CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN
This fall, Layo Ojo, a member of the class of 2017 at Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac, will attend the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.
CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN This fall, Layo Ojo, a member of the class of 2017 at Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac, will attend the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Reading Hamlet during her junior year at Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac changed the way that Layo Ojo viewed English class, and led to a program that would change the way that she viewed learning.

“Layo comes alive when we start talking about Shakespeare,” said Kathleen Jensen, an English teacher at Holy Child. “She’s a great student to have in the classroom. As an English teacher, she just makes us all glow.”

While she has always loved reading, and as a kid would hide under her covers with a flashlight to read, “I never really connected with a book as much as I did with Hamlet,” she said, adding that every time she revisits the play, she notices something new and can look at her old annotations to see what she has learned.

“As I grow, the book can grow with me,” she said.

In fall 2016, Ojo participated in a fellowship program at the Folger Shakespeare Library, which she applied for with the encouragement of her English teacher. Over the summer, she and 15 other students from around the Washington area read Othello and As You Like It, and then went to a series of classes about different ways to interpret the texts, with visiting scholars in different fields teaching them. Ojo went there one to three times per week, and had to figure out how to shift her school and volleyball schedule to accommodate it.

Ojo said she had “never been happier” than when she was surrounded by other peers who had the same love for Shakespeare, and would voluntarily debate over whether a play adaptation of Othello was true to what Shakespeare wrote or not.

“Our teacher reminded us that everything we thought and everything we said mattered,” said Ojo. “She taught us to learn not for the grade but to quest for knowledge itself.”

At the end of the fellowship, Ojo and her classmates made their own exhibit based upon artifacts housed in the library. Her project included a playbill from a French adaptation of Othello that had been used as Nazi propaganda, and a stained glass window that represented the seven ages of man speech in As You Like It. Their exhibit was called, “As You Like It and As You Don’t.”

“Shakespeare, when you don’t really interact with it, seems like it is only for intellectuals,” said Ojo. “Shakespeare isn’t as sophisticated and hard to interpret as I originally thought. Once you get into it you realize he wrote these plays for the common class…he wrote them for people like us.”

Next year, Ojo is going to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and she said she is looking forward to going to a Jesuit school, because of their emphasis on putting faith in action.

“Before race or gender, I have always identified first as Catholic,” said Ojo, who is the president of the diversity club at Holy Child. “My relationship with God is something I’ve always held close to me.”

In addition to participating in the Jesuit tradition, Ojo hopes to study computer science and modern languages, since she has always loved the study of how languages work. She remembered how all of her classmates would groan when it was time for a grammar lesson, but Ojo would say, “Yes! I love grammar!”

She also grew up surrounded by people who speak a variety of languages. Ojo’s parents are from Nigeria, so they speak both Yoruba and English in her home, and she has family friends who are from Costa Rica and speak Spanish. Being surrounded by this mix of languages peaked her interest in learning more ways to communicate, but she is open to seeing where her interests take her once she gets to the College of the Holy Cross.

“I just want something that keeps me thinking, keeps me happy, and keeps me challenged,” she said.