Fiona Madrid

Year of Graduation: 
Fiona in a ballet pose with hockey stick.

"Exeter is the perfect balance of keeping your curiosity and knowledge and enjoying your life with friends."

If taking risks can be measured by a person’s ability to try new things, then Fiona Madrid, or Fi as she’s known to her friends, is a risk-taker for sure. She is the only one of her five siblings to go to boarding school, and this year — her first at Exeter — she decided to try out for the junior varsity ice hockey team. This despite the fact that she had never played a team sport, much less hockey, before in her life. She made the team, too.

Fi, who was a modern dancer before donning hockey skates, downplays her feat when we chat on the phone. After all, it wasn’t as if she had never skated prior to trying out for the JV team. “I had dabbled in figure skating,” she says, while admitting she had never touched a hockey stick.

“The first game was after only two practices. I still had no clue what offsides was, which is an important rule in hockey,” she continues. “I kept getting called on it, which was really embarrassing, but I figured it out by end of the game.”

While balancing yourself on a thin steel blade and racing around a rink after a puck as opponents use body checks to stop your success might seem antithetical to ethereally dancing around a stage, Fiona actually sees some parallels. “They both take a lot of work and strength,” she says. “In ballet a lot of people think it’s floaty, and that’s what it looks like, but it’s physically exhausting and difficult. So is hockey. They’re also similar in that in both [sports] you have to have a good sense of balance. I think dance helped me in my skating.”

Fiona credits Exeter’s atmosphere of encouraging new experiences with helping her decide to take a shot at something so completely new. “I have been dancing seven years in ballet,” she says. “I love to dance so much, but because this is Exeter, I wanted to try something new. I had never played a team sport before.”

Fiona has drawn strength from her peers during her prep year.  “The fact that we’re [in this] together makes me more comfortable putting myself out there.”

That sense, that experimenting and risk-taking are encouraged, is part of what drew Fi to Exeter, who had never gone to private school. She was attending a Washington, DC charter school when she decided she wanted to go away to boarding school.

“I wanted to be the best I could be,” she says. “I knew that being away from home would be hard, but I knew it would make me the best I could be. Dad really supported that because he appreciates what [attending an independent boarding school] did for his life.”

Once Fi started applying to schools, it was the Harkness method that drew her to Exeter. “I find it interesting that I can learn from peers every day in every subject,” she says. “At first I was confused how it worked with math and sciences. But I think it’s the most efficient way of learning. You see all the perspectives and processes. That’s cool.”

Fiona gives an example of how Harkness works with a math homework assignment. “You’re just supposed to figure the problems out. Sometimes you’re completely lost and that’s fine. You come to class and say you’re lost. Then everyone works together to figure out a process. We’re never being taught anything, but we figure things out for ourselves. It’s a really efficient way of learning for me.”

Fi, who was born in the Philippines and moved to the States as a young child with her father, is trying plenty of other new experiences at Exeter beyond ice hockey. She sings in the Choral Union and in Sans Hommes, a female a cappella group; is in two dance clubs; and she teaches young children from the community to skate, through a club sponsored by Exeter Student Services Organization.

“I always feel like when I’m busy I’m more productive,” she says of her schedule. “So I try to involve myself in as much as possible so I can stay focused.”

While she was initially surprised at Exeter’s size when she arrived, she says it’s not hard to find your own group. “You can make friends easily from clubs and sports and the classes themselves. It’s such a welcoming community; it’s been amazing”

 “Exeter is the perfect balance of keeping your curiosity and knowledge and enjoying your life with friends who have the same passions as you.”

—Janet Reynolds