Over a decade after graduating from Wilmington Montessori School, Demetria Ruhl (class of 2010) still looks forward to catching up with the friends she met more than 15 years ago through her WMS Girl Scout troop.
Every year around the holidays, former members of the troop — started by WMS alumni parent Becca Gulino — would gather for dinner at the Melting Pot in Wilmington’s Independence Mall shopping center. During the past year, the gatherings moved to Zoom due to the pandemic, but these young women still continue to come together to celebrate each other’s birthdays and other occasions virtually.
“There is still a dynamic that I have with my Wilmington Montessori friends that I don’t have with anyone else,” she said. “I am very excited to continue the Melting Pot tradition after the pandemic.”
With all Demetria was juggling last spring as a senior at Dickinson College, she still welcomed the chance to reconnect with her WMS family when Head of School Lisa Lalama invited her to serve as alumni speaker at WMS’s virtual class of 2020 graduation ceremony. “Being chosen as the 2020 graduation speaker was such an honor,” Demetria said. “I still remember how excited I was when I got Lisa’s email! Writing my speech was a great way to reflect on my experience at WMS and how it has continued to positively shape my life in high school, college and now in medical school.”
Like so many students around the world, Demetria’s college life came to an anti-climactic conclusion as she completed her studies of French and chemistry and celebrated her own graduation from Dickinson College virtually last spring. Because of this, she felt a special connection with the WMS class of 2020 when she spoke to them last June. “I know from experience that this is not how you had hoped your time at [Wilmington] Montessori would end,” Demetria said to the class. “Just two weeks ago, my own college graduation was virtual, and I understand how difficult it is to not be able to celebrate this special moment ment in person with your friends and teachers at WMS who, alongside with your families, have helped you get to where you are today.”
Demetria’s days of taking virtual classes from home were a stark contrast to the rest of her college career, during which she kept busy with her double major in chemistry and French, volunteered in the admissions office, served as a teaching and research assistant in the college’s chemistry department, conducted leukemia research as a summer intern at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, and led the Dickinson swim team as senior captain. As a senior in the International Baccalaureate program at Wilmington Friends School — the school she attended for middle and high school — Demetria knew she preferred the smaller-school environment she had enjoyed at WMS and actively sought a close-knit college community that could offer her strong academic support.
“Ever since WMS, I knew it was important to forge strong relationships with teachers,” she said. “I knew I could do that at a smaller school.”
Demetria also knew she wanted to pursue a pre-med program, study chemistry and French, travel abroad, and continue to competitively swim. Dickinson checked all the boxes. “Dickinson was one of the places that gave me a sense I could do it all when I visited,” she said.
Demetria began college as a chemistry major and added French as a second major. During the fall of her junior year, she studied abroad in Toulouse, France, an experience that was more challenging than she expected.
“Little did I know at the time that college in France is very different from anything I had ever experienced in the U.S.,” she said. “It is only looking back on my experience now that I can see that learning to adapt to the French education system was one of the most valuable parts of my entire study abroad experience. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me a new and valuable perspective.”
After completing several internships in the medical field, Demetria enrolled in medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine this fall, once again attending classes virtually from her apartment. She credits her WMS foundation for her success during her first year of medical school.
“Something I learned at WMS that stuck with me is how to be self-motivated,” she said. “You need to be passionate about the work you’re doing and motivate yourself because no one is going to do it for you. You have a rewarding experience because you’re pursuing things that interest you. We cover a very large amount of content during the first year of medical school, and I think that having virtual lectures has only made the love of learning that I discovered at WMS even more important, as it motivates me through the long days spent in my apartment watching classes and then studying. I think that being an intrinsically motivated learner is incredibly important in being successful in medical school (and in any school or job)!”
Along with being a motivated learner, Demetria has been recognized for her character. In college, she was honored to receive the Amy Snow Prize, which is awarded to a student “who has a zest for life and learning, a strong commitment to Dickinson and the community, and the demonstrated belief in the good of people.” Head of School Lisa Lalama, who was Demetria’s teacher during her time in the 9-12 Program, said that this was a fitting award for her former student. “I remember her best for her huge heart — caring for others and being kind to everyone — extending a helping hand,” Lisa said. “Demetria exemplifies Montessori education. Her commitment to the community and her understanding and concern for others have served as an example for us all.”
At the end of her graduation speech, Demetria spoke directly to the eighth-graders, whose WMS careers ended during a time when the world faced unprecedented challenges.
“You are graduating in a unique moment in time, but you are graduating with a Montessori education that has provided you with the adaptability, creativity and love for learning that will enable you to embrace the unknown and flourish both academically and socially in your next adventure,” she said. “So many exciting opportunities await you in high school and beyond, so go forward with the confidence that you are prepared to succeed, the humility to ask for help when you need it, and the knowledge that no matter where life takes you, you come from a very special place that you will always be able to call home, Wilmington Montessori School.”