By Allie Goodrich ’13
Groton, Mass.— As it turns out, AJ Mastrangelo ‘18 and Jorie Van Nest ‘18 have more in common than sharing the podium as senior class speakers at graduation.
“AJ and I actually went to preschool together at the children’s center down by the Groton School,” said Jorie as she began her speech under the tent. “We were pretty good friends—best friends, I’d say, I don’t know what he’d say—and we had a combined birthday party in the LA gym, and Frank [Mastrangelo, AJ’s father], he even dressed up as Mickey Mouse for us.”
“I just wanted to say AJ, I am so proud of you and the person that you’ve become,” Jorie continued. “I just wanted to acknowledge how amazing it is and how lucky I feel that we can share the bookends of our education. You’re incredible, and you have a bright, sunny future ahead of you with no clouds!”
That last line is both a well-wish and a pun, for AJ—a lead kicker in the ISL for the Spartan’s varsity football team—announced that he will be pursuing his passion for meteorology at Pennsylvania State University.
“LA recognized me as an individual—as a weatherman, as a kicker,” AJ said after restating the school’s mission statement. “In all honesty, LA has recognized me for who I am personally and has inspired me to take the necessary steps towards becoming a meteorologist.”
Both AJ and Jorie reflected on the differences between who they were at the start of their time at LA and who they are now. For AJ, the initial challenge was to carve out a space for himself in a place already so familiar with his family: Spanish teacher and girls’ head basketball coach Donna Mastrangelo; assistant athletic director, head athletic trainer, and director of campus safety Frank Mastrangelo; and sister Cailey ’15.
“I wanted people at LA to know me for who I am,” he said. After kicking for the JV football team freshman year, he tried out for varsity as a sophomore but lost the starting kicker spot to a senior. AJ “debated quitting the team,” but stuck with it, becoming a starter junior year and eventually leading all kickers in the ISL in scoring this year as a senior.
“I was lucky to be part of such an incredible team full of heart and camaraderie,” AJ said. “None of this would have been possible if I’d decided to quit my sophomore year.”
There can be a huge difference between who you are and who people think you are, a feeling Jorie, like AJ, could speak to.
“Less than two weeks ago I did something that I’ve never done before,” she said. “I stood in front of a crowd—not as big as the one today—and I sang, alone.”
A member of Honors Music and the LA Singers, Jorie is no stranger to using her voice, and she acknowledged how easy it might be for her others to assume “singing must come naturally for you, and you’re fearless.”
The title of the song she chose for her final recital was “I’m Not Afraid of Anything”.
“It projected this idea of confidence, [but] I didn’t feel fearless throughout the performance, nor leading up to it,” Jorie confided. “Singing has been one of my longstanding passions but greatest fears.”
In the beginning, it was easy to hide. “In a big chorus you can hide comfortably behind this curtain of sound and you can get away with sheet singing, which is where you kind of go along with the buddy next to you and just hope for the best, basically,” said Jorie.
“Freshman-year-Jorie was absolutely mortified of hearing her voice alone.”
Three years later, the days of making her fellow chorus members turn their backs when she sang, or closing the curtains over the Recital Hall windows, were luxuries she could no longer afford.
“My final rehearsal for this spring recital, Mrs. Cooper ripped my security blanket away from me,” Jorie said. “She insisted I come out from behind my physical wall and stand in front of the empty rows.”
No, she was not fearless. But she was going to sing anyway.