Category Archives: Student Spotlight

Digging Up the Family Tree

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By Sarah McDaniel, Class of 2017

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been fascinated with history in all its forms. But nothing fascinates me like the study of my own ancestry. This summer for my fifteenth birthday, my parents gave me an account to After four months of research, I’ve been able to trace my family line back to 1303, and have found 399 blood relatives I had never known of. These include Lords and Ladies who lived in castles, immigrants who came to America on the Mayflower, and one of the original founders of New Haven, Connecticut. You may have heard of the infamous Winchester house, built in 1884 by Sarah Winchester? My ancestor.

As I have been researching, I have also been sharing the information with my family. My mom was fascinated by it all, as I was. My dad just keeps asking me, “Where’s all the money?”

I remember a game I used to play when I was little. I would pretend that I was the long lost daughter of some great queen (of course, what little girl did not dream of that). This summer when I found the first of many Lords in my family, I could not contain my excitement. I was running around everywhere shouting, “I found the money, Dad!”

Of course, there was no money, but it is fun to think that there once was. My favorite part of all my research is a feature on that will send a notification when they have found any of your ancestors in someone else’s family tree. You can see where your family line crosses with other family lines.

The most interesting aspect of this and of all my research is looking back all the way to my twenty-second great grandfather, Lord John Willoughby, and thinking that if any one thing had been different in my family line, I may not even be here. Long ago, even before Lord John Willoughby was born, God already knew my exact family tree. He knew exactly what had to happen in order for me to be here today.

What would my life have been like if I was born a century earlier? What if I was born back in 1303? Will my future twenty-second great grandchildren ever look into our family history and find me? History has always amazed me, and now that I have my own personal connection to it, it is all the more fascinating. Now to see if I can lay claim to my part in the inheritance of Lord Willoughby. 

Westminster Homecoming 2014

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By Olivia Godfrey, Class of 2016

The Westminster School at Oak Mountain celebrated another exciting Homecoming the week of January 21-25. It started off with Hippie/70s dress up day. During lunch there was a crazy human tricks competition between all students. The next day students dressed up as their favorite literary or movie character. Examples of just a few costumes were Pippi Longstocking, characters from Winnie the Pooh, and characters from Monsters, Inc. The following day was Twin Day. Everyone paired up with someone else and became twins for the day by wearing matching clothes. Throughout the whole week, teachers picked the winners of the day’s costume, and the winners were announced the following day. Each person who won earned points for his or her house.

The final dress up day on Friday was Westminster Spirit Day. The whole school was encouraged to wear Westminster wear and show their support for the school. At the end of the day on Friday, the varsity boys and girls basketball teams helped lead a pep rally for all of the Lower School students, encouraging them to come to the Homecoming basketball games the next day. Wild cheering and loud, romping music provided the perfect recipe to get students very excited about the upcoming games.

Saturday finally arrived, and it was Homecoming game day at last. Both teams would be playing Whitesburg Christian Academy at Samford University. The girls played first, coming up just short with a disappointing four point loss. The boys were next, ending with a substantial victory over Whitesburg.

The crowds at these games were impressive. Students from all grades were there cheering on the Knights. During halftime of the girls’ game, the seniors of the varsity boys team were recognized, then during the boys halftime all Lower School athletes and coaches were recognized. Also, a few teachers and those chosen from the crowd participated in the annual half court shot competition.

After the games ended, students in ninth through twelfth grades all headed back to the school for chili and a bonfire. Each house brought chili that was judged, and a winner of the chili competition was announced later that night. It was a great ending to another amazing homecoming week.


Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”

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By DeAnna Lockett, Class of 2017

“Death is something inevitable. When [a man] has done what he considers to be his duty to his people, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I sleep for eternity.” –Nelson Mandela.

On December 5, 2013 Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize winner, former President of South Africa, prisoner, freedom fighter for all men, and anti-apartheid hero, passed away. This legend was an extraordinary leader of his people who overcame the trials in his country and achieved his ultimate goal. He abolished racial segregation also known as apartheid in South Africa and wanted equality for all people, black and white.


Through Mandela’s early education, he learned that at one time in history white and black men lived in peace in South Africa, but the whites, specifically the Dutch and British, later claimed the land for themselves. During the ceremony of circumcision, the main speaker Chief Meligqui expressed his sorrow for the young men including Mandela. He was saddened by the fact that these men were “prisoners” in their own land and would never have the freedom to govern themselves, but would always be fulfilling the work of the white man. At the time Mandela did not quite understand the words of the chief. However, later on in his life he admitted that these words helped him in his work towards making South Africa an independent nation.

During Mandela’s young adult years in 1939, he enrolled in University College of Fort Hare, an equivalent to Harvard University. Being the first in his family to have any formal education, he was elected to the Student Representative Council. Mandela resigned from his position because of the lack of power that the council had. Viewing this as a disrespectful act, Dr. Kerr of the university expelled Mandela and would only allow him to return if he rejoined the SRC, but Mandela still refused to return. To avoid an arranged marriage, He ran away from home to Johannesburg and began to study law at the University of Witwatersrand. There, he joined the African National Congress (ANC), a united group of young Africans, in 1942 who began a violent approach against racial segregation such as boycotts and strikes. He later founded the law firm Ma

ndela and Tambo with his friend from Fort Hare Oliver Tambo.

Eventually, Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years in 1963 for leading an armed strike against apartheid with the ANC. Soon, the South African Government planned for his escape; but the British outsmarted them. He and other ANC members were then emblem of resistance for the blacks of South Africa, and they too stood up against the British and began an international campaign for his release that gained an enormous amount of support, showing how much the world respected Mandela for his strength and courage: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatic46664 Concert: In Celebration Of Nelson Mandela's Life - Performanceally liberates others.” Mandela lived out these words by realizing that God destined him for greatness and he could not simply watch him and his people be enslaved in their own country. Therefore, by fighting for his own freedom he inspired his people to do the same.

Finally, on February 11, 1990, Mandela was released from prison: “As I walked out toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” On the day of his release, he realized that if he let his heart harden against the British, they would still be controlling his thoughts and actions. They wanted him to retaliate so that they could have another reason to imprison him. However, he left prison a changed man and responded to them in love and forgiveness. Although Mandela had already shaken the nation with his bold movements, he still worked with the ANC towards giving his people the right to vote. In 1993 Mandela was declared a Nobel Peace Prize winner forhis efforts in abolishing apartheid. Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president on May 10, 1994.

The Faith to Move Away

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By Sarah McDaniel, Class of 2017

When my family moved to Alabama in 2009, my sister and I thought the south was all hillbillies, football, and endless pine forests. On our way to our new home, we passed a Hardee’s restaurant. I asked my dad why that place called Hardee’s had the Carl’s Jr. logo on it. He told me that Hardee’s is the southern version of Carl’s Jr. My first thought was these southerners were going to be weirder than I thought. But things kept changing as I lived here longer. Nobody had really ever heard of Red Robin, a popular restaurant in Colorado; there were no stucco homes, only brick; it was even rare to find sidewalks; and it was always really hot. Whenever I met someone new at my first school in Alabama, they always asked me “are you an Auburn or Alabama fan?” and based their opinions of me solely on the answer I gave. However, I quickly learned the city was not filled with rednecks or trucks. And not everyone listened to country music. I’m still learning things about Alabama. As I meet more and more people, I realize that some of them were born in Alabama, live in Alabama, and plan on dying in Alabama. Most of the time it’s because people are afraid of change. I know I was. Change is difficult and extremely scary, but if you put your faith in God, he can take you places you never thought you would end up.

The Painful Truth: How Pain Management Professionals are Being Undermined by Vague Laws

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By Jack Stein, Class of 2015

Everyone has a different tolerance for pain.  Some people can have a dangerous injury and either not notice it or think that they can handle it on their own.  Others find themselves in great pain with every knock or bruise and think that they need drugs such as OxyContin to cure it.  As a result, it is almost impossible to judge objectively the level of pain that a given individual is in.  The common way doctors attempt to judge a patient’s pain is a 0 – 10 scale (0 being no pain at all, 10 being absolutely unbearable).  However, each person’s scale is subjective to their experience of pain in the past, making it almost impossible to have a consistent ranking of pain for the same injury suffered by two different people.  Because of this ineffective means of identifying pain, many exploit the system and trick their doctors into prescribing more drugs than are needed for the pain.

This subject is explored in Tina Rosenburg’s New York Times article “When is a Pain Doctor a Drug Pusher?” which discusses the dilemma doctors face when treating a patient as to how real their pain is and what dosage to give the patient.  She argues that there is a problem in the way the law allows doctors to prescribe opioids.  One doctor may prescribe an unhealthy, even fatal amount of opioids to a patient without breaking a law.  Another might be scared to prescribe a reasonable amount for fear of the patient misusing them, which could result in the doctor being arrested. Federal law for the distribution of pain medication uses imprecise legal definitions of terms, and Rosenberg argues that this allows for confusion between real patients and addicts.  It is this very law which thousands of addicts try (and often succeed) to break for personal benefit.  Basically, the law puts the distribution of opioids in the hands of the doctors, some of whom are far less educated about pain than one would hope and expect.

Rosenberg cites the case of Ronald McIver, a pain management doctor with an aggressive style of treatment.  He often prescribed double the amount of opioids usually recommended, sometimes even sixteen times the recommended amount. Because pain can only be measured subjectively, McIver always overcompensated in his treatments, aiming for the pain to be a 2 instead of 5 on the 0 – 10 scale.  However, McIver’s style led him into some serious problems.  Some of his patients would fake pain to use the drugs for their ad

dictions.  Others would sell the excess drugs on the black market.  Some patients would drive hundreds of miles just to see McIver, who attempted only weakly to investigate the reality of their pain.  Even before all the  forms were filled out from the patients’ previous doctors, McIver would still prescribe an unusually high amount of drugs.  In cases of doubt, McIver always erred on the side of giving too many pills rather than not enough.


Rosenberg’s main argument is that the laws about pain management and medication are too vague.  In fact, many jurors and investigators could not find an exact law that McIver broke, despite a clearly harmful and dangerous method for giving prescriptions for opioids.  Many doctors are being prosecuted for stepping over a line that has not even been established, and with pain education being taught in so few medical schools, it is likely to continue like this for some time.  Rosenberg maintains that misconceptions dominate public opinion.  Many doctors live in fear of prosecution for prescribing controlled substances for pain. This needs to be resolved sooner rather than later, says Rosenberg, because real patients are living in pain.  Despite the potential for abuse, opioids such as OxyContin help thousands of pain victims get back to their normal lives.  As it stands, the laws about opioid distribution fail to account for the benefit of such drugs, and as a result many legitimate pain patients have no where to go and no hope for successful recovery.

Rosenburg states that a huge part of the problem as it relates to pain management is the general ignorance of the problem and a proper solution.  Because of this, she is able to form the argument from a legal perspective, examining what approaches are and are not allowed.  Ultimately, she makes the right call based on the evidence provided.  According to the facts that she presented, I agree that the government should do a better job of defining its terms of pain medication and increase its awareness across the country. The medications that are being prescribed today are real and dangerous, especially for those who underestimate their power.  In order to understand the dilemma faced by thousands of pain doctors, it is crucial to remember the purpose of medicine in its most basic form: to help the victims of pain and suffering.  Anything other than that should not be legal, and all attempts to avoid the illegal distribution and abuse of the drugs should be punished harshly.

Pain is debilitating, and often the only solution is for doctors to prescribe heavy drugs.  Abuse is rampant and unavoidable, and often the good drugs are misused for bad results.  Doctors are facing persecution for giving their honest opinion, and pain victims are the collateral damage when the doctors get scared away.  After reading Rosenberg’s article, one is left with an uneasy feeling of pessimism as to the way out healthcare system is being run.  The article touches on many of the flaws in the legal system, and it leaves the reader to determine whether or not it should be amended.

Busch Gardens: Good Friends, Good Physics

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by Patrick McGucken, Class of 2015

Next to the Grand Tour, the junior’s field trip to Busch Gardens is the most anticipate event of the Westminster experience. The trip allows students to ride some world class roller coasters in Florida, bond together as a class, and see some of our physics lesson put to use in real world applications.

The trip began on Thursday, December, 5, 2013 when our class began the ten hour drive down to Tampa, Florida. By the time we arrived, most of us were ready to ride. After spending a night learning about the physics behind some of these coasters, we woke up the next morning to go into the park. The class spent the entire next day riding roller coasters in the park and making some great memories.

One of my favorite roller coasters was named Kumba, a fourteen story tall steel coaster known for its ferocious roar as the cart speeds through the track. Located in the back of the park, Kumba can be heard and seen from most anywhere in the park. Kumba provides the riders with seven inversions and a max g-force of 3.8. To put this in perspective, the G’s felt on this ride are roughly double that felt by the crew during the space shuttle’s launch.


Another great coaster that all of us enjoyed was Cheetah Hunt. Cheetah Hunt is the newest of the coasters and is known for its 60mph launch and its zero G’s barrel roll. The purpose of Cheetah Hunt is to resemble what it feels like to be a cheetah hunting its prey. The coaster is fast and smooth with banked curves resembling the tail of the cheetah. The coaster is a great ride for both thrill seekers, and not so enthusiastic coaster riders. Cheetah Hunt provides a fun, high paced ride that gives the riders a feel for being a cheetah.

I personally, have both a love and fear of roller coasters. I like to ride coasters, but I still get nervous before I ride any one, and have even talked myself out on some of them. Without the encouragement of my classmates I probably would have not ridden any of the coasters at Busch Gardens.

The bonding during the trip is what made it so memorable to me, going alone just would not have been the same. I thoroughly enjoyed riding the coasters along side my friends, and having the opportunity to make some great memories along the way. The trip to Busch Gardens provided the class with an opportunity not just to learn, but to get closer as a class and have a good time. I would recommend to any upcoming Junior to strongly consider going on this trip, even if you do not like roller coasters. There is a lot more to get out of it than you might realize. Overall, this trip to Busch Gardens was a wonderful opportunity, and the memories that my friends and I made will last for the rest of our lives.

Lower School Spotlight: A Field Trip to Remember

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By Evelyn Godfrey, Fifth Grade

In October of this year I had the opportunity to visit the Veterans Affairs hospital. It is a medical center for veterans who have served or are serving in a branch of the United States military. It was a wonderful experience for me as a student at Westminster. It was an opportunity to engage with the veterans and talk to them about what they have been through. It was surprising to see how much it meant tothem for a group of kids to visit. I think it is important for students to recognize people who have served our country.

At the hospital, we got to show our thanks and love to the veterans who have sacrificed so much for us. While we were there, we sang the “Armed Forces Medley” that we sing every year at the Grandparents Day/Veterans Day assembly. During the song, many veterans sang along or clapped. Afterward, we were able to pair up and ask the veterans questions about their rank, how they served in the war, and what the experience was like for them. I loved hearing about their stories. For example, one man was a tank operator and got injured three times in World War II!

The visit to the Veterans Affairs hospital will be with me for years to come. It taught me about honoring others. To honor someone means to have high respect for them. My respect for these veterans grew because I got to know them personally and understood how much they gave up for me. The experience showed me that veterans love for children to come, talk to them, and honor them for their service to our country.


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Love and the Science of Bionic Limbs

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By Josh Moore, Class of 2014


“Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.” This quote by Hippocrates, ancient Greek physician and renowned medical historian, points to the foundation of all medicine: helping those who are sick and disabled. When technology and science are used to accomplish this goal, the quality of people’s lives is improved. The latest breakthroughs in medical technology have literally enabled the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk.

Bionic limbs are an especially exciting development that provide tremendous benefits for people who have suffered amputations. Doctors have observed that many times nerves in the leg of an amputee continue to transmit signals as if the limb were still attached. These signals alone, however, are too weak to be detected by the receivers in a bionic limb. In order to solve this problem, surgeons have directed the severed nerves to the muscle groups in the residual limb. When the brain sends signals to the residual limb, the new muscles twitch, amplifying the signals. The electrode sensors are able to detect these movements and send them to a computer chip that controls the bionic limb. This astounding process enables individuals with an amputation to function almost as effectively as before their injury. Unfortunately, technology like a bionic limb is often unaffordable for the people who need it most.

Ralph Merkle, a famous researcher of molecular nanotechnology, once said, “If we can reduce the cost and improve the quality of medical technology . . . we can more widely address the medical conditions that are prevalent and reduce the level of human suffering.”  The truth of this quote became evident to me through a close friend of mine with cerebral palsy. Her wheelchair was old and barely functioning after years of use, but the financial burden of a new powered wheelchair would have been extreme. It would have been impossible without financial assistance. Luckily for my friend, her local church came through for her. But there are others out there without this kind of support. This is why one of the most pressing medical needs of our day is technology that will not only advance patient care, but also lower the cost of that care.


Mumford and Sons: Your Money’s Worth and a Bit More

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By Alice Boone, Class of 2016

September 9, 2013 marked a historic night in Birmingham, Alabama. On that night in The Magic City, three sold out concerts took place: Hanson with Paul McDonald, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Mumford and Sons. I chose to attend Mumford and Sons and boy, did I choose wisely.

Bear’s Den opened the show with a short set that resembled a toned down version of Mumford. Next, British rock band The Vaccines took the stage. Their set was loud and enthusiastic, but they failed to engage with the crowd and their lyrics were difficult to decipher. My favorite part of The Vaccines’ set was when Marcus Mumford made a surprise appearance to sing and play a tambourine furiously. While I enjoyed both openers to an extent, I was counting down the minutes until Mumford started playing.

The lights dimmed. The excitement in the stands was almost tangible. I could barely make out four silhouettes ambling onto the stage. In total darkness, the opening lines of Lover’s Eyes began to float over the audience. On the drop of the first chorus, purple and blue lights flooded the amphitheater. At the end of the second chorus, the stage lights exploded, finally revealing the four Brits we had all been waiting in anticipation to see. The show continued at a spectacular pace. Marcus, Ted, Winston, and Ben played with incredible energy and were able to engage the crowd in every song.

As soon as “Little Lion Man” began, the lights that had been strung from the top of the radio towers to the stage lit up. The strings of bulbs flashed on and off throughout the song, keeping in time with the beat. With the change in song came a change colors that followed its mood.

Each hit brought a fresh wave of energy and enthusiasm that rippled through the countless rows of fans.

They decided to tone it down a notch and leave their backing musicians behind to do an acoustic set. The ballad “Reminder” closed that set and it was beautiful. Soon after, the band left the stage and in turn left the crowd screaming for more.

Mumford took the stage yet again, bringing out Bear’s Den and The Vaccines to help them sing “a new song by an up and coming band we’re trying to support.” They dove in to an smashing rendition of The Beatles’ “Come Together”. It was my favorite Beatles song I’ve seen besides Paul McCartney’s rendition “Live and Let Die.”

Following that electrifying cover, Marcus decided that since it was the band’s first time in this state, it was only right that they should play Sweet Home Alabama. There was only one problem, not one member knew the lyrics! They pulled a random fan from the crowd to sing with them, and the audience was in for a pleasant surprise. The nervous fan sang his heart out and did not disappoint with his surprising talent.

The concert came to a smashing close, and no one was ready to leave. Its rare that I see a band with such passion and it was quite a treat. From the fast tempo strumming if the stringed instruments, to the wide range of vocals, to the hilarious comments about Alabama’s beauty and heat, Mumford made sure their followers got their money’s worth.

Mumford gave a phenomenal performance in Pelham, Alabama, that night with their outstanding music, powerful vocals, and amazing accents. In simpler terms, Mumford and Sons rocked Pelham’s face off. It was definitely a night that none of the of the 11,000 attendees will soon forget.


Don’t Look Ahead. . . Without Looking Back

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By DeAnna Lockett, Class of 2017

“I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past,” states John F. Kennedy, expressing the age-old truth that history repeats itself. In order to determine what is to come, one must examine what has already occurred. When you hear the word “history,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Some people consider history to be one of the most boring subjects to study because it is often only associated with names, dates, and events. History does not interest many people because they dislike the details. They also fail to discover how all of the puzzle pieces come together to create the bigger picture. According to John F. Kennedy, studying the elements of history and how they unfold in the future is essential to understanding the world one lives in.

The importance of studying history is so that people can learn from the mistakes people made before their time. Also, by studying history people can follow the example of those who have gone before. For example, at the founding of America, the framers of the Constitution struggled with creating a central government that was strong while still preserving individual rights. The early Americans had to reflect back on the Pilgrims’ efforts of gaining political and religious freedom. They realized that just as the Pilgrims had agreed to work together in being independent from Britain and forming their own laws, the Americans must also unite their freedoms together to protect each other’s liberty and form a successful government. Clearly, history is full of reoccurring themes. In other words, examining the past allows one to understand the world he lives in at the present time, and then he will know what his contribution to the world should be. Then, the individual will realize that when he makes a difference in the world, no matter how small, it will all work together for his good to complete the puzzle of life.