Thank You for Being a Friend: Class of 2020 Besties Share Their Stories

Niara Webb and Zoe Hall out dining

Besties Niara Webb '20 and Zoe Hall '20

He’s the friend who makes you laugh, sometimes uncontrollably, the one who believes that no conversation is too silly.

She’s the friend you cried with after a bombed test, a bad breakup, or the death of a family member.

They’re the friend who calms you down when you’re about to crack and assures you—in the midst of a pandemic that’s disrupted your world—that you’re going to be okay.

As college ends for Davidson College’s Class of 2020, we asked 20 such friends to share their stories.

Carter Cook and Caroline Roy

Carter Cook and Caroline Roy spent their first hours as freshman roommates sobbing.

Carter had just said goodbye to her family and walked into the dorm room crying. She found Caroline sitting alone, crying.

Each has a younger brother, and the toughest part about the family goodbye was seeing them cry. Back in the dorm room, the two new roommates hugged and cried some more.

They became each other’s first best college friend.

“She was the best possible person I could have been matched with,” Caroline said. “Carter is one of the most outgoing and welcoming people I’ve ever met. She’d encourage me to go different social events—much more than I would have on my own.

“It was always so nice, after being around other people and doing other things all day to have that one person and that safe space to debrief and talk,” Caroline said. “We have always been honest and vulnerable with each other.”

Carter is a political science major and data science minor from Jacksonville, Florida. She ran the Davidson Daily student Instagram page as a Senior Admissions Fellow.

Caroline is an English major from Black Mountain, North Carolina, and was an editor for the Davidsonian student newspaper.

“Davidson fosters a lot of friendships across the campus and you have a lot of people you can rely on,” Carter said. “Caroline has a similar sense of humor. We make each other laugh a lot. “She’s also somebody I can talk seriously to. I feel like I can tell her anything.”

Even when they weren’t roommates, they’d get together often.

“It was easy to run into Carter on campus and end up walking around talking for the next few hours together,” Caroline said. “I will miss that, but I know we will always be in touch.”

Matt Frey and Zach Nussbaum

Matt Frey and Zach Nussbaum both grew up in the baseball world.

It’s an intense existence of competing on travel and school teams, hoping to play in college, professionally, or both.

When they ended up as Wildcats Baseball teammates, they understood each other.

They practiced long hours and with fellow first-year teammates, cleaned up after practices, put tarp over the field when it rained and compiled stats.

At nighttime, Matt and Zach would head back to the batting cages.

“I logged more hours with Matt during my first month of college than I did with my high school friends in four years,” Zach said.

Matt, a second baseman and economics major from Pittsburgh, and Zach, a catcher and computer science major who lives in Seattle, laugh at the memory.

“In hindsight we did so much stupid stuff,” Matt said. “We’d put in so many hours in the batting cages when it was so cold outside—we’d have homework to do that we wouldn’t get started on until midnight. And it didn’t get us any better.”

(Both had standout tenures at Davidson on a team that went 13-3 this year before the pandemic stopped the season. They defeated 10th-ranked Duke University 7-6 in their last game. Zach hit two doubles, and Matt hit a run in with a single.)

But back to friendship.

Matt says he admires Zach’s honesty, loyalty and humor.

“Zach doesn’t screw around, he doesn’t mince words,” Matt said. “He’s always straight-forward, there’s never any secret about how he feels.”

And Zach will always play along when Matt comes up with hypothetical ideas such as: “What if we had to make a team of everyone in this economics class—what’s your starting lineup?”

Zach says he appreciates Matt’s empathy and willingness to give everyone a chance.

“The biggest thing about Matt is his patience with other people and his ability to understand their situations,” Zach said. “He finds a way to like people—no matter what his past experience has been with them.”

Their families now know each other and Matt visited Zach’s in Seattle over winter break.

“Matt would sit there with my grandmother doing puzzles for hours,” Zach said. “She loved having someone new to entertain her—she gets sick of me.”

Meranda Ma and Victor Ouko

Meranda Ma and Victor Ouko met at bible study.

Victor, a Belk Scholar, grew up with six siblings in a small town in Kenya. Meranda, who has an older sister, grew up in a small town near Chicago.

“We’d start having these conversations, and sharing these random thoughts in our heads,” he said. “It became more than just a conversation about what happened in class or what was happening on campus.”

They met for breakfast at least once a week. Victor had a hard time with 8:30 a.m. classes and Meranda always laughed when he’d sprint by at 8:28 a.m. for a class on the other side of campus.

When she broke her ankle this past fall, he became her go-to campus golf cart driver, offering loud commentary (“never in a mean way,”) about people who congregated on paths in front of them.

“Victor is very witty, and very funny. He makes me laugh in so many ways,” Meranda said. “He’s also really intelligent, but he never makes you feel stupid if you don’t know something.”

Meranda says that Victor encouraged her not to measure success solely through academic achievement.

“Whenever I felt discouraged because I didn’t get the grade I wanted, or the award I desired, Victor would comfort me by affirming that my value extended beyond titles.”

When Victor’s father was hospitalized with a spinal infection  for nearly three months, he worried from afar.

“This was really bad for my mental health, but she and some of my other friends were key to me getting through it,” Victor said. “We spent a lot of our weekly Monday breakfasts talking about it. I am really grateful for all the listening she had to do.”

They’ve talked a lot about their Christian faith: what they believe, what they question, and agree or disagree about.

“Being able to talk candidly and getting to know somebody on a deeper and more vulnerable level as you figure out what it all means has helped develop our friendship,” Meranda said.

Victor agrees.

“You constantly learn things about your faith and yourself,” he said. “We might have a different understanding of where our faith leads, but it’s important to have someone who walks that journey with you.”

Mia Gogel and Courtney Welch

Mia Gogel has a Halloween habit, and Courtney Welch enables her.

The two dressed up one year as American Gothic, frame and all. Another time they were Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy from the Sponge Bob Square Pants cartoon.

Graduation robes turned them into Harry and Ron from the Harry Potter series. And they portrayed the Vanilla Ice song “Ice Ice Baby,” with Mia dressed as a baby and Courtney and another friend as ice cubes.

Mia comes up with the ideas, and Courtney offers crucial backup.

“Whenever I’m enthusiastic about something Courtney will get right on board and say, ‘Ok, let’s do it!,’” Mia said. “She gets as enthusiastic as I am.”

They lived next door to each other their first year. The two, and their roommates, became close.

Courtney, a political science major, grew up in England. Her family moved back to New Jersey just before the pandemic hit Europe. She’s considering a law career.

Mia is an environmental science major from Baltimore. She’s looking at a career in sustainable landscape design and wants to work for a non-profit.

“What I like best about Mia is her light-heartedness,” Courtney said. “She’s very silly and can always joke around, but has an awesome ability to listen. She’s someone who will fight for your causes.”

This past year, the two co-chaired the college’s Women’s Leadership Conference that was scheduled in April but cancelled because of the pandemic.

“Doing something of that magnitude could have been the test of our friendship, but it ended up making it even stronger,” Courtney said.

They lived in the same hall, and later apartment building, all through college.

“It’s always nice to have your best friend around when something really exciting happens and you can’t wait to tell her, or if you’ve had a bad day and come home upset,” Mia said.

“Courtney’s one of those people you can sit and talk to for a really long time, or sit in silence with for hours. She’s a really caring person, she remembers to ask how your test went, or how your paper’s going.

“And best of all, she listens to my ridiculous humor, and humors me.”

Jose Hernandez and Roy Toston

It often surprises people to learn that Jose Hernandez and Roy Toston are best friends.

Jose, a French major, was active in the college music scene. Biology major Roy’s campus friends range from the science fields to the fraternity where he served as president.  

The two Bonner Scholars met as six-year-olds living in rural eastern North Carolina.

They met at a summer day camp. Each came with a Nintendo game to play during afternoon free time. They agreed to swap games, and a friendship began.

Their elementary school contained a mix of black, Latino and white kids who lived in trailers or modest houses. Some of the white kids wore confederate flag T-shirts to school.

Most people in their town worked for the  Butner federal prison or the nearby state mental health complex.

Their mothers, who’d become friends, had a different vision for the boys. They car-pooled for the 45-minute drive to Durham Nativity School, a tiny academy with a mission to send low-income minority children to top private high schools.

In seventh grade, Jose showed his family a Woodberry Forest brochure and told them he wanted to go there for high school.

“They looked at me, like ‘that’s so cute,’” he said.

In eighth grade, the prestigious Virginia boarding school offered both boys scholarships.

“I knew I wanted to go, but then Jose was hesitant,” Roy said. “I told him, ‘This would be so good for us.’”

Jose knew it was a rare opportunity.

“I was just nervous about leaving home, and it was so different from anything I’d ever experienced,” he said. “Here we were, in this rich, preppy Southern school—we were definitely in the minority."

“We didn’t have a lot of things that the other kids did, but it turned out to be this great experience.”

The high school roommates never lived together at Davidson and made friends in their dorms, in classes and other activities. Sometimes they’d go weeks without seeing each other.

“But whenever life really tested me or I was having a crisis, I’d go to Roy,” Jose said.

They consoled each other after each lost a family member.

“He’s someone I completely trust. He’s smart, he’s kind, he’s caring and he’s got a great sense humor,” Roy said. “We can spend all night talking and listening to music. He’s not just my best friend, I also consider him to be a brother.”

Roy, who is also a Terry Fellow, recently received a Watson Fellowship to research abroad for a year, will postpone overseas travel until pandemic restrictions ease.

Until then, he’ll work as a research assistant at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. He hopes to persuade Jose, who’s considering a career as an Emergency Medical Technician, to move to Atlanta, too.

Catherine Cartier and Brody McCurdy

Catherine Cartier and Brody McCurdy first bonded over PeaceJam.

Both belonged to their high school PeaceJam clubs, which they talked about during a weekend for Davidson’s prospective Belk Scholars.

The PeaceJam Foundation’s mission is “to create young leaders committed to positive change in themselves, their communities and the world…”

Catherine and Brody took that mission seriously. After talking about their many shared interests that weekend, Catherine mused: “I want to go to a college where people like Brody go.”

She got her wish.

Both became Belk Scholars and kept in touch that summer before college started. They’ve been best friends since, ending their final days at Davidson as apartment mates.

In between, they spent a summer abroad in Jordan together. And they kept in touch whenever internships or studying abroad put them on different continents.

Brody is active in the college’s Catholic Campus Ministry and  the chaplain’s office. Catherine works with Davidson Refugee Support, and is a Beyond Religion Reporting Fellow for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

They both love to travel and learn new languages. Catherine majored in Arab studies and history; and Brody, in linguistics. They appreciate each other’s sense of adventure and willingness to leave their comfort zones.

“Catherine is always willing to try cool things and new places,” Brody said. “She’s genuine and kind—and so energetic and fun. She gets this weird energy and we will laugh like crazy, and not stop laughing.”

When Brody wrote a spoof of the play Macbeth, Catherine, who’d never acted before, played one of the three witches.

“I can get obsessive about some new thing or some drama and Catherine is always willing to listen and engage,” Brody said. “She’s always supportive.”

 Catherine says she loves how Brody “puts himself out there in such a creative way. He does things others don’t have the courage to do, and lets people be themselves.”

Lately he’s offered encouragement as she stresses over job searching during the pandemic.

“I have literally no worries for your future,” he told her. “You will be amazing.”

“If I’m having a hard time with something, he always helps me see that I am valuable,” she said. “And he’ll remind me that this will pass.”

Kayla Edwards and Adde Sharp

Kayla Edwards and Adde Sharp didn’t know each other before becoming randomly assigned roommates at Davidson College’s Sustainability Co-Op House.

Kayla, a political science major, grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. Adde, an outdoorsy environmental sciences major, comes from the mountains of Breckenridge, Colorado.

A few mutual friends said their second-year pairing might not work. And their first meeting, over coffee at the Summit outpost, felt stilted.

But when they moved in with eight others to the house, they ended up becoming best friends.

Different? Yes.

“She’s definitely more social than I am and was good about dragging me out to different events,” Adde said.

Incompatible? No.

“We have some superficial differences, but we’ve discovered a lot of ways in which we’re very similar,” Kayla said. “We can both be very intense, we like to dig deep into issues.”

Take sustainability.

Adde initially viewed it as protecting the environment. Kayla saw it as a social justice issue—with lower income black and brown communities often saddled by harmful environmental practices. 

Adde, a Terry Fellow, served as chair of the Honor Council and ran volunteer programs at the Davidson Farm.

Kayla, a Belk Scholar, worked on the Davidsonian staff, raising questions about some of Davidson’s deep-rooted traditions in a changing society.

“Kayla loves to ask provocative questions, to really make people think,” Adde said. “That’s taught me how to ask better questions and see things in a different perspective.”

They have a mix of separate and shared friend groups. Both minored in Hispanic studies, so some of their classes overlapped. 

In one key difference, Adde jokes that, “I love to cook, and Kayla loves to take pictures of the food I cook.”

Kayla says she’s tried to replicate some of Adde’s recipes, but it’s not the same.

“Adde makes this amazing Thai butternut squash soup,” Kayla said. “She bakes for people on their birthdays. I was in a play, ‘The Cake’ and afterward she invited friends over for cake to celebrate.” 

Adde and Kayla will start Davidson Impact Fellowships in fall. Adde will work for the Catawba Land Conservancy; Kayla at the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte.

“At the beginning, neither one of us knew what we were getting into,” Kayla said. “Now we’re able to talk in a way that’s so open and honest. We’ve established such a high level of trust.”

Mike Bauman and Jack Mathieson

Sometimes the best thing a friend can do is nothing.

Mike Bauman and Jack Mathieson have a great time doing nothing together.

Yes, they both played Common Hour volleyball, coached Flicker Ball, and served as Davidson Outdoors trip leaders. All good times.

But they also sat around their apartment talking for hours about things others might think inane. They’d delve into topics ranging from a bottlecap’s color (red or burnt orange?) to the state of the universe.

Mike is a psychology major from High Point. Jack, originally from Pittsburgh, now lives in Asheville and majors in physics. As best friends, there’s no one they’d rather argue with.

And sometimes the chatter gets pretty deep.

“Some people get absorbed in the superficiality in college. I want to talk about real things,” Mike said. “Jack will engage. He’s incredibly smart and understands a lot of things I don’t. He’s always educating me.”

When they disagree, they don’t get mad. “I like arguing with him because he doesn’t become irrational,” Jack said. “Both of us can say to each other, ‘Ok, that’s a good point,’ and then move on.”

Jack hopes to move to Big Sky, Montana, for graduate school. He plans to become a high school physics teacher.

Mike wants to go into outdoor therapy; helping children and adolescents work through disabilities and mental health issues.

They launched a weekly podcast at Davidson and have continued it remotely. They model the conversations after so many they’ve had at Davidson.

“A lot of people don’t have someone they can just bring a question to who will expand on it,” Mike said. “How often is it you get to talk about bathroom etiquette or if aliens are real?”

Niara Webb and Zoe Hall

Niara Webb still doesn’t keep up with the Kardashians.

But her friendship with Zoe Hall has brought out a far less serious side to the formerly pop-culture shunning Niara.

Niara, a Terry Scholar, was a high school senior at a small North Carolina boarding school when she learned Zoe would be her Davidson roommate. Zoe attended a big public high school in Annapolis, Maryland, went to parties and loved campy television.

“I started stalking her on Facebook to see what she was like,” Niara said. “And I see she’s created and posted a poster of the Kardashian family tree. While I was studying new wave French cinema, she was studying the Kardashians.”

They both crack up laughing.

“I remember during one of our first conversations asking her what her favorite music was,” Zoe said. “She said, ‘I don’t listen to music.’ And I thought, ‘Oh no.’”

And they laugh again, and again.

Somewhere between the 700 Commons quesadillas they ate that first year, the late-night conversations and the pre-final room rearrangement, Niara and Zoe became best friends. They lived together all four years.

“Zoe’s always there, Zoe’s always consistent,” Niara said. “There’s no one who’s more bright or fun or entertaining. We’re never out of sync, there a symbiosis.

“There’s also a very serious side to Zoe. She’s very intelligent and very insightful. She has this ineffable quality of being able to be with people and quickly get to what’s important.”

The two sociology majors talk a lot about why modern society is so polarized along racial, economic and political lines. They’ve learned to say “disappointed, not surprised” when they read about a guy in California using a Ku Klux Klan hat as a face mask.

They appreciate the honest treatment they get from each other.

 “She reads me really well,” Zoe said. “We can have a blast together and continue the joke for hours. And she also knows when I want to be alone or need a hug.

“She knows when to be nice, and knows when to say, ‘You are kind of being a mess—you need to get yourself together.’ A lot of people in my life aren’t blunt with me. She’s blunt with me.”

They also know when to compromise.

Since starting college Niara has binge watched “New Girl,” “Glee,” and “Friends” with Hall. But she’s still not budging on the Kardashians.

Jonathan Lee and Mara Papakostas

When Mara Papakostas’s mom and dad couldn’t make her younger sister’s first parents weekend at Emory University, she turned to Jonathan Lee.

“Hey, you want to go to Atlanta with me for Deidra’s parents weekend?” she asked.

“Sure, I’ll be Deidra’s dad for the weekend,” Jonathan said.

And so began another of many road trips Mara and Jonathan took in college. The two were in their second year, and went all out to make sure the first-year Deidra had family with her.

They wore the Emory parent T-shirts given out for the event. They mingled with other parents. And Jonathan bought himself a “Proud Emory Dad” coffee mug.

“He’s so easy-going and he’s such a good sport,” Mara said. “He cares as much about the things going on in my life as I do. He’s been there 100 percent of the time.”

They first met at orientation. Jonathan’s roommate knew that both lived in Texas, and introduced them.

“Texans really like finding other Texans outside of our state,” Mara said. “We hit it off right away.”

Mara lives in Dallas, about three and a half hours from Jonathan’s Austin home. She visited him over winter break that first year, and they made the 17-hour drive back to Davidson together.

They drove from Davidson back to Texas in spring; and from Texas back to Davidson several more times in their first two years, making stops in Georgia, Mississippi and New Orleans.

They spent a spring break together in Charleston, South Carolina, and another break at the Austin City Limits music festival.

Playing and singing loudly to Taylor Swift has been a road trip staple. They take turns driving and play “20 questions” to pass the time.

“I have a lot of fun with Mara, she’s so easy to talk to and she’s a genuinely caring person,” Jonathan said. “She’s so impressive, she speaks six different languages, she really inspires me.”

Jonathon majored in Hispanic studies; Mara in political science and East Asian studies. They kept in touch through Facetime during their different times abroad.

They usually studied together, taking breaks to watch Parks and Rec and Friday Night Lights. Jonathan, who was news editor of the Davidsonian, has also been a mentor to Mara’s sister, Erin ’23, a contributing writer.

“Jonathan is a great listener and one of the most considerate and selfless people,” Mara said. “Whatever you’re telling him, big or small, he gives the same amount of care and attention to. He is a forever friend.”