Griffin Kapelus grew up on the Upper West Side in New York City. He is currently studying at the University of Vermont in Burlington, VT.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a New Yorker, born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where I have lived most of my life since. Manhattan has always been home. My Mom and Dad were both around, but my Mom played the role of stay-at-home parent in my earlier years. I have two older sisters.
When I started my first year at Beacon High School in NYC, a relatively competitive and rigorous public school, I made a group of friends, and four of us started a rock and roll band together.
At Beacon, my passion for soccer developed; even though I was not on the team there, I continued to play for my travel team. During this time, I became a devoted fan of my favorite soccer team, Manchester City.
I transferred to York Prep and played for the soccer team there through my junior year. High school soccer took place in the fall, and I continued playing for my travel team in the winter and spring. In my junior year of high school, playing as a goalkeeper, I helped my team win the league finals.
I also started to learn to play the guitar during this time. Music is a lifelong interest that continues today. I also played piano from the ages of four to 11.
Next, I transferred to a boarding school, The Grove School, in Connecticut. It was there I met my best friend, Jake. He and I arrived on the same day, in the middle of junior year, and started building a friendship. By the start of senior year, we were best friends and roommates. We were inseparable, playing on the soccer team together. We have a great relationship that continues today.
A new interest at this time became weightlifting and nutrition. Most days, I would go to the gym and work with a trainer/nutritionist who taught me a lot. I shared what I learned with family and friends, creating workouts and food plans for them.
This was the time in my life when I started to learn more about myself and my interests. I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and later worked at a small shop selling nuts, granola, high-quality candy, and coffee. I worked five days a week from opening at 8:00 until 2:00, when the manager would come in to work the next shift.
After Grove, I took my first college course at Hunter College in Manhattan.
I did very well in the class and left with an "A," determined to build on it and take more Hunter classes in the fall semester.
During this period, I began to discover myself for the first time. While my lifelong devotion to soccer and music remained strong, new interests emerged. I started to be a bit more aware of my intellectual and academic interests. I learned more through reading and documentaries about the many topics in the realm of social justice that I knew I cared about but had never explored before. I watched documentaries and read articles on climate change, the cause closest to my heart.
Coincidentally, the Democratic Presidential debates began at this time. I started watching those, becoming more interested in politics overall and delving into the ideas proposed by different candidates. My existing interests in soccer and music also expanded at this time. In addition to the games I frequently watched, I took preliminary steps toward a career in soccer coaching by taking some online courses and delving into videos and articles focusing on soccer tactics.
In the realm of music, I started attending concerts and constantly searched for new artists on Spotify.
I took two classes that fall semester, and both created lasting impressions. The first was the simple introductory writing class that Hunter College requires its students to take. Still, we were allowed to choose our topics for the class's major paper. I decided to write an argumentative paper on gentrification and displacement in Harlem, which coincided with my developing interest in wealth and housing inequality at the time, especially regarding race. The essay only deepened my interest in this issue.
However, undoubtedly, the more impactful class was Approaches to Religion. The class focused on the view of religion by different academic disciplines. We read books on religion written by anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, and theologians. The class was a truly incredible experience, provoking some of the most profound reflections in my life thus far. The brilliance of the course was due to the instructor, Professor Brian Foote. I was fascinated by his lectures. He and I developed an excellent relationship, so much so that I took another course with him in the spring semester. He also wrote me a recommendation for the various colleges I would go on to apply for as a transfer student.
I started listening to a music podcast called DISSECT during this time, which, as the name suggests, dissects popular music albums (mainly rap), with each episode typically covering one song and each season (there are now 6) covering one and in some cases two, albums by an artist.
Combining my interests in exercise, nutrition, and the environment, I recently decided to change to a vegan diet and have been cooking more frequently. I continue to watch documentaries that cover my topics of interest frequently as well.
Now, I am a student at the University of Vermont. I look forward to exploring academic interests, taking classes, and involving myself in clubs on campus, especially soccer.
Did you have any teachers that were a positive influence on you?
I had a few influential teachers while in high school. One who stood out was my history teacher, Mr. Tillman.
He was easygoing and quite funny, and we bonded over a mutual interest in rock and roll. He was able to engage and challenge me, sparking an interest in history and probably shaping me as a person who is much more interested in the humanities than in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.)