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St. Bernard senior has two sides she uses well

Montville -- Rebecca Louise Cowen can be both serious and silly. She says one of the high points of her four years at St. Bernard High School was working with senior citizens from St. Joseph's Living Center. She's scornful of people who became patriotic only after Sept. 11.

In the next breath, she jokes that her life's purpose is to annoy her friends — to twirl their hair or otherwise get in their faces. She laughs about a clumsy moment at the Senior Dinner Dance, when she slipped and slid on the stairs.

“I bounced back up,” recalls Cowen.

The 18-year-old senior, who will graduate on Friday and plans to attend Emmanuel College in the fall, is artistic and athletic and not a slouch in academics, either.

She's one of only three seniors who studied fine arts all four years. Some of the best pieces she made in her honors/advanced placement art class this year are on display in the school's gallery. There's a life-sized self-portrait, her long brown hair drawn into braids, her smile wide and her slim frame in running clothes. There are still life drawings of onions and chess figurines, and a piece of Egyptian pottery with her name and the phrase “I am woman” on the bottom.

She hasn't mastered clay, Cowen says, and is still freaked out by a clay mask she made during freshman year. That scary piece, she says, looks like an alien that had too much liposuction, and is hiding behind a plant in the living room of her family's home in Uncasville. But drawing has always come naturally to her, and by studying art in school, she says, “I thought I could doodle in class and not get in trouble.”

Running all four years on St. Bernard's cross-country and indoor and outdoor track teams also let her get away with something.

“I can eat a pint of Ben & Jerry's (ice cream) in one day and not feel guilty,” she boasts. She's so slender, the school nurse once asked her if she was having trouble eating, remembers Rebecca's father, Tim Cowen. He was grateful for the school's concern for his daughter, but said she doesn't let a plate get past her when food's being served around the dinner table. Father and daughter like to run together, and about 1 1/2 years ago, she started to beat him at races.

Cowen and her close friend Melissa Maciag were co-captains of the track team this season and have been inseparable off the field as well. They attended running camp together during the summer, wear the same size clothes and just kind of seem to “click on everything,” says Maciag. Their circle of friends is talking about taking a morning off in the next few weeks to help Cowen master one of her admitted weaknesses.

“Our big inside joke is one day we're going to go over and clean her room,” says Maciag. “It's atrocious.”

Another thing Cowen says she “stinks” at is any sport involving hand-eye coordination. So don't ask her to play golf. But she can really get “pumped” about running.

Cowen says she had to study hard to do well in her classes, but that the teachers at St. Bernard's were always willing to work with her outside of class.

“She's not the top student, but she's certainly a diligent student,” says Maria Decsy, director of guidance.

On the athletic front, track Coach Troy Sessoms said students like Rebecca, who stick with a sport for all four years, earn a special place in his heart. He said she is a tremendous leader who knows how to motivate her teammates. And she's one of the better runners.

“She's worked extremely hard to get to the level she's at,” Sessoms said.

Cowen hopes to minor in art history at college and get some work experience at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. She's considering a major in history, and would like to work for the History Channel or for a museum one day. She said her high school years flew by and she'll miss the small, caring community of St. Bernard. But she looks forward to good times ahead, and plans to begin her summer with a trip to Lake George.

Cowen lives in Uncasville and is the youngest of Sherry Timothy Cowen III and Frances Cowen's five children. Her father is a retired Navy commander. She was born while he was stationed at the Fort Ord navy base in Monterrey, Calif. The family moved to New London a short time later, and Rebecca attended St. Mary Star of the Sea school through seventh grade. She went to St. Bernard's Academy for eighth grade.

Rebecca and her mother both work in the produce section at the Shop Rite supermarket in New London. With work, school and sports, she's pretty busy, but she likes to watch television, draw and talk on the phone in her spare time. She has a couple of pieces of advice for incoming freshmen.

“Try your best in your classes and have fun,” she says. “And keep your old notebooks.”

The teachers at St. Bernard's will miss her.

“She has a joyful spirit, and even when things get rough, she rises to the challenge,” says David Belval, the school's coordinator of fine arts.

“She's one of these people that's always there behind the scenes and never pushing forward to be recognized,” he continues. “...She definitely goes out of her way to help people have a great day.”
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