BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Aidan Strayer is really, really excited.
No matter the topic, this is generally true. The 18-year-old senior, soon to be an alumni of Niskayuna High School, loves competitive swimming, his classes, his friends, his family — even getting dressed in the morning.
On a recent afternoon just six days before his last class at the high school, Strayer had matched his plaid button-down to dress shoes with sky blue soles. (“I try not to look disheveled,” he said, laughing.) He sat by a window, working intently through a book by CNN reporter Fareed Zakaria about the differences between different educational systems around the world.
He got the book for his birthday, just a few days before, along with a fly fishing pole. He doesn’t know how to fly fish yet, but he hopes to learn.
“That’s awesome! That’s living the dream, catching your own food and eating it,” he exclaims, recalling a family trip to Canada when he and his brother Ethan, who’s 21, caught so many fish they had to throw a few back.
His family, knowing his zest for learning, has a habit of giving him unusual gifts on holidays.
“They try and take what I already enjoy and broaden my horizons with it,” he said.
But more than reading nonfiction, or fly fishing, or even swimming, the thing that really gets Strayer excited is Middlebury College. His brother goes there now, and Strayer will follow just days after Ethan’s graduation — not in September, but in February.
Like his older brother, Strayer is what Middlebury kids call a “Feb,” which means he gets to start his classes a few months later than everyone else. Febs are selected specifically for a special gap semester, which they can use any way they please.
Naturally, Strayer has so many ideas he can barely narrow them all down. Maybe he’ll take his fly fishing pole into the Adirondacks, where he hiked and skied all through his childhood, and contemplate life while sitting outdoors catching dinner. Maybe he’ll bike all across the United States, taking photographs and talking to people as he goes.
“I haven’t been to that many places in the U.S., I think I’m missing out,” he said. “Undoubtedly there are going to be people with different backgrounds in college.”
No matter what activities he chooses for his gap semester, he’s enthralled by the opportunity.
“I’m not going to throw away a second summer,” he said.
Even though he’s charging headfirst into the buffet of possibilities that is his future, Strayer is also nostalgic about Niskayuna. He’s attended the district since first grade, moving up from Hillside Elementary School to Van Antwerp Middle School. During his last few days, he’s savoring the opportunities to work alongside his friends.
“It’s the last six days of this chapter,” he said.
To test the knowledge they’ve gained during years of language study, his class has worked to create melodramatic cinema in what is, hopefully, their newfound second language. In English class, he’s been working with friends to write plays.
“It’s really cool because we sit there and we talk. Everyone there wants to do the work,” he said.
Though the faces will be different, Strayer said he hopes he’ll find that productive teamwork again soon, in college.
It’s all part of an innate love of learning that Strayer said he doesn’t remember ever living without. “I can’t think of a time I didn’t enjoy it,” he said.