Catholic Standard El Pregonero
Classifieds Buy Photos

Seniors reflect on how Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart shaped them

Daniela Braw-Smith, at left, a member of the class of 2024 at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, will be attending the University of Oxford in England this fall. Lina Vuga, at right, a member of the class of 2024 at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, will be studying at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, this fall. (Photos courtesy of Stone Ridge)

In interviews as their graduation day approached, seniors Daniela Braw-Smith and Lina Vuga shared memories of school spirit, community service, and sporting events at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls first-to-12th-grade school in Bethesda, Maryland. Both began at Stone Ridge in ninth grade, their freshman year of high school.

Braw-Smith grew up in London and moved just before beginning at Stone Ridge. Next year, she will return home to study history at the University of Oxford in England. While at Stone Ridge, she was part of the Social Action Student Advisory Committee, the school newspaper, and the Habitat for Humanity Student Coalition group and played on the varsity squash team.

“We’re working towards building a little free library, and that’s been really instrumental in building up my confidence in that area,” Braw-Smith said of her volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity, adding that when the project is completed, it will be filled with children’s books.

As her next chapter includes not only a new school but also returning to England, Braw-Smith shared how she will miss the warmth of those she has gotten to know in the United States.

“I think the people are usually a lot friendlier. I remember when I came here, it was kind of overwhelming,” she said. “It’s a stereotype of people in England, (that they) have a stiff upper lip, and here people are so outwardly expressive.”

Although Braw-Smith kept a very busy schedule with extracurriculars on campus, she also volunteered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as a student ambassador, tour guide, and visitor services volunteer.

“Obviously, in history classrooms, the issue is kind of painted in broad strokes, and especially with events like the Holocaust, you kind of talk about the big numbers instead of the people themselves. That's why I was drawn to having a more personal experience and being able to see the impact in real life,” Braw-Smith said.

Braw-Smith led her classmates on 10 museum tours for the school’s “Social Action Day” programs.

Vuga is originally from Pittsburgh, but has lived in Montgomery County for the last seven years.

“It’s bittersweet, definitely. I have a lot of friends in the underclassmen, the junior class, and I’m kind of sad to leave them, but I also know they’re going to have all the fun stuff that I got to do this year, they’re looking forward to,” Vuga said. “But I’m also going to miss being with the people in my grade…I’m just going to miss the random things I walk into [here.]”

Vuga will be studying biological neuroscience on a pre-medical track at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, this fall. She said Stone Ridge has prepared her for life after high school.

The graduating senior shared the impact that being surrounded by primarily women had on her, and she said her father told her prior to attending Stone Ridge that every leadership position in the school will be filled by a woman.

Vuga said she appreciated “being surrounded by people, all girls, that I know are going through the same struggles I am, and they're all kind of figuring it out as well. And we kind of know not to demean each other… (that is) what I’ve gained from this environment.”

Vuga’s extracurricular activities included Stone Ridge’s book club, its speech and debate program, campus ministry, the science club, the STEM program, the Sign Language Club, the Black Student Alliance, and the school’s Social Action Program. She is also an athlete who has competed in swimming and diving at Stone Ridge and is an active participant in her church’s youth group at St. Mary’s Parish in Rockville, Maryland. Vuga received the the Catholic Citizenship Award from The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington for Stone Ridge’s class of 2024.

During the summer, Vuga will work at Stone Ridge’s summer camp teaching swimming.

“Overall, I think I’ve really developed into the person that I am because I’m here at Stone Ridge, and I think the person and the character I’ve created here will set me forth in the world,” Vuga said.

She shared how she will miss the tight-knit atmosphere of Stone Ridge, where she recognizes all the faces in her classrooms and on campus.

“I know that because of that connectedness that I got here at Stone Ridge, I'll be able to make friends anywhere I go. So I’m happy about that, but I’m also just going to miss everyone. I'm going to miss not seeing Daniela at the lunch table when I’m getting food,” Vuga said, adding that she will be homesick for Stone Ridge.