Familiar Themes Follow Grace Detwiler ’14 to the Rockies

By Al Daniel

To say that the Montessori Community School shed light on Grace Detwiler’s ’14 favorite fiction motifs would be off base in one hairsplitting sense.

A sophomore at Colorado State University, Detwiler fills her free time — and potential film critic’s portfolio — with her horror-movie blog, Final Girl Grace. As she explains, the name is a nod to “my favorite horror trope: The female survivor of a slasher movie, called the Final Girl.”

Though technically a hobby, the blog has a way of presenting Detwiler’s scholarly side. In particular, one submission delves into the namesake concept as it relates to the 1996 cult classic Scream. Detwiler imaginatively casts the 20th-century Western philosopher Jacques Derrida and contemporary gender theorist Judith Butler in a deep dialogue with a postmodernist perspective on the film’s themes.

Meanwhile, as her July 8 post underscores through her come-around admission to appreciating the finer aspects of the Twilight series, she has a longstanding penchant — or, as she self-deprecatingly phrases it, “morbid curiosity” — for vampires. Previous indicators include her study of vampire bats in Lower Elementary and binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with former classmate Greta Abbey ’14

Naturally, those figures thrive in darkness, so one may want to tweak their metaphors when discussing the English major’s passions. That aside, the proverbial lightbulb over her head has hardly faded, and her first year in college reawakened some of the creative traits she fostered at MCS.

This past spring semester, Detwiler took a Gothic Film and Literature class that presented a mix of movies and novels, ranging from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to classic films like The Shining and The Fly. Some of the course’s content inspired her online musings.

“I also wanted a creative outlet to develop my skills as a writer that was separate from my academic work,” she said, explaining the birth of Final Girl Grace.

In March, Detwiler’s first blog post drew direct inspiration from her class’s analysis of The Fly. Then again, movies from that era, namely the 1980s, were another existing interest she had shared with Abbey in their spare time.

“While we never did any specific projects surrounding those texts (at MCS),” Detwiler recalls, “we certainly spent a great deal of time discussing them.”

At MCS, the freedom to channel outside interests within school projects did shine in other areas. Beyond her vampire bat research in Lower Elementary, Detwiler logged such highlights as crafting clothing with duct tape and devoting her Adolescent Science Expo presentation to a guinea pig’s recall.

When it came to new avenues of scholarship, the openness was mutual between school and student. In 2006-07, Detwiler started Lower Elementary in Room 303 when current Upper Elementary guide Don Henchel was teaching there. Before her interest in horror manifested itself, such fraternal genres as Greek mythology and fantasy — the latter especially via HarryPotter — captured her fascination through Don’s syllabus.

She went so far as to proclaim herself president of the Don Henchel Fan Club.

“I would not hesitate to say that my entire first-grade class became avid readers as a result of his teaching,” she said.

On her current campus, Detwiler’s club involvement is comparatively casual. She is a Facebook fan of CSU Inklings, a self-described “English social club” for Colorado State students, but admits she has participated minimally.

Nonetheless, she is finding ample ways to channel her passions and build her portfolio. Part of that, of course, is keeping pace with schoolwork, which she has done to the tune of a spot on the Dean’s List this past spring.

Rather than return to her lifelong locale for a hard-earned summer break, the Chapel Hill native served as a student administrative assistant in the CSU library. During her freshman year, she worked at the front desk of the CSU Writing Center, where she is now a consultant. The new position entails tutoring fellow students, a task she is certain MCS’s first-to-third-year elementary classrooms prepared her for.

Detwiler credits “the support I had from my parents as well as the wonderful friends I found here (at CSU) almost immediately” for easing her transition. But she also acclaims her primary, elementary, and middle school of 11 years for the way she has stuck so quickly and adeptly two time zones away.

“I always say that MCS prepared me for college much more than public high school did,” she said. “The independence MCS provided in terms of planning your own day and being in charge of your own time management gave me skills that I am grateful to have learned at such a young age.”

She will test herself on these fronts again, and to greater degrees, within the next two years. Detwiler will take a semester abroad in Oxford, England, where she intends to focus on Shakespeare, with an independent study on Hamlet as the nucleus. She also hopes to accelerate academically and claim her degree a year early in 2021.

You might say there is no fear of new territory, much less of new challenges, in the not-so-final girl. Earlier in her education, she had help dispelling any hesitation to explore what she wanted.

“MCS definitely encouraged me to enjoy things without caring what others may think,” Detwiler said, “and I encourage everyone there now to do the same.

“MCS had its fair share of quirky kids, myself included, and I believe that the incredible amount of acceptance I felt from the school and everyone who taught there has stayed with me to this day.

“I can’t stress enough what a wonderful environment it was to grow up in. I credit MCS more than anything for shaping me into the person I am today.”