SACO — Everything was different at Thornton Academy when the school year began in September 2020, as the country was still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Students at at the private academy, which serves as Saco’s public high school, could attend in-person classes two days a week, attending remotely the other three days.
When in-person classes became available four days a week in the spring — although students could also choose to attend fully remote — Tenley Murphy, who is a member of the Class of 2021, and will graduate early next month, chose on-campus classes.
“I find it more beneficial,” she said. “While on Zoom (online) to engage in class I felt like I had to put on a performance, there was more pressure added,” she said. “In the classroom, the teacher is right there in front of you, and you’re more apt to pay attention. I found myself losing focus on Zoom, there was a laundry list of distractions.”
Murphy is among about 375 graduates in the Class of 2021 and is one of two student speakers, along with Jake Lowe, at this year’s commencement, which is set for 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 6 at Hill Stadium, with a rain date of 7 p.m. June 7. Valedictorian is Shun “Kevin” Yao. Emma Campbell of the school’s art department, and Thornton Academy’s Teacher of the Year, is faculty speaker.
“Everyone (was) hit equally hard by the pandemic. What I learned in the classroom is great … what I learn outside means more to me, the social aspect of thing,” said Murphy. She said after school events and volunteer opportunities are fulfilling. “You’re part of a community.”
Murphy has been part of the Environmental Club, Interact team and the Action Team and as part of her involvement, pre-pandemic, volunteered at the Paul Hazleton House for senior citizens, organizing social gatherings and playing games with residents. She enjoyed volunteering at a local soup kitchen, but the volunteer opportunities haven’t been available this year. She’s also involved in Academic WorldQuest — a youth education program hosted by the World Affairs Councils of America — “I absolutely love it,” she said.
Murphy is studying Chinese and French at TA, and will continue those studies in the fall, when she attends Clemson University in South Carolina, along with international business.
She doesn’t have a dream job for her future decided, Murphy said, but is continuing on with language studies and taking up international business so she can have an array of opportunities.
The college process had been hard, she said. “What’s different about Clemson is when I was reaching out to schools, they were the ones reaching out to me, a kid from Maine,” she said. “It’s nice to have people welcoming, and warm, wanting to introduce themselves to you, making you feel welcome, that says a lot about their school. Clemson did a really good job at reaching out. I was able to visit in the spring, and that made the decision that much easier.”
Like many seniors, Murphy has a job — she’s a guest services coordinator at Saco OOB KOA Campground, which mostly means taking reservations and checking guests in and out — but can also involve pool duty, leading kids’ activities, working in the restaurant or completing clean up tasks.
She said she’s looking forward to graduation — and she’s ready for it.
“Moving on can be a little sad, but I’m more excited for the future,” Murphy said.