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Sarah O' Leary

Sep 9, 2022

This year, Sarah O’Leary ’16 returns to Mercersburg Academy as a member of the arts department, teaching ceramics, drawing, and digital photography.

O’Leary, originally from California, completed her post-graduate year at Mercersburg and was not only involved in the arts but swam for the Blue Storm.

One of her favorite memories from her time at Mercersburg was swimming in a record-setting relay at the 2016 Eastern Swimming and Diving Championships, when the girls won the team championship. “ I was leading off, so I was standing by the block and I looked to the side, and the whole team was lined up, all chanting the same thing together and cheering for us,” said O’Leary.

After graduating, O’Leary earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Pennsylvania. “I was able to pick and choose whatever drawing, painting, sculpture, or ceramics class I wanted. I sort of jumped around and took a lot of different classes in all subjects,” she said. After college, O’Leary briefly taught art in Houston.

O’Leary has spent her life creating works of art. She shared, “I really have a passion for making things. The act of creating a drawing, creating a sculpture, or something on the wheel, it just fills me with joy.” She doesn’t quite have a favorite between ceramics and drawing; she finds something special in both medias. “I really love lines and holding a pencil. I love the way graphite looks on paper. But, at the same time, there's something really centering, calming, and beautiful about ceramics.”

O'Leary cited Mercersburg’s welcoming, supportive, and overall positive environment as a significant reason in her decision to return. “Mercersburg was kind of my first educational experience where I felt like it wasn't about just getting a good grade and jumping through hoops. I felt like it was really about exploring who I was and forming relationships with faculty. I felt like I was really allowed to be me here, and that's not something I saw in many educational spaces,” she said.

Returning to Mercersburg offers O’Leary a space to explore herself and her teaching style while connecting with her students in a way that is unique to the space. She said, “When I had the opportunity to come back and participate in something that I really believe education should be like, it seemed like a good opportunity.”

O’Leary is most looking forward to the student art shows, but aspires to do an exclusive ceramics or digital photography exhibit. “I would really just like an opportunity to showcase the specific mediums in the Burgin [Center] because [it] is amazing. It's my favorite building on campus.”

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