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Alumni Spotlight

Artful Healer

August 17, 2023

Emma Astrike-Davis, M.D., ’14, was in sixth grade when she helped her great-grandmother move into a nursing home after a prolonged hospital stay. She saw how deeply the loss of independent living impacted her great-grandmother, and she made the effort to visit frequently and bring artwork and furnishings to help alleviate that loss. When she told her great-grandmother that she wished that everyone living in the nursing home could have their own artwork, her great-grandmother gave her encouragement: you can make that happen.

“My great-grandmother was very much that kind of person. She survived many challenges in her life, and she firmly believed that if you want change to happen, you should be the one to do it,” says Astrike-Davis with a smile. It is a message that she has taken to heart as a guiding life principle—one which has led to a promising career as a physician committed to improving equity in healthcare and as founder and president of a growing international nonprofit, Art for Hospice.

In both roles, Astrike-Davis’s passion—for forging authentic connections with her patients and easing the human condition through the exercise of empathy, kindness, and compassion—is evident.

“When I graduated medical school, my mentor, Dr. Pouru Bhiwandi gave me a paraphrased quote from Hippocrates to guide my practice: ‘We cure sometimes; we treat often, but we can always provide comfort,’” shares Astrike-Davis. “We don’t always get wins in medicine; we often face tough situations where there are no ideal solutions. But when you can navigate difficult decisions alongside patients and their families, when you can bring clarity to chaotic situations or significant life changes, when you feel like you are able to truly help a patient and their loved ones—that is an immeasurable reward.”

Currently beginning her second year of internal medicine residency at the University of North Carolina, Astrike-Davis intends to subspecialize in rheumatology, a decision inspired, fittingly, by her own family.

“My first exposure to rheumatology was attending a doctor’s appointment with my grandmother,” shares Astrike-Davis. “She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at a time when treatment options were more limited. The development of biological therapies eventually brought my grandmother relief towards the end of her life and impressed upon me the necessity of ongoing medical research.” “I was also inspired by the relationship my grandmother had with her rheumatologist. RA can be a debilitating disease, but she was committed to helping my grandmother remain able to enjoy all the things that were important to her, like her yoga class, volunteer work, or simply being with her grandchildren. I remember being touched by how well she knew my grandma and her commitment to helping her enjoy her life. That is the kind of relationship that I want to have with my patients.”

BEYOND THE CLINIC

Interested in medicine from a young age, Astrike-Davis credits Cary Academy with giving her the time and space to explore her nascent interest. During her junior-year Discovery Term, she shadowed a doctor in infectious diseases at a children’s hospital in Florida.

“I went to his lab, his lectures, and then to his clinic and rounds at the hospital. The breadth of what he did—translating research to practice— was fascinating,” reflects Astrike-Davis. “It spoke directly to interests that Mr. Rushin had fostered in my AP chemistry classes—about how to understand the world starting at a molecular level.”

Astrike-Davis was particularly inspired by the doctor’s efforts outside the clinic, which sought to bring vaccines to marginalized children and adults who might not otherwise have access. Intrigued by “seeing practitioners take medicine outside of clinic walls,” Astrike-Davis would go on to be a Morehead-Cain Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she majored in public health and nutritional biochemistry before attending medical school.

A series of volunteer opportunities and fellowships brought valuable firsthand experience with the disparities and inequities within American healthcare systems, solidifying Astrike-Davis’s passion for expanding access to healthcare for underserved populations.

As an MSTAR Fellow at the American Federation for Aging Research and President of the UNC American Geriatrics Society, she sought to bolster support and research opportunities for aging populations who are often excluded from medical trials, despite representing primary targets for treatments.

“If your only interaction with elderly populations is in the clinic and the hospital, you get a very narrow window of understanding. To me, an important part of our job in medicine is to understand who our patients are in the community and what their goals are for the future.”

As co-President of the Farm Worker Student Health Alliance and Schweitzer Fellow, Astrike- Davis worked to educate med students about health issues facing migrant workers and sought to expand migrant farmworker access to insurance and healthcare. Traveling to migrant farmworker camps in Benson, North Carolina, she spent evenings going person-to-person enrolling workers in low- cost health insurance. During the day and in after- hours clinics, she provided Spanish interpretation services at health clinics, helping to bridge a language barrier between providers and patients to help ensure equitable care for migrant workers.

Making a Difference

For many, tackling some of the most intractable issues in healthcare might be daunting, but for the perpetually curious Astrike-Davis, it is motivating.

“The more I learn in my career in medicine, the more I want to know. There are many conditions that lack understanding and treatment. Beyond that, there are many communities that lack access to healthcare to receive treatment. These are the challenges that we all face, and the challenges that I look forward to tackling for the rest of my career.”

Astrike-Davis credits her parents— Nancy Astrike, who serves on the CA PTAA Diversity Committee, and Joan Davis, who currently serves on Cary Academy’s Board of Directors—for instilling in her the resiliency to follow her inner voice to do difficult work and a call to serve her community.

“My parents are trailblazers in lots of wonderful ways—one small way is that they are two women. When I started at Cary Academy, I did not know any other students with gay parents. Now, I’m pleased to know there are many students at CA with nontraditional families; I love how far we’ve come as a community in just 10 years!”

“When my parents chose to start our family, it was not the easy choice to make. By making that choice, and taking pride in me, Evan and the family that we create—they taught us the value of remaining true to yourself despite challenges. They taught us to find supportive communities and continue to build them.”

ART FOR HOSPICE

Founded by Astrike-Davis when she was only 12 years old (and in direct response to her great-grandmother’s challenge), Art for Hospice aims to share student art with individuals residing in local nursing homes, hospitals, and hospices.

As president, Astrike-Davis raises funds to purchase blank canvases and supplies, cultivates partnerships with schools and museums, and facilitates their relationships with local healthcare facilities in their respective areas. To date, Art for Hospice has distributed over 6,000 pieces of student art to participating organizations across the globe and received both national and local recognition for its impact.

Last year, Astrike-Davis partnered with her brother, current CA student, Evan Astrike-Davis, ‘24, and CA’s Upper School Art Club on a student-led fundraiser at Cary Academy, which raised over $500 to support Art for Hospice.

“The funds that CA students raised are critical to allowing Art for Hospice to partner with other schools that don’t have the same resources. It allows us to expand the program to further communities that might not otherwise be able to participate,” says Astrike-Davis.

ART FOR HOSPICE

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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CA to celebrate Homecoming with fall and winter festivities

September 30, 2021

Who doesn’t love an opportunity to celebrate Chargers past and present? While the last 18 months of pandemic conditions have sadly limited our capacity for in-person celebrations, CA is doubling down (literally) to make up for lost time this fall and winter. In celebration of its 25th anniversary, CA plans to offer not one, but two, separate Homecoming festivities—two chances to gather as a community, welcome alumni home, and reconnect.

With COVID rendering the future uncertain, Director of Development Ali Page says it was essential to plan an alumni homecoming event early this fall, while it is still pleasant to gather outside in a COVID-safe way. “Friday Night Lights is such a fun night and one that represents fond memories for so many of our alums. As we looked for flexible, COVID-safe opportunities to welcome our alums home, it was an obvious choice.”

Homecoming: Friday Night Lights edition will take place Friday, October 29. Alums will have an opportunity to join in the community tailgate, cheer on the student flag football teams, and reconnect with each other and the CA community.

For students and alums looking forward to and planning for a traditional December CA Homecoming, fear not. “We recognize that our December Homecoming is a beloved tradition and one that we very much hope to honor,” offers Kevin Jones, Athletic Director. After a week of Spirit Week community festivities, alums will again be invited back to campus for a culminating community celebration on Friday, December 17 (COVID-willing).

“Homecoming doesn’t have to be a—shouldn’t be—a singular event,” smiles Page. “Our community is so important and something to be celebrated. We want to give our alums and current students as many fun opportunities as possible to safely connect as a community, have fun, and make new memories at CA. We look forward to welcoming everyone to campus this fall AND winter. And to our alumni: we’ve missed you. We’re excited to welcome you home in person. It’s been too long.”

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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Trey Murphy (’18) reveals the formula for his leap to the NBA

September 16, 2021

After an explosive debut in the NBA Summer League that has already led to rookie of the year whispers, Cary Academy’s first alum to be selected as an NBA draft pick – Kenneth ‘Trey’ Murphy, III (’18) – recently sat down with Sports Illustrated’s Priya Desai for an interview hosted in CA’s Fitness Center gym.

Murphy returned to his “home gym” to discuss his path from Cary Academy to a career in basketball, the impact of COVID on his collegiate career, and the role that his love for psychology plays in his approach to the game. 

Afterwards, Trey showed off his skills in the FC gym, while the cameras rolled. 

Trey Murphy practicing in Cary Academy's FC gym

Before standout performances at Rice University and the University of Virginia, Murphy, from Durham, played varsity basketball at CA. His father, Kenneth, played at East Carolina University from 1986-88.

During his Cary Academy career, Murphy averaged 22 points, while shooting 53% from the floor, 45% from three, and 93% from the free-throw line. He is Cary Academy’s all-time leader in field goals made, three-pointers made, and free throws made. During his senior year at CA, Murphy the Chargers to a 14-8 record, averaged 24.7 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting on 49.4% from the floor, 43.6% from 3-point range, and 85.8% from the free-throw line. He was named All-Metro by the News & Observer. As a junior, he averaged 22.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.8 assists while shooting on 54% from the floor, 47% from three, and 93% from the free-throw line. He earned Triangle Independent School Athletic Conference (TISAC) All-Conference honors.

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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Kristin Andrejko

Alumni Spotlight

Healthy Curiosity

September 1, 2021

As an infectious disease epidemiologist, PhD student Kristin Andrejko has focused her life on public health and helping communities on the path to wellness. Now, with an eye towards public health policy and a focus on how vaccines serve to protect those most vulnerable to the ravages of disease, she finds herself on the front lines of some of the most pressing global public health battles—from malaria to COVID-19.

“The past 16 months have certainly highlighted the incredible value of vaccines in improving all aspects of our physical, social, and economic health. As an epidemiologist, my day job is to quantitatively analyze public health programs like routine vaccination campaigns to help mitigate the risk of future infectious disease outbreaks.”

Andrejko’s path to global public health is one heavily influenced by her time at CA. She credits experiences in sixth-grade science teacher Aaron Rothrock’s class as igniting an early passion for the scientific method—one that translated into years serving as a counselor at CA summer science camps where she enjoyed making science accessible and engaging for students.

In Gray Rushin’s Advanced Chemistry class, she discovered the hard-earned reward of working through thorny scientific challenges. Building on those interests, an experience with the Student Global Leadership Institute (SGLI) in Punahou, Hawaii, the summer before her 12th-grade year, offered a transformative introduction to the broader concepts of public health.

Andrejko still remembers a pivotal question posed by Dr. Linda Rosen­—then-Director of Hawaii’s State Department of Health, during an SGLI panel on urban health­—that would ultimately set her professional course. “She started her talk by asking us to define health. I think most of us said, ‘health is the absence of disease; health is when you’re not sick.’ At some point, she stopped us and said, ‘health is more than just the absence of disease—it’s about being well.’

It was a lightbulb moment for Andrejko. “I had this epiphany: you don’t have to wait until someone is sick to help them.”

After the seminar, Dr. Rosen suggested that Andrejko look into the work of Dr. Paul Farmer, whose efforts on the intersection of health, human rights, inequality, and infectious diseases earned him the label “the man who would cure the world.” She was immediately hooked, intrigued by the social justice dimensions of public health.

Back at CA, Andrejko discussed her fascination with Farmer’s work with college counselor Laura Sellers, who suggested that she look into Notre Dame because of the ethos of social justice embedded in the school’s mission.

She applied, and upon being offered admission, made her way to South Bend to interview with Professor Joseph A. Buttigieg, then the Director of the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program—a leadership development scholarship that helps social justice-oriented students develop their passions and pursue their purpose.

During the conversation, Andrejko gushed about her experience at SGLI, her interest in global health, and the excitement she felt about the prospect of doing the sort of work on infectious disease outbreaks like the Haitian tuberculosis epidemic described in Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains.

“He paused me and said, ‘Kristin, that’s great, but you must think about sustainability.’ It was something I hadn’t even considered. It prompted me to take a more critical look. So much of the work in global health, while often well-intentioned, doesn’t necessarily lead to good outcomes. For example, if you go on a mission trip to build a bridge—but don’t involve any local stakeholders in the design or building process—when that bridge breaks after the mission trip leaves, who will fix it?”

As the conversation continued, Buttigieg walked her through the myriad ways that actions and outcomes play out in the global health arena. “It shaped my thinking for how I wanted to establish a role for myself in global health, and the types of organizations—those with ethical community engagement, capacity building, and sustainable practices—with which I wanted to align myself.”

A good question

Accepted into the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholar Program, which afforded her guaranteed funding for summer learning opportunities, Andrejko immediately set to work with Professor Buttigieg, identifying health organizations that were making sustainable impacts in communities around the globe.

Ultimately, she found herself working with One Sun Health, an organization dedicated to sustainable, locally-driven solutions to improve health and well-being in rural South Africa. Working alongside community health workers and local health departments, Andrejko saw firsthand the impact of malaria on rural South African communities and gained critical insights into the importance of earning public trust and respecting local knowledge in the implementation of public health initiatives. A new interest bloomed—this time for field research and for learning more about the communities she sought to help. With new knowledge came new questions.

“During many of the conversations that I had with community health workers in South Africa, some began to ask, ‘if we have all of these great vaccines for measles, flu, and other infections, why don’t we have a vaccine for malaria?’”
It was a good question­—one to which Andrejko didn’t have a response. Intrigued, she set out to find the answer.
Returning to Notre Dame, she developed an independent research project to interview vaccine researchers from across the globe who were hard at work developing vaccines to combat malaria. Her project took her to Switzerland, where she met with vaccine researchers at prominent think tanks and the World Health Organization (WHO)—an experience she sums up as “incredible.”

The following summer, Andrejko returned for an internship in the WHO’s Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologics Department. “It was one of the most transformational experiences of my life,” reflects Andrejko.

“At WHO, I witnessed the critical role that evidence-based research plays in developing and informing life-saving public health policies. I gained insights into how health policy decisions are made on a global scale.”

She recalls assisting with the preparations for a WHO conference commissioned to update policy recommendations for pneumococcal vaccines that prevent pneumonia. “It was very exciting to have all these experts in one room, actually looking at the policy and seeing whether or not they have the necessary scientific evidence to change it,” shares Andrejko.

“It showed me the robust evidence base that is required to inform any public health policy decision, and gave me a new appreciation for what it takes to move the needle on any sort of policy decision in public health. And, I realized that I needed to learn more research methods so that I could design and implement the types of studies that would ultimately address evidence gaps identified by policymakers.”

The Public Health Paradox

At WHO, Andrejko felt her interest shift away from an intense focus on malaria towards infectious disease epidemiology more broadly. Increasingly, she found herself at the intersection of public health and policy, interested not only in how specific diseases affect different populations, but how to develop policies that prevent outbreaks from occurring in the first place.

“I saw the public health paradox. When public health works, we don’t see it; when you prevent outbreaks from occurring, people forget how terrible a disease is. As a result, they stop following preventative measures—like getting vaccinated—and pathogens predictably return with terrible consequences. I gained an intimate appreciation for how critical it is that policymakers understand the value of public health.”

Led by her new interest, Andrejko sought to bolster her skills beyond what was offered by her Science Business major. Because Notre Dame didn’t offer an undergraduate program in epidemiology or public health, she begged her way into any and all of the university’s graduate-level courses on infectious diseases, public health, and epidemiology.

Her persistence and drive paid off, ultimately resulting in an internship at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. There, in the Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria, she worked on observational studies evaluating the safety of various drugs to prevent malaria in pregnancy. “I loved the work I was doing. Working alongside the CDC researchers, I learned so many new epidemiological methods.”
It was an informative experience that ultimately made clear her next step.

“Taking a finding and converting it into a scientific publication that can inform policy was such a rewarding process,” explains Andrejko. “But it also made me realize that I still lacked the skills to actually design and run these sorts of epidemiological studies on my own—and I knew that’s what I wanted to do in the future.”

Facing forward

With a solid sense of what she wanted to learn, Andrejko began seeking a PhD program—and a mentor who would guide her studies in the emerging field of pneumococcal vaccines, and how they intersect with public health policymaking. She found that mentor in Dr. Joseph Lewnard, an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health, who uses mathematical and statistical modeling to study the transmission of infectious diseases and how vaccinations and public health policy improve community health.

Ambitiously, under the mentorship of Lewnard, in the fall of 2019, Andrejko set out to evaluate the role that pneumococcal vaccines play in reducing trends in antimicrobial resistance, a study now published in The Lancet-Microbe.

“Vaccines are the most cost-effective and life-saving public health intervention—and not just because they prevent disease outbreaks,” offers Andrejko. “One of the biggest existential threats we face is antimicrobial resistance (AMR). If we can use vaccines to reduce the number of infections that require treatment with antibiotics, we reduce the opportunities for pathogens to develop resistance.”

And then 2020 happened…

Almost overnight, Andrejko found her focus shifting once again­—from the public health impact of pneumococcal vaccines to the impact of vaccines to combat SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. She’s focused on determining the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in different populations, the ways vaccines are staunching the spread of viral variants, and the factors driving COVID-19 vaccine acceptance.
In some ways, it has been an easy shift. “The methods I was using and the questions I was asking before COVID are very similar to the ones that I’m studying now—the pathogen just changed.” she explains. “It was incredibly rewarding to see our vaccine-effectiveness study presented alongside others at a recent CDC meeting in June that evaluated whether booster shots for COVID-19 will be necessary.”

A new role

Now, leading a team of researchers for a statewide study on COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness with the California Department of Health, coupled with the teaching responsibilities of being a doctoral candidate, Andrejko has become the mentor.

“I am a graduate-student instructor for a foundational course that is often the first experience undergraduates have with global health. I get to introduce them to this whole new world of public and global health that they didn’t know existed,” offers Andrejko.

“So often, students are taught that if you care about health and if you like science, you should become a physician or a nurse or a kind of a health professional that works with individual patients. I get to show them that working in public health provides the opportunity to systematically improve health at the population level, but doing so successfully is challenging because it requires involvement not just from physicians and epidemiologists but from a wide range of stakeholders, like architects and engineers who design public health infrastructure such as safe housing, water, sanitation, and hygiene. Public health is exciting because it sits at the intersection of many of these disciplines.”

As for what’s next for Andrejko? When she finishes her doctorate, she hopes to work in a public health setting on the local, state or federal level, so she can continue to learn from those around her.

“I hope, in 30 or so years, that I can serve on the sort of boards that evaluate research evidence, creating the policy decisions that make a meaningful impact for everyone. But who knows? The beauty of public health is that people end up in different places and on different paths. I’m excited about what might come next for me.”

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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Trey Murphy III '18 in the FC Lobby

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Trey Murphy III (’18) picked by the Pelicans in NBA Draft

July 30, 2021

During last night’s 2021 NBA Draft, Cary Academy alum Trey Murphy III (’ 18) was drafted as the number 17 overall pick, landing a spot with the New Orleans Pelicans. With Murphy widely considered one of the most versatile players in this year’s draft class, the Pelicans’ pick has is being lauded by NBA analysts across the country. Earlier in the day, Murphy visited Cary Academy’s campus for a shoot-around in his old stomping grounds, the Fitness Center Gym.

Trey Murphy III '18 in the FC Lobby

The 6-foot-9-inch, 200-pound guard is the only player in University of Virginia history to post a 50-40-90 shooting season in 2020-21. Before transferring to UVA as a junior, Murphy led Rice University in scoring during his sophomore year. Because of the pandemic, the NCAA granted Murphy immediate eligibility, allowing him to play for the Cavaliers rather than requiring him to take a redshirt during the 2020-21 season.

Murphy, from Durham, played varsity basketball at CA. His father, Kenneth, played at East Carolina University from 1986-88.

Murphy averaged 22 points during his CA career while shooting 53% from the floor, 45% from three, and 93% from the free-throw line. He is Cary Academy’s all-time leader in field goals made, three-pointers made, and free throws made. During his senior year at CA, Murphy the Chargers to a 14-8 record, averaged 24.7 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting on 49.4% from the floor, 43.6% from 3-point range, and 85.8% from the free-throw line. He was named All-Metro by the News & Observer. As a junior, he averaged 22.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.8 assists while shooting on 54% from the floor, 47% from three, and 93% from the free-throw line. He earned Triangle Independent School Athletic Conference (TISAC) All-Conference honors.

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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Congratulations, Class of 2021!

May 24, 2021

On Friday, May 21, 2021, Cary Academy celebrated the Class of 2021 as they embark on the next step of their journey, attending 49 different colleges and universities in 18 states, Canada, China, and Scotland. After being welcomed to CA’s first outdoor commencement by Head of School, Dr. Mike Ehrhardt, Class Speakers Armita Jamshidi ’21 and Vibhav Nandagiri ’21 addressed the graduates, faculty, crowd of family, friends, and well-wishers. Nandagiri was presented with the Founders’ Award by Head of Upper School Robin Follet. Chair of CA’s Board of Directors, Manju Karkare, introduced celebrated author and food historian Sandra Gutierrez, who delivered the ceremony’s keynote address.

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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Aaron Harrington

Alumni Spotlight

Role of a lifetime

February 10, 2021

One of Broadway’s rising stars, Aaron Harrington ‘10 has accomplished in just a few short years what some actors might not in a lifetime. Now, having landed two major leading roles, one alongside a Grammy-nominated cast, Harrington eagerly awaits a return to the stage in a post-COVID world. He’s impassioned and ready to take on another big role—as an influencer activist on a quest to transform the industry he loves.

Taking the leap

Humble, grateful, and quick to count his blessings, Harrington is the first to admit that his creative and meteoric trajectory is perhaps not the norm—a far-cry, even, from the trope of the long-suffering artist.

Graduating from Shaw University in 2015 with a degree in mass communications, Harrington initially pushed aside early dreams of a career in performing. He planned, instead, to parlay his love of music and theater into a marketing career in the entertainment industry. Like so many artists, he set his sights on New York City—ostensibly to pursue a job with a large public relations firm.

It was a daunting transition—a major leap of faith—made possible by his mother and uncle, who, unbeknownst to him, purchased and presented him with a one-way ticket to the city.

“They conspired to push me to follow my dreams,” he reflects in hindsight, and you can hear the smile in his voice. “They knew that there was nothing left for me in Durham.”
Their bold strategy would coincide with the PR job falling through—happily, in retrospect—on his arrival to New York. And then, serendipity: a friend—a choreographer with whom he had worked on a community theater production of RENT in Raleigh his senior year—forwarded the call for auditions for the national tour. Harrington leaped
at the chance.

Familiar with the role, Harrington “showed up to the audition with nothing but my voice. I later found out was probably the craziest thing I could have done—to go to a New York audition unprepared.”

It was a huge risk—and one that paid off.

Mere months after arriving in New York, Harrington landed his first professional gig—bringing his signature baritone to the role of Tom Collins in the yearlong National 20th Anniversary Tour of RENT. RENT­—A Tony-award-winning modern-day retelling of La Bohème­—follows a group of young artists as they pursue their dreams against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

RENT was my first big role, and I still get a lot of grief for it. I consider myself very, very blessed—not a lot of people can book something big within their first year of moving to New York City,” reflects Harrington. “I still to this day can’t believe it happened, but it did.”

Finding the spark

In truth, Harrington’s foray into musical theater is a relatively new pursuit in a longer creative journey, a return to a passion first ignited at CA that had long been pushed to the back burner.

Harrington, who grew up in Durham, transferred to CA in ninth grade from Durham Nativity School, a smaller independent school. He credits navigating CA’s larger, tight-knit community with the support of his fellow students and teachers with instilling in him a strong sense of confidence that empowered him to pursue his interests. He threw himself into the community, playing in both traditional band and jazz band and singing in chorus. An athlete, he wrestled and threw shot put for track and field.

“Cary Academy was able to take this really full of life kid and embrace him,” recalls Harrington. “I transferred into this community of kids that had been together since Middle School, but they welcomed me. It is an experience that I cherish.” He is still friends with many of his former classmates, many of whom were in the audience when RENT landed at the Durham Performing Arts Center in 2016.

At CA, Harrington got his first introduction to musical theater, albeit an initially reluctant one. “We did a production of Les Misérables in chorus. And, if I am being honest, I had no interest in doing it,” he reflects with a laugh. “But it was for a grade, so of course I did. After the production, I thought ‘that was actually really cool.’”

A trip to see Wicked at the Durham Performing Arts Center courtesy of then-Head of Upper School Mitch McGuigan would seal the deal: “Just watching the magic unfold on that stage—it was another spark.”

On graduation, Harrington headed to Shaw University, nursing a dream to be a backup singer and primed to pursue a degree in music. It was an important decision in his life.
“The dynamic at Cary Academy, a predominantly white institution, versus Shaw a historically black university—they were completely different,” offers Harrington. “It was nice to have that balance; it kept me grounded. I learned a lot at Cary Academy, and I went on to learn more at Shaw, not only academics, but culturally. At Shaw, I was diving back into some of the things that I was familiar with, had grown up with.”

Ultimately, a change in major his senior year would prove fortuitous, opening room in his schedule to return to musical theater. Over the next two years, he sought out opportunities in community musical theater, including Raleigh’s Theatre in the Park’s annual musical A Christmas Carol that played at DPAC and Raleigh’s Progress Energy Center, and a foreshadowing production of RENT with the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre.

In that work, he discovered a true passion­—a spark of interest fanned into full flame.

“Music had always been my outlet, but to combine singing and acting, to have fun on stage, to dress up and be able to look through the lens of someone else and get that story for trade—there is nothing like it.”

Just do it

Harrington, who has debilitating stage fright, credits his willingness to take risks, be vulnerable, and lean into fear as the secrets to his success. The urgency of the pandemic has only served to deepen his resolve to pursue his dreams fearlessly.

“It sounds cliché, I know,” offers Harrington. “But life is short and unpredictable. COVID has shown us that anything can happen—life can go any kind of way with little warning. So, if you have a dream, embrace it fully—embrace the fear, the excitement, the anxiety. Take the leap, follow your passion—just do it.”

The lessons of mortality that the pandemic has cruelly taught for so many are those that Harrington himself learned early, with the death of his father when he was a senior in college. It was a dark, but transformative time.

“My father’s death pushed me to stop taking things so easily, to stop just riding the wave. It made me put myself out there instead,” offers Harrington. “That is what I’m currently doing. No matter how scared I am, I just go for it. My dad always wanted his kids to be great—so I’m always trying to make my dad proud, make my family proud.”

That fearless attitude was instrumental in helping him to land his second big role—as Audrey II in the off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors—in early March of 2020. “I found out I booked it March 1, we rehearsed for two weeks, and then, then the world shut down.”

“At first, we thought we’d be back in three months—and that kept me going,” says Harrington. “But then, before you know it, we are hitting a year of life in this pandemic. Thankfully, our producers are committed; they’ve let us know that everyone aims to get the production back up and running. Knowing that in the back of my mind, it makes my future look just as bright as before—and it gives me hope that we will come back stronger.”

Actor to activist

For Harrington—who has discovered an activist calling during his pandemic-forced downtime—“coming back stronger” also means a broader, more meaningful embrace of the work of diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

Growing up listening to artists like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, who figured prominently in the civil rights movement, Harrington has always appreciated the powerful connection between music and activism. However, it wasn’t until recently that he felt called to join their ranks and use his craft in the service of anti-racism.

“I’ve always thought my existence in this country, by itself, is activism,” reflects Harrington. “But the deaths of Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others—the repeated injustices and the lack of support and accountability from those who are held so highly, those that have so much influence and power—it broke me. It really got me going, pushed me forward. I felt called to speak up and speak my mind and to match that with action.”

Harrington’s call to action coincides with a larger, welcome awakening across the entertainment industry. “It’s been great to watch as talent agencies, directors, and production companies begin to ask the right questions—to ask what we need to do to make our industry more inclusive, more anti-racist, more open to diverse voices and experiences.”

For his part, Harrington is committed to partnering with other artists to use his platform and visibility as an influencer to identify issues and potential solutions and to holding the industry, and himself, accountable to promises of positive change.

“When Broadway comes back, things still won’t be where they need to be. I want to be one of the voices that say, ‘this is what needs to be fixed, and you don’t know that it needs to be fixed because you’ve never acknowledged that it was broken.’ It is going to be a long process, but it has to start somewhere, and I’m ready to fight tooth and nail for it.”

For Harrington, much of that work turns on representation, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity not only to share the stage but see themselves and their experiences in the work.

“Representation matters,” offers Harrington. “Lots of shows have been on the right track in terms of casting actors of color, but there is a really big difference between casting from the BIPOC community for a BIPOC show versus casting BIPOC actors for a predominantly white show. And it isn’t just about race; as an advocate and ally for the LGBTQIA+ community, I want to see better representation for the trans community, for the gay community—they also need to be properly represented.”

As for what comes next for Harrington, the future is uncertain but bright. With signs that the pandemic might be waning, he’s looking forward to reuniting with his castmates—recently nominated for a 2021 Grammy award for best cast album (Harrington sadly joined the production too late to lend his voice to the album)—and to bringing Audrey II to life on the Little Shop of Horrors stage.

Beyond that, he’s energized by the prospect of bringing new, transformative productions to the stage and by opportunities to leave his mark on the roles ahead. He’s particularly keen to originate characters that embody authentic, diverse experiences and whose stories are groundbreaking and help to broaden perspectives and spark positive change—just as RENT did when it first premiered over 25 years ago.

“There’s nothing like originating a role, to being the first person to take it to the stage,” reflects Harrington. “The actors that come after you, you know, they give their input, but they will always know that Aaron Harrington did this role first, this is how he did it, these were the choices he made, this was his vision. And that’s pretty cool.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Spector Family Fund

Alumni News

Introducing the Spector Family Fund

December 17, 2020

This fall, the Spector Family Fund was created at Cary Academy. Established in memory of Grey Spector (‘16), and in honor of the entire Spector family’s impact on CA, the Spector Family Fund is a merit-based award that will be given annually to an Upper School student who exemplifies Grey’s spirit—his individuality and unwavering commitment to the pursuit of passions. The award supports the recipient’s tuition for a year. Students are encouraged to apply annually, and faculty members may also nominate students for recognition. 

This weekend the Cary Academy Speech and Debate team will virtually host the first annual Grey Matter Invitational in honor of Grey Spector. Seventeen schools will participate in Varsity and Novice Lincoln Douglas Debate, Varsity and Novice Public Forum Debate, Congressional Debate, and nine speech events (Declamation, Dramatic Interpretation, Extemporaneous Speaking, Humorous Interpretation, Impromptu Speaking, Informative Speaking, Oral Interpretation, Original Oratory, and Program of Oral Interpretation). A true community effort, the inaugural tournament was supported by 25 different CA families and will be judged by a network of nearly 20 CA alumni. Grey’s brother, Cade Spector (’20) will speak at the awards ceremony. All proceeds will benefit the Spector Family Fund. 

A senior at Duke University at the time of his passing in 2020, Grey was the eldest of four Spector sons that attended Cary Academy for their Middle and Upper School careers. Even after graduating, Cary Academy remained an important part of Grey’s life. He credits Cary Academy with encouraging him to pursue his passions. He particularly treasured his time on the Speech and Debate team, where he explored different viewpoints and developed supportive and enduring friendships. After CA, Grey embarked on a successful collegiate career at Duke University, where he earned degrees in philosophy, public policy, and economics, and had recently been admitted to Duke University Law School. 

Applications will be made available to Upper School students in winter of 2021, and the first recipient will be announced during the Upper School Awards Ceremony in May of 2021. 

To learn more about the fund or ways to support it, you can visit or the CA website or contact Ali Page, Director of Development.

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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Homecoming

Alumni News

Charger spirit on display for Homecoming 2020

December 15, 2020

The pandemic may have disrupted a great many things, but it won’t stop the Charger spirit! This week is Spirit and Homecoming week, with homecoming games/meets scheduled for Friday, December 18

While we hate we can’t gather together in person, we invite you to join us for Virtual Homecoming fun! Every day there will be different online events for you to participate, prizes to be won, and friends to reconnect with. CA will celebrate our fall and winter Charger athletes during a virtual live Homecoming assembly on Wednesday, December 16, from 2:00-3:00pm. View the stream, live games in the FC gym, and review past games on CA’s NFHS video portal

Be sure to follow our alumni Instagram and Facebook and use the #CAVirtualHomecoming hashtag to follow along for a week full of Charger Spirit! Click the links below for more information. 

Schedule of Events:

Monday, 14th – “How it started. How it’s going” Social Challenge – You know how this one works, post a photo from your time at CA and a photo from what life looks like now. Tag us to be entered into a contest to win a $50 gift card to the Charger Corner


Tuesday, 15th – Virtual Networking Event with Parents of Alum, 7:00pm – Join our panel of parents of alumni as they share with us their experience and expertise in various industries. While many things have had to pause this year, we know Chargers are still interested in growing professionally. Register today! Space is limited. 


Wednesday, 16th – Instagram Lives with Faculty Favorites – Are you following us on Instagram? That’s where all the fun happens! Join us through the day as different teachers pop it to say hello and share some of their favorite memories. 

Homecoming assembly from 2:00-3:00pm. Streamed live on CA’s NFHS video portal

Thursday, 17th – Virtual Coffee with Dr. Ehrhardt, 9:00am – Meet our head of school as he shares his Charger experience as well as how we have navigated this virtual school year. RSVP to let us know you’re coming and submit a question to ask Dr. Ehrhardt. 


Friday, 18th – Spirit Day Social Challenge & Homecoming Games – Pull out that blue and gold for you, your kids, or your pet! Show us your Charger Spirit on social media, tag us, and be entered to win a Homecoming Tailgate Swag Bag. Livestream all the games starting at 4:45pm!

Varsity girls’ basketball v. Thales Academy
5:30pm | Fitness Center gym

Varsity boys’ basketball v. Thales Academy
7:00pm | Fitness Center gym

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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