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Saint Mary’s School: The All-Girls Education Difference

by Ashton Vermillion, SMS Class of 2017, UNC-CH Class of 2021

Saint Mary’s School, an all-girls, independent, Episcopal, college-preparatory, boarding and day high school located in Raleigh, N.C., is dedicated to academic excellence and personal achievement for girls in grades 9-12. Founded in 1842, the historic, residential 23-acre campus offers easy access to all the capitol city has to offer, as well as being a peaceful oasis amid the hustle and bustle of an urban environment. With a mission to prepare girls for college and life, Saint Mary’s immerses students in a dynamic learning environment offering both hands-on classroom learning and opportunities for real-world experiences. Focused on developing key competencies like critical thinking, collaboration, cross-cultural intelligence, and new media literacy, Saint Mary’s offers AP courses, innovative electives, a unique seminar program, college counseling, a rich arts program, eleven sports, and a thriving metropolitan location.

“Boarding school was never something I thought I would do. Yet, Saint Mary’s School holds such a special place in my heart because it’s where I really started to figure out who I am as a person.” – Ashton Vermillion

I will never forget the first time I stepped onto the Saint Mary’s School campus during my tour and became overwhelmed that everything felt right. Tears welled in my eyes. The tour continued, and I met Associate Director of Admissions Emily Smith (an alumna from the class of 2001). She interviewed me and made me feel like the most important person in the entire world. I was not just a number; I was an individual.

Emily asked me, “If you were a shoe, what shoe would you be?” I answered, “A Jack Roger. Because you can dress them up or down, which is like me because I am a very ‘go with the flow’ and outgoing person. I make the most of any environment I’m put in.” 

After my interview, I recall sitting in front of a panel of student ambassadors who spoke to my family and me and I thought, “I want to like them one day.” They were so confident and authentic.

I was accepted to Saint Mary’s as a boarding student even though I had applied as a day student. They realized that if I wanted to be as active as I indicated in sports and various leadership roles, while also continuing to make good grades, I needed to become a boarder and ensure I reached my full potential.

This was hard news for my parents had to hear. I was their first child, and they hadn’t planned on sending me away from home for boarding school. However, they knew it was important to me and the best decision for me. 

Going to boarding school was something I never thought I would do.

But it was exactly what I needed to do to become the person I am today.

I started at Saint Mary’s School in the 2013 fall semester, and I hit the ground running: making friends, playing tennis, dancing in the Orchesis Dance Theatre company during the winter, and playing lacrosse in the spring semester. I learned more that freshman year at Saint Mary’s than I did any other year in my life. 

There were challenging moments because I was homesick, but I also had moments of gratitude because I knew I was growing way more than I would have if I’d stayed at the school I’d previously attended my whole life. 

I learned how to rely on myself more than ever. If I forgot my tennis racket for an away match, I just wasn’t be able to play because no one was there to run home and bring me my racket. I had to be organized, thoughtful, and think ahead. Experiences like this stand out as having had a big impact on learning how to manage my own life and to figure out how to be prepared for whatever I faced. 

During my sophomore year, I settled in and was offered a leadership opportunity as a student admission ambassador. This role had been one of my dreams since touring the campus and meeting student ambassadors. In this role, I gained self-confidence, poise, and the role helped me discover I really liked public speaking and sharing with families how amazing the school was. 

The following summer, I was able to take advantage of a study abroad program in Costa Rica alongside my Saint Mary’s roommate. It was the first time I’d traveled abroad without my parents being in charge. It was an experience I never would have been confident enough to attempt had I not attended boarding school at Saint Mary’s.

I returned to campus after summer break to enroll for my Junior year, and I felt like a new and improved version of me. I was super comfortable with all my friends and with faculty. I built an amazing relationship with my advisor, Morgan Phillips, the director of college counseling, who was like a second mother to me. I sought advice from her about anything and everything, and she helped me learn how to navigate anxieties and to focus on what was important when I faced challenges. 

When I would approach Morgan stressed out about something, she’d ask, “If this outcome happens, is it really the end of the world?” Every time she asked this, I would reply that it wouldn’t be the end of the world, and it always helped to calm me down and think of the situation with a different perspective. 

In my junior year, I was elected as a Saint Mary’s Marshal, one of the highest honors and leadership positions at the school. It was a role I’d also wanted since the first day of school. I’d watched the school Marshals stand at the entrance of our historic Chapel at the open doors and wished to be like them. As an official hostess for the school in a very public role, being a Marshal means making a commitment to setting an example, to living up to high standards always, and attending some of the most important events at on campus. Marshals serve in every chapel service and school assembly, escort guests at commencement, convocation, and other official school and academic activities, concerts, and major functions.

That same year, I was also elected cheer captain and was chosen by our student body as the person who could motivate her class. I led pep rallies at our sporting events and ran the dances at school sponsored events. 

The summer after my junior year, I applied and was accepted to the Woodberry Scotland Program, which is a three-week, summer program where eight Woodberry Forest School boys and eight girls are chosen to travel to Scotland and take a history course. This was a life-changing experience that allowed me to further my passion for travel and gave me a hands-on, learning abroad experience.

My senior year was one of the best years of my life. All my Saint Mary’s experiences came together, and I felt that all I had learned would now serve a very important purpose: the opportunity to apply at and be accepted into my dream school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Because of the confidence and experiences at Saint Mary’s, I was able to take full advantage of the opportunities at UNC-Chapel Hill. I attended summer study abroad programs at Donghua University in Shanghai, China, and the Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence, Italy. I became membership chair and head of marketing for UNC’s Family Business Club through the Kenan-Flagler Family Enterprise Center, was an ambassador for the UNC Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship, a study abroad peer ambassador for the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and became a public relations coordinator/representative for UNC Hussman School’s Media Hub.

Four years later, I am a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism. 

I credit the four years I spent at Saint Mary’s School with providing me a foundation where I was empowered to discover who I wanted to become as a person and a future professional. Because of this, Saint Mary’s School will always hold a special place in my heart, and I can honestly say I would not be who I am today without that all-girls learning experience.


To learn more about Saint Mary’s School and the all-girls boarding/day program for girls in grades 9 through 12, visit 

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