Audrey Vanderslice

Year of Graduation: 
Audrey Vanderslice

"I have come to rely on such support from fellow Exonians, as they have consistently offered me both emotional and pragmatic guidance."

When I walk across campus toward my thesis seminar in this final year of college, much reminds me of my formative years at Exeter: The lawns hark back to the quad, everyone refers to the dining halls as D-hall and the four seasons of New England weather remain, even though winter always seems to last the longest.

Of course, many facets of college life differ from those Exeter days. No check-in times or assemblies punctuate my week. Classes don’t revolve around the Harkness method. And yet my time at Harvard has made it clear that the values and habits I developed during my time at Exeter remain intrinsic to who I am irrespective of my environment.

One of many key lessons I acquired at Exeter: engage. Within hours of moving into my Harvard dorm room, I ventured outside to seek new opportunities. I tried out for clubs I could barely name, applied for courses I discovered online, and found ways to connect with new classmates even though I sometimes doubted if I’d become as close to them as I felt to my Exeter friends.

One of many key lessons I acquired at Exeter: engage."

I did not get into many (if not most) of the clubs and classes I applied to. And just last week, I lost an election for class marshal. Several times over the last few years, I have been incredibly grateful that Exeter provided the tools for me to succeed in college, but perhaps more often I’ve been grateful that Exeter taught me that it was all right to fail. Regardless of the ultimate result, it is always worth it to care and to try.

I truly believe that getting involved is as much a part of our collective DNA as waving when crossing Front Street. Exonians seek to immerse themselves and enhance every community of which they’re a part. Each year, as another class of Exonians is added to the admittedly chaotic Exeter at Harvard group chat on Facebook Messenger, it is only a matter of weeks before they join or start their own clubs.

My friend Anne, a former editor-in-chief of The Exonian, is now leading an organization that aspires to make startups a viable career option for talented students and has helped raise $140 million in seed funding. Ayush, another friend who served as Student Council president at Exeter, has worked with research laboratories at Harvard Medical School and the Wyss Institute, using artificial intelligence to discover new diagnostic and therapeutic options for neurological diseases. The dozens of other Exonians sprawled across campus encounter one another in board meetings of new extracurriculars and on late-night burrito runs.

I know this rule holds true across colleges, too. After four years of competing on the same counsel table on Exeter’s mock trial team, my friend Sam and I found ourselves rivals in the final round of the mock trial national championships. Moments before trial started, I found a sticky note from Sam on my chair wishing me luck and reminding me to have fun.

I have come to rely on such support from fellow Exonians, as they have consistently offered me both emotional and pragmatic guidance. The former director of the consulting group I now help lead was a year ahead of me at Exeter, where we worked together on the Student Council.

At Harvard, she suggested extracurriculars she thought I might enjoy, prepped me for my first job interview and recently advised me on how to find a thesis adviser. She didn’t have to help — she sincerely wanted to.

When the class of 2020 graduated from Exeter in the midst of COVID-19, I worried that our ties to the school would fade with time. Now I feel quite the opposite as I’ve watched Exonians serve as an increasingly strong support system for one another. I don’t know much about what my postcollegiate future might hold, but I do know that no matter where I find myself, I will always have Exonians there to facilitate and celebrate life’s successes, place our inevitable failures in their proper perspective, and encourage one another to continue growing along the way.

This story was first published in the Fall 2023 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.