This fall, the Pingry community welcomed Mr. Michael Wang, who teaches Chinese 1, two sections of Chinese 3, and Chinese 6. In addition to teaching, Mr. Wang chaperones the Middle School Homework Club.
Mr. Wang graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Before coming to Pingry, he was a teacher at St. George’s School in Newport, RI. He has taught Chinese for 18 years at all levels, including AP. Besides teaching Chinese, Mr. Wang coached soccer and was a dorm advisor.
So far, Mr. Wang really enjoys Pingry. “Pingry is a very friendly environment; it is like a home and like a family,” he said. His goal this year at Pingry is to get to know his students well in order to better serve and adapt to their needs.
The one aspect of Pingry which really sticks out to Mr. Wang is the teacher-student relations. In his interview he pointed out the constructive familiarity between teachers and students. This was a large factor in his decision to work at Pingry. The small greetings and interactions he saw were something he hadn’t seen in other schools.
Outside of school, Mr. Wang likes to exercise. He enjoys running, playing basketball with his youngest son, and exploring new local areas.
The Pingry community welcomes Ms. Yifan Xu this fall as a teacher of Middle and Upper School Chinese. She will be teaching levels 1A, 1B, and Chinese 2 in the Upper School. She has two years of prior teaching experience before coming to Pingry, having taught Chinese at an all-girls boarding school in Virginia. Ms. Xu received her B.A from Beijing Language and Culture University, majoring in teaching Chinese as a foreign language. She went on to study at SUNY Binghamton where she received her M.A in Asian Studies.
Ms. Xu loves the Pingry community so far, explaining how other teachers have welcomed her with open arms. “The faculty here are all very dedicated to their work and have a passion for teaching.” She said, “They are all very supportive of me as a young teacher.”
Her inspiration for teaching comes from a passion for spreading knowledge. “Every time I can see the excitement and curiosity in the students’ eyes, that motivates me to be a teacher.”
Ms. Xu is a dedicated teacher with many objectives for her students. She has been impressed and is excited by her students thus far, saying that, “They are very creative and engaged in learning.” Her main goals at Pingry this year are to develop a positive environment in her classroom and make sure her students progress as Chinese speakers. “I want to build positive student-teacher relationships,” she remarked.
Outside of Pingry, Ms. Xu currently lives in New Brunswick and enjoys hiking, as well as cooking and K-Pop. On the weekends, she is always up for viewing a good horror movie. We wish Ms. Xu good luck on achieving her goals!
Mrs. Kelly Ross is welcomed by the Pingry community this fall as she joins the Upper School English Department. She is teaching English 9, Creative Writing, and Shakespeare.
Mrs. Ross received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Bucknell University. During her time at Bucknell, she also completed the degree requirements for a Bachelor of Science in Education and minored in Italian. After graduation, Mrs. Ross earned her Master of Arts degree in English from Middlebury College.
Before arriving at Pingry, Mrs. Ross taught at a couple of other schools, including Oak Knoll. She held a variety of roles in her previous positions: she served as a lacrosse, cross-country, and track coach. She was the moderator for the school newspaper, the director for a program similar to the seniors’ ISP, and contributed to the diversity team. She also worked as a tutor for students taking standardized tests and assisted in general academic assignments. When asked what else she had done before coming to Pingry, Mrs. Ross said that she has been teaching for most of her career. “I’ve pretty much been a teacher since I graduated from college, but I love teaching and I’m happy to be here,” she said.
Inspired by her high school English teacher to pursue a career in education, Mrs. Ross said that her combination of being an “engaging teacher,” yet also “having very high standards” motivated and allowed her to become a better reader and writer. In her senior year of college, she became a student-teacher and quickly realized that she loved teaching. She said, “If I could teach for free, I would. For me, it’s more than just a job; it’s a vocation.”
Mrs. Ross was drawn to Pingry by the school’s commitment to intellectual engagement. She remarked, after working with students from other schools, she was impressed by the students’ passion for learning. “I really see that in the students. They’re spending their free time doing research and I see them going above and beyond what’s expected to engage intellectually and that is a teacher’s dream come true.” As for her time here so far, Mrs. Ross noted that she has already noticed the school’s mission of honor and integrity in the students and staff. “I feel that those are principles that the school takes to heart … as a whole, the community is really engaged and that makes me feel like it’s a great place to be.”
When asked about her goals for the school year, Mrs. Ross said that she wants to encourage her students to see how the skills they learn in English apply outside of the classroom. She also hopes to become more involved in the school community in the near future.
Mrs. Ross is excited to join the community and meet everybody on campus. “I feel the school is committed to the right values; I really enjoy my students so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the year goes.”
On Friday, September 20, the Upper School gathered in Hauser Auditorium to celebrate students who displayed exceptional academic effort and achievement in the 2018-2019 school year.
The ceremony began by recognizing the Form VI students who were honored by the National Merit Scholarship Program for their scores on last year’s PSAT/NMSQT exam. This year, twenty-two Pingry students were named National Merit Commended Students, while an additional three students were honored by the National Hispanic Recognition Program. Seniors Stuart Clark, Anjali Kapoor, Ashna Kumar, Brian Li, Ashley Lu, Collin Wen, and Robert Yu were recognized as National Merit Semifinalists and given the chance to advance and potentially become finalists in the spring.
Following these recognitions, Upper School Director Ms. Chatterji presented the Citizenship Prize, which is given to one student in each grade who best embodies the spirit of the Honor Code. Next, the Faculty Prize was awarded to students who showed commendable effort and commitment during the past academic year. Finally, Ms. Chatterji presented the Scholarship Prize to the student(s) in each grade with the highest academic GPA. Notably, seven current freshmen tied for first and received the Scholarship Prize for their Form II GPAs.
Next, seniors who excelled in math and science were given various awards from the respective departments. These awards included the Rensselaer Mathematics and Science Award, as well as the Form V Whitlock Prize for Math.
Following tradition, Mr. Levinson presented the college book awards. Each award is presented to the member of the senior class who best embodies the qualities and values of the particular college named. Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Mount Holyoke, Penn, Princeton, Smith, Wellesley, Williams, and Yale were the colleges represented this year for a total of eleven awards.
On behalf of The Justin Society, Ms. Taylor of the English Department announced the winners of the annual writing competition. Writers submitted their entries last spring, which were then reviewed by the English Department. During the assembly, writers and poets from every grade received awards and honorable mentions for their works of creative writing, poetry, historical fiction, and more.
The assembly is a celebration of student achievement, effort, and dedication. It serves as a reminder of the effort that each Pingry student and faculty member puts into school every day. The Pingry community congratulates all of the students honored at the ceremony, and looks forward to another year of inspiring achievements and hard work.
This year, the varsity girls’ tennis team has maintained a strong performance throughout the season. After losing only one match, they are ranked fifth in the state, up from tenth at the beginning of the season. At the end of September, the team won the county tournament, while third singles, Gabrielle Billington, first doubles, Lily Schiffman and Lynn Robinson, and second doubles, Sabrina Schneider and Olivia Gallucci, went on to individually win their county matches.
Although the team works hard, Lily Schiffman (VI) described the positive atmosphere on the team: “Even though girls tennis can get very competitive, we’ve been able to come together as a team and support each other throughout the season.”
The girls’ team has a few weeks left in their season, as they hope to continue their success in the state tournament.
In the spring of last year, some friends and I became obsessed with an online game called Diplomacy. In this wonderfully irritating game, each player owns a certain pre-WWI European country, and, move by move, they try to maximize their territory.
Since each player starts out with roughly the same resources, the only way to succeed is to make alliances, to get people to trust you, and, of course, to silently betray that trust at some point to reach the top.
This was perhaps the first time I was introduced to the concept of a zero-sum game––a system where, in order to gain, someone else must lose. I was terrible at it. I didn’t have the confidence to really scare anyone. I couldn’t keep a secret for my life. And worst of all, I couldn’t get anyone to trust me.
The ‘game’ I was most familiar with up to that point was that of school, of direct merit. A system where hard work and quality results are supposed to pay off on an individual basis, and one person’s success doesn’t have to mean another’s failure.
I was especially entrenched in that mindset when my brother went to Pingry. I looked up to his leadership and social abilities, his diplomacy essentially, and realized I could never be like him in that realm––I didn’t have the same sort of outward confidence and social cunning. All I could do was look at his numbers and try my best to one-up them; in my mind, that was the only way for me to prove I wasn’t inferior.
But now that brotherly competition is gone. And I have the leadership I’ve been working toward. And now I’m realizing that, from my current perspective, Pingry’s system of student leadership is not the game of direct merit I thought it was. I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s a bloodbath, zero sum-game, but there’s certainly an element of transaction, and therefore diplomacy, you have to master. Complex transactions of time and energy for club tenure and awards.
It’s really an economy of accolades, where the currency is our effort as students outside the classroom. We involve ourselves in activities and invest our time, of course, to do things we love, but there’s no denying that there’s an incentive to earn a title, a position of leadership that can be translated onto a resumé.
It’s an ugly mindset, but it unfortunately exists. And the ruling principle is merit diplomacy––for the underclassmen, a more merit-oriented rise through application processes and appointments, and for upperclassmen leaders, a need to balance the prerogatives and talents of constituent club members.
That diplomatic end for the student leader is taxing. You have to think in terms of your own defense when people doubt your abilities. You need to make sure people still invest time in what you run. You want respect. Friendship. But sometimes you can’t shake off the guilt of getting that position, because you know the anxious feeling of watching and waiting for that reward.
Now your mistakes are visible. Now you have to know why you have the position you have, and why others should follow you. You need legitimacy to hold on to what you have.
I’m the first junior editor-in-chief of this paper in recent memory. And I know that raises eyebrows to my counterparts who know my brother was editor-in-chief last year. I acknowledge that publicly, because I’m putting the integrity and openness of my job here above my own personal fear of being seen as some privileged sequel. I’m not going to let whispers define my work. I know who I am, and it’s more than just this title. It’s more than a well-spent investment in the economy of accolades. And I’ll prove it.
That’s what the diplomacy side of things teaches you. You come to a watershed moment in high school where you pass the illusion of the merit machine and realize it’s all a matter of communication.
Merit diplomacy can be an ugly and nerve wracking concept; it’s damaging to take it so seriously. It distracts from true passion, and it reinforces the bubble of Pingry life, making us deify our in-school positions and the idea of the accolade rather than the identity of the students themselves.
There are communities and worlds beyond this school. And one might think of Pingry’s economy of accolades as the microcosm of the ‘real world.’ But I think even that gives it too much credit.
It’s practice. It should be a side thought to our passions, not the intense focus of student life. Merit diplomacy is a game––perhaps a high-stakes game––but a game nonetheless.
This summer, I was able to learn about two of my favorite subjects outside of the classroom. I interned at an orthopedics lab where I was exposed to a whole new side of biology research, and I traveled to Spain and Cancun to immerse myself in Spanish culture.
I spent most of my summer interning at Dr. O’Connor’s orthopedics lab at Rutgers Medical School. I had conducted microbiology research in the past, but this was my first time working with something larger than a cell––a mouse.
I also learned about the many different projects occurring in the lab. One Ph.D. student was working on improving the efficiency of bone allografts, a surgical procedure that repairs missing pieces of a bone. I watched her perform numerous rat surgeries, in which she anesthetized the rat, cut out a piece of the femur bone, filled the gap with bone chips and a variable treatment, and then stitched up the rat. It was fascinating to watch the surgery because it was just like a human surgery, just on a much smaller scale. After a number of weeks, we would X-ray the rat to determine how well the bone was healing. I helped by examining X-rays and creating, staining, and analyzing microscope slides of bone slices. This research could identify treatments that can be used to expedite bone healing for human bone injuries.
Another scientist was working on perfecting the technology to track the flexion of a rabbit in 3D space. She walked me through a giant set up of multiple x-ray machines and cameras. Together, these machines tracked the movement of titanium beads, which she had inserted into the rabbit spine. It was amazing to see this extremely integrated application of math, biology, and technology. This novel experiment has the potential to help us understand the movement and coordination of different bones in the body, such as the bones in our ear canal, which scientists currently do not completely understand.
Most of my research this summer focused on trying to better understand the role of COX-2, a protein involved in bone formation. The lab was particularly interested in this protein because over-the-counter painkillers inhibit its function, and as a result, may be simultaneously impairing bone healing. Understanding this individual protein’s function could also give insight into the broader connection between inflammation and bone healing.
After the completion of my internship, my family traveled to Cancun and Spain. After studying Spanish for the past seven years, I was excited to finally travel to the countries I had learned so much about. In Cancun, my favorite experience was scuba diving at the Underwater Museum of Art. The museum grew out of an idea a non-profit organization had twenty years ago to preserve the coral reefs: they submerged the art of five Mexican sculptors as an alternative site for divers. It was mesmerizing to see how statues of humans and cars had transformed into habitats for marine life. In Spain, my breath was taken away upon entering La Sagrada Familia, a cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí that is still being built, 137 years after work commenced. The colored stained glass walls created a magical rainbow glow in the room.
Ultimately, I had a very memorable and thought-provoking summer. On the one hand, I got to learn new research methods, utilize cutting-edge lab technology, and, in a small way, contribute to the future of orthopedic medicine. On the other hand, I was able to improve my Spanish speaking skills and experience Spanish culture while exploring two unique countries.
Bright and early on August 28th, just a few days before the start of the school year, Pingry welcomed its newest class of freshmen on campus for the longstanding tradition of the peer leadership retreat. Alongside their senior peer group leaders, the nervous but excited freshmen crammed into four buses for the long two-hour drive to Bryn Mawr Mountain Retreat in the scenic mountains of Pennsylvania. There, the freshman undertook team-bonding exercises and activities to help them get acquainted with their peers.
When the buses arrived at Bryn Mawr, the eager freshmen were led to their cabins to quickly unpack and get ready for the multiple activities planned for the day.
The first challenge was the egg drop, where peer groups of six to eight students and two seniors worked together to create a structure that would be able to protect the egg when dropped from above. Each group then made a banner representing their peer group pride. The students also worked with each other and their peer leaders to create a chariot from cardboard and PVC pipes to carry one freshman through an obstacle course the next day.
The next challenge was an obstacle course in the woods nicknamed “The Gauntlet”; it featured a series of obstacles that involved physical activity, logical thinking, and teamwork.
“The Gauntlet really challenged us to work together, and after the first activity, it was really fun to do, and our group definitely grew closer,” said Max Watzky (III). Everyone aimed to complete the course in the quickest time, and the competitive nature of the challenge fostered a sense of camaraderie in each peer group. The most memorable part of the night was during the impromptu dance in the dining hall when all the peer leaders surprised the freshman by running out onto the dance floor in costumes. “Everyone being together on the dance floor and having fun right before school started was definitely a great way to kick off the school year!” Milenka Men (III) recalled.
At the end of the day, groups came up with skits using silly objects chosen from a bag. Watching the skits and seeing classmates take the stage in silly outfits definitely left everyone in a great mood for the rest of the evening.
The next morning, everyone woke up to pack and wrap up the peer leadership retreat. Finally, the most awaited event occurred––using the chariots made the previous day in the obstacle course. Our group took an unforgettable, unconventional route, which the other students found hilarious. The fun-filled day-and-a-half at Bryn Mawr had flown by, and it was time to leave, but not before discussing the students’ favorite parts of the trip. For my group, our unconventional way of attempting the chariot race obstacle course was definitely one of the best parts about the retreat, alongside all the friends we made. “It was a great experience, and I’m glad I got to meet tons of people right before school started! Now I’m more confident about starting at a new school,” said Katie Lin (III). All in all, the freshmen had a blast at the peer leadership retreat, found some new friends, and are ready to take on the upcoming school year!
Traditionally, the process of education has been regarded as the unreciprocated transfer of information to a student, who is treated as an empty container to be filled. Paulo Freire, a 20th-century philosopher on pedagogy, refers to this antiquated model as “banking education,” which he demonstrates as discouraging to critical thinking and creativity.
In recent years, society has begun to progress from its sole reliance on memorization and one-sided lecturing towards what Freire calls a “problem-posing model,” which characterizes education as a mutually beneficial barter of knowledge between teacher and student. Through conversations with students attending high school in different parts of the world, I’ve realized that Pingry is on the cutting edge of this evolution.
In other words, at least at Pingry, students should no longer view their teachers as distant faucets of information. More and more, the student’s relationship with their teachers is becoming an exchange in which both sides participate equally. In the same way that a teacher confers their own knowledge, they encourage the expression of the student’s own ideas, even when they counter their own. However, this model — one in which it is possible for the student to teach the teacher—inherently blurs the roles that their very titles suggest; an effective problem-posing teacher invites this lack of distinction in the classroom.
Any schools which uses the problem posing model must also face the practical implications of a more egalitarian relationship between the teacher and student. Though in abstract, such a relationship should promote an education based on critical thinking, a lack of boundaries can create a potential for abuse of power, conflicts of interest, and other forms of misconduct.
Beyond the relative security that watchful students and teachers provide within the peripheries of the Pingry campus, these issues are compounded. For instance, what can we categorize as appropriate mediums of external communication? Pingry students reach out to faculty through their Pingry email addresses. The formality of typical email conventions, as well as the fact that all correspondence occurs under a “pingry.org” domain, makes this choice the standard. The nature of an alternate method of communication, such as text messaging, is more of a grey area; it elicits the use of abbreviations, emojis, and a relatively informal tone. Text messaging is the primary means of communication for most of the students I know, and likely the same for many teachers. Thus, texting seems more natural a medium of communication for almost all of us, as it feels more like a conversation than a series of inquiries. The topic and frequency of external communication is also important to consider. When a teacher and a student share an interest in the same NBA team, or both enjoy biking as a hobby, is it inappropriate for them to speak about it outside of school occasionally? How about every week? If both teacher and student feel entirely comfortable during the interaction, has a boundary been crossed?
In many cases, I don’t believe so. Whether it be through the tone of the conversation or a common hobby, a certain kind of respect accompanies a student’s ability to relate with his teacher. For example, I don’t believe that the sole act of texting a student is necessarily inappropriate, even about nonacademic subjects. However, it is essential to understand that harmless familiarity can quickly lead to being uncomfortable. Pingry’s administrators should make an effort to more clearly establish the details of this boundary to both faculty and students, and ensure that violations are identifiable, without question. Whether these boundaries align exactly with the ones I’ve presented above is not as important as ensuring their clarity for all members of the community. In practice, a good start to this goal might look like a formal assembly outlining these boundaries, accompanied by an accessible email or document.
In short, I believe that in order to create an environment that is both conducive to learning and comfortable for students, it is the administration’s paramount duty to draw and enforce teacher-student boundaries. At Pingry, violations of these boundaries have been treated with gravity and resolved with exemplary speed. Simultaneously, though at a lesser degree, we must value the educational benefits of an empathetic relationship. We should recognize that students and teachers should not be as detached from each other as they traditionally were. In fact, with strict barriers, we should embrace the fact that teachers and students are more alike than we think.
As I boarded the plane and walked to my seat, I paid little attention to the people surrounding me––I was unaware of who they were, how they looked, and where they were going. I placed my carry-on bag in the compartment above my head, took my seat, secured my seatbelt, inserted my airpods and chose my favorite playlist; I was settled in and ready for a relaxing flight. It’s odd––every individual has their own life, in which they make their own choices, have their own opinions, and live with their own consequences. As such, we rarely think about strangers because we are so consumed with our own existences.
But on this flight, I thought about the person three rows ahead of me en route to our sunny destination.
Listening to my downloaded Spotify playlist, my song was interrupted by a loud disturbance, an escalating conversation between a passenger and a United Airlines representative. I wasn’t sure what the argument was about. Was it a seating issue? Was the passenger on the wrong plane? Did she possess a liquid more than the permitted 1.7 ounces? All I could deduce was that something very serious was going on.
The stranger in row 7 became a topic for most of the passengers on the plane. People were suddenly interested in something other than their magazines and music. What we came to learn is that this woman entered the aircraft as every other paying passenger did, and was asked to leave the plane because of her clothing. Her crime was wearing a tube top. Apparently, exposing one’s midriff on a United Airlines flight is against the company’s dress code and results in removal from the aircraft. How could this be? She wasn’t unclothed. I didn’t find her outfit tasteless, especially since I had, on multiple occasions, boarded a United Airlines flight wearing some variation of that outfit; actually, on that very flight, I, too, donned leggings and a tube top; however my stomach was covered by a zippered sweatshirt, for the sole purpose of staying warm inflight. I was actually shocked that this was an issue, as I had never even heard about a dress code for a flight. After some research, I located the United Airlines Dress Code, which bans attire like swimwear and mini skirts.
While, I understand the necessity for some of these restrictions, whether it be to safeguard people from derogatory words or protect passengers from clothing deemed hazardous by the airline (i.e., open toes shoes or barefoot), I do question the implementation of the airline’s dress code when deciding what makes an outfit fit for travel. This passenger was not offered a complimentary shirt or article of clothing, nor was she provided with a blanket to wrap around her exposed area. Rather, she was forced to forgo her seat and return to the terminal. United Airlines did not care that she would be missing out on her vacation or that she paid for this flight and hotel accommodations. All that seemed to be of importance was that her clothing was out of dress code for the flight.
This inherently begs the question: how can our society, which preaches freedom of expression, dictate what we as people wear when it is not offensive nor harmful? Limiting a person’s clothing choices in a public arena is in opposition to a freedom we hold in high regard in America. And the lack of compassion expressed by the employees for the passenger and the situation was equally as shameful in my opinion. I am confident that the woman did not choose to wear a tube top to blatantly defy the airline’s policy. On the contrary, she likely chose her outfit for the same reasons I chose my outfit that morning….it was comfortable.
For six weeks this summer, I had the opportunity to work in Cooper Union’s Summer STEM Makerspace Program. Filled with 3-D printers, plasma laser cutters, and soldering and circuit stations, the Makerspace was an innovator’s dream – a place where I could turn an idea into a reality. Each day, I designed, coded and prototyped. In addition to working in the Makerspace, we participated in business and entrepreneurship workshops, which included public speaking, a STEM career advice panel, and a Computer Science and Ethics discussion group. We also received lessons on how to build circuits using Arduinos (a platform for building prototypes) and how to use OnShape (a CAD, or computer aided design, software) to create 3-D models. We were tasked to identify a real-world problem, devise an invention which would address it and then pitch our ideas. I set on developing a prototype to help solve a public health crisis we face.
It was during my daily commute on the train into New York City where I saw a recurring theme. While exiting Penn Station each day, clouds of vape aerosol and cigarette smoke filled my line of sight. One morning, I even saw a mother hurriedly swerve her stroller away from the fumes and turn her children’s heads away from the smoke. As I continued to navigate my way down to lower Manhattan on the subway, I witnessed similar situations occur. In each instance, the second-hand smoke affected everyone. This made me think about that infant in the stroller, the elderly man next to me, and all the people around who are susceptible to the effects of second-hand vape aerosol and cigarette smoke. Even more, what about those who are more vulnerable, like those with pulmonary and respiratory issues as common as asthma?
Vape juice contains a glycerin base. When heated, the base degrades to chemicals such as formaldehyde and benzene gas. These carcinogens are released into the air when exhaled, thereby making the effects of second-hand smoke toxic to surrounding people. More recent data indicates that there have been over a dozen vaping-linked deaths and more than 800 vaping-related lung illnesses across the country. Knowing the vast epidemic of vaping and realizing its negative health effects, I wondered: how many people are inhaling vape aerosol second-hand without knowing it? Alternatively, how many people would avoid heavily concentrated vape areas if they had the information accessible to them? After a quick search, I was surprised to find that in our home state of New Jersey, only two towns have specific laws regulating the use of e-cigarettes in public areas (as of July 2019), and vapes and e-cigarettes do not fall under cigarette regulations. With a vaping epidemic on the rise, I wondered why a device or system which regulates vaping in public areas doesn’t already exist.
This prompted me to conceptualize VapeEscape, a fixed air pollution sensor that works with a notification system and interactive map that allows users to detect vape aerosol and cigarette smoke via a mobile app that is iOS and Android compatible. I pitched VapeEscape as my individual project proposal and formed a team of four to help make my idea a possible reality. For the next four weeks, my teammates and I spent countless hours troubleshooting code (in Arduino based C, Java, and Python languages), wiring our sensors to Arduino and Raspberry Pi circuits, and designing a sleek model of VapeEscape in CAD. Though there were some hurdles to overcome– for example, a key sensor we ordered did not arrive until a few days before our final presentation– the hard-working spirit of my team resulted in the creation of a product we envisioned as being instrumental in regulating air safety in workplaces, hospitals, airports, schools, and restaurants, to name a few.
The insight I gained from this summer has been invaluable. From working with the Cooper Union faculty to collaborating with peers of different backgrounds, I was excited to learn from and share ideas with a diverse group of innovators. I’ve also realized how much I value the role of technology as a springboard to benefit the greater society, especially in tackling solutions to problems that plague our communities.
The speaker at the podium––let’s call him A––gave his speech, charged with emotion. I never knew he could write like this, I thought, as I clapped along with my friends at the particularly touching parts. I didn’t know A that well—he was in a separate friend circle at that point—but the works he shared in our summer writing class had always been deeply personal. They were sharp and honest declarations of his cultural identity and body image, but they had never been as carefully planned and brilliantly executed as this one.
Later that night, after everyone finished presenting, my entire friend group crowded into one room and started discussing all the orations we’d heard. We loved Elijah’s speech, Annie’s story was beautiful, and A did so well; did you know he could write like that? Those that had presented were congratulated, and those that hadn’t yet were encouraged to do so next week. This was a writer’s workshop after all. Nobody would judge us, as long as we did our best.
There was a knock on the door and a classmate stepped in, looking frazzled. “Uh, hey, sorry, I didn’t want to bother you guys, but my friends are getting all caught up in drama right now, and I don’t really want to get involved.” She shut the door behind her, looked around, and continued in a hushed voice. “Did you know that A plagiarized his entire speech off Youtube?”
It was true. The word choice, the inflection in tone, the pauses every few sentences. A had copied almost every single thing. He didn’t own up to it fully; when the truth caught up to him, he claimed that he found the speech online in his native language and had translated it. He apologized for plagiarizing and promised that he wouldn’t do it again. Yet a week later, when we were sharing pieces for our class anthology, he read a piece that one of my friends had previously shown me online. After finishing, he looked at me with a smile and said, “I spent a lot of time on this, taking inspiration from all different parts of my life. Did you like it?”
I smiled back, genuinely, but a little sad. “Of course. It’s beautiful.”
I should’ve been angry. He was lying straight to my face; he broke his promise and my already-wavering trust in him as a friend. Though, with A, I realized I couldn’t even be annoyed.
One of the first pieces he had shared in class was one he had written during a free-writing session. He talked about his childhood as an immigrant and the self-hatred that developed because of it. He wished he had blonde hair and blue eyes when he was young, and later he despised his body altogether. He was insecure about his English and had always felt out of place. It wasn’t until high school, he said, that he began to understand that he should love himself for who he was; in his words, he was “a star that shone and could help other people shine too.”
He would randomly compliment people in class and was always the first to declare with a grin that our writing was beautiful or that we were the nicest people he’d ever met. The last night at the workshop, he hugged me, urged me to stay in touch, and thanked me for being his friend.
So, even though A plagiarized and lied, all I could do was hope that he became more confident in himself. I’m sure he knew what he was doing was wrong—he was just too insecure to stop. After all, in class, he’d always jokingly-but-not-so-jokingly deprecate his own work. The idea of showing it to other people, let alone presenting it to an entire camp, must have been terrifying. I couldn’t be angry at him. Sure, I was a little disappointed, but mostly, I felt bad for him. Taken without context, this seems ridiculous. Why would I feel bad for someone who plagiarized, promised he wouldn’t do it again, and then broke that promise?
I felt bad because that’s not all who A was. I barely knew him, yet I could tell he was optimistic, cheerful, and the type of person who wanted to make those around him happy, even while struggling with his own happiness. To reduce him to a plagiarizer—that would be ridiculous.
In the midst of some last-minute scrambling to put my summer plans together last April, I quickly scrolled through possible programs and trips I could attend. I came across a two week trip to Iceland held by Overland Summers, a program that takes kids on trips led by college students. It was a backpacking trip, something I was interested in undertaking, and I was up for the challenge. So I clicked “register” and embarked on the journey.
When the day came for me to leave, I was a nervous wreck. I wondered what I got myself into. I thought my two years as an avid Pingry Outing Club participant would prepare me for this, but as the trip grew closer, the thought of strapping my belongings to my back for two weeks in a foreign country felt like something I could never do. Nevertheless, I hopped on the plane to Reykjavik (Iceland’s capital) with my half broken-in hiking boots and didn’t look back.
As soon as I met my group of nine other high school students and two college students (who led the trip), my anxiety that had built up over the weeks prior seemed to dissipate. We settled down at a campsite in Reykjavik on our first night and prepared for the next week, which we would spend backpacking. We would through-hike the Laugavegur trek, a fifty-mile trail popular among tourists in Iceland. I had never done anything like it before.
Although the nerves were sinking in, the girls that I had met just a day ago were already turning out to be my close friends. We talked about our lives back home, our concerns for the trip, how much we missed home, and so much more. There were four girls including me on the trip, and every night we would go into a tent and talk for at least an hour about everything that happened that day, and any other things that were on our mind.
When we arrived at the start of the Laugavegur trek, my anxiety for backpacking had returned, especially after our leaders told us that the first day would be the hardest day of the trip, with ten miles of ground to cover and many difficult uphills. My pack was heavy with food for the group, my clothes for the next week, my tent, and my sleeping bag (weighing forty pounds altogether!). As it turned out, the forty pounds on my back didn’t hold me back from having a great first day on the trail. The ten miles, although difficult, left me feeling accomplished, and the views added to my sense of achievement. When we got to the second campsite, we had pad thai for dinner and played cards, as we continued to bond with our group.
The rest of the trip proved to be one of the most breathtaking and formative experiences I’ve ever had. I met so many different people from different backgrounds and hearing their stories brought me to tears on several occasions. The trail was tough, but it brought us together as a group. Sometimes, completing even the smallest obstacles, like crossing a river or making it to the top of a steep hill, were so gratifying for me. At the end of every day, when I would take off my pack and look back on the miles I just hiked, I thought of the songs I sang, the stories I told and heard, and even the lunch I had, all the while thinking of how grateful I was to be in such a beautiful place.
My trip to Iceland left me feeling humbled by the outdoors and even more appreciative of our environment. In addition, I made some great bonds with the people on my trip who I’m still in contact with. The raw beauty of everything I saw along the way was incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen and taught me more than I have ever learned in the classroom, with concrete walls and fluorescent lighting. It made me realize the importance of embracing nature and taking that leap into the unknown.
As my freshman year approached its finale of final exams, I looked forward to a summer of rest and relaxation.
Half a world away in Hong Kong, students were also busy preparing for their exams and their summer. Unlike me, though, they were ready to forsake their fun summer activities and travel plans this year for something they all knew was more important than a trip abroad. On June 9, 2019, a few days after the school year ended at Pingry, hundreds of thousands of students took to the streets of Hong Kong, on a hot, humid afternoon.
Hong Kong, formerly a British colony, was handed back to China in 1997. As part of the handover, Hong Kong was allowed to have “a high degree of autonomy,” with the ability to “enjoy executive, legislative, and independent judicial power” until 2047, when it would become fully integrated into China.
However, since the handover, this autonomy has steadily eroded. As seen in the last five years, with the barring of six pro-democracy lawmakers from local elections, the kidnapping of local booksellers by the Chinese government, and the arrests of prominent student activists, it has become all too clear that mainland China had been encroaching on Hong Kong’s sovereignty.
In March 2019, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, proposed a bill that would allow fugitives in Hong Kong to be extradited back to mainland China to stand trial in the Chinese judicial system, an opaque legal system with a conviction rate of 99.99%. Many Hong Kongers were outraged by this extradition bill. They could no longer afford to sit and watch their government appease Beijing’s hunger for power.
In early June, a summer of revolution began. One million Hong Kongers swarmed the streets, followed by two million the next week, all demanding that the extradition bill be withdrawn. Despite this, Carrie Lam refused to withdraw the bill.
After a long July of violence, which saw protestors storm the Legislative Council, innocent students viciously attacked by triads in a suburban train station, and a young nurse providing first aid to protestors have her eye shot out by the police, I arrived in Hong Kong. Arriving at the airport, I saw young student protestors, not much older than myself, handing out flyers detailing the various instances of police brutality and the corruption of the Hong Kong government. Later that night, I watched on the news as riot police stormed into the airport while elsewhere in the city, tear gas and rubber bullets were fired into crowds of young protestors.
I was shocked. Why must these students spend their valuable summer risking their lives, while we get to spend our summer lounging on the beach or at home in peace? What is it that prompts an entire generation to rise up in open revolution?
The day school started, on September 4th, I heard the news that everyone in Hong Kong had longed to hear for the last three months––the extradition bill would finally be withdrawn.
It was too little, too late. Since the start of the protests, 2,000 people have been injured, 1,500 people from ages 12 to 75 have been arrested, and there are rumors that some protestors have died as a result of police brutality.
Returning to Pingry, I found peace on campus. I saw students going about their day without the burden of anxiety that comes from tyranny and oppression. In comparing the settings of my summer and my normal life, I realize just how valuable freedom is.
I am proud of the fact that I stood with Hong Kong in the fight for liberty this summer. In August, I was part of the “Peaceful, Rational, and Nonviolent” march, organized by the Civil Human Rights Front in response to weeks of constant police brutality against civilians. I saw the full unity of Hong Kong on display that day, where 1.7 million people of all ages, from little babies in strollers to the elderly, came out despite torrential rain. With chants of “Fight for freedom! Stand with Hong Kong!” and “Hong Kongers! Keep going!” our march pushed forward while a heavy monsoon poured. The scenes that played out that day deeply moved me. It was a powerful display of resistance and perseverance from ordinary Hong Kongers against the abusive power of mainland China.
For many Hong Kongers, what they hope can be achieved as a result of months of struggle can be perfectly summed up in the lyrics of “Glory to Hong Kong,” which has become the anthem of the Hong Kong protests. The song grants hope: “We pledge, no more tears on our land. In wrath, doubts dispelled, we make our stand. Arise! All ye who would not be slaves again: For Hong Kong, may Freedom reign!”
There is still a long road ahead and more months of struggle for the protesters. However, I, along with many other Hong Kongers, hope that in the end, the struggle for freedom will triumph.
A week before school began, on September 3rd and 4th, Form VI students traveled to the Pocono Valley Resort in Reeders, Pennsylvania, for their senior retreat.
The seniors spent the trip participating in several activities, including a Western-themed dance, and working on their college applications. The goal of the trip was for the seniors to enjoy themselves while making progress on their applications.
Once the seniors arrived to the campsite via bus, they went to their assigned cabins to unpack. Shortly after, the activities commenced. Students went to relax by one of the two pools or to play sports, ranging from basketball to mini-golf. Students also had the choice to participate in watersports on the lake, climb a rock climbing wall, partake in a ropes course, ride a zipline, and more.
“I went on the ropes course, rode the zipline, and competed with my friends in the ‘human hamster balls’,” said Jessica Hutt (VI). “I really enjoyed these activities, and had a great time experiencing the outdoors with my classmates before heading into our final year together.”
After lunch and activities, the seniors began to prepare for the dance. The theme for the dance was “western.” Students dressed up as cowboys and cowgirls, with a majority of the costumes including flannels, cowboy boots and hats, and bandanas.
“The dance was a fun way to jumpstart senior year,” Nicole Gilbert (VI) said. “It was a great opportunity to reconnect with my friends and strengthen relationships with other people. Dressing up also added to the fun.”
After the dance, seniors enjoyed pizza and a campfire with s’mores. They also had time to socialize with friends in their cabins before the night ended.
“I felt that being able to spend the night with my friends was great, in that it helped me forget about all the college apps and let me focus on just hanging out and talking to my friends,” Thomas Wolf (VI) said. “I appreciated that, even though I didn’t request some of the people in my cabin, they were great company and I enjoyed the night.”
The next morning, the academic work began. After breakfast, the senior class was divided into two groups to partake in “breakout sessions” or workshops. Ms. Finegan and Ms. Reynolds each ran one of the two workshops. They used a descriptive writing exercise to help students with their personal statement essay. In the second workshop, Mr. Lear, Mr. Garrow and Ms. Cooperman split the group into smaller sections to converse about the application process and colleges that are typically undervalued by Pingry students.
Josh Thau (VI) found the workshops helpful, as the sessions increased his confidence in the college process. He said, “Before I went in, I was nervous about everything because I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he said. “But after I talked to both my college counselor and others about my issues pertaining to the process, I felt a lot more comfortable.”
After working on their applications, seniors had lunch, packed their bags, and made their way back to Pingry on buses.
Hannah Guglin (VI) thought the trip was an overall success. “I honestly felt like it was a really good way to start the year, spend some time and have some fun with people that I care about in our last year together,” she said.