also affects me a lot. Whenever I see him, he's always smiling. He fist bumps with me every time he sees me. I love this positiveness."

GarageBand doesn't require knowledge of all the instruments, allowing a musician's creativity to expand. "For example, I only know how to play piano. I can play piano, but the app transfers all the notes into what sounds like a guitar. You don't have to learn how to play guitar to play guitar. It was pretty cool, and it really helped me to explore a lot more in the musical world."

Morgan says he's had the "luxury" of having Tan in multiple classes. "She cracks me up with her quick wit. She is always willing to learn and asks great questions. I don't mind showing her some extended harmonies and composition techniques because I know she listens, and she genuinely wants to get better at what she does. She's always respectful, and she is respected by those around her."

Looking ahead, Tan plans to pursue environmental studies as a career. She attended summer school at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and is interested in researching the school's programs, along with those available at other schools.  

This spring she plans to take several Advanced Placement exams: AP Environmental Science, AP Chemistry, and AP U.S. History. She took AP Calculus BC last year. "For all of these AP tests I am taking in May, I am currently in the Advanced Studies classes here at Mercersburg. I feel prepared. I am also doing outside classes, readings, too."

If given the opportunity to talk to prospective students and their families, Tan would stress why Mercersburg was her first choice for a high school.

"I put it as my first choice because I felt the warmness and the friendliness of the people here. The campus is also gorgeous. Most importantly, this is such an inclusive campus. It's really diverse, and sometimes people think diverse means exclusive, but that's not true. Mercersburg is really inclusive, especially toward international students. Being an international student, I feel this inclusiveness."

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