A Reflection on Holiday Roles

A Reflection on Holiday Roles

By Lauren Drzala ’21

Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie: just a few of the elements that help make a Thanksgiving feast for most people. As you all know, Thanksgiving break came to a screeching halt after five days. For me, it was not enough time to recharge my brain. Now we anxiously await winter break, hoping for one or two snow days in between. During this holiday season, family members swarm your house. And in every holiday party, I have realized there are certain categories my family members fit into when it comes to preparing any holiday event: the watchers, the cooks, the cleaners, and the guests.

The watchers. This classification of holiday participants can be described as the little pests who hang around the kitchen, waiting to strike on the innocent mashed potatoes sitting by the hot stove. I, myself, am guilty of this. Spoon in hand, they dive for the unfinished sauces and foods, being stopped by none other than the cook who prepares it. To vanquish a watcher, one must tell them they have to help clean up the mess. After this point, the watchers are nowhere to be seen, saving the remainder of the food they did not get their hands on.

The cooks. The creators of the holiday foods who feel they are the superior beings in the kitchen. They are just normal people who turn into chefs, making everyone wonder where these hidden talents just came from. Suddenly Mom and Dad turn into Alton Brown, whipping out delectable items comparable to those on Food Network. They make us wonder how these hidden talents just appear out of their ordinary lives. The cooks add some thyme here and a splash of a mysterious juice seemingly from the depths of the Amazon Jungle there. Because they are so engrossed in their cooking, a mountain of dishes begins to grow in the sink, much to the dismay of the cleaners.

The cleaners. These are the people I relate to the most. They start off as watchers, unaware of the perilous mistake they have made by sitting in the kitchen. These innocent children meet their parents’ gaze, aware of the pile of dishes in the sink. They try to escape, but are forced to help clean up. Once the cleaning begins, so does the complaining. I am personally guilty of this. “No one helps me,” is usually my go-to, but once someone like my younger sister tries to help, I say, “Get out! You are not good at cleaning up.” However, there are times when the mess is just too much to handle, and that usually leads to me ask for help.

The guests. There are many varieties of guests, including the grandparents, the cousins, the family friends, and those family members you see once every six years. Some guests are people that I have never met before. You think you hear your parents say they are friends of your third cousins, but you aren’t quite sure. There are some guests who decide to help clean up. Although I do enjoy a helping hand (when there is too much for me to handle), I don’t enjoy it when the guests begin to clean up when I am enjoying myself. This leads to a death stare from my mom, compelling me to halt my fun and start to clean up again. I then have to approach these guests and pry the soap and sponge from their hands, telling them to have a good time while I am stuck with the dishes . . . again.

Now, what I have also learned from continuous holiday parties and guest after guest is that hosting a holiday party is a pain, but it is all worth the trouble. Everyone special in your life comes together for one glorious party. Yes, it can be exhausting, but you are doing it for the people that you love. I am very glad to spend my holidays with my family; they really do make me happy at the end of the day, and I do not say that enough. To quote Michael J. Fox, “Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.”

Another Shooting Happened. This One Felt More Personal. What Can I do?

By Ethan Malzberg ’19

The news broke for me on Twitter. It was Saturday, October 27. While taking a break from college essays, I never expected to scroll past frantic headlines announcing a massacre against my community.

The Monday following the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I immediately went to Ms. Hartz’s office to discuss how we could act. As co-leader of Jewish Affinity Group, I was unsure what my role should be in the healing process of the Jewish community and the greater Pingry community.  

Together, we decided that the Jewish Affinity Group should host a Town Hall. There, anyone from the community — regardless of religious identification — could share their reaction to the events in Pittsburgh. Aside from Pingry’s usual norms, we added an additional one for this town hall: attendees were welcome to stand up and share their reactions, but no one was allowed to respond to someone else’s reaction. Our intention in setting this norm was to create a space solely for reaction and support, not debate. It was important for me to allow people to react in whatever way they desired — and given the political intertwinings of any mass shooting, that might mean politics — without allowing something as emotional as this to turn into a place for heated argument.

The Town Hall took place on November 8 during CP. All members of the Pingry community were invited. Teachers, students, and administrators attended the event. Many attendees shared one or multiple responses to the shooting; others simply listened and observed for the duration of the event. Personally, I shared my newfound fear as an American and as a Jew, my distaste for the manner in which our President and Vice President addressed the shooting, and my guilt for not giving myself enough time to process the events immediately after they occurred because I was so busy with schoolwork and college applications.

Mrs. Ostrowsky, one of the school counselors, shared a particularly poignant poem written by Zev Steinberg that brought many at the event to tears. The following is an excerpt from the poem:

“Little boy, what’s your name – do you have one?

Sweet baby, just eight days, what should we call you?

I have heard the sacred circumcision postponed for jaundiced yellow, but never before for bloodshed red.

Is your name Shalom? We long for peace in this troubled world. I hope you are Shalom.

Is your name Nachum? Oh, how we need to be comforted in our grief. I hope you are Nachum.

Is your name Raphael? Our broken hearts and bleeding souls need healing. I hope you are Raphael.

You should have been carried high into the congregation on Shabbat morning – past from loving hands to loving hands – on a cushioned pillow to receive your Jewish name.

Instead your elders fell and were carried out on stretchers in plastic bags. Their names on tags.

Is your name Moshe? Our unbearable anguish and rage demands justice. I hope you are Moshe.

Is your name Ariel? We need the ferocious strength of lions to protect our people. I hope you are Ariel.

Is your name Barak? We need courageous warriors to vanquish our enemies. I hope you are Barak.

The blood on Shabbat morning was supposed to be covenantal not sacrilegious, sacramental not sacrificial, sacred not unholy. The tears were supposed to be of boundless joy not bottomless sorrow.

The cries were supposed to be ‘mazel tov’ not the mourner’s kaddish.”

For those who do not know, a baby’s naming ceremony is considered, by Jews, to be one of the most important moments in life. This is supposed to take place within eight days of birth. As the poem mentioned, postponement of the ceremony is a rarity; the fact that this occurred speaks to the gravity of the Pittsburgh tragedy.

Personally, I was brought to tears by this poem. It made me aware of just how unpresent I had been. It was so easy to hear “9 dead, 10 dead, now 11 dead” in the headlines that eventually, I tuned the news out. It was so easy to fear for my own safety (for the first time in recent memory) and immediately tune out. It was so easy to immerse myself in school work that I tuned my own pain out.  Despite having planned this event, I had been so numb that I never processed everything that occurred until I heard this poem: the shooting happened at a baby’s naming ceremony, it wasn’t “just” a normal Saturday morning service.

What happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue is so much bigger than me. Still, I learned that self-awareness and emotional awareness are necessary if I want to help other people heal. I need to take care of myself before I can try to help anyone else.

Selfishness as the Driving Force Behind Voting

Selfishness as the Driving Force Behind Voting

By Eva Schiller ’21

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I was dragged out of my room to watch the opening skit of Saturday Night Live. It was a rerun commenting on Kavanaugh’s election by the Senate, and depicted Republican senators partying after the judge was confirmed to the Supreme Court. While I did enjoy the skit, I recognized that it was designed to make the viewer think as well as laugh. So, what part resonated with me? I managed to pinpoint a quote by Cecily Strong, who played senator Susan Collins in the skit: “I think it’s important to believe women until it’s time to stop. But…you know, I’m a guy’s gal, okay?” While it was intended to mock Collins for not supporting her own gender, this quote brings up a more serious question: why would anyone support a cause that damages their own ‘people’? Why root against the progress of your own team?

To me, it seems similar to a Pingry student rooting for the other team during a sports event. You may ask yourself why any Pingry student would do such a thing. The answer is simple: they must feel a stronger affiliation with the other school than they do with Pingry. Perhaps they are indifferent and throw their support behind the opponent, seemingly more deserving of it. Maybe they choose to root for a friend on the other team.

But is this really why people vote against causes that could potentially benefit them? For instance, it seems hard to believe that any woman could feel a stronger affiliation with “sexist” policies or actions than they do with “feminist” ones. It seems even harder for me to believe that a woman could outright dislike feminism. There must be some reason why some people are able to forsake a group that they are expected to support, much like our hypothetical student who decided not to root for Pingry.

It is important to remember that many people will simply disagree with me; causes that I deem harmful to the progress of women or other groups may seem beneficial to some. However, there are others who recognize a cause as damaging to their ‘team,’ yet still support it. I have decided that the root of this decision is the selfishness ingrained in our society. This may seem paradoxical– wouldn’t selfish people support a cause that benefits them? Well, they do. Selfish people support causes that benefit them as individuals, not the groups with which they identify. For example, many believe that our current national leadership is opposed to causes that benefit women, but this does not seem to quell support from some women who remain unaffected. If a Pingry sports team wins or loses, the average student is unaffected and is at liberty to root for either side. As long as people care more about what affects them, we will continue to vote based on personal interest rather than the interest of our political, racial, and sexual groups.

The problem that we, as a society, then face is how to encourage stronger affiliation with one’s various groups. According to Alexander Hamilton, humans are inherently selfish, but I am unconvinced that persuading people to vote for the good of their “team” is a lost cause. Since it is more selfish than voting strictly for the good of society, while still less selfish than voting for individual gain, I find voting for one’s societal groups to be a middle ground that many should tend towards. It may even help people make better decisions that benefit themselves. For instance, if I considered my identity as an American, a woman, a student, a daughter, etc. while voting, I would likely end up making a choice that was best for both me personally and for everyone who shares those qualities with me.

So, let’s summarize. We support causes that are potentially damaging to our own societal groups based on our own intrinsic, inevitable selfishness, and the only solution is to entirely reimagine what we should see as important. A bit extreme, I know. But, the best place to start is within ourselves: remember to take others into consideration when making decisions that affect them.

Speak Up and Embrace Failure

By Noah Bergam ’21

Upon re-entering Pingry during this back-to-school season, I noticed that, in my discussion-based classes, I tend to find myself fighting total classroom silence. That’s not to say I am the only one participating – there are plenty of other students who add to the discussion without qualms. But there are also so many students who rarely, if ever, speak up. Some are shy outside the classroom. Some are pretty talkative once you get to know them. Some work hard, some hardly work, some are outright geniuses.

This lack of participation did not totally surprise me, but it struck me as rather impractical. I understood, however, after discussing it with some friends, that the reasoning behind staying silent was simple: why risk failure and judgement from others? I could certainly grasp the fear; after two failed campaigns for class president and plenty of slip-ups in class of which I am not particularly proud, I’ve had some taste of public failure. Those experiences were not pleasant in the moments immediately following but in the long run, I feel they have helped me improve in various ways and ultimately build up my confidence.

So, I believe that a fear of failure that hinders class participation – and participation in general – is one that can and should be conquered. Failure is what matures us. We learn what we do wrong and we chase the correct answer or thought process that may prepare ourselves for future slip-ups. This cycle of failure can lead to success inside and outside the classroom, an enlightening and motivating process once fully set in motion.

The problem that many face is how to begin the cycle: how do you put yourself out there and risk judgement? This can be difficult at our school, where we are constantly pressured to fit the model of the elite Pingry student. I’m referring to the all-star scholars, athletes, and artists we see all around us – the kids who are called ‘exceptional’, who win awards in Hauser auditorium, and wield an almost legendary status for us, even if they have already graduated from Pingry. These figures both inspire and intimidate us; they set a precedent of excellence that can drive us to try harder but can also scare us away from following in their footsteps.

In order to beat the pressure present in the classroom and beyond, one must accept failure as a prerequisite for greater success. These inspirational student figures had to experience failure to get the results they desired. If they did everything right every time, there would be no progress.

We have a limited time in the small Pingry community. High school makes up a practically insignificant portion of our lives. So, why not speak up while we’re here? Why not learn and make the most of this experience while it is still in our fingertips? The classroom is the best place to start.

Dr. Seuss before All Hell Breaks Loose

By Armani Davidson ’19

With application deadlines on the horizon, stress mounting, and college less than a year away, seniors are looking for guidance anywhere. I believe some answers for the overworked grade may be hiding in an unexpected source: here are ten reasons why the Class of 2019 should read The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss in preparation for college.  

  1. Above everything, the book is short. College is going to be full of lengthy books, but you can finish The Cat in the Hat in 10 minutes.
  2. The book opens with two children looking out of a window after their mother leaves; suddenly the Cat enters their house. On a metaphoric level, this is how college will be: your parents will leave and strangers will enter your life.  
  3. The Cat asks the children to play a game with him and breaks their toys. The Cat has no remorse for his actions and ignores the children’s feelings. There will always be people that will put themselves before you and break things, whether they be physical or ideological, that you value.
  4. The children “did not know what to say” to the Cat because their mother was not home. When the Cat first enters the house, the Fish tells him to leave. The Fish serves as the children’s conscious; every time he speaks he references their mother’s absence. Without your parents giving you guidance or rules, you have to be able to trust your own intuition. When something does not feel right, you need to listen to your conscious, or else someone, like the Cat, will take advantage of you.
  5. The Cat distracts the children from the mess he created by bringing Thing 1 and Thing 2. Things 1 and 2 continue to destroy the house and ignore the children begging them to stop. Although distractions are fun at first, they can lead to destruction.
  6. The Fish continues to tell the Cat to leave, as the children say nothing, but the Cat ignores him because he “likes it here.” The Cat, selfishly, focuses on himself and puts his own feelings before the children’s. If someone thrives at your expense, then they’re not a true friend.
  7. The children speak for the first time after Thing 1 and Thing 2 use their mother’s dress as a kite. The children finally yell at the Cat and tell him to leave, which successfully causes him to clean up his mess. You have to speak up for yourself to get what you want.
  8. The children eventually catch Thing 1 and Thing 2 in a net and forcibly remove them from their house when they see their mother approaching the house. The children take action because they are afraid of what their mother will say. Unlike this situation, you are alone at college. You can’t wait for your parents to come to clean up your mess; you have to know your own limits.
  9. In the end, the mother asks the children, “What did you do?” The reader is left with a question: what would you say if this was your mother? When you come home from college, will you tell your parents everything you did?

The Cum Laude Question

By Nava Levene-Harvey ’19

Senior year has begun for Pingry’s class of 2019. Somewhere on the horizon, college acceptances and rejections, mental breakdowns, and unimaginable stresses all await my classmates and me. Now, the many awards ceremonies I used to think of as only annoyances are essential. These awards have the possibility of being the “cherries on top” in college applications, and one in particular takes the cake over all of the others: Cum Laude.

Before the Fall Awards Assembly on Friday, September 21, I heard several people talking about the school deciding not to induct half of their Cum Laude selection in the fall, as done in previous years. At first, I participated in these conversations thinking it was merely speculation, but the assembly fully confirmed that fact for the whole school.

I believe that Pingry’s choice to postpone this induction to the spring has hurt student morale more than it has helped. The awards ceremonies reward people for their achievements from the year before, and Cum Laude is no different. Yes, there is the obvious fact that seniors inducted in the spring cannot put it on their college applications; however, this is not unique to the Cum Laude induction. All of the awards given during the spring award ceremony cannot be included on a senior’s college application. By changing the policy for Cum Laude and doing the full induction in the spring, Pingry increases stress for students by placing more emphasis on their performance than before.

For those who might oppose this argument, I offer this: if people are driven to be the best and strive to prove that to themselves and others, Cum Laude would be their opportunity. This type of incentive, to encourage students  to push themselves until they reach their goal in spite of all obstacles, might otherwise be admirable but in fact it runs the risk of making students’ mental health collateral damage during an already high-stress time. The school previously helped prevent this by inducting only half of the students in the fall, but now all students will undergo an elongated period of stress. .

The Cum Laude change does offer the possibility of opening up a dialogue about a larger issue. The choice, one that directly affects students, was made without the current students’ input. Ms. Chatterji has made it obvious that the Board of Trustees is beginning to try to make student voices more involved in their decisions, exemplified by the survey she mentioned during morning meeting regarding the new Head of school. Yet, the fact that the induction policy was changed without even making an announcement to the student body is problematic, being that Cum Laude is so important to the student body.

While this was a lapse in the school’s judgment, they have the chance to rectify this situation by developing a way to involve students in events that directly affect them. I mentioned the survey from the Board of Trustees earlier because actions like that are a start. I want to make it clear that I do not think that every decision the administration makes needs student input. However, there are going to be topics that directly affect students, topics that students are more inclined to give their opinions about, and those must be taken into account. As students at this school, we deserve a say in issues that directly affect our experiences.

With improved methods of making decisions directly involving students, the probabilities of something like this happening again will decrease. The Cum Laude choice should reveal how choices made on their own can negatively impact the community. Going forward, the choice should show the Board of Trustees that it needs to convey a clearer message to students that their voices matter. Surveys, chances to talk at length in person, and even emails could be a start.

Women in (Student) Government

By Alessia Zanobini ’19

I firmly believe that involvement in government and politics should start from a young age, whether that consists of reading the newspaper or running for student government. Early political engagement leads to informed voters and experienced legislators. Even if this commitment is just at a school-level, I am proud of my peers for being involved in a democracy. However, last year’s student body presidential election and our subsequent senior class presidential election made me rethink if everyone was truly involved. As I looked at the students running, I couldn’t help but wonder: “where are the female candidates?”

For the newly elected 2018-2019 student government, girls hold just five of the twenty-two seats, and last year, each class had roughly the same ratio. As we go higher up in student government leadership positions, the number of women decreases even more. Last year, only one of our Upper School class presidents and vice presidents was female and for 2018-2019, all the class or vice presidents are male. Most strikingly, in the 44 years Pingry has been co-educational, we have only ever had four female student body presidents. Last year’s all-male group of candidates for student body president as well as the candidates for Form VI’s class president were clearly not flukes and represent part of a larger, problematic pattern here at Pingry.

When I talked about the lack of women in student government to fellow peers, many told me that had more women run, there would be more women on student government. There weren’t many girls on their class ballots in the first place. Why weren’t women running, then?

First, I had to personally reflect on why I hadn’t run. After all, I am knowledgeable and interested in politics and government. I hold similar leadership positions as the male presidential candidates and I’m involved in the same variety of activities. Thus, shouldn’t I share some of the guilt, as I am a qualified woman who voluntary chose not to run? My reasoning for not running was this: by election season – mid-Junior year – I had already committed to other leadership roles (Journal Club and the Student Diversity Leadership Committee, for example) and I’m more interested in those organizations than I am in student government. I didn’t feel discouraged nor did I lack the confidence to run; rather, I had already dedicated myself to other activities.

When I spoke to other women in the community, their answers sounded similar to mine. Allie Matthias (Form VI), a class representative, was hesitant to even run for student body president because of the potential stress and time commitment. Ultimately, she was the only female in our grade on the ballot, in part so that there “would be a woman on stage.” Cassie Yermack (Form VI) also didn’t run for student government because she didn’t think she’d win and didn’t want to be one of the only people who didn’t get elected (ten people were  running for eight spots). The two most common answers I heard from people were “I’m too busy” or “I wouldn’t win.”

Clearly, none of my female peers are to blame individually.. In fact, no one I interviewed stated that sexism or systemic challenges held them back from running or being elected. However, a trend emerged of women saying that they didn’t run because they’d never be elected. Perhaps women lacked the confidence to run in the first place – or more likely, the lack of women on our current student government discourages women from running in the future. Several women told me they think that only a certain type of woman — polite, intelligent, and uncontroversial, for example — gets elected to student government, if at all. If a potential candidate feels she doesn’t fit this image, she might not run.

I argue that this issue goes beyond the Pingry community, though. How will Pingry women be encouraged to run if they don’t have the role models in our real government? In the U.S. government, there are currently 84 women in the House of Representatives (out of 535 members) and only 22 women in the Senate (out of 100 members), making around 20% of the members of congress women. Yermack mentioned that when she pictures a politician, she pictures “a man like Ted Cruz or Richard Nixon – white, commanding, and opinionated. That image is just not female.” Maybe women at Pingry feel discouraged from pursuing a career in politics and therefore spend time pursuing other college preparatory and career-oriented activities. This can also explain the other reasoning for not running (the “too busy” argument). In this case, perhaps Pingry has done all it can to encourage gender equality within the community, and the problems reach further than any one school can solve.

I am hesitant to label Pingry student government, or Pingry itself, as sexist; at the same time, I cannot ignore the obvious pattern of young men controlling our student government. The lack of women in student government hurts the whole community, as the group of leaders have a duty to represent the student body, and without women, that representation is impossible to achieve. As always, I encourage everyone — especially my fellow women — to get engaged in politics in whatever way they can to benefit themselves, their female peers, and the larger community.

 

A “Whirlwind Year”: Student Body President Michael Weber Re ects

A “Whirlwind Year”: Student Body President Michael Weber Re ects

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.

Editorial: What Colleges Want

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?

Embrace the “Weird” and Unexpected

Embrace the “Weird” and Unexpected

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.