GUNNAR GURNIS '19: Rooted in the Present and Looking Ahead

The story of students arriving from China to learn the English language and experience American culture is a familiar one at Fryeburg Academy. The story of Gunnar Gurnis, a Fryeburg resident who traveled to China to learn Mandarin and experience Chinese culture, is a rare one.
 

At the end of his sophomore year, Gunnar entered the Middlebury Interactive Languages program and spent the summer of ‘17 in China. Energized by the Middlebury experience, Gunnar applied to the intensive U.S. Department of State and the American Councils for International Education’s NSLI-Y Chinese Mandarin program at the end of his junior year. The purpose of the NSLI  initiative is to encourage American students to become fluent in less studied languages like Mandarin, Persian, Russian, and Arabic.  After receiving news of his acceptance into the prestigious program, Gunnar spent 6 weeks this past summer in Shanghai where he studied the intricacies of Mandarin for 6 hours a day.

The growth Gunnar experienced in China was apparent to Fryeburg Academy Mandarin instructor, Erica Folsom, “When he returned to class in the fall the last two years, he could not wait to tell us about his experiences in China. As a consequence of his participation in the immersion programs, Gunnar’s Mandarin speaking skills improved greatly. His appreciation of Chinese culture has also deepened considerably. His academic success thus far is supported by his disciplined study habits and his determination to succeed.”

Along with developing his Mandarin skills, Gunnar gained insight into Chinese culture. Gunnar explains that the most striking impression was of the importance of history there, “This is true of any culture, but customs are very important in China. Respect towards the elderly and those who are accomplished is important. My host family took care of their 98-year-old grandmother incredibly well. The nursing homes were so nice.”

Gunnar will continue to work on his Mandarin wherever he chooses to attend school next fall. Georgetown, the University of Virginia, and George Washington University top an impressive list of schools to which Gunnar will apply. At this time, he intends to study economics along with Mandarin. Folsom sees Gunnar making Mandarin an important part of his future, “Because of his determination to learn the language and his impressive progress thus far, I have a strong sense that Mandarin will be a part of Gunnar’s professional life in the long term.”

As Gunnar moves comfortably through his day at FA, it is easy to forget that he moved here in middle school from Dallas, Texas, when his mom, Erin Mayo, was named the head of school at Fryeburg Academy. Gunnar, sister Maeve, and dad, English teacher Peter Gurnis, returned to their New England roots with the job change. Gunnar recalls the transition from an urban Texas community to rural Maine, “I was not optimistic when we moved. Middle school is a hard time to move. It took a little time to adjust.”

Gunnar relied on a time-tested strategy for adaptation and focused on the tasks at hand while learning the ways of small-town life, “Work helped me get through the adjustment. I tried to make sure that I didn’t have a lot of free time.”

While challenging himself academically with the most rigorous curriculum available and continuing to hone his athletic skills, Gunnar settled in with his new community and peers. Gunnar started playing lacrosse in the second grade and soccer not much later in Texas, and he joined both teams at Molly Ockett School upon his arrival. Gunnar continued playing both sports at Fryeburg Academy where he has been a 4-year varsity soccer player and will enter his fourth consecutive varsity lacrosse season this spring. When pressed on what his favorite sport is, Gunnar makes it clear that he continues to enjoy both, “It depends on the season. I love lax and soccer both.”

The 2017 lacrosse run at a state lacrosse championship will serve as one of Gunnar’s favorite high school memories. The run ended in the semi-finals when Lincoln Academy defeated the Raiders by one goal. The Raiders played without Gunnar, who was bedridden with strep throat and a high fever. The Raiders missed his astute playmaking skills in their offensive end. The illness and loss stung but did nothing to take away from the sense of accomplishment that the Raiders developed over the six years Gunnar competed with this group, “I enjoyed how much we all enjoyed playing with each other. We were going on runs before school in the preseason. Zero degrees, ten degrees, it didn’t matter. We just wanted the season to go as long as possible. We had a shared commitment. We had been together since the 7th grade. Some of us were even playing even before that.”

Gunnar captained the Raider soccer team his junior and senior years and earned All-Western Maine Conference both years as well. Selected to represent southern Maine in the state senior all-star game, Gunnar recently traveled to Thomas College to compete against the northern Maine team. Soccer coach Bob Hodgman-Burns appreciates the elite skills and understanding of the game that Gunnar brought to the Raider team through his career, but he also notes some important intangibles, “Gunnar is very conscientious. He served as captain both his junior and senior years, which is very rare. He provided leadership to the younger players and led by example. He is one of my favorite players I have coached in my career.”

Faced with the challenge of a new beginning when he moved here from Texas, Gunnar Gurnis made the choice to engage fully in Fryeburg Academy student life. He decided to challenge himself academically and in athletics, and through hard work and commitment, Gunnar emerged an exemplary student-athlete and caring community member. A focus on achievement and community defined Gunnar through his move from Texas to Maine, so when asked what advice he would offer young students entering the Fryeburg Academy community, his emphatic response is not surprising, “Get involved. Find your interests. It is a great way to have a good time, minimize boring downtime, and you meet a lot of cool people.”





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