Not long after meeting Ava Mager in her 9th grade year, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “she is going to be valedictorian.” Since that moment, I have had the distinct privilege to be her teacher for three courses: Spanish II Honors, Spanish IV Honors, and finally AP Spanish Language & Culture. Brilliant, mature, focused, intellectually curious, and organized are but a few of the superlative descriptors that come to mind when thinking about Ava’s qualities as a student. She is the kind of learner whose ability to draw insightful interdisciplinary connections or refer to humorous inside jokes in her second language brightens up a class discussion. She has an agile mind that can participate in a 30 minute Zoom interview all in Spanish for this article, reflecting on her past accomplishments and future goals, without missing a beat.
Considering her knack for factual recall and ability to apply complicated concepts on the fly, it’s only logical that her graduating class responded to the answer “This senior deserves the superlative ‘Most Likely to Win Jeopardy!’ ” with the question “Who is Ava Mager?” The depth of her thinking motivated the faculty to present her with the Moomaw Award, presented to “the senior who demonstrates a deep questioning and curiosity about life and the world around us.” Humble and kind, she manages to "know it all" without being a “know-it-all.” Even as we were obliged to undertake remote learning over Zoom this spring, Ava continued to display positivity and to make the best of a challenging circumstance. Her outstanding class participation and the consistent excellence that she puts into her assignments never wavered.
Ava recalls that a challenge she faced during her time at CHC was finding the balance between her school work, her extracurricular activities, and time with friends. This is understandable, as she has taken on the most rigorous academic schedule that CHC has to offer ever since arriving as a 6th grader. Her Upper School transcript shows no fewer than eight AP courses and twelve honors courses, nearly all with grades of A+. Thus, it is no surprise that she earned induction into Cum Laude last fall and was named Captain of Cape Henry’s Virginian-Pilot Scholastic Achievement Team. As a final feather in her cap, she was recently named Valedictorian of her class and will address her classmates at Commencement in August.
While her teachers in all disciplines give glowing reports, she was recognized with the Excellence in History Award in grade 9 and won the Excellence in English Award in grades 10, 11, and 12. According to AP English Literature teacher Mrs. Cabreros, “Ava writes with the perfect harmony of razor sharp precision, sound logic, and originality. All of this combined yields highly sophisticated prose that reflects deep understanding of the complexities that exist not just in the written word, but in human experience.”
Even with her demanding academic commitments, Ava still found time to be a highly influential student leader in the Upper School. With fellow member of the class of 2020 Stephanie Strickland, she co-founded and led CHC’s Women in STEM organization. “We wanted to support other female students who had the same interest we had,” Ava remembers. One of her top moments spent with this group was providing the after-school enrichment activities they provided for Lower School girls with a strong interest in math.
OpSmile sponsor Mrs. Moore notes that, as a key officer of the CHC chapter of the Operation Smile Club (President in 12th grade and Secretary in 11th grade), Ava “played a major role in organizing the successful “Pie the Teacher” fundraiser that brought in $800.” Ava was also highly involved in the Community Club, collecting and delivering food to needy local schoolchildren. “Ava really embraced the "Flip the Tables" event, where Community Club members made and served a spaghetti dinner to staff from Cafe Dolphin to thank them for their service. There were two "teams" behind the hot food line serving and they were dancing and creating music with their ladles to try and woo more “customers” to their food line...it was such a fun evening!” Mrs. Moore fondly recollects.
A word of advice that Ava would give to younger students at CHC is that they “should get involved early in student activities that interest them. Once teachers see that you can handle responsibility, they will trust you to do more as a leader.” Ava clearly established such a reputation, as in addition to her other roles on campus, she was chosen to help welcome and integrate 9th graders into Upper School life as a Peer Leader.
Ava has also shown leadership as an active member of her church, including a mission trip to Guatemala in the summer of 2018. There, she and her team were able to partner with Guatemalan churches to provide health clinics, donate medical supplies to people in need, and work with children with special needs. Ava was able to put her second-language skills to use in conversation with new Guatemalan friends. She also credits this experience with helping motivate her interest in the medical field. “I would love to serve on an Operation Smile mission to a Spanish-speaking developing country in the future,” she shares.
During her college search process, Ava narrowed in on selective, academically rigorous schools such as UVA, Duke, Tulane, and JMU. She considered them the right size for her, not too large or too small. So how did she finally make “THE DECISION” to take her talents to Charlottesville? “I visited my brother (Blake Mager CHC ’17, UVA’21) at UVA several times, and the campus started to feel like a second home,” she shared. She looks forward to residing on the beautiful historic grounds (the state of Virginia’s only UNESCO World Heritage site, as we discussed in our class) and being near the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Ava is particularly enthusiastic about the Global Public Health major that UVA offers, which she plans to pursue along with Pre-Med courses. This program requires students to continue developing their proficiency in a second language and highly encourages them to study abroad. Ava hopes to take classes at a university in Spain to continue growing in her already impressive grasp of Spanish. These experiences will undoubtedly prepare her well for her planned career working as a medical doctor and/or global health professional.
It is with good reason, then, that Ava cites Honors Global Health with Mrs. Moore this year as her most influential class. This course, a CHC distinctive, helped give her the confidence that Global Health is truly the field she wants to enter. Mrs. Moore, who also taught Ava in Honors Biochemistry last year, comments: “What stands out most to me about Ava is both the joy and the seemingly effortless ease with which she learns. She is unassuming and, at the same time, a force to be reckoned with...She is one determined young lady and these traits and her talents in the sciences bode well for success in her pre-med studies.”
One of Ava’s favorite memories in Upper School is cheering on the soccer team with friends, especially the road trip they took to Richmond to support “Cape Fútbol” as they won their third consecutive state championship last November. Another aspect of Cape Henry that she will miss is the close relationships with her teachers, as she got to know them very well and establish close connections. Ava will certainly be missed in our community as well, and this exceptional scholar, leader, and all-around person should be proud of the lasting impact she has made on those she has known here at the Cape.