Emma Paltrow

Year of Graduation: 
2018
Emma Paltrow

"I love that we can always make each other laugh."

A brief career before Exeter

Rare is the student who has a career before attending Exeter, but such is the case with Emma Paltrow ’18. A native of Manhattan and the only child of journalist parents, she began dancing at age 2.

By the time she was a tween, Paltrow was dancing with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater before transitioning, at age 12, to American Ballet Theatre. After a particularly grueling winter season, during which she danced two roles in ABT’s Nutcracker, Paltrow, a self-confessed perfectionist who was also deeply committed to her academics, opted to take a final curtsy.

Early exposure … and patience

With precious new time on her hands, Paltrow decided to apply to ACCESS EXETER, the Academy’s summer program for rising 8th and 9th graders. “Initially, when I told my mother, who is an Exeter alumna, about the program, she told me it didn’t exist,” laughs Paltrow. “She didn’t realize that Exeter offered a summer experience geared to younger students.”

Paltrow spent the summer after 7th grade at Exeter, meeting students from around the globe and living in Amen Hall. “I have to say that I did not have the best experience,” she recalls of her first Academy encounter. “I wasn’t used to that level of freedom, and had never lived in a dormitory before.” Still, something about Exeter drew her in, and the following year she applied to become a regular session student. She was waitlisted.

When asked what she did upon hearing such news, Paltrow replies wryly: “I waited.” Word that she had been admitted came just two weeks before the beginning of her prep year, appropriately by way of a phone call from her mother. She eagerly accepted.

Girl unfurled

In every way imaginable, says Paltrow, Exeter has exceeded her expectations. “One of the highlights has been the social dynamic,” she relates. “I found immediate community in Bancroft [Paltrow’s dorm until she went abroad for her senior fall]. We instantly bonded, and although we have since branched out into different social groups, we still make time for each other.”

Intellectually, she’s also hit her stride. “The Chapin School [in Manhattan] prepared me incredibly well for Exeter, but their curriculum always felt so formulaic,” she explains. “I learned a lot, but never had the opportunity to think on my own two feet or engage in creative endeavors. When I arrived at Exeter, I finally found my voice, particularly as a writer.” Paltrow credits her upper year History 332 class, taught by Betty Luther-Hillman, with helping her to realize that she excels at “making a strong point in a short amount of space.” That skill, in turn, has been handy in her work as an op-ed writer for The Exonian.

Immersion

More than anything, however, Paltrow credits the Academy with unleashing her passion for languages, particularly those of the Romantic and Slavic variety. “Initially, I took French at Exeter, which I had previously studied, along with Latin. By the time I was a sophomore, I felt like I had a good enough grasp of Latin-derived languages that I could probably teach myself a new one, if I wanted to. I opted to take Russian as an upper at Exeter because I knew I couldn’t learn it without the help of a teacher.”

It turns out Paltrow had something of a knack, and won the Russian award at the end of her upper year. With just one year of the language under her belt, but all of her graduation requirements done and dusted by the close of her upper spring, Paltrow decided to study abroad in St. Petersburg for her senior fall.

“I absolutely loved it,” she enthuses of the experience. “I attended a local language institute and did a home stay with a woman who was a total character, and who was also really invested in both teaching us the language and educating us on the culture. She was determined to expose us to all of the best local theaters, too. The experience was a huge confidence boost for me. Going in, I had a limited vocabulary and not a lot of context, so there was a significant learning curve. Early on in the trip, I stood in line at a farmer’s market and accidentally asked for a roommate, when I meant to ask for a hotdog! The whole line laughed. There were also a lot of times when I got completely lost. But in the end, I got the lay of the land, learned how to navigate the city and could understand just about anyone. On my last day, a local barista told me that my Russian was really good. It was so validating to hear.”

Takeaways

Now back at Exeter and awaiting news from the colleges she has applied to, Paltrow reflects on her four-year experience and the people who made it memorable. “So much of my learning has happened outside of the classroom. I’m in a constant state of awe of my classmates, and I tell them that all the time. Everyone I know here seems to have this innate sense of humor, and I love that we can always make each other laugh,” she says. “The Exeter community is so strong, and extends far beyond the campus. Whenever I see someone in New York City wearing an Exeter sweatshirt, I always stop them, and we wind up trading stories about our experiences.”

Above all else, Paltrow is grateful for the encouragement she has received from faculty members throughout her Exeter career. “The teachers have high expectations and treat us with a great deal of respect,” she says. “A lot of the faculty here feel like family.”