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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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.
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.
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 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 Rachel Chen ’18
When I heard about the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, my first reaction was not to have one. “17 dead, 14 injured…” the car radio droned, and I remember thinking, oh. Another one. And I promptly forgot it.
I strive to be compassionate, but after years of hearing about mass shootings every few months, the concept of a mass shooting has lost its tragedy to me. It has become too regular an occurrence for me to summon up the same intensity of grief and despair that it once did. So on Monday afternoon, during an unseasonably warm fire drill, I forced myself to feel the visceral fear of those students under attack in Florida. For one searing second, I tried to imagine what might occur if an active shooter were on campus.
Would I dodge behind cars? Would I run fast enough to reach the BAC? Would I scream as my classmates were cut down, or would shock prevent me from registering it?
Now and in the moment, I shudder. My heart pounds in my ears. 17 dead in a high school of 3000 broke the Parkland community; 17 dead in our entire school of just 1000 would shatter us.
Something needs to change. But why hasn’t it already?
Everyone who passed middle school social studies knows that the Second Amendment guarantees the “right to bear arms,” an important provision in the Revolutionary era for establishing democracy in the face of tyranny and military
abuse. Since those days of muskets and bayonets, the Second Amendment has become a symbol of ultimate freedom—perhaps even more so than freedom of religion, speech, or press.
While other rights have served the same purposes throughout time and thus become established as simple, non-negotiable rights, the right to bear arms has nearly lost its original purpose
as guns become more developed and dangerous. Less thanphysically defending the republic against oppressive government military abuses, it has now evolved into taking an ideological stand for freedom—to the point where owning a gun is a deliberate exercise of that freedom, and the gun itself is used only for recreation.
So the symbolic power of gun ownership drives gun advocates and the National Rifle Association (NRA) to block any legislation proposed to curb our near unfettered access to military grade weapons. Instead, the national conversation
is redirected toward improving the mental health system to prevent the severely mentally ill from obtaining weapons and arming teachers to defend students.
But would these solutions be effective? I doubt it.
In my nightmarish reimagination of our Monday afternoon fire drill, who would be behind the trigger? I may not know any severely sociopathic, mentally volatile aspiring murderers, but I can think of many socially isolated, frustrated, angry teenagers who think they deserve better. Committing every adolescent who fits that profile to a mental institution and a lifetime of mental health stigma would be a greater offense to
constitutional freedom than any gun control restrictions could be.
And who would defend us? Should Dean Ross bring a weapon to Morning Meeting, just in case Should Dean Cottingham carry her pistol from her office to English class in the same bag as her laptop and glasses case? Would I feel any more safe surrounded by teachers with guns who have no experience or desire to wield them?
The image is absurd. Surreal. And for me, the answer is no—no to armed teachers, and no to an “improved” mental health system that confuses adolescent rage and clinical psychosis and treats both the same.
Thankfully, students are stepping up. The survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas are speaking out, arranging marches and protests, and challenging their representatives to take a
stand. The sorrow that ought to paralyze them is driving them to greater action, and I am grateful for their leadership in this fight for our lives and futures.
And yet somehow, their suffering is not enough. In the eyes of some prominent national leaders, our loss does not make us qualified to speak—it disqualifies us, because we are too young. Too blinded by emotion. Our tiny, undeveloped
prefrontal cortexes are too easily manipulated and influenced by the freedom-hating left agenda.
Somehow, it is the people furthest away from the situationwho are qualified to speak. It is those who are calm because they are remote, who are unafraid because they are unaffected. It is those who are “rational” and “experienced” because they will never have to picture themselves hiding underneath desks and behind cars from classmates wielding AR-15s.
What would the victims of Parkland say to that?What would the founding fathers think? Maybe I don’t know enough. I don’t understand the intricacies of politics, the checks and balances, the hard-earned compromises that got us to today. I definitely don’t understand the appeal of and attachment to assault weapons that so many Americans feel so passionately. But here’s what I do know: I am 17. I go to a school—like
Sandy Hook, like Columbine, like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High—and I am afraid. I may not have all the answers, but I think I deserve a chance in finding them.