It was entirely fitting that Sherley Arias-Pimentel ’19, the founder of our extraordinary Saints on the Hill program, return to campus to speak with students as a “Saint Off the Hill.” And in making her presentation to students, she did just what the program intended—shared a piece of herself that resonated with the audience, made them laugh, and made them come away feeling like they knew her just a little bit better.
Also fitting? The fact that Sherley—who has dedicated her life to building communities and uplifting people—was speaking on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to kick off the School’s Social Justice Series. “A lot of what I did at Canterbury helped me find my niche in college,” she shared. “I am an anthropology major, but my main focus is how we can move towards progress through narratives—and that’s where my photography comes in.” She is currently a senior at the University of Richmond.
Sherley recently received a national award for photography when she was presented with Imagining America’s Joy of Giving Something Fellowship. She also self-published her first photo book, “…because I love them”, inspired by an experiential learning study abroad program in Ghana, West Africa, where she completed a visual ethnography on the African philosophy of Ubuntu. Last year, Sherley received the Burhans Civic Fellowship from Richmond and served as an educational assistant and mentor with Acción Callejera, a youth development non-profit organization in Santiago, Dominican Republic.
Sharing memories of her time at Canterbury, Sherley recalled great friendships and days filled with laughter but also acknowledged that it could be hard for her as well. “I am originally from Newark, New Jersey, and came to Canterbury through the Wight Foundation, an after-school prep program that provides scholarships to inner-city kids to go to boarding school,” she said. “It was a real culture shock coming from the inner city. It took a lot of adjustment. I found myself trying to change who I thought I was at the time to fit the culture around me.”
But Sherley persevered. “My mother taught me that in everything, you can always find good. And that is exactly what I did,” she said. “For the rest of my Canterbury career, I found gaps, and I worked to fill them because I did not want anyone, including myself, to ever feel like they had to change or erase or ignore any part of themselves to fit in.”
The idea for Saints on the Hill came about after some discussion with School administration and classmates. “Saints on the Hill is a space for people’s differences and humanities to be recognized and appreciated,” she explained. “When it comes to diversity and inclusion, the key is differences. It is within our differences that we are able to build a strong community and progress. Saints on the Hill brings out those differences so we can find commonality and compassion and empathy.”
Later that evening, Sherley addressed students at the Fifth Form Retreat, discussing the concepts of servant leadership and Ubunto, which was introduced to her in Ghana. “I am because you are; we are because you are. That is Ubunto,” she said. “It is not just an African philosophy. It is a spirituality, a way of life emphasizing that a person’s humanity is nurtured in a web of existing human connections.”
She encouraged students to take on servant leadership roles as often as they could on the hilltop. “Being a servant leader recognizes that progress and success cannot be achieved alone. Growth is communal,” she advised them. “Each one of you has a responsibility to take care of one another, especially at Canterbury, where such opportunities are literally built into your daily schedule. You have hundreds of chances to make someone’s day brighter, easier, less lonely, more fulfilled, more energized, more fun, and less burdened. You just have to decide to do that."