The Westerly Sun
WOOD RIVER JCT. — The Chariho Class of 2019 valedictorian and salutatorian are following very different career paths, but they share an unwavering focus on achieving their academic and career goals.
Valedictorian Matthew Dickerman is headed to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and Salutatorian Claire Fox, who wants to become a medical doctor, will attend the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
Chariho Principal Craig MacKenzie said both students had exhibited drive and perseverance beyond their years.
“It takes a laser focus and a clarity of vision about what you want to accomplish that I think is kind of an anomaly in a high school student,” he said. “We all grow up at different times and at different levels, and to see these students be so committed to what they’re doing academically, but not just committed to it for the sake of getting a grade but committed to it for the sake of how they could take that information and translate it into something meaningful in their lives.”
Dickerman lives in Richmond with his parents, Amy and Dan, and his younger sister, Megan. Amy Dickerman is a teacher at the South County Montessori School and Dan works for the Internal Revenue Service.
Dickerman was born in Georgia. The family moved to Rhode Island when Matthew was 2 years old. He entered Richmond Elementary School in third grade and after attending the Montessori School for two years, remained in the Chariho system.
The Air Force Academy has been his school of choice for the past couple of years.
“I’ve always known that I want to do something like my father,” he said. “He served in the military when he was younger. I wanted to do something where I felt purposeful, so one thing I want to study is computer science or cybersecurity … I was looking at schools that had good cyber programs, and of course the military is a great avenue for that.”
The academy’s lengthy application process required a congressional nomination, which Dickerman received from U.S. Rep. James Langevin.
“That process is actually really long, to get into the academy,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, lots of essays, lots of interviews.”
MacKenzie noted that in addition to his drive to succeed, Dickerman was also unfailingly generous and respectful.
“There’s an envelope of selflessness in terms of all the community service projects that he’s accomplished, in terms of his volunteerism in the community,” he said. “The other thing I really love about Matt is when I see him interacting with his peers, he speaks as respectfully and as carefully and as kindly and as joyfully as when he speaks with adults.”
Assistant Principal Andrea Spas said, “It has been a pleasure to work closely with Matthew over the past couple of years through our Student Advisory Board. Matthew has led our S.A.B. and has shared ideas and support to administration. He is model of what it means to excel in both academics and extracurriculars.”
Senior year and eighth grade, Dickerman said, were the highlights of his time at Chariho.
“At the beginning, it was a little stressful applying to schools, but then after that, I felt a big relief because most of the hard work was done,” he said. “Similarly, eighth grade in middle school, we went on a lot of fun trips like the D.C. trip. We had a great time together as a class.”
Dickerman said the close friendships he formed in middle school had remained strong through his high school years.
“They supported me throughout all my endeavors and applications and decisions that I had to go through,” he said. “My friends, they just spent time with me and allowed me to relax.”
Dickerman was active in sports, running track and cross-country throughout high school. He plays the piano and also enjoys playing disk golf with friends. There isn’t much time left to spend with friends before he has to leave for school.
“June 27th is initiation day, so I report then,” he said. “I’ll have 20 days. I’m going to spend as much time as I can with my friends. Obviously, spending time with them, I won’t see them for a bit, and do as many things as I can that are related to Rhode Island.”
Those Rhode Island activities, he said, would include eating seafood, drinking Del’s lemonade and spending as much time as possible on the family’s boat.
Dickerman said he was grateful to his parents for keeping him on-track in high school.
“I think my parents really set me straight, had me focus on the right things all through high school,” he said. “They’ve been super-supportive, super-loving, always pushed me in the right direction…Obviously they’re sad that I have to leave for in-processing so soon. Of course, the days are ticking by, but they’re happy to see what’s coming for me in the future, for sure.”
Claire Fox, 18, lives in Charlestown and attended Chariho schools, beginning with Charlestown elementary school. Her mother, Andrea, is a practice administrator at Orthopedics Rhode Island, and her father, Ed, is a comptroller at the Groov-Pin corporation in Smithfield. Fox has two sisters, Mackenzie and Bridget.
Fox will study biological engineering on a pre-medical track at the University of South Carolina and is currently considering two medical pathways.
“One is to go the orthopedics route and be able to use my biomedical engineering background to link prosthetics and work with amputees,” she said.
Fox is also interested in dermatology, particularly the integumentary system, which comprises skin, hair, nails, glands and nerves.
“I just love skin,” she said. “In sophomore year, I took anatomy and physiology here and I loved doing the integumentary system, which a lot of people don’t like because it has a lot of parts and they don’t find it interesting, but that was actually my favorite and it’s still my favorite out of all that we’ve covered.”
The event that piqued Fox’s interest was a bad flesh wound she suffered in her sophomore year. “You could see the layers and to me, that kind of stuff is really interesting,” she said.
Fox has been active in sports, playing soccer. She also ran track in her early years but had to stop because of an injury.
Mackenzie said he first got to know Fox through sports and described her as a gifted soccer player. “Watching her on the soccer field when she was at full strength was something to behold, because she’s so quick, so directed, so skillful,” he said.
One of Fox’s favorite hobbies is caring for small children.
“I baby-sit a lot so I guess that’s almost become a hobby because I have these twins, I’m a nanny for them and I baby-sit them when their parents go out during the school year,” she said.
Fox also loves hiking with Toby, family dog. “I’m obsessed with him,” she said.
MacKenzie said, “I’ve had the pleasure to judge her career development portfolio presentation and to listen to her talk about her experience and to make such clear connections between so many very specific things that she did here at Chariho and her career goals going into medicine, it was really satisfying.”
Spas described Fox as a model student.
“All of our learner qualities can be represented through Claire,” she said. “She is collaborative, respectful and a quality producer. Claire is a model of being driven and self-directed.”
Fox will be moving to South Carolina on Aug. 14, so she will have a little more time after graduation to enjoy the summer, but she still plans to work for most of it.
“I will be a nanny for two twins over the summer and I also work at a clam shack in Charlestown, Johnny Angel’s,” she said. “I’ve worked there for three or four years now so I’ll just continue that on the side and then, obviously, I’ll try to fit in as much time as possible with my family and friends.”
Like Dickerman, Fox said she would remember eighth grade as a high point in her academic career.
“We were kind of at that stage where we were the oldest in the school so we had a lot of opportunities,” she said. “We really started to get more freedom, which carried over into high school.”
Fox said her focus and discipline had sharpened as she matured.
“School was always a priority and my parents always made sure I knew it was a priority but I was very good at figuring time out where I could separate school from outside,” she said. “As I got older, I realized that I needed to put more time into school than I was and I kind of had to have a little moment when I realized that it was going to be a lot more work and I needed to put more effort in if I wanted to see the same report card.”
Rhode Island’s beaches and fresh ocean air will be the things Fox said she would miss most.
“What I’m going to have the hardest time with is, I’m going to be down South, so it’s going to be a lot warmer and I’m not going to have the beach to escape to,” she said.