By Michael Weber ’18
Wow… it’s over. One whirlwind year as Student Body President and four total years on Student Government, all done as of two weeks ago. The more time I’ve had to reflect on the past year in particular, the more I’ve come to appreciate just how fantastic it was. I’ve made many speeches to various groups, sat in on Board of Trustees meetings, and most importantly, collaborated with students in both the Middle and Upper School. My favorite part about the job was interacting with so many different people in the Pingry community, because it highlighted just how incredible the people in this very community are. Here are just a few examples to demonstrate just how unique Pingry is in being such a close community.
You have to form a relationship with your teachers. You see each other almost everyday for nine months, making it impossible to not have at least some type of relationship (the nature of which I can’t assume). This student-teacher dynamic, at its most fundamental level, is not unique to Pingry, although the strength of it is. What is special about Pingry is just how many teachers you will form lasting relationships with who never actually taught you. We all have at least a handful of adults scattered throughout the school who we never interacted with in an academic, athletic, or art setting with whom we are still friendly. For me, Mr. Burns, Mr. Coe, and Mr. Keating stand out as just three of the many teachers who never actually taught me but still interact with me as if we’ve been in class together for four years. It is easy for teachers to completely ignore students they’ve never had in class, because those students aren’t part of their job description. But at Pingry, teachers usually don’t make anything easy for themselves. They go out of their way to know most of the students, having taught them or not, and be cordial to everyone who they see in the halls. That is a testament to the kind of human beings that comprise our faculty.
Another element of Pingry that I’ve taken great pride in over my thirteen years as a student here is the Honor Code. The Honor Code is written, but its effects are felt far past the borders of the 8×10 piece of paper we sign at the beginning of each year. The Honor Code is why the Middle School can have no locks on lockers. It is why students can forget a laptop in their respective area in the high school and return confidently the next morning knowing it will be exactly where they left it. It is why a teacher can leave the room in the middle of an assessment. These are all things we take for granted because it is so ingrained in us as members of the community, but these things are not normal; they are unique to our community. The presence of the Honor Code is stitched into our moral fabric. I can’t tell you exact sentences or phrases written in its original document, but I can tell you that the thought of cheating on an assessment has never even crossed my mind, thanks to its constant, looming presence. For me, it was not because I was afraid of getting in trouble with the administration if I had violated the Honor Code. It was because I was afraid of violating the almost one hundred years of the Code, as well as the thousands of students before me that abided by that Code that strings generations of Pingry students together.
Most unique about the Pingry School is, of course, the students. At Pingry you have an all-star golf player who is an excellent student and is also on the very successful robotics team (Ami Gianchandani). You have an actor, Politics club president, and a member of the Glee Club (Calvary Dominique). You have a softball player, captain, and student government representative (Maddie Parrish). I could go on with 135 other seniors and their various impressive titles and achievements, and that is great. But what is truly different about Pingry students is their humility and grace. If a stranger walks into the school and begins to interact with the students, that person would never guess just how accomplished each of the students he or she is interacting with are. And the best part is, we are all always hungry for more. Ami, Cal, and Maddie, I’m sure, are happy with the many accomplishments they have accrued in high school, but they are in no way content. The same can be said for every other student in the school, and the success is contagious.
I consider myself extremely lucky to be around such talented, caring, and incredible people over the past thirteen years. Everything starts at home and with the family unit, but the Pingry community has been a close second in the formation of the person I am today.
It has been an honor getting to know all of you, and I look forward to seeing all the great that is done by the class of 2018 and beyond. I don’t know when, how, or under what circumstances, but we will meet again, and I know it will be just as if we never left. God Bless.
By Rachel Chen ’18
If I had a penny for every article or piece of advice I’ve heard about getting into college, I’d be rich enough to actually pay my college tuition.
And what I’ve gleaned from them is this:
- Good grades and test scores are a must, supplemented by
- extracurriculars, leadership, and service, along with
- interpersonal skills, preferably practiced on teachers who you can charm into writing great recommendations.
It’s as if everyone and their dentist agrees that these are the ingredients for an Ivy League pie—serving size: 1, best served without sleep or social life. And to be sure, there is definitely some truth to these prerequisites. But in my opinion, they’re all simply symptoms of what colleges are really looking for: passion. Passion for learning, for meaningful activities, and for connecting with and serving other people.
But the problem is, college prep becomes a kind of fake process. We start believing we need to show colleges a certain persona, even when we’re not that person at all. Colleges want extracurriculars? Sure, I’ll join Extracurricular Club. They like leadership? Let me check if Leadership Club needs help. They expect community service? I heard Community Service Club is running a fundraiser this month.
So in the process of turning passion into little boxes on a checklist, we start to think of college less as a four-year opportunity to learn and grow, and more of a “prize.” It becomes the ultimate measure of our character and careers and something that we can and should “earn.”
But if there’s anything I’ve learned this year, it’s that the system is not fair. It’s not a machine where you input your accomplishments and it spits out a college you “deserve.” Any troll with the time to browse College Confidential will realize that brilliant people—geniuses who post outstanding resumes and flawless scores—get rejected all the time.
So what’s the point of changing your character into someone fake and different when the system is flawed anyway? Why devote your time to things you may not even care about when another troll out there is doing the same things to create the same fake persona to show colleges?
In my opinion, the only way you can really win in this often zero-sum game is to actually be passionate. To find things that you really, truly love, and study and practice those instead. Love hiking? Outing Club is looking for leaders. Enjoy cartoons or astrophysics or video games? Join a club and turn it into something meaningful. In short, be real.
I am lucky enough to say that I have really, truly loved most of what I’ve done at Pingry. This school allowed me to break from my parents’ idea of college prep activities and pursue things I really enjoyed. When I quit piano after years of competition and picked up squash, they didn’t even think squash was a real sport. Squash became a source of confidence; my vegetable sport brought fitness into my life and taught me that I can push myself just as hard as everyone else. Instead of the math and Science Olympiad competitions they thought I needed to participate in, I chose journalism and feminist poetry.
However, there were also things I applied for simply because of their prestige or the pressure I felt to pursue them. One that comes to mind is iRT. Don’t get me wrong, I have grown to love the team and the big picture of our project even when I want to scream from the frustration of constant failure. But sometimes I wonder if I would have applied in the first place if I hadn’t thought that iRT was the most elite institution to join to demonstrate interest in science to colleges. Nevermind that I hated analyzing data and troubleshooting experiments; research felt like a necessity for my college resume which, in retrospect, I had to actively choose to enjoy.
Sidenote: as many classes and clubs Pingry offered me, it gave me tenfold in faculty support. A huge factor in developing my appreciation for science research (alongside other passions) was Dr. Kirkhart. Besides keeping the Ladies of the Lateral Line on track, she discusses books about feminism with me and reminds me that life exists beyond high school. Listen up: your teachers are so much more than a grade-arbiter or a rec letter. They are your friends, and they will ground you in the tumultuous journey of high school.
Making the decision to actively love what I did made me ultimately so much happier. Some of the most rewarding and defining experiences of my life have come out of things that were not planned for “success”; those CP talks with teachers and a casual rant turned Lebow speech are just a few that come to mind. When you choose to actively, earnestly give your all to something you care about, suddenly life is not just about getting into college anymore. It’s meaningful. It’s fun. It’s good.
We worry about how colleges perceive us, but if we are truly what we say we are, then I doubt our characters will get lost in translation. Ultimately, this concept stretches far beyond college admissions—to meeting people, making friends, and forming real relationships—because college is such a short blip in the timeline in your life. Be a real person. Don’t fake love, but feel it—deeply, generously, with an open mind and ready heart. Why go through life trying to create a different image of yourself when you can make the real thing so much better?
By Shruti Sagar ’18
A couple weeks ago, we had our final peer group meeting, and hidden in between a few different side conversations, I heard one of my peer groupies quietly ask how bad junior year really is. I started to talk to him about junior year a bit, and eventually all the side conversations died down and the whole group started to listen. I crave order more than anyone else I know, so I couldn’t just explain junior year without giving them my perspective on the rest of high school. I did just that—I sat down for around twenty minutes and took eight freshmen through my high school experience. I let myself be extremely vulnerable, which is probably why I remember none of what I said, except for what I said about senior year. I told them that above everything else, senior year is the year you realize things.
I think high school is one of the strangest concepts in the world. You enter as a scrawny but bright-eyed fourteen-year-old and you graduate as an adult, and the amount of experiences, opportunities, memories, and failures that happen in between those two milestones are so much more concentrated than those that people have prior to life before their first day of high school. Movies and TV shows paint high school as some sort of a quintessential coming-of-age experience full of drama, locker decorations, football games, and boring classes. The problem with that depiction is that a typical high school experience doesn’t actually exist. These fictional adaptations often forget to include the long nights where you can hardly keep your eyes open, the moments that you think are going to break you, or the unexplainable weight that comes from carrying constant stress. In other words, stereotypes of the high school experience often forget about the hardships because it makes the experience sound less frightening and more enticing, but I have realized that it is out of difficult times that a person grows, and how a person handles hardship says more about their character than any big win, good grade, or prom date ever could.
Pingry can be the worst sometimes. The rigorous environment we create for each other results in so many of these hardships in the first place because so many of us think that we need to be on top in every sense of the word—that we need to create that nonexistent “high school experience” for ourselves. For me, the college process was such a slap in the face because it made me realize how much is out of our control and that “normal” truly does not exist. So many Pingry students, myself included, push ourselves to beyond our maximum because we believe that every failure or success we experience is our responsibility, when in reality, it’s all just a part of life.
I mean it when I say that I’m nothing but grateful I didn’t get into the college I applied to early. Sure, it meant months of waiting, agonizing, and hoping, but more than all that, it made me step back, look at the bigger picture, and recognize that if being deferred from an incredible school was something to cry about, then my life is nothing but a blessing. It made me realize that when all is said and done, when I’m going through the motions of my freshman year of college, I’m not going to remember the statistics of the schools I applied to or the results I got from each, but rather the people who stood by my side—the ones who listened to me for hours and the ones that I listened to for hours. I became close this year with incredible people for several reasons, and a big one was because I didn’t get into college. I learned to check in on others, to put situations into perspective, and most importantly, to recognize that my life isn’t supposed to be a movie. We’re going to mess up, or life is going to mess us up, but it is how we emerge from these situations, and more importantly, how we support our peers and help others stay afloat that speaks to the way we carry ourselves.
Now that I’ve ended a paragraph I started with “Pingry can be the worst,” I think it’s only fair I address how this school has shaped my character and influenced me for the better. In the first few lines of Jack Garratt’s song “Surprise Yourself,” he sings: “Speak and open up your mind/It’s something you should do all the time/Keep exploring, seek and find/You know you might surprise yourself.” I promised myself I would try not to be tacky, but here I am quoting song lyrics, so I think I’ll just keep going with that theme.
Like I said before, I openly think high school is the weirdest concept ever, and I will never understand it. I always tell people that I don’t necessarily think high school is the place I am meant to “thrive,” but at the same time, I’m incredibly grateful for Pingry and all the opportunities and experiences that came with it. I’ll miss it so much because of the little things. I’ll miss the fact that I’ve slept in a tent on Pingry’s campus multiple times, that teachers want to have genuine conversations about things that actually matter and don’t discount your opinion, and that I can walk anywhere in the school at any time and find someone who wants to have a conversation. I’ll miss the field hockey team, peer leadership, and my IRT group—all groups of people brought together by common interests yet bonded together by so much more than just an extracurricular.
I encourage any underclassmen reading this to think about the lyrics I quoted above. The little things that make me love Pingry so much became such big parts of my life, but that wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t learn to approach conversations with an open mind, get to know as many people as I can, and most importantly, listen to what other people have to say. I’ve realized that by doing so, I have, in fact, surprised myself—and I know this because, again, senior year is the year you realize things.
By Megan Pan ’18
Since perhaps as early as the beginning of the year, I have been thinking about what to write for my last editorial. There are so many things I would want to say about my time here at Pingry that it became impossible to choose one aspect that could fathomably capture it all. Ultimately, I decided to simply share the following excerpts from an exchange between myself and Mr. Keating—not necessarily to showcase its content, per se (though it still might prove applicable nonetheless), but more so because I believe it highlights the most essential and valuable aspect of the Pingry experience: the meaningful relationships developed between students and teachers.
from my final journal for Mr. Keating’s freedom class, dated May 2, 2018:
“Going into college, I can’t help but feel a sort of dread of what’s to come. It’s like I’ve jumped out of one high-pressure cooker to land into another, and I honestly don’t know if I’m mentally fit to last. Somehow, this kismet of mine feels both like a blessing and a curse—a curse in the sense that I feel like I’ve ushered myself down a path that is only going to make it harder and harder for me to come to terms with myself and be happy. As long as I walk down this path, it is going to be a matter of another challenge to surmount, another person to compete against, all of it a desperate and lonely claw to the top in search of the elusive validation of academic success. Is that what my whole life is going to be, my fate and my happiness never within my own reach?
… When I first read over the final journal prompt, my initial reaction was, ‘Of course, I can find equilibrium and contentment. Of course, I can succeed where Chris McCandless failed and be satisfied with the outcome of my life.’ But now that I’ve reflected on it a bit, I realize that I’m not so sure. Over the course of the past thirteen years, I’ve given so much of myself to a system that now it’s hard to delineate where the influence of the system ends and my genuine self begins. I can’t help but wonder if all I’ll ever think of myself and my life as is a list of accomplishments that can never reach a length I’ll be satisfied with. How can I be happy like that?
Going forward, I think I have some real work to do when it comes to analyzing what I enjoy doing and what makes me truly happy. I think the first step I plan on taking is removing the emphasis I’ve placed on school for the past how-many-years of my life. During the summer transitioning between high school and college, I hope to be able to explore many of the things that I’d like to try that I haven’t had the chance to fully enjoy in-depth before.
… But before then and even after the summer passes, I hope to be able to focus more on the people in my life and who will come into my life in the future. I really do think it’s true that ‘happiness [is] only real when shared,’ and by putting more effort into the relationships I have with the people around me, I think it’ll help to take a load off the exhausting and lonely burden of existing. I never asked to be born into this world, but at the end of the day, neither did anybody else, and we’re all here to make the best of it. And I’m sure, wherever happiness decides to fly on elusive wings, we’ll be better able to find it together than alone.”
from Mr. Keating’s response to my final freedom journal, dated May 12, 2018:
“You’re right: we do not ask for the life we are born into (Sophocles actually said that the greatest boon may be never to have been born at all), but we are given the chance to make the most of it we can, and that possibility, a blank page or canvas, a bare stage, a college acceptance, draws from us the resolve to muster all we can from who we are, and I simply cannot imagine that your chance will end in self-defeat and disappointment.
I have read and heard countless stories of people who struggled through adolescence only to find themselves as adults. Oscar Wilde called his formative years ‘vaguely detestable’ and he became a celebrated playwright, novelist, and aesthete. Come to think of it, that’s a terrible example because Wilde ended up disgraced and imprisoned, but I think you know what I mean. I grew up with plenty of encouragement from my folks, but when I told them I wanted to be a high school English teacher, they told me I should teach at the college level; I was settling for less, they said, and not tapping my full potential. This criticism went on for years, even as I became a good teacher and got recognized for it by just about everyone except my parents. But they did come around eventually, and when I won a yearbook dedication in 1994, they threw me a big party. And when my mom died three years later, the very last thing she said to me was how proud she was that I had become a teacher. That was sixteen years after I began my career, which is a long time, but it meant the world to me, and I am still inspired by it to be the best teacher I can be.
It may take a while, Megan, but you will find yourself and gain your freedom. And it is my sincere hope that in ten years, or sooner, you will return, a simultaneous translator, a banker, a veterinarian, or whatever, and share your good fortune with your old (as in former) teacher. Nothing would please me more.”
With this final sendoff, I would like to thank you all for having known me and supported me throughout the past four years. Undoubtedly, it was the people that came into my life that made my time at Pingry worth it, and the experiences I’ve had at this school, particularly the people in it, are not ones that I would trade for any other. I wish you all the greatest happiness in your lives, and it is my hope that our paths will one day cross again.
By Owen Wolfson ’18
About a month and a half ago, I was on a PSPA panel. One of the questions asked was focused on how to further integrate students into the community, and how to make them feel fully included in Pingry life. After Mr. Conard listed off community events that aimed to bring everyone together, he passed the question off to me in order to gain a student’s perspective. The first phrase that jumped into my head was something everyone has probably heard during their college process: “It is what you make of it.”
I had heard this from college counselors, teachers, peers, parents, and just about anyone else who has been involved in my life, and it allowed me to see that whatever college I chose, my experience is truly what I decide it will be. However, I had never really thought of it in the context of my time at Pingry. When this jumped into my head during the panel, I dismissed it at first, only to come back to it and realize its truth.
That truth is that Pingry is a special place, and I think we, hopefully, all see that. But Pingry can only be so special on its own; it evolves into amazing when every opportunity and resource is taken advantage of, like when a genius math student takes the leap into photography and a star lacrosse player joins the Buttondowns.
Personally, I realize that a lot of my defining experiences here have been so important to me because I have taken that leap and have embraced Pingry in all its specialness. One of my greatest experiences, my time on the soccer team, would not have happened without that leap into the unknown. While high school soccer may have been a natural progression for me, I can look at some of my fellow senior teammates and know that without the perfect combination of ambition and blind faith, high school would have been a completely different experience for them. I can look at the field hockey seniors, the drama cast, or the Photo classes, and see the same lesson mirrored throughout all these vastly different groups. Every single one of these people’s lives would have been different had it not been for some sort of step they took. They embraced the uniqueness and greatness of Pingry and allowed it to create a life-long, life-changing experience for them.
The cheesiness of what I just said was perfect for that stage and that panel, but some of you might be scoffing and thinking, “Tell me something I don’t know.” To that I would say, I hope you don’t know all of this already. I hope you aren’t reading this and already looking at the title of the next reflection because you already know exactly what I am talking about. I say this because if you know all of this already, then you are done with high school. I truly hope the only people that can empathize with these things are my fellow seniors, because if you aren’t a member of the Class of 2018 and you think you already know what I am talking about, then you are both wrong and doing something wrong.
If you are able to see all of this without having even entered your senior year yet, then I contest that you have failed at living by what I said above: you have not truly made Pingry all that it can be for you. I feel I can say this with confidence because the only reason I realize all these things is because my time at Pingry is now over. Now that my time as a proud Pingry School lifer has come to a close, I feel as if I have gained an understanding of the true power of being a Pingry graduate, and I know that for those who don’t see it now, they will see it five years down the road, when they are trying to get a job and their Pingry diploma is what gets them an interview. Or ten years down the road when they are wearing a Pingry hat in some exotic place and they meet a fellow alum. I know Pingry has provided me with a solid foundation for a great future, but I also know that I will treasure Pingry much more for the invaluable experiences and memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. All of these thoughts have come in reflection, and the weight of them has only truly struck me because I am now able to look back at Pingry, and not around at Pingry. That is one of many things that makes saying goodbye so sad—that my fullest and deepest gratitude and appreciation for this school has only come in hindsight.
Lastly, to the Class of 2018, I would just like to say thank you. Whether you know it or not, you have done more for me than I could ever tell you, and so much more than I could ever thank you for. I know you are all going to amazing things in your life. I could say a lot more in this time, but since I started this reflection talking about greatness and passion, I figure why not close on the same theme. I have always loved this Pat Tillman quote, and feel that it perfectly encapsulates my, and Pat Tillman’s, message for the future: “Passion makes life interesting, ignites our soul, fuels our love, carries our friendship, stimulates our intellect, and pushes our limits.”
By Jenny Coyne ’18
This year I started journaling. Every night, after I finished up my WebAssign problem sets, English poetry journals, and French causettes, I would crawl into my bed and begin my nightly reflection. My journal was not littered with earth shattering insights or existential truths. It was not filled with the emotional toil of a teenage girl living in the suburbs. It was not a collection of doodles. So, what was it? What did I commit myself to writing?
Every night, I wrote strictly pragmatic reflections that described my daily actions; sometimes, the opening lines became rather tedious. Here a collection of my best: “Wow, I hate Church” (sorry Mom and Dad!), “What a day. It was Tuesday, but felt like a Monday” (how insightful, Jenny.), “Today was my first water main day!” (remember that?). The following pages of handwritten paragraphs document my day, describing classes, free times, sports practices, and homework.
I began writing with the intention of reading my journal in the future, jumping back in time to any specific day and being able to relive it in memory. As I was writing, this seemed like a far-off and distant goal. Spending time every night to record what seemed like the basic motions of everyday life was hard to do. However, now I have one of the first chances to reap the benefits of my strictly pragmatic journal. I want to share my journal entry from one of my favorite days of senior year: February 1, 2018.
TODAY WAS MY JOURNAL CLUB PRESENTATION! I woke up at 5:55 AM because I wanted to get to school at 7:00 for a 7:25 start. So, I showered, put on my outfit, and ate breakfast with Mom. In my new business look, I felt like a put together boss lady. I got to school at seven and made some last-minute adjustments to my slides (I actually changed the entire group delay dispersion section). Then I went down to the lab to get a beaker for the bent pencil refraction example. When I got back up to the faculty lounge at 7:05 for a 7:25 start, the room was locked, and there was no journal club member in sight. Finally, a member of the kitchen staff came in, and I started rearranging the furniture. Too bad that wasn’t done earlier!
As 7:25 approached, people started to trickle in, and guess who was the first to arrive? Jamie! With minty mint tea! BOI! A lot of my other friends came too: Josie, Shruti, Alexis, Sana, Clyde, Helen and Kevin Ma, Kassidy, Naiyah, and more! It was so cool to have so many of my friends there to support me. Wow, I love Pingry. I really wanted people to come, but I didn’t want to seem self-important. The presentation itself went well. I started out with an Oprah meme and diffraction grating glasses. Then we talked about light as a wave, reflection and refraction, and finally the paper itself: “A broadband achromatic metalens for focusing and imaging in the visible.” My presentation was just about 30 minutes long, a little too long, but I had fun! I was so touched that so many of my friends came (and brought my favorite tea!).
After the presentation I was floating on a high. Mom, Dad, and I went out to Starbucks for breakfast. We saw Mrs. Simon, mother of Alli Simon, and we talked about Handbells. At school, I had physics, Chinese, and math, along with a credit union meeting, iRT, and practice. A long but super fun day!
Because I loved presenting at Journal Club so much, I think that I might want to be a professor when I grow up. So now, I have three things: work at NASA, be an architect, and be a professor!
There are a couple of conclusions that I can draw from this entry, most of which are fairly obvious and you, as a reader, probably expect to see in a senior reflection. 1) At Pingry, I fostered amazing friendships that grew into real networks of support. 2) Clubs at Pingry, like Journal Club, give us all opportunities to deeply explore our interests and share our findings with others. 3) Starbucks is literally a breeding ground for Pingry connections. Talking to Mrs. Simon about Handbells was a highlight of my day!
To me, this journal entry reveals something much bigger. This journal entry was just another day in my life. When I was rereading this entry, I was shocked by the tone of normalcy. Besides the capitalized introductory sentence “TODAY WAS MY JOURNAL CLUB PRESENTATION.” and the “Wow, I love Pingry,” nothing in the entry communicated anything extraordinary. I never once said “This was an amazing day.” To me, presenting on premier scientific literature at 7:30, going out to breakfast with my parents, attending classes, meetings, and swim practice constituted a standard day. Looking back on it, February 1, 2018 would be considered an amazing day under nearly any circumstances other than my Pingry student perspective. It was a day that I decided academia could be a career, a day in which I was able to spend time with my parents, and a day in which friends loved and supported me, but to me it was a day that was filled with what seemed to be normalcy.
At Pingry, the extraordinary experiences are so often that they appear normal and average. In what universe does a seventeen-year-old hustle from optical physics to millennium handbells to the financial world to cancer mutation to swim practice? At Pingry, you can do it all, and it seems normal. However, on February 1, 2018, I groaned as I sat in bed and dreaded writing my entry for the day. I did not consider that day to be particularly extraordinary, and I even questioned if anything noteworthy had actually happened. Today, I know the answer. It is only with the perspective of time—and those seemingly tedious and dumb journal entries—that I have been able to appreciate the extraordinarily ordinary life that Pingry gave me.
By Alexis Elliot (VI)
On my first day of kindergarten, in 2005, as I walked up the mini ramp towards the Lower School gym, I was beaming with excitement. Our entire grade would be together for gym class. As we all changed out of our school shoes and put on our sneakers, our gym teacher Mr. Lafontaine’s voice boomed in the tiny gym. Within a matter of five minutes, I was instructed to “Squad 2,” and our grade was divided up into several unique “squads.” I felt so ready to take on the entire year with a group of people I did not yet know. The main purpose of our squads was to assign places for us to change our shoes and provide a main group to compete with in gym activities and obstacle courses. Looking back, little did we know that the idea of having a “squad” to take on obstacles and challenges would be the theme of the next 12 years we were about to embark on.
Whenever I give a tour or sit on a panel and someone asks, “How would you describe Pingry in one word?”, my immediate answer is always, “empowering.” Each person at Pingry finds a way to overcome challenges and obstacles in every way possible. My journey to being a senior and finishing out my Pingry career has been filled with challenges. Whether it was learning a difficult math concept, finding a way to work on a team project, or preparing for soccer preseason, nothing has come easy. But I am grateful that these challenges made me who I am today. And I am grateful that I had support from so many different places. One thing I love about Pingry is that we all lean on each other for support. Yes, individual growth is encouraged, but Pingry taught me that success feels so much better when it is shared with other people. My first glimpse into this truth was Lower School Field Day. As I dressed in all white for the White team and prepared to compete against the Blue team, I was always excited to see my team win. While there were many individual competitions, everyone got the most excited when their team came one step closer to victory.
As I entered high school, this support was evident on any sports team I played on or club I participated in. When I was a finalist in the Warren Buffett competition, the outpouring of encouragement and support that I received from my friends and teachers was so empowering. Everyone was excited to cheer me on, and it made me proud to represent Pingry as not only my school, but also as my family. Or when I ran down the soccer field, and my classmates would scream at the top of their lungs and cheer me on when I got the ball. Or on our Peer Leadership retreat when we all supported each other during the intense boundary breaking activities.
Navigating Pingry, and especially high school, has not been easy. There were definitely days when I wished it would just be over and I could get a break from the stress and fast pace. But at those times, I remembered the community I was in and the support I had around me. Some of the best feelings would be walking down to the senior area and getting a big hug from one of my friends. Or when we’d just laugh so hard on the senior couches. Realizing how many close friends I’ve made over the years and the memories we created makes saying goodbye bittersweet.
I am also so grateful for all of the cool experiences and memories. I’ll never forget our trip to the Met in fifth grade or our middle school trips to DC and Philly. And I will always cherish the memories from our epic Spain trip sophomore year and our soccer trip to Italy senior year. Although my high school career is ending, I will always have memories like these to hold onto forever.
With all of these amazing experiences, people, and lessons, the main lesson I would say is to take advantage of the opportunities that Pingry provides. School is really what you make out of it, so try and capitalize on anything that interests you. I never thought I would start to play basketball as a senior, but it ended up being one of the highlights of my high school career. It sounds cliché, but don’t do an activity because you think you should do it or everyone else is doing it. Find things that make you happy even if you aren’t necessarily great at them. And my other piece of advice would be to always try and make yourself available for other people. It’s easy to fall into an individual mindset, but take time to branch out and make friends or check in on other people. Good relationships are so priceless!
I would like to thank everyone who made my Pingry experience so great and helped me along the journey. Thank you, Dr. Artis, who not only was an amazing advisor, but also was like a second mother to me during these past 13 years. And thank you to the wonderful teachers and supporters I had along the way: Dr. Pearlman, Ms. Martin, Mr. Nazario, Mr. Keating, Coach Lauren, and Mr. Lear. And thank you to people outside of school including Professor Fraser, my friends, church, and my family (especially my mom). Thank you Mom for always encouraging me every step of the way, and for being my #1 cheerleader. I could not have done it without the support of those around me, and I will be forever grateful to you all.
By Ethan Chung ’18
Throughout high school, I have often found myself struggling to find a balance between these two opposite tenets: “College is everything” and “Friendship is the most valuable thing in life.” I have sat through countless speeches delivered by my imperious grandmother, telling me to stop spending so much time with friends and start focusing on SATs. Alternatively, I’ve heard the opposite advice from my younger relatives to always make time for friends and never miss out on the opportunity to have fun. They’ve told me that I won’t even remember my struggles in Honors Physics, but I will remember the fun times as lasting memories.
I’ve spent so many restless hour-long bus rides to and from school making mental pros and cons lists on my imaginary yellow legal pad, debating which path to follow. Sometimes I lean towards the college-centered mentality because I’ll picture our class reunions and think that the only thing people will remember is your name and what college you went to. As seniors are about to graduate, we have to face the hard truth that we will be parting ways with so many of our friends. But just because we aren’t able to hold on to these relationships doesn’t mean that they weren’t vital to our high school experience or that these relationships are gone forever.
Finding the balance between college and friendship that was right for me took me nearly all of high school. And the best advice that I can offer underclassmen at this school is not what my combination was but rather that you should approach high school with a flexible mindset. I know that seems like a non-answer on par with Mr. Ross’s explanation for why Senior Prank Day is now illegal, but really the best attitude any Pingry high schooler can have is one that is curious and willing to accept change.
Don’t expect anything to be rigid and guaranteed. I used to be stuck in this awful mindset that if I participated in this activity or won this award, it would mean that I was guaranteed this other prize. I used to think college acceptance was a formula, and if I followed the steps, I would achieve my goal. But I realized that having that mindset is the absolute wrong way to approach life. Another terrible habit of mine was that I would judge people based solely on their accomplishments. Realize that you are more than a résumé!
However, at the same time, I’m not going to say that you underclassmen should feel bad about worrying about grades and extracurriculars. Instead, I will tell you that your classes and extracurriculars, for the most part, should be enjoyable. That same cliché career advice to do what you love is so applicable in terms of what you’re learning and what you’re doing outside of the classroom.
I was lucky enough to have found my passion for music before high school, and my love for music led me to so many wonderful opportunities to develop myself as a musician, travel overseas, and become friends with amazing people through concerts and orchestras. While I was exposed to a rich network of music-related opportunities and talented friends outside of school, in school, I noticed a clear lack of resources and interest for music.
I had to rely on myself and the few musically gifted Pingry students to help bring our interest in music to our school, which, to paraphrase from this year’s valedictorian, is just a bit heavily sports-centered. I have so many fond memories on the stage in Hauser. I’ll never forget playing “Let it Go” and “Smooth Criminal” in front of my peers, who returned the favor with so much enthusiasm and many cheers. I still remember playing on that stage for my benefit concert; I was so nervous until I saw how many of my amazing teachers and friends actually came to watch me play classical music on a school night.
My point is Pingry may not have everything that suits your interests, so you may have to rely on yourself to spread your influence to Pingry. There’s always a new club that could be introduced or a new program that you can help Pingry explore. Also, remember that this community of peers and teachers is comprised of some of your biggest fans and the closest friends you will ever have.
I know that Pingry isn’t perfect. The pierogi sometimes remain frozen, and the tofu is cooked in some highly questionable ways. And the administration can be frustrating too. But the incredible teachers and friends you meet make this experience unforgettable.
By Ouarida Benatia ’18
I showed up to my first day at Pingry in the September of 6th grade wearing the preppiest outfit I could think of: khaki shorts, a pastel orange shirt, and tennis shoes. I had gone to a Newark public school for my entire life up until then, and choosing my own clothes was a stark difference from the daily uniform I was accustomed to. Although I was still technically out of dress code, I remember feeling so lucky that I could wear anything I wanted to.
I had missed my bus so I was very late to my first class, which was Spanish with Sra. Lawrence. When I stepped inside Pingry, I was greeted by Ms. Egan, who knew my name and how to help and immediately stepped into action. She was a comforting source of warmth and I knew I had someone to fall back on then, which was reassuring.
When I stepped into class half an hour late, clearly out of dress code, and dripping from the pouring rain, I could feel all eyes on me. It dawned on me that I knew no one and this was everyone’s first impression of me. I tried to make a friend. I introduced myself to the person sitting next to me and reached out for a handshake, but my hand was so wet from the rain that they slowly retracted theirs. I can laugh about this now, but at the time, I deemed it one of the top 5 worst moments of my life. I began to wonder if I would ever fit into this foreign environment, and closed myself off from new interactions for a long time.
As the day progressed, I made many visits to Ms. Egan’s desk, asking her a wide range of questions to try to get the run-down on Pingry. She answered each question clearly and thoroughly, and assured me that I would get the hang of things soon enough.
Ms. Egan was right, and eventually I could focus on all the great things Pingry had to offer. These discoveries were admittedly surface level at first; they were all things you could find out on the Pingry website, such as the wide range of clubs we had or the fantastic help we got from our teachers or how fun our overnight trips were.
I also remember being so shocked at the diversity of food options at lunch, as I had eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a side of boxed chocolate milk every day for the past 6 years. I wish I had kept that gratefulness with me throughout my entire Pingry experience, because it was easy to lose sight of how lucky I was, as these privileges became the norm.
Throughout my middle school years, I would occasionally get detentions for things I can’t recall, and I would have to sit on the couch next to Ms. Egan’s desk. These detentions were where I actually discovered the most valuable thing Pingry has to offer. It was something you can’t just look up, but instead have to experience yourself.
The rule of detention is that you sit quietly and reflect on whatever it is that you did. Instead, I would chat away with Ms. Egan and anyone that walked into the office. I would ask about her personal life, and she would answer my questions, always followed by, “but Ouarida, I really shouldn’t be talking to you.” I realized through those detention talks with her and others that everyone is so much more complex than they seem — especially the people at Pingry.
Every single person has a lifetime of wisdom and experiences to share. As soon as I realized this, I began talking to everyone I saw, including teachers, students, maintenance workers, photographers, cooks, and the parents at the bookstore. And I got to learn so much about everyone. I gained a wealth of knowledge through small, unexpected moments of interaction in my days, and although they all started off as small talk, they are the moments I cherish most.
When asking Mr. Chilmonik how to pronounce his name while getting coffee one morning, he presented to me a thrilling history of the origin of names, 1920’s alcohol laws, and how his family tied into that.
When asking Ms. Easter about why she always responds “I’m blessed” to a “How are you,” she opened up to me about the setbacks she’s had in her life and how lucky she feels to be where she is now.
When waiting for another teacher during conference period, Ms. Torres and I shared the similarities and feats/frustrations of claiming two different countries as home in a relaxed but meaningful conversation.
I often hear people talking about how the assembly speakers we have at Pingry open their eyes to struggles they had never considered and stories they overlooked. Those speakers truly are extraordinary and I personally find myself moved by every speech I see. But you don’t have to wait for those special arranged moments to learn from the lives of others. I’ve come to understand that one of the best things about Pingry is that you can enhance your life at any time through the smallest ways. Something as simple as getting to know the person you smile at in the halls everyday can change the path of your life for the better.
Everyone at Pingry has an amazing story to share, and I am confident of that. It is up to us individually to seek those stories and take advantage of the wisdom in our community. It’s a type of education you have to facilitate yourself, and I think that it is also the most rewarding.
By Miro Bergam (V)
Last month, Headmaster Nat Conard went before the Pingry community at a morning meeting to speak about a situation in which one student addressed another student using a racial slur over social media. His other recent appearances include his speech last October regarding the white supremacy marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, his speech condemning the incident in which a student wrote “Make America White Again” on a library divider last spring, and his speech last winter about Pingry’s history of sexual assault making news.
Excluding these statements and his mandatory appearances at Convocation and Graduation, Mr. Conard has addressed the community very few times in recent memory. While his statements to the community in our times of turmoil are appreciated, I wonder if their infrequency, timing, and nature render them less effective and dilute the role of the headmaster in the Pingry community.
The fact that we see our headmaster almost exclusively in a context of unrest makes the role of our headmaster less of one willingly present in all moments, good and bad, and more of one that only appears in our community’s worst moments. This context and infrequency make his statements seem less genuine as well; it’s hard to give him credit for speaking out in these moments as his statements feel as if they are obligatory, even compulsory. It’s not that his speeches haven’t been well-written, thoughtful, and impactful. It’s just that it would be an offense to our community if our headmaster did not say something well-written, thoughtful, and impactful in any of these tumultuous situations. Therefore, it’s hard to offer praise for simply making this mandatory appearance.
If Mr. Conard were to speak to our community more—not just about the crises that he must address, but about a variety of topics—it would foster a deeper relationship between him and the community that could make his statements about these dark situations feel more genuine. But without that foil, we are left with statements that, intentionally or not, feel too much like damage control. If the headmaster is meant to be the face of the community, then the lack of time we spend actually seeing and hearing him keeps our current headmaster from fulfilling that role.
Contrast the current situation with stories we hear about former Headmaster John Hanly. Mr. Hanly has become somewhat of a legend in the Pingry community, remembered by faculty for addressing the community often about a range of different topics, often underpinned with the questions of ethics and morality. His speeches have left the legacy of the John Hanly Lecture Series, which remembers his love of addressing the community with such questions by bringing in speakers to discuss ethics and morality each year. While I am not calling for Mr. Conard to do exactly what Mr. Hanly did, I would point to Mr. Hanly as an example of how a headmaster can foster a relationship with the community. He picked a theme that he wanted to explore with the students and faculty and did so often. He didn’t only appear before the school when absolutely necessary.
With all of this said, my intention is in no way to discredit Mr. Conard. He works on many projects that we as students never directly see but are integral to our community, such as his tireless fundraising that allows financial aid programs at this school to run. My issue is with the role with which the headmaster has been left. The job of interacting directly with students has been split among a handful of administrators: an Upper School Director, a Form III/IV Dean of Student Life, a Form V/VI Dean of Student Life, an Academic Dean, an Assistant Headmaster, and more. This system leaves our headmaster often working behind the scenes. His role no longer resembles that of a dean, who works intimately with students; it is closer to that of the Board of Trustees, a collection of people who are essential to our school but are mostly invisible to the student body.
This is a shift in dynamic that I personally believe does not work. There is still a void left in the lives of Pingry students to be filled by a headmaster. In our politically and morally tempestuous world, both as a country and a school, we as students have no singular figure to look up to. More than we need the different voices of many deans and counsellors, we need the one voice of an overarching leader, the voice of a headmaster. Our school knows this—that’s why the headmaster, rather than any other administrator, is chosen to address the school in all of the incidents I mentioned earlier. But this no longer works as well as it once did because the last time we saw Mr. Conard speaking to us during any given crisis was the last crisis.
The solution to this issue is simply a matter of more face time between Mr. Conard, the students, and the faculty. This would not only make Mr. Conard’s statements in our community’s more shameful moments more effective, b it would return the role of Pingry’s headmaster to what it once was: a leader in good and bad times, someone with a strong relationship with the students, and the face of the Pingry community.