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Alumni Spotlight: Ryan Cunningham

Post Oak eighth grade class of 2006

By shannon NEufeld, Communication Coordinator
From the July 23, 2010 edition of The Weekly POst

Ryan Cunningham on a recent visit to the Post Oak Middle School science lab.

When a group of faculty and alumni parents created the "Portrait of a Post Oak Graduate" they included these characteristics: Comfortable in his own skin. Independent thinker. Lifelong learner. Explorer. Enthusiastic. Open-minded. Responsible. Compassionate. Good steward. Loves a challenge. Resourceful. Ryan Cunningham is a 2006 Post Oak graduate who attended Strake Jesuit College Preparatory School and is about to begin his freshman year at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Look for those characteristics in his story.

Ryan began in Mirani Smith’s Primary class at Post Oak and has fond memories of that time. "What do I remember besides Monarch butterflies, milkweeds, and Miss Mirani?"

He also remembers his love of life science beginning in Lower Elementary. "I remember writing four little pamphlets—they were short," he said. "I was interested in a lot of life sciences, which explains my motivation to become a doctor." (Ryan will major in neurobiology and economics at Georgetown.) "Back in Lower El," he says, "my pamphlets were about animals and their anatomical patterns, subatomic particles, genetics, and DNA and RNA."

Ryan in his scout uniform.

Middle School experiences gave him many opportunities for growth—including the challenge course at Artesian Lakes. Ryan remembers first climbing the pamper pole as a seventh grader; he remembers his fear and not making the jump at the end to grab the gold ring. "Then in eighth grade, I came back and I didn’t even hesitate—I just jumped and grabbed it—that showed a lot of growth," he said.

Other formative experiences from his Middle School years were the MS150 and community service. "I like to lead an active lifestyle," Ryan says. "I did the MS150 for five years—that pretty much shows that." Ryan first heard about the ride when he was in grade six. "For the longest time I thought it was a race between two cars that all the Middle School kids would pile into and we’d have to get somewhere first," he said. "When they told me we’d have to ride to Austin on a bike, I thought, ‘What are you, crazy? I can’t do that.’ Well, yeah, I can. I finished my first MS150 when I was 13."

It was hard the first time, but got easier each year. "This year, my final year on the MS150, for now at least, I did 100 miles on the first day—which I had never done before, a century in one go. On the second day, I got to Austin before 1:00 pm." In addition to cycling, Ryan wrestled on his high school team for two years.

While visiting Post Oak, Ryan sought out his Middle School ceiling tile art project, pictured above.

He recently earned the Eagle Scout badge from Boy Scouts, an organization he joined at age 12. He had no interest in scouts until attending a meeting with his younger brother, Robert. "I had to go to a meeting with him because we didn’t have a babysitter that day," he said. "They were making pancakes on a propane stove. I was like, ‘Hey, I want to learn how to do that.’ So, I joined Boy Scouts. To learn to make pancakes. Not a very good story, but that’s how I joined."

Years and lots of hard work later, Ryan earned the rank of Eagle Scout. "Once I joined, I wanted to see it to the finish," he said. "But I didn’t know how long that would actually take. And it took forever." The culmination is the Eagle project. Each scout must identify a project, write it up, speak with all the parties involved, and do fundraising to cover the costs. "They require you to take your time in order to make sure that it’s absolutely perfect and everything goes as planned (which it never does)," he said.

Ryan and his friends work on his Eagle project.

Ryan chose a renovation project at Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School. "Basically what I did is improve an area near the three giant oak trees in the front," he said. "I dug up the mulch around them and replaced it with red cedar-chip mulch. It looked good. And I built three benches around it. These were cedar benches that we put together onsite. It went very well. We were able to finish it within a week. Most of it on the first week and then the final adjustments on the second weekend." The project cost about $900; Ryan raised $1,440 and donated the balance to Cristo Rey.

Ryan’s community service work began at Post Oak. "You racked up about 200 hours in Middle School doing community service at various places," including Gordon Elementary School, Small Steps Nurturing Center, Meals on Wheels, and Star of Hope. He continued doing community service at Strake—a National Honor Society requirement. He tutored students at Holy Ghost Middle School in Bellaire, and served at Loaves & Fishes soup kitchen downtown near Minute Maid Park.

"Georgetown even pointed out to me in their acceptance letter that my community service record was what really made me shine compared to other applicants," he said.