By Vicky Gu (VI)
On Monday, November 18, the AP Art History class, along with Mr. Nigel Paton and Ms. Paula Fisher, took their annual trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Before the trip, students studied the art of people from Africa, Oceania, western North America, and classical antiquity. They saw many works in real-life that they had previously seen only on computer screens.
The field trip started in the Greek and Roman art wing. Students viewed Mediterranean art from various different ancient eras and were able to compare what they had learned in class to the actual sculpture. The Greek, Archaic Marble statue of a kouros, for example, was slightly disproportionate and much more stiff-limbed than the Hellenistic, Roman Marble sarcophagus with the Triumph of Dionysos and the Seasons that was sculpted almost three hundred years later.
The students examined other works that hadn’t been studied in class, such as various Greek vases, Roman bronze sculptures (which often copied or were inspired by Greek sculptures), and frescoes. The Met even had a reconstruction of a room—the fresco walls of Cubiculum (bedroom) from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale. These walls were painted with perspective, vivid colors, ornamental details, and give a relatively small area a greater sense of space.
The students had previously been assigned to present various pieces of artwork from Africa and America. A particularly striking artwork was the Nkisi n’kondi, or Power Figure, created by the Kongo people in the late 19th century. Many students were amazed by the intimidating atmosphere and size of the wood sculpture as it stood on its raised pedestal. Carson Shilts (V) and Sandra Adablah (V) presented the work and explained that every time a villager committed a crime or a sin, the citizens would hold a meeting for the sinner to apologize. Nails, shards of glass, and other sharp objects were driven into different parts of the figure’s body depending on the severity and nature of the crime.
Other works presented include bronze plaques of African royalty and Native American elk hides and masks. Students, who had already learned about the ceramic processes of Maria Martínez of the San Ildefonso Pueblo, were able to view her Black-on-Black Jar, which was particularly unique given the use of glossy and matte black surfaces in her designs.
The field trip concluded with an hour of free time to explore the rest of the museum. While some students wandered around to see what other works might interest them, others had already planned to search for specific artists and movements.
By Carson Shilts (V)
On October 18, over one hundred students filed into buses and rode to Chelsea, New York. There, with bagels in their hands and earbuds in their ears, students in photography, drawing and painting, and portfolio classes discovered the awe-inspiring artworks exhibited in the Chelsea art galleries.
Chelsea’s galleries display a variety of different types of art. One well-known artist whose work was exhibited is Christian Marclay, who creates abstract art inspired by anime. Marclay is known to embody sound and music in his paintings and videos. Another featured artist was Ed Clark, a highly respected painter who is known for his striking abstract impressionism paintings. The students who went to his gallery were able to appreciate his talent and acknowledge the imprint he has left on the art community. The galleries also displayed works from up and coming artists, achieving a balanced variety of well-known and newer work. From political pieces to vibrant monster sculptures, there was an exhibition for everyone.
Once they arrived, the students were split up based on the classes they are in so they could see all the artwork that was most connected to what they were currently learning. Though this trip was meant to break the boundaries of the types of art that students were accustomed to seeing, an emphasis was placed on art that correlates with their medium. Students were also asked to take nine separate photos: three artworks that inspired them, three artworks they did not understand, and three artworks that they would give to their friend as a gift. This allowed students to analyze the art from different perspectives.
The photography teacher, Mr. Boyd, said that he “wanted students to get a new range of ideas of what kind of art is out there.” He hoped that this would then “create another layer of ideas” that students could bring back to the classroom and incorporate into their own work. Fortunately, his hopes came true. When asked what she learned, Abby Parrish (V), a photography student, said, “Going into the trip I had a closed view of what art is and what art should be. When visiting the galleries, I realized there were many more different types and perspectives of art that I hadn’t even known existed. For example, there was this one gallery that had a kitchen in the back and it was using space as art and I had never thought that art could be portrayed in that way, which I thought was really cool.”
After viewing the galleries, students visited Chelsea Market, escaping the cold to eat lunch and shop for souvenirs. Upon returning to Pingry, participants headed to their classrooms to reflect on what they found most interesting. They also shared the photos they were asked to take. Overall, the trip to the Chelsea Galleries was incredibly successful, and the art students and faculty are excited to go again next year!
Anjali Kapoor (VI)
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.
Mirika Jambudi (III)
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!
Emma Huang (V)
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.
Helen Liu (V)
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.
Maile Winterbottom (V)
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.
Andrew Wong (IV)
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.
Martha Lewand (VI)
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.
Ava Kotsen (V)
June 6, 2019 was a lot of things. For many students and faculty at Pingry, it marked the final day of the school year, and the beginning of summer. It also marked the 75th anniversary of the Allied Powers’ Normandy invasion and the battle that ensued––an event more commonly referred to as “D-Day.”
A memorial took place in Normandy, and leaders such as Queen Elizabeth of United Kingdom, French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian President Justin Trudeau, President Donald Trump, and the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, attended. These world leaders came together to remember the day that 156,000 Allied troops, 73,000 of whom were American, stormed Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches along the coast of northern France to begin the major Allied invasion of German-occupied country, ultimately leading to the end of the war.
Many historians argue that this was the single most influential battle that ended World War II and Nazi control in Europe. Of course, this victory came at a hefty price––thousands of brave men were mercilessly slaughtered in an attempt to restore freedom to the shores. The waters of the Omaha were tainted red with their blood. The beach sands contained their torn limbs. The seabeds hold the wrecks of many amphibious tanks that never made it to land and the bodies of soldiers who drowned due to the weight of their gear.
During the summer, I had the opportunity to visit Omaha and Utah beaches as well as the United States Cemetery. When I visited Normandy in August, over seventy five years after D-Day, I was looking back on the shores where this very scene had taken place. No signs remained of the brutal battles that had occurred there. Normandy is now known as the most popular vacation beach in northern Europe, a title that it regained when the war ended. Upon my arrival, I was almost horrified to find children laughing and playing in the sand, splashing in the water. Dogs dashed across in long strides, barking contently. Folks socialized and enjoyed themselves. How could all of these people do this knowing what had happened there? Where has it all gone? Massive craters lay in the ground where bombs had exploded, and here and there were a few German bunkers that were still in working order.
I went to the cemetery that held the US soldiers who died overseas in the invasion of Europe during WWII. There was a walkway with a little platform overlooking Omaha beach. People were moving around, talking, laughing, smiling, and snapping photos. They were so light and carefree. I walked to the platform, and looked down through the green and grass-filled hill that led to the water. I went into a state of calm and silence, away from the rest of the world. I just stood there and stared at the ocean. I could hear the waves rolling on the beach.
Somehow, I could sense the spirits of the thousands of the heroic men who had died here. I could feel the presence of each one buried here. I could hear their silent weeping, their endless pain and the suffering that they had endured, the gruesome memories that they carried with them. Each one of them are my brothers, fellow Americans, and I carried their grief with them. I began to cry and weep with them. That day, I was able to see something powerful––the eternal spirit of America’s “greatest generation.” The souls of the warriors who will never forget the events of June 6, 1944, and WWII.
After visiting the cemetery, we returned to the edge, the final stretch, of Omaha beach. There was a sculpture called “Les Braves” (The Brave) built into the sand, facing the ocean. It was midday, not yet low tide, and still the strip of sandy beach extended a good distance outward. I slowly walked through the sand, to the approaching waves. I touched my hand to the cold water. I carefully took an empty water bottle and filled it. Within assorted shampoo bottles, I smuggled this water back home to me upon my return. To me, this water symbolizes the selfless sacrifice that thousands of courageous and bold young soldiers made for American freedom.
Even today, 75 years after the event, I honor the men who lost their lives in the historic D-Day invasion.