Media Stories / January 2021

The Future is BRIGHT

Meet Caitlin & Olivia Smith

by Alexandra Fee
Photos by Laura Reoch, September-Days Photography

2020 brought the promise of a great new decade and year, and with it, Covid-19 . It undoubtedly changed the world and placed us all in the center of countless history books to come. But, like so many other difficult times in history, there is a wisdom that rises from the ashes, from the tragedy and isolation. Underneath the masks we wear and beyond the new-age vocabulary (i.e. social distancing, Zoom), something great is waiting to emerge. Research and history have made it abundantly clear that optimism is a critical factor in how we choose to navigate this worldwide crisis. As many of us struggle to find that elusive silver lining, despite the daily headlines, it was refreshing and inspiring to discover Tamalpais High School Seniors Caitlin and Olivia Smith, identical twins who embody that sense of optimism we are all seeking. Make no mistake, while some of their story may sound familiar; two amazing girls, raised by wonderful parents in a community drenched in unlimited resources, it’s also a story about individual choices, sacrifice and leadership. A story about what our future can look like if these two very special girls are representative of other young graduates who will “rise from the ashes” of 2020. And if we’re lucky, might just lead us into a Renaissance of our own.

After featuring Tam High’s Class of 2020 in our July issue, the first class of seniors to endure the repercussions of the pandemic, it was serendipitous that once our Mill Valley Living team unanimously agreed on the title for this issue, “The Future is Bright”, that same day the first vaccine was approved and our luck was doubled when introduced to Caitlin and Olivia.

Caitlin and Olivia were born in San Francisco, 48 minutes apart at UCSF. In 5th grade, while attending Park School, they decided to give volleyball a try beyond playing soccer, and joined the Absolute Volleyball program. After competing in both sports, they eventually focused exclusively on volleyball as they entered their freshman year at Tam. They are very accomplished athletes. Both girls are standouts, serving as Co-Captains along with Tam senior, Kayli Morris. They credit Tam’s Girls Varsity Volleyball Coach, Ray Karter with instilling a new sense of dedication and competitiveness as he elevated the Tam program to new heights the past couple of seasons.

Meanwhile, Caitlin and Olivia continue to spread their love for the game by coaching younger girls with the recently established Firebolts Volleyball, an inclusive, competitive girls volleyball program. Coach Ray recalled how Caitlin and Olivia demonstrated their undeniable volleyball prowess worthy of varsity play—an hour into tryouts as freshman. Although identical twins, Ray said the way he tells them apart is how they hit the volleyball. As a coach, he identifies their “quiet” competitiveness as quiet and stealth as he called out how “they really want to battle, how they never complain and never ever have a bad attitude when they lose.” He said, “The girls are the best kind of competitive you could ask for.” It is clear they have that internal fighting spirit that works for competitive sports along with a fierce desire to win which drives them. After coaching them for the past four years, Ray could not say enough about Caitlin and Olivia’s internal fighting spirit and attitude. Olivia plays the prime hitter spot— a high pressure position that she plays fearlessly according to Coach Ray. All of her plays, whether on offense or defense, “she just does it” is how Ray sums her up. With Caitlin, he remembers when Caitlin’s knee went out which forced her to sit on the sidelines for what seemed like an eternity, close to half of the season, yet she never missed a practice. She helped keep score, always cheering and passing balls to the girls on the court. When she finally received clearance to play, she started in the back row, “Yes! I get to play!” was her response as she quickly and unexpectedly emerged as a star, back row player. Having been on offense as a setter her whole life, she graciously took over a defensive position. Caitlin’s versatility shined brightly.

Beyond their stellar academic records, they are both Link Leaders on Tam’s Link Crew, a high school support program designed to ensure all students new to Tam find academic and social success within the Tam community and AIM, Academy of Integrated Humanities and New Media, Tam’s highly regarded Documentary Film program. Tam English and AIM teacher, Mike Lavezzo professed “Caitlin and Olivia fulfill the most impressive qualities of high school students. They are community-minded, spirited, selfless, and optimistic. They have made consistent positive daily contributions academically, athletically, and socially. A high school is primarily created by involved students. Administrators and teachers present opportunities that may or may not be taken advantage of by students.

Caitlin and Olivia have made the most of these opportunities and have made Tam a better school for us all.” Sharilyn Scharf, the twins’ History and AIM teacher referred to Caitlin and Olivia as “the sensational Smith sisters!” She backed that up by saying “It’s been a joy to work with Olivia and Caitlin these past two years as part of AIM. Bright, industrious, affable and dependable, they make AIM work. Our program relies on seniors to be mentors and role models to our juniors, and the Smith twins don’t disappoint. What I especially appreciate about them is their humility and generosity. I know that I can pair them with any other students, and they are happy to share their knowledge and be patient with those who may struggle. It’s also wonderful to see how they support each other; they truly are each other’s biggest fan. When they graduate this year, they will leave big shoes to fill in AIM, but I know their legacy will ensure that the next generation can step up.”

Based on a combination of their academic and athletic accomplishments, Caitlin is now headed to Middlebury College and Olivia is headed to Smith College, both recruited to play volleyball. As Coach Ray affirmed, “For them, they wanted to create the right experience and they made it happen by doing a lot of research and putting in the work to find the environment that suited them.” They did it through effort, a lesson Ray hopes all students will benefit from. Despite Tam practice once again postponed, Caitlin and Olivia are hoping to do socially distanced team bonding activities to stay connected with their teammates. Prior to Covid and her junior year volleyball season in which Tam Girls Volleyball reached the semifinals of NCS (North Coast Section) and made it to the CIF NorCal Finals at the State level under Coach Ray’s direction, Olivia admitted there were times they felt disappointed about the impact of Covid on their senior year. Continuing to turn toward their passions along with maintaining positive mental attitudes definitely contributed to their sense of optimism. “To not have a senior year like you’ve always heard about, we will remember it but not for the reasons everyone always tells you about.” For Caitlin, “We’ve had a lot of alone time, a lot of time with our thoughts, but I think we’ve discovered more of ourselves—-I’ve discovered more of what I like to do, who I am and what I would like to do in the future.” The girls have used the time for self reflection and exploring more of the bay area then perhaps they would have in normal times, including hikes with their beloved two year old yellow lab, Lucy. And while they love Marin and the greater Bay Area, they are excited to explore the Northeast part of the country.

Pre-Covid, the girls were basically inseparable, but as a result of Covid, Olivia feels that heading oḀ to separate colleges seems easier now as they have become more comfortable with the idea of spending time apart. Covid taught them to value their time together this past year so that time apart in college will be okay. Caitlin agreed it has allowed them to grow even closer and bond even more. They’re taking advantage of the time they have now to cherish this time before they move on to college.

As Link Leaders at Tam, once a month they meet with freshmen to offer them guidance and advice. The transition to high school is tough enough already, so as Link leaders they realize the importance of consistently reaching out to the Tam freshmen. They periodically update the freshmen with creative virtual events including a recent baking party with freshmen to make pumpkin pie. Although only seven freshmen showed up, their effort was maybe not enough to make a collective impact but Caitlin and Olivia felt for those seven freshmen, it hopefully did. Even if they made an impact for one student, that’s a win. A 2020 Tam graduate, and former Tam Volleyball teammate, Tate Martinelli believes “they are off to great things in the future, both super smart and hardworking, both of them you would want on your team for sure!” Caitlin and Olivia’s dad, Brandon Smith highlighted the girls’ incredible resilience in how “they took all of the cancellations, delays, changes and disruption to what used to be a relatively predictable life in stride and to not only adjust but to figure out how to succeed.” Their mother, Julie Cullinane-Smith remarked on how “their ability to be grateful for what they have and what they are able to do versus focusing on what they’re missing out on seems to be helping them a lot during these times.”

Yet Julie also reminded us that like all students, at times, both Caitlin and Olivia have felt the frustration with “Zoom School” along with the repeated disappointment of delayed or cancelled school events and practices. Both girls have had their fair share of days in which they struggled to feel motivated. But the girls remain focused on the longview as they understand the importance of having something they are passionate about to focus on along with helping others which helps them stay positive and realistic in order to make it through these challenging times.

So yes, Caitlin and Olivia, and all of our Mill Valley students from kindergartens to seniors, we are all so proud of your fortitude and hope you will share in the optimism we felt so strongly in Caitlin and Olivia. Lets all put on our sunglasses because the future is most certainly bright!

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