On June 1, 2017, 28 eighth graders—along with their families, friends, and Randolph-Macon Academy staff and faculty—gathered at Boggs Chapel in eager anticipation of the Middle School Promotion Ceremony. This year provided a special treat, as R-MA graduate Stephen Czarda, Class of 2009, returned to speak to the R-MA Class of 2021.
As has become a Randolph-Macon Academy Middle School tradition, Principal Derrick Leasure provided some key statistics about this eighth grade class:
- The average eighth grader held a GPA of greater than 3.4 in any given quarter.
- Half of the class was on the Principal’s List or President’s List every quarter.
- This group was the first R-MA eighth grade class to take the PSAT, and they collectively scored in the top third.
- 100% participated in an interscholastic sport.
- The class posted over 1,000 hours of community service this year.
- 90% of the class took high school classes at R-MA Upper School.
Leasure honored the “lifers” who had been at the Middle School since sixth grade: Yazmin Blell, Jessalyn Brooks, Lily Grossman, David Idah, Daniel Peterson, Sidique Thomas-Sualley, Jotrina Vamboi, and Nathan Whaley.
The entire eighth grade class was then blessed to hear from someone who was easy for them to relate to as Czarda stepped up to speak. Czarda attended R-MA from sixth grade through twelfth grade, making him a “lifer.” He then went on to attend George Mason University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in health, fitness, and recreation resources, with a concentration in sports management, and a Master of Science degree in sports and recreation studies. He is now a Senior Writer and Content Coordinator for the Washington Redskins.
Czarda caught the students’ attention early on, saying that in spite of coming to R-MA “under one of the worst possible situations, I am standing here today – happy, healthy and proud of who I’ve become – because of this place,” he announced. He went on to describe to the class the tragic circumstances that brought him to R-MA. His mother was diagnosed with tongue cancer (a rare cancer normally diagnosed in heavy drinkers or smokers, though she was neither). After a hard-fought battle, she passed away in January 2002. Czarda and his brothers came to R-MA’s summer program that year, as their father sought to provide a stable environment for his three children. That fall, two of them enrolled at R-MA.
“Despite not knowing the good of being at R-MA as a 12-year-old and despite being so abrasive with my teachers and the dorm supervisors – Ms. Tiffany Bronson in particularly – every single faculty member showered me with love even when I was, perhaps, the angriest little kid in school that year,” Czarda said. “These same people, though, laid a foundation for me to live a much more positive life based on their example.”
Czarda recalled R-MA staff and teachers throughout the years who had assisted him, and the friends he made at R-MA, who are still some of his best friends today. He noted that he had never been involved in football before his Washington Redskins position—in fact, even his digital media experience was limited to an internship in 2012. However, what has helped make Czarda successful are skills he credits to his R-MA education. Although he admitted disliking study hall and having to carry an agenda, he said they taught him two key habits: “Set out a period of time to get all of my work done. And write down and plan out everything I need to accomplish in a given day, week, month and even year.”
Czarda also said he still lives by the four virtues he learned at R-MA, and even has them printed out and “tucked away” at his desk:
- Leave it Better Than You Found It
- Anything That Hurts Another Person is Wrong
- I Am Responsible For My Actions
- I Take Pride in Myself
“They are a foundation, a framework for our lives—use them as guides forever,” he advised the students. “Whether you’re on social media posting about the latest fads or in the academic setting with classmates interacting face-to-face (yes, you still need to), do not forget these virtues.”
Now that this talented group of young men and women have finished the challenges of middle school the R-MA Upper School faculty looks forward to greeting them on August 29th as they begin their high school careers.