If they had it to do all over again, this year’s Mr. and Ms. George Mason High School, Sam Updike and Laura Whitaker, have a few words of advice for themselves.
Updike and Whitaker sat down last week with the Falls Church News-Press at Mason for a discussion about their high school lives.
First off, Whitaker would “tell myself to relax and not take things so seriously,” and Updike would listen to his mother more. “She’s right all the time.”
The two were chosen for their titles by a panel of teachers and students, but to hear Whitaker and Updike tell it, about everybody at Mason qualifies for the honors, based on their attributes and talents.
Neither Updike nor Whitaker knew who had nominated them. Students can be nominated from each grade, they said, but it’s usually seniors and the funniest talent entries who win, according to Updike.
This year had no talent entries because Mason’s theatre department took over the auditorium and with spring and sports, schedules just got too crowded for the really big show. Competition includes biography, fashion and questions.
Said Whitaker: It’s almost like a pageant.
Updike: I’m not sure how they picked us.
Updike has been a northern Virginia resident since birth and has lived in Falls Church since he was 5 years old.
Whitaker: I moved here my freshman year from California and I was supposed to move my sophomore year when my dad got a bid to Oslo [he’s with the State Department] and I was then supposed to move my junior year and decided I didn’t want to start over and leave my friends before my senior year. My mom and brother and I stayed here.
News-Press: What was the best thing about high school?
Updike: Sports. I used to run track and cross country and now I’m on the swim team.
Whitaker: I would say sports are a big part of it because you have your family and you’re always together. I play volleyball and soccer.
N-P: The worst thing?
Whitaker: Lots of stress (laughs).
Updike: It’s all manageable. None of it is unrealistic. Sometimes with sports and school, things get a little hectic. Other than that, there’s really not a worst part.
Whitaker: My philosophy is it’s as bad as you make it. Honestly, people always said that senior year was the easiest but first semester senior year I will tell you, for me was the worst of any year I’ve had.
It’s just the pressure and the stress we put on ourselves and each other and the stress that comes with college apps and sports and activities, all with being a senior in school, but like Sam said, it’s manageable, but it’s definitely a lot.
N-P: Are you sad about leaving high school?
Updike: Not particularly.
Whitaker: It’s bittersweet.
Updike: I’ve had a lot of fun in high school, but at the same time college might be a little more fun (laughter).
Whitaker: I think it’s just right. It’s just like the next step, like we’ve done everything we’ve had to do here, also it’s time.
N-P: If you were a freshman again in high school, what would you tell yourself? Would you do anything differently?
Whitaker: I would tell myself to relax. I think that as a freshman at Mason, or as any student you really feel the pressure to do absolutely everything, and I would spend many weekends not going out just doing homework and now that I’ve built my study methods and I’ve gotten an understanding of what I like to do and what I want to continue doing, I realize that I don’t need, maybe, to put so much time into something because I can do it in a shorter amount of time but because I’m so stressed out about what this is I am dragging along and making it harder for myself so definitely, to relax…I would also tell my freshman self to have fun with it. These years go so much quicker than you think and they’re really, really amazing and you’re going to meet some great people so just have fun with it and enjoy it while it lasts. I personally think I took high school more seriously than I had to and focused solely on academics. When I think high school is very holistic and it’s not only about classes, but it’s about, like becoming a greater person, it’s about participating in extracurricular activities, about making friends and there’s more aspects to high school than just academics but obviously you want to worry about that and keep up with those.
Updike: Always listen to the advice my mother has given me (laughter) because she’s always right no matter what I do. I would listen to my mother more
N-P: What have been the hardest and the easiest subjects for you?
Updike: Probably history for both of them [hardest and easiest subjects] for the last two years. It’s very hard, but at the same time it’s probably the subject I am very interested in and I’ll probably continue history in college, too.
Whitaker: History was definitely hard. It’s a lot of content you need to balance. There’s so much content and you need to know what to do with it, but, honestly, honors geometry my freshman year was a challenge. That was the hardest. That was my first honors course in high school, and it was all very independent. All those freshmen weren’t ready to take on an investigative course as it is known.
Updike: I liked that class because if you learned to play the game, you did all your homework in class and all the class work at home so it kind of turned out fine.
Whitaker: I wasn’t smart and I was at school for many hours after school trying to figure that out (laughter).
Updike: We were in honors geometry which had a weird textbook It wasn’t like a regular math class. I kinda liked it.
Whitaker: I liked the challenge, but boy, that was rough.
N-P: What about volunteer work? Do you have time for that?
Updike: We’re both in the National Honors Society and we do a lot of service for that and I’m also in the Boy Scouts and I’ve done a lot of service hours there as well.
The student school president runs all these food collections for the Arlington farmers market and the food assistance center, and we pick up all the leftover produce that will go bad that week but it’s all fresh on Sunday. A lot of George Mason students help. We put the food in the van, go weigh it and distribute it through the food bank.
We do a big fundraiser every fall which raises a couple of thousand dollars.
Whitaker: I actually had an opportunity to help with the Arlington Assistance Food Center two weeks ago and I’ve always heard Sam and a few other friends talk about it, and I was kind of on the receiving end of what Sam does. I was helping to distribute food and it was very, very nice just to see the families walk by and it felt really fulfilling to help them, especially Spanish-speaking families if they needed help.
I tutor a lot at school. I’m the coordinator for the Saturday learning lounge. What we do is organize tutors and students who will meet on Saturdays in the library. I volunteer as a tutor and I also mentor a few students here who speak little English. I help them with their homework and I help them with just regular questions they might have around school.
N-P: Describe in a few words your experience at Mason.
Updike: Yeah, productive, maybe. I’ve done a lot. Everyone here does a lot. We are certainly not the exception.
Whitaker: I don’t think that we give ourselves enough credit, honestly, the student body, like everyone is very, very active.
N-P: Is there pressure to be active? To keep up with your peers?
Updike: It’s mostly internal. No one is telling anyone to do all this.
Whitaker: Here’s actually something I would like to say about Mason: If I had just one word, I would say talented. What I find so wonderful about the school is that everyone has that one thing about them. We have that one friend who rides horses, that one friend who is the artsy one. Sam here is the swimmer. Everyone here has that one aspect about them that they do it and only they do it so well it’s really admirable to watch from outside and look at the student body and just see how unique everyone is and how much they embrace their passions.
N-P: What are your summer plans?
Updike: Mostly swimming. It’s fun.
Whitaker: I have a lot of small trips going on. I’m visiting my dad in Norway and I’m doing trips around here, maybe a little road trip. I’m going to try and save up for college. I work at Dogwood Tavern. Definitely, I am saving up for college.
[Whitaker is bound for Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Updike will be at William and Mary where his mom went].
N-P: You’ll be riding in the Memorial Day parade?
Updike: We’ll ride on something.
Whitaker: I may have a soccer game. We are in the conference semi-finals right now and if we win, I may be playing in a tournament game on Monday. It’s possible the game may be at night, but I don’t know as of now.