GALWAY — As Galway school leaders worked last summer to hash out a schedule for this school year – an enormous challenge in schools across the country – rising senior Ryan Ripepi didn’t want anyone to forget about the school clubs.
Ripepi, who said she has joined 13 clubs during her time in Galway, talked to other students and teachers throughout the summer trying to figure out how to make club activities happen; she said she talked to the school principal “a heck ton” along the way.
Ultimately, administrators landed on a plan to enable enough student flexibility on Fridays, planned as a virtual day for all students, for clubs to hold virtual meetings at the end of the week.
“I think we are going to finally have clubs but only one day a week,” Ripepi recalled. “You know what, that’s better than nothing.”
Ripepi, who plans to attend St. John’s University in Queens to study communications in the fall, said student clubs, sports and other extracurricular activities have played a crucial role in her school experience and personal growth. She estimates that “from seventh grade through junior year, I stayed after school every single day, I swear.”
So she didn’t want to lose out on those activities in her final year of high school.
More Class of 2021: Profiles of region’s top graduates
“With the whole high school experience you want to make it the best it can be, and the last two years it’s been cut short by Covid and I think it’s still important to be involved and have those experiences,” she said.
While the clubs have mostly been limited to virtual meetings, Ripepi said she has learned a lot through the extracurricular experiences she has had this year.
“I’ve definitely learned to be more aware of things around me in the sense things can change at any time,” she said. “Things do happen in life and it’s ok, we can’t see each other every day and things will carry on.”
The Fridays can be busy. On one recent Friday, Ripepi had a science club meeting from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m., a student senate meeting from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and a Best Buddies meeting from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Some weeks she has National Honor Society meetings, some weeks she has meetings for one of several other clubs.
She served as National Honor Society vice president for two years; for two years as president of the Best Buddies Club; science club president for two years; No Place for Hate; she delivers morning announcements and weather updates and more.
She also played varsity basketball for three years and played soccer for the first time in her life this year, joining pick-up games with friends last summer and going out for the team this year. “I literally never touched a soccer ball before.”
She said she has developed strong time management and scheduling skills but that it can sometimes feel like she has too much on her plate.
“It can be overwhelming at times, especially when things don’t go as planned,” she said.
Ripepi said she was most involved in the Best Buddies program, which pairs students with intellectual developmental disabilities with classmates as mentors. The older student who had started the Galway club chapter approached Ripepi her ninth grade year during band practice to invite her to the club meeting, hoping she would one day be able to take it over. She went to the next meeting and has been deeply involved ever since. She said her involvement in the club, which included two years as president, has taught her leadership skills as well as empathy for others.
“Ever since I started, I’ve made so many new friends,” she said. “I love helping people whenever I can, it truly makes me feel like a better person, not only for the community but for the outside world too.”
During her time in the club, she has joined national leadership seminars, organized activities and recruited others to join.
“I got an opportunity to become a leader and it’s made me a better version of myself,” she said.
She said there are about 20 students in the club, about half of whom have intellectual developmental disabilities.
“I’ve definitely learned to be much more caring for others and sympathize for them and what they are going through, because you never know what’s going on in other people’s lives,” Ripepi said.
This spring the Galway club members could not participate in an annual walk in Albany for Best Buddies chapters around the region due to the school’s pandemic restrictions. But that didn’t stop Ripepi from wanting the Galway students to participate.
“So I planned one,” she said, noting that she organized a small walk around the school’s track. “The smile I put on their faces everyday, oh my god, it’s amazing.”
Ripepi spent the early years of her life in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she was born. Her mom died of a rare case of pneumonia when Ryan was a young girl, and she moved to the Capital Region with her dad when she was six years old. She still visits her aunt and other family in North Carolina a couple of times a year and said she knows her mom would be proud of her as she nears the end of high school and heads off to college.
“Through this whole thing, my aunt has never let me forget how proud (my mom) would be of me,” Ripepi said.
She said she is looking forward to the countless opportunities in New York City next school year, already thinking of ways to volunteer and get involved in more activities. She said she had a chance to visit the St. John’s campus in the fall and knew she wanted to be in the city. “Yeah, I want to be here,” she remembered thinking.
She plans to study communication and is interested in writing and possibly journalism.
“I’ve always liked to use my voice for the better and use my words to help people,” Ripepi said. “I’ve also always liked to write and put my voice into words.”
Many students rack up long lists of activities in high school to boost their resume, but Ripepi said she was never motivated by simply adding to a list of activities – she enjoyed the activities and mostly didn’t want to miss out on anything fun.
“I’m always one to go to every game, every activity, I never want to miss out on a social experience,” she said. “In middle schools, teachers are like, ‘Join clubs, it’s good for your (resume).’ I never really thought that, I just wanted to live the high school experience and be a teenager.”