Today’s Alumni Update is a guest blog by Oak Hill Academy President, Michael D. Groves. We recently had a tremendous opportunity for our student body to hear from someone for whom Oak Hill Academy provided a Turning Point. It was powerful for them to realize that they are part of Oak Hill Academy’s long history and are part of such an important, effective, and life- changing tradition and mission! We were so happy to have Mr. Pelton and his wife, Leslie (’67), on campus. Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Pelton met as students at Oak Hill Academy!
“In May of 2017, the Oak Hill Academy Board of Trustees nominated Oak Hill Academy alumnus George R. Pelton to be honored as Trustee Emeritus. The nomination was received and passed unanimously. The designation of Trustee Emeritus is an honorary title conveyed by a governing board upon a former trustee of an institution to recognize exemplary service. And George R. Pelton, OHA Class of 1967, certainly qualifies.
Mr. Pelton is an alumnus who has served his alma mater with distinction as a member of our Board of Trustees for many years. And, he is likely one of our school’s most successful alumni—and, given the names adorning the wall of Turner Gymnasium, that is truly saying something! A successful businessman who operates a large chain of car dealerships throughout Virginia (he is founding CEO of First Team Auto), George was a student at Oak Hill Academy from 1965-1967.
A glance at the yearbook reveals a sincere, serious-looking young man; George was very involved; and, yes, he did play basketball here (“short shorts” era!). He was also a recipient of a Senior Accolade. Mr. Pelton, was it “Most Studious?” (no). Was it “Most Athletic?” (no). Given that he is clearly one of our most successful alumni—it is a bit ironic that he was not selected as most likely to succeed. George Pelton was voted by his peers as … “Best Dressed.”
Mr. Pelton has created and funded a scholarship at Oak Hill in memory of his late son Geoffrey, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1993. He and his company are very involved and active in his Roanoke community, providing televised public service announcements—speaking out against drunk driving and texting while driving. George is also supportive of OHA by generously providing for the usage of vehicles from his dealerships, by contributing financially to our Annual fund, and—of course, supporting the Geoffrey Pelton Memorial Fund.”
Upon receipt of the plaque and official Oak Hill Academy “Jordan Brand” Jersey, Mr. Pelton addressed the gathering. He expressed appreciation for the honor and shared with the student body that he recalls vividly beginning his tenure on “The Hill” as a student. He needed structure and a place where he could be surrounded by people “who would not allow him to settle for less than who he should be.” He admitted that although there were many times he struggled as a student, “Oak Hill eventually won, and look where I am today.” A Turning Point, indeed.
I first met David through the admission process at Oak Hill Academy. He had very good intentions; habits he wanted to improve; and, beyond his love of basketball, he was largely unclear where his passions lay. In many ways, David was the quintessential student, and person, we seek to enroll at Oak Hill Academy–one with good intentions, but needing structure and a relational environment to gain confidence and motivation. During his time here, David embraced small boarding school life–he took advantage of the opportunities at Oak Hill to be engaged in the classroom, on campus in leadership positions, on the basketball court and in the weight room. I recently caught up with David to find out what he’s been up to since graduation.
David attended the University of Waterloo in his native Canada since graduating on The Hill in 2013. Now, in an Honours Bachelor of Arts Program (the equivalent of grad school in the U.S.), he is wrapping up a Sports Business Major and picking up a minor in Corporate Entrepreneurship. “I’ve taken advantage of the robust Co-Op education program here and have gotten to work with some amazing companies in real world situations–sort of an internship experience,” he explains. As you can see in the photos above, David had the tremendous opportunity at one of his placements, Microsoft, to make some valuable connections and add to his resume.
David points to his experience in Oak Hill’s Leadership Program, and the collaborative aspects of a small student body, as inspirations to make a contribution at Waterloo. “I’ve also started a student organization that has helped students in my program get internships in the sports industry.”
One of his goals at Oak Hill Academy was to see how far his passion for basketball could take him. He played for the Oak Hill Red Team (second varsity) for two years and found an outlet for his talent and desire to work hard. He was a member of the Men’s Basketball Team at Waterloo for a couple of years, before his academics became more focused, and demanding.
I asked him how his experience at Oak Hill Academy, in hindsight, impacted his future.
Oak Hill really helped me unlock my potential. After living away from home, studying at OHA, and being part of a small community where I could develop my confidence, I became more independent, and more analytical about my future and the opportunities in front of me. I also became more in tune with my faith (OHA is a Baptist boarding school). It really helped prepare me for what was to come in university and in the “real world.” 21st Century Skills, a focus at OHA, means that our small student body gives everyone an opportunity–and encouragement–to develop skills in working in groups, speaking and presenting, and taking on responsibility beyond themselves.
What advice does David give to any student considering or beginning as a student at Oak Hill Academy?
Lock in! OHA puts you in a great situation to succeed, and the faculty and staff care for each student’s individual success. There’s a lot of meaningful activity going on on campus. If you buy into what is being taught and take an active approach to your academics, you can really do something special at Oak Hill Academy.
We were excited to hear from Baaba recently that her graduation from Liberty University is fast approaching and that she has been accepted into Johns Hopkins to continue her post-graduate work! Baaba is remembered fondly on The Hill for her sincerely kind and warm personality. Baaba, originally from Ghana, was very involved on campus during her two years at Oak Hill in activities ranging from cheerleading to taking a leadership role in our Youth Group. Her love of God shined through in all her relationships on campus and we couldn’t be more proud of her. Baaba was also very serious-minded about her studies and took great advantage of the resources available to her–it was not uncommon to find her visiting her teachers during 8th-period tutorials.
Oak Hill Academy is proud of the success and long tradition of our international students. Our quiet location in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia leads to a campus community that is very tight-knit, and we rely on each other to make community. Our international students have always played a big role in this sense of closeness, and Baaba is among the best examples. Although homesick at times, Baaba truly invested in the relationships here among her peers and faculty and was, in turn, fully embraced by Oak Hill Academy. In a recent letter back to our Dean of Girls, Baaba shares the special place that Oak Hill Academy holds for her:
“Hi, Mrs. Crede! I hope you are doing well. I miss you all so much and hope to come visit this summer! I wanted to let you all know, and hope you can extend this to all the teachers who taught me, that I am graduating with a B.S. in psychology this May!! And I got accepted into Johns Hopkins this fall to continue my master’s degree in clinical mental health. Oak Hill really changed my life. Meeting you and all the other faculty on that campus is how God turned my story into something beautiful, a story I can be proud of. I treasure every memory I made there. It is an honor to be part of the Oak Hill family, and I look forward to seeing you all soon!
In a follow-up conversation with Baaba, she shares with me the powerful idea that the most lasting impact is the confidence that she developed at Oak Hill Academy . She relates, “OHA was the first place I ever had teachers believe in my capabilities, and they made me see it, too. I remember the moment, in summer school Algebra, when Ms. Sargent made me believe in myself. I’d never been good at math, and she actually taught me to an “A” on my final exam! She took her time and taught me as much about myself as about formulas.”
(Oak Hill Academy offers a summer school session that is often a great place to start. For more details visit here: http://oak-hill.net/summer-school/ )
For Baaba, it was this confidence that was her Turning Point. “I can’t stress enough how prepared I felt heading off to Liberty University. It (college) was harder than I thought, but I wasn’t scared. I knew that I could develop relationships with my professors because I’d done that at OHA. Campus life at Liberty wasn’t overwhelming because of my experience of campus living at OHA. I was ready!” Baaba also mentions that she was able to graduate from Liberty University in three years, largely due to the college credits she earned her senior year at OHA through our dual college credit program.
Baaba’s choice of Liberty University proved to be a tremendous fit. She gives a lot of credit directly to the Oak Hill Academy College Planning Department, and in particular, Mrs. Groves. One of the attractive features at Liberty University was the spiritual opportunities they offer. Baaba sees that as an extension of what she experienced at Oak Hill Academy. “I definitely feel that I was able to grow closer to God during my time at Oak Hill Academy. I think the structure and the quiet times offered gave me much needed time to think. I became very thoughtful and intentional in my spiritual life while at OHA.”
We look forward to Baaba’s coming back to campus for a visit soon!
We were pleased to welcome Marius back to campus for an impromptu visit yesterday! One of our most memorable international students in recent years, Marius is from Germany and, upon graduation, he returned to his home country. So, our happiness to see him was compounded by more than a little surprise.
I took the opportunity to catch up with Marius as we toured campus – we have several new buildings and features on campus that I wanted to show him. He says he is jealous of the current students.
Catch us up on what you’ve been doing since graduation from The Hill.
The first thing I did after graduation was go on an awesome hike in the Alps from Austria down into Italy. My parents felt I earned an adventure and so did I. After that trip, I enrolled and began working at Karlsruhe Institute for Technology in Germany which led to a 3 1/2 year apprenticeship as an electrician specializing in devices and systems. This is the equivalent of earning a degree in electrical science in the U.S. I’ve recently become a nationally certified electrician which was my goal coming out of high school!
Has it been all work?
Well, this is interesting. My best friend at Oak Hill, Kyler Reed, had introduced me to some music production programs and French House Music, so since then, music has been a big interest of mine. I’ve been making music all through school and I’ve actually been able to be signed to several small labels around the world! (He’s very big in Croatia and Serbia). I record under the name Maiga and my music can be found on iTunes and Spotify. That’s been really exciting!
What do you look back on most from your time at Oak Hill Academy?
Of course I still keep in touch with several of my friends from OHA, so the close relationships developed there is a big memory. I also look back at how much I grew up here. The structure was something I needed – I became a lot more responsible and the dorm life gave me great habits I still keep today. Academically, my grade improvement opened the door for my acceptance to the program at Karlsruhe – it’s pretty prestigious in Germany, sort of like a version of MIT in the States. My love of history from Mr. Hebold’s class is still a hobby of mine, too!
In your opinion, what makes Oak Hill special?
Well, it’s not an easy trip for me to come back to visit, but the close relationships I made compelled me to come back. The teachers are especially personal and the small classes helped me become more confident and motivated.
As we went around today, did you notice changes at Oak Hill Academy?
Yes and No. The feeling of closeness among the faculty and kids is the same as I remember. Physically, the campus has changed for the better. The new amphitheater makes me jealous – firepit socials? Man, that would have been fun. I’m also jealous that the kids get their cellphones on weekends now – that would have been great. Several new dorms have been a big upgrade. I never did get to live in the brand new senior dorm because I was proctor of the 8th and 9th dorm my senior year and lived with them. But, I’m really glad the feeling on campus hasn’t changed because it works! The caring atmosphere is the same as I remember.
What’s next for you, Marius?
I have options. That’s sort of the purpose of this trip – to sort out the next step. My music is taking off to a degree and I have this awesome certification and educational background that is opening up job opportunities too. We’ll see, but I’m excited!
Andja attended Oak Hill Academy for her junior and senior years, coming directly from her native Serbia. She quickly became one of the most popular, engaged students on campus after settling in. She attended Iona College directly after Oak Hill Academy, in large part due to it’s proximity to New York City. She was a four-year starter for their women’s basketball program and won multiple conference awards during her career. Graduating in 2011 with a B.S. Criminal Justice, Andja spent a couple of years pursuing a coaching career while working as a business developer with a European graphic design firm. She has been employed at National Cash Register (NCR) in Belgrade for the past couple of years, primarily managing one of the biggest partnerships the international firm handles with Polycom, an international IT firm.
Andja admits that she “grew up a lot” at Oak Hill Academy becoming much more flexible and cooperative working with others. She credits the small campus, tight-knit student body and, above all, the relationships she was able to develop with her teachers with helping her mature quickly. She calls getting outside of her comfort zone and coming to U.S. as a turning point in her life. “For certain, growing through the experience of being so far from home, learning new cultural norms and maturing in general wouldn’t have been possible with the relationships I formed at Oak Hill.”
Oak Hill Academy has had a long history of providing a quality college-preparatory, nurturing experience for international students. Our smallness, where relationships are emphasized, and our safe location in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia has provided the right environment for hundreds of international students to grow and prepare for college success over the years. Andja is a great example.
I first met RJ as a somewhat shy, reserved rising 8th grader while he attended Oak Hill Academy’s summer basketball camp. RJ is a 2013 graduate who spent 5 years on The Hill and the growth I saw in him was phenomenal. 8th graders at Oak Hill are taken care of by the upperclassman and RJ was everyone’s little brother that first year. Through his career at OHA I saw him progress from the shy, but talented, Red Team Varsity player and an under-the-radar, but likeable student in the school building into a student government leader, mentoring upperclassman, who was a major contributor to some of the best Gold Teams in recent years.
RJ is entering his senior year at DePaul University in Chicago – not far from his hometown. He is a pre-law student and has spent his summer interning at a law firm (last check he was targeting the Los Angeles area) with the goal of becoming a sports and entertainment industry lawyer. He balances all of this while playing shooting guard for the Blue Demons.
RJ’s story reflects one of the greatest opportunities attending Oak Hill Academy has to offer: the chance to grow and discover confidence. Our small classes and student body really encourages students to take leadership positions, both formal and informal. Watching RJ grow over those 5 years was truly a highlight of my tenure at Oak Hill Academy.
Whitney earned her B.A. in Psychology from the University of South Carolina and has been working for a non-profit in Charleston, SC, her hometown. She shares that she is very passionate about the work she does with pregnant teens in the area and that empowering young women is very fulfilling.
She plans to pursue he Master’s in Social Work in the Fall, continuing at USC.
On a personal note, she still enjoys running (she participated in cross country at Oak Hill Academy) and values her relationship with Christ. She credits OHA with helping her on her spiritual walk and believes “OHA shaped her into the motivated, compassionate woman she is today.” Whitney was a caring and involved member of our community and we are proud, but not surprised, that she has chosen a life in service to others.
Photos credited to Harris-Stowe State University Athletics
On June 20, 2015, Hana Haden ’10 was named the Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Harris-Stowe State University in Missouri. As a former player at Oak Hill Academy and, later, at Western Carolina University, Hana’s young age is balanced by a tremendous amount of experience. It is no surprise that Hana brought her intensity, infectious personality and interpersonal skill to the position and established quick success. Winning 18 games, the team established the most program wins since 2007 and received votes in the National Top 25 Poll. Three of her players won conference honors.
Hana’s story reflects many of the most successful Oak Hill stories. She came to Oak Hill with a very clear intention to maximize the opportunity. Already a strong student, Hana took many of the toughest courses offered and became involved with many campus activities–enhancing her inherent leadership skills. On the court, Hana soaked up the experience (the highs and lows) that prepared her for a college career that took her from Missouri back to the Blue Ridge Mountains. She attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis on a basketball scholarship upon graduation from OHA. From there she looked for a new opportunity to learn the game at Mineral Area Junior College, which also made her eligible to be recruited by Division I programs–a long-held dream.
Photos credited to Western Carolina University Athletics
Her career at Western Carolina University fulfilled that dream and Hana was a key component of some of the strongest Catamount teams in recent history as point guard and captain. Along the way, Hana never lost focus in the classroom and graduated cum laude from WCU in 2014. With a B.A. in Communication and a minor in Broadcast and Journalism, Hana returned to UMSL as an assistant to develop her coaching style. For Hana, each stop was seen as an opportunity to learn and grow in a new environment, which is something that she really values about her time at OHA. “Oak Hill Academy gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people that I wouldn’t have met in Springfield, MO, my hometown. I really learned a lot about the dynamics of a success-oriented community and team by attending a small boarding school. I wouldn’t trade the experience. By choosing to attend Oak Hill Academy, I learned the benefits of getting outside of my comfort zone to grow, and that lesson has never left me.”
Clearly, Hana hasn’t stopped growing and taking on new challenges. She is one of the fastest rising young head college coaches in the nation and we could not be more proud of her here.
Recently, Alexa Landsman, class of 2006, visited campus to catch up. I was delighted to hear that she recently has been putting her experiences and degrees to work for the Veteran’s Administration, and that she is going back to school to work on her doctorate. I taught her government class as a senior and knew that if she found something toward which to channel her passion for serving others, she would go far. It is very rewarding for our faculty to have these kinds of visits, and we encourage our alumni to make the trip to The Hill!
Alexa takes some time recently to walk down memory lane in the Ussery Archive Room.
I took the opportunity to ask Alexa some questions that can be answered best with the perspective of 10 years.
Please outline your educational journey since graduation from Oak Hill Academy.
I went straight into my undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte the fall after my graduation. I chose to major in Psychology and graduated in 2010. From there, I enrolled in the Masters in Public Health program at East Carolina University and I my career goals began to take shape through my internship at a rural health department in North Carolina. I knew I wanted to help individuals. I’ve worked a variety of jobs within my field and now the next step is to return to advancing my studies. In the Fall I begin a doctorate program at Pacific University outside Portland, Oregon. The program is called PsyD.
What have you being doing in your public health career?
After ECU, I relocated to the Washington, D.C., area and explored a variety of positions within the public health field, including researcher and administrator–all of which kept reminding me that my calling is in serving individuals personally. Life took me to Hawaii where a position with the Veteran’s Administration helped me realize my goal of serving people directly. I’ve worked developing PTSD treatment modalities and coordinating care plans. You could say I found my niche in serving the military population!
Let’s go back to the beginning. Why did you attend Oak Hill Academy?
I was struggling in a large public high school–falling through the cracks; not engaged because I could fly under the radar. My grades were poor because I coasted and didn’t really see the value in getting good grades. My dad, who is in education as a faculty member at UNC, identified that I needed a new environment to rediscover the love of learning and get back to being a motivated learner. I needed an environment where I would be pushed, and known. After a lot of research and talking to people, we found Oak Hill Academy.
Looking back, why was that a good choice for you at the time?
Well, most obviously, my grades improved and I think it was because it was more tangible at Oak Hill. The small class sizes and relationships with my teachers made the connection between effort and results. Good grades were the concrete evidence I was looking for to know I was capable. I began to develop confidence, and took pride in doing well. The teachers didn’t let me coast or shut down, and that meant being honest with me, which helped me be honest with myself.
I had been diagnosed with ADHD, but until this point in my education, it had never been really addressed in the classroom. But my teachers at Oak Hill Academy took the time to know me and teach to my best learning style in a very personal way. And, of course, looking back, knowing that I couldn’t hide in class and had to do my homework–that was the nudge I needed. The structure at OHA promotes the development of the executive skills that had been missing. Of course, I couldn’t have explained it that way at the time.
What do you miss most about your time as a student at Oak Hill Academy?
That’s easy to answer. I miss the community feel. Since OHA, I have never been in an environment that replicates that same type of special feel. I see my time here as laying the foundation for making me aware of how important community and being a caring human being is. Oak Hill is a very nurturing environment. It’s palpable–the interactions I see during my visit to campus now let me know that it is still like that. I’m proud of that and protective about it as a memory of Oak Hill Academy. As an adult, I know how uncommon and special such a positive environment really is.
What advice would you give to the 16 year-old you as you began at OHA?
Be open to change and take advantage of the resources there. Take this opportunity to learn how to become open to possibilities. The experience at OHA builds character if you let it. You’re going to meet people who will expand your view of the world and your view of your own capabilities. A quick example: I tried tennis for the first time at OHA and got to experience being part of a team. That’s an experience I never would have had at my large public school because I am decidedly noncompetitive! The “safe” social environment here was essential to allow myself to try new things. I’m glad I was open to it. The times that I’ve been able to take chances outside my comfort zone–I can trace that back to learning it at OHA.
What do you tell people about Oak Hill Academy?
I tell people that it was my foundation. The genuineness of the faculty and the comradery of the students is special. It didn’t matter if you were the nerdiest student or the basketball All-American, you were part of the same “family.” Never before or since, have I been in a more supportive environment. I needed that at that time in my life.
I was happy to catch up with Carlin, Class of 2011, recently. She graduated last December from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a degree in Psychology, and I was excited to hear Carlin’s enthusiasm about embarking on a marketing career. She reports that she landed a position with a regional retail company near Charlotte and has quickly risen to the position of Retail Marketing Director.
Carlin attended OHA for two years, and her love for the school is evident by her visits to campus over the last few years to check in and catch up. We love seeing alumni! Recently, I asked Carlin to reflect on her time on The Hill.
As you look back, what are some of the main things that you took with you from OHA?
I really appreciate the time management and accountability I learned at Oak Hill. I was encouraged to plan my day around all of the responsibilities I had, such as homework, cheerleading practice, my work with the baseball team and leadership positions on campus. I carried this sense of accountability into college and it served me well! I also vividly remember OHA’s theme for my senior year, which was “resiliency.” The process–and it is a learned process–of adapting in the face of adversity is something I really needed in order to get through college. It is the skill I most value from OHA; there were many times in college I had to “figure it out,” so to speak.
Do you feel you “grew” at Oak Hill Academy?
Absolutely! At Oak Hill, I began to realize how capable I am. The fact that I was able to come to OHA and see it through with success still gives me confidence–it’s one of the most beneficial things I received from my time there.
Would you recommend OHA to the 16-year-old you, if you could go back in time?
I came to Oak Hill during my junior year because I was in a distracting environment. I was making bad decisions. I needed to restart and get back to good priorities. It was a tough transition and I cried because I was a little scared of a new start with “strangers,” and boarding school was not something on my agenda. When I graduated, I cried for different reasons: I was leaving a “family” I had been a part of for two years, and because I was proud of the success I found while there. So, YES, absolutely, I’d recommend it to myself!
What do you tell people about Oak Hill Academy?
That I’m so appreciative of the encouragement I received there. It was hard at times (growth is never comfortable), but Oak Hill is a really supportive community–and I’m talking about both the teachers and classmates. There is always someone to lean on and get positive reinforcement from. The training for the “real” world of being away from home and being held accountable is a huge growth opportunity. The exposure to different cultures and experiencing people from all over the world is a truly priceless part of the boarding school experience. Oak Hill Academy was a launching pad for me in terms of mental and emotional development. I’m thankful for every experience there and the people who helped me grow (and were patient with me!).