By Monica Chan (VI)
Over the course of the last three months, there have been a string of violent attacks and murders against members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community across the country, bringing about deep pain and grief to their families and the AAPI community at large. These crimes are by no means a new topic as hate crimes against Asian-Americans have been on the rise ever since the beginning of the pandemic; however, the successive violent murders and attacks in recent months have caught national attention due to their shocking severity.
On March 16, eight people were murdered in a mass shooting across multiple Asian-owned massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia: six of the eight victims were Asian-American. More is being revealed about the victims and their individual stories, and the United States flags were ordered at half-staff until March 22 to honor the victims: Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, and Paul Andre Michels. While this is by far the most lethal event in the string of anti-Asian crimes that have occurred over the last year, it certainly is not the first. The attacks against Vicha Ratanapakdee, who was killed while walking outside in San Francisco; Ee Lee, who was sexually assaulted and then murdered in Milwaukee; and Noel Quintana, who was slashed across the face with a knife in the New York City subway, are just a few of many.
These attacks and the lack of backlash against them have left many Asian-Americans feeling angered and cheated by a judicial system that does not seem to defend them. Police departments across the country have announced multiple times that many of these attacks will not be investigated as hate crimes. Because of this, AAPI leaders have been organizing multiple rallies and vigils in New York City, Oakland, Atlanta, and other cities. At Pingry, there have been multiple forums for Asian and non-Asian students to discuss and process these events, including a forum planned for Asian parents and caregivers to speak with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Director Mr. Gilbert Olvera and Head of School Mr. Matt Levinson. The Asian Student Union has been working very closely with Mr. Olvera and Assistant Director of DEI Ms. Alexa Lopez to ensure that the Asian community at Pingry feels heard and included. Jeremy Lin (VI), a co-founder of the Asian Student Union, said, “Whether it is making a heartfelt speech on stage in front of the entire school to holding meetings for our community to come together and discuss these issues, we are trying to spark that same flame and passion in our underclassmen. In Asian cultures, the concept of going against authority and causing trouble is frowned upon; however, our actions as ASU leaders represent the risks we are willing to take. I hope this inspires students to take risks, go outside of their comfort zones to fight for what they truly believe in.” At the second school-wide meeting addressing the recent rise in violent hate crimes, there were over 300 students and faculty in attendance.
It is moving to see how many people we have supporting us, whether they are Asian/Asian-Americans themselves or allies. Lin adds that he hopes “to come back and see the same interest in social justice throughout Pingry’s student community after we have graduated.”
By Allen Wu (V)
Psychologist and two-time New York Times bestselling author Dr. Lisa Damour joined Pingry for this year’s Carver Lecture Series. Her lecture tackled mental health topics like stress, self-care, and coping amidst a slowly recovering pandemic.
The assembly opened up with a description of the Carver Fund establishment and goals by Dr. Delvin Dinkins and Ms. Anne Delaney. After a quick introduction, Dr. Damour began her presentation with a discussion with how the pandemic has drastically altered students’ lives. According to Dr. Damour, high school is a time for students to become increasingly independent, yet the pandemic has prevented them from doing so. She also talked about the many opportunities, such as plays and sports, that students have missed.
Dr. Damour then transitioned into talking about stress and the many misconceptions that surround it. According to Dr. Damour, psychologists see stress as a natural part of life that people encounter when they have to adapt to new conditions. Per Damour, one of the benefits of stress is that it is essential for growth. To support her argument, she proposed an analogy to a weightlifting program where heavier weights, although harder to lift than light weights, help develop strength. Although stress is conducive to growth, Dr. Damour pointed out that trauma and chronic stress should not be ignored by students.
Dr. Damour then talked about coping strategies. According to Dr. Damour, negative coping strategies, like substance abuse and avoiding social contact, develop into problems when utilized in the long term. She also talked about positive coping strategies, like self-care and happy distractions (television, video games, books). Dr. Damour also brought attention to a concept she called soft fascination: “Soft fascination activities are basically boring things that we do automatically. All of this open bandwidth allows us to reflect on and resolve things that have been bothering us.” She offered the classic example of people getting sudden inspiration in the shower or on neighborhood walks.
Dr. Damour also talked about social connections and belonging. She says that everyone should have a confidante and feel a sense of belonging. Dr. Damour brought up the idea of a “belong-o-meter” to illustrate how it is important to notice when and where someone has a high sense of belonging or a low sense of belonging. She said to be aware of others’ sense of belonging and to notice how your actions affect them.
Towards the end of the lecture, Dr. Damour focused on racism and its relation to belonging: “Institutional, systemic, and structural racism are belonging structures. That is not belonging brought to scale.”
Dr. Damour also spoke about the pandemic and stress. She talked about how stress is based on contextual factors and how the pandemic will redefine what people constitute as a crisis. “When you find yourself in college with a professor that is super annoying, I want you to say to yourself, ‘You know what, if I can do a year plus in a global pandemic, I can do a semester in your class.” Dr. Damour ended her presentation by refuting misconceptions about mental health.
During the Q&A section, Dr. Damour argued that in-person learning is more beneficial to people’s mental well-being because there are so many distractions on the computer and at home. In a question about a lack of motivation during the pandemic, Dr. Damour said that people should use strategies like a reward system as extrinsic motivation.
“I found Dr. Damour to be very warm and personable, not at all detached or miles away—how admirable, considering this lecture was held over Zoom! She captivated my interest throughout. In a time where distance learning, plexiglass barriers, masks, and several feet of separation rule—in the time where we most needed it—it felt like Dr. Damour was really speaking to Pingry,” said Rhea Kapur (VI). “Pingry has worked to keep us safe and bring us back in person in every possible way, shape, and form—and has undeniably done an excellent job there—but the constant threat of our case numbers going up, or the possibility of being contact traced after a single conversation with a friend… it’s stressful. I found comfort in Dr. Damour’s acknowledgement of such effects of the pandemic on our Pingry lives, and her advice on coping with them was sound. Her words truly met the moment.”
By Saniya Kamat (III)
On February 5, Pingry had its annual assembly celebrating Black History Month. The preparation process for this assembly was a monumental undertaking which involved the collaborative effort of faculty, staff, families, and students.
In light of the glaring racial injustice which occurred throughout 2020, including the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the assembly sought to display Black strength and unity during these difficult times. Ms. Bria Barnes, the Middle School Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) who helped lead the assembly’s planning process, stated that the student organizers, “wanted to show the joy, happiness, and strength of the Pingry community despite the trauma and hardships of the year.”
The final product was a combination of segments created by students and faculty. Ms. Barnes then went on to edit all of the videos together, thus producing the 50-minute assembly video.
The assembly started with a rendition of the song “Stand Up,” performed by Cynthia Erivo from the movie Harriet. Performances of the poems “I, Too” by Langston Hughes and “You Came, Too” by Nikki Giovanni were accompanied by pictures of Pingry’s Black community members.
Next, Hanah Abdi (I), Jordyn “J.J.” Jefferson (I), and Jordan “J-Mac” McDonald (I) performed a powerful dance to the song “Formation” by Beyoncé.
Black-owned businesses were highlighted and shared by their respective entrepreneurs; the featured companies included names such as Dirty Soles Footwear Group, Sounds of A&R (S.O.A.R.), and Al-Shams Abayas. Afterwards, William Francis (II) talked about the Black artist Titus Kaphar.
To spotlight Black cuisine, several freshmen filmed a cook-off called “Smackin’ or Lackin,’” which was hosted by Kennedy Sharperson (III), Ngozi Nnaeto (III), and Josh Woodford (III). Competitors included Dami Shote (III), Monroe Russel (III), and Aiden Blow (III). Mark Mason (III) was eventually declared the winner with his classic Southern dish of collard greens.
The cooking show segued into the 2021 Black History Month fashion show, presented by the Black Student Union. This fashion show displayed popular styles from Black culture decade by decade from the 1970s to 2020 and finished by featuring outfits influenced by Afrofuturism.
What followed was a meaningful discussion between Substitute Teacher Mr. Marquis Ormond and Associate Athletic Director and DEI Coordinator for Athletics, Ms. Taunita Stephenson, about the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. They explained that cultural appropriation is only doing or wearing something because it is considered a trend while cultural appreciation is digging into its roots and understanding the origins.
Caleb Polanco (I) shared his thoughts on the harsh truth about the Black community’s difficulties with systemic racism and injustice before the assembly ended on a more positive note, with an informational and appreciative segment detailing the evolution of Black hair through time.
This was the first time Pingry’s Black History Month assembly has featured families and brought in the outside community, and as a result, took viewers on an educational and celebratory journey through Black culture as a whole.
By Keira Chen (III)
On February 16, the annual Lunar New Year assembly was held as a combination of pre-recorded and in-person performances in Hauser. Most students watched from their advisories, enjoying the various performances and more, as the event strived to provide an experience “just as good as in previous years.” Typically, the Lunar New Year celebration includes multiple performances by students and guests alike, such as the Dragon Dance performed by Middle School Chinese classes. There are also festivities after the assembly, such as a buffet of Asian food brought by students, games, and presentations having to do with the holiday. However, due to the pandemic’s restrictions, Pingry had to get creative with this year’s assembly. Recorded performances by many students were edited together into a video, with the entire assembly hosted by Milenka Men (IV) and Charles Jiang (IV).
The event started out with the Taiko Drumming Club performing Matsura, a traditional Japanese piece, in Hauser Auditorium. Then, students from both the Middle and Upper School made their appearances in the assembly video as they sang, danced, and more. The Plum Blossoms was sung by Vinav Shah (II), and The First Day of Lunar New Year was recited by Jasmine Zhou (Grade 6) with Ava Maloney (Grade 6). Ram Doraswamy (V) and Natalie DeVito (V) sang a contemporary song by Teresa Teng called “Tian Mi Mi” (“Sweet on You”) together. Zoe Wang (V) and her mother performed a cello and piano duet for the popular Chinese folk song “Mo Li Hua” (“Jasmine Flower”), which was followed by clips of students singing, dancing, and playing instruments to the viral song “Xue Hua Piao Piao.” A guest performer, Gao Hong, was invited to the assembly and played a song called “Dragon Boat” on the pipa, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument. The assembly closed out with various faculty, staff, and students saying “Happy New Year” in multiple languages.
The assembly was successful because of the hard work World Languages Faculty Member Weiwei Yu put in, as well as most of the Chinese teachers. Students from the Taiko Drumming Club, East Asian Affinity Group, and Chinese classes also helped bring the assembly to fruition. Franklin Zhu (V) said that “[his] role was to approach students, faculty, and administration to have them try to say a celebratory phrase in Mandarin.” When asked about the assembly’s importance, Zhu explained that the assembly “provide[d] Asian Americans a platform to celebrate their culture, [which] allows us to be seen at Pingry.”
The students’ impression of the Lunar New Year assembly was generally positive. “I thoroughly enjoyed watching all of the different expressions of art in the assembly,” Sarah Gu (III) said, “and I really appreciate all the hard work that went into its creation.” According to Zhu, “the fact that many people…showed enthusiasm was very heart-warming.”
In the midst of the ongoing pandemic and the recent rise in AAPI hate crimes, it’s more important than ever to gather together and celebrate as a community, even if not all of us could be together in person. Despite the constraints, Pingry found a way to honor cultural traditions and create an assembly everyone could enjoy. Happy Year of the Ox!
Taiko Drumming Club performing Matsura
By Brian Li (V)
Every year, the Buttondowns and Balladeers, led by Dr. Andrew Moore and Mr. Jay Winston respectively, provide Valentine’s Day Serenades around the Upper School, as they belt romantic songs to unsuspecting individuals. However, due to the restrictions amid the ongoing pandemic, the process for this year’s serenades needed to be revised.
After careful deliberation, the solution involved virtual serenades that would be pre-recorded and played back to faculty, staff, and students who received one. Each acapella member would record their own voice part by playing a click track of the song in one ear and singing along. By using the click track, every recording could be synchronized. Then, the recordings were sent to Paula Roper, an editor that Dr. Moore has worked extensively with in the past. Roper and her son Eric, who works for Apple, created a video for each song by displaying the recordings of each choir member next to each other in a grid format.
The Buttondowns recorded four songs, each arranged by president Ore Shote (VI); these included “Baby” by Justin Bieber, “Grenade” by Bruno Mars, “My Girl” by The Temptations, and “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. The Balladeers’ song options were “Electric Love” by Børns, “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse, I Won’t Say I’m in Love” from the film Hercules, and “Easy Love” by Alivia Clark (V).
The recordings were distributed through a variety of avenues, one of which involved the Balladeers/Buttondowns joining a class’s Zoom meeting and then presenting the video by sharing their screen. For those who received serenades individually, a choir member simply played the recording on a laptop for them. According to Dr. Moore, the best method, after multiple trials, was by “sending [the serenades] to a Zoom address and hav[ing] the seniors go into the class to watch the reactions.” In addition, those who ordered serenades after the deadline were still able to receive the recordings by email. Each serenade cost $5 and around $100 were raised in total. The proceeds will be donated to Morris Habitat for Humanity in support of families in need.
Despite the success of the virtual serenades, there were areas that could be improved in the future. Since the songs were recorded over a three-week period and finished during the week of Valentine’s Day, Dr. Moore noted that recording earlier might have provided extra leeway for editing, redoing recordings, and more. Furthermore, “it might [have been] nice to have a student do the editing if they had the time and appropriate skills.” In order to prepare teachers for the unavoidable interruption of class due to serenades, also allowing them to complete a survey to choose which day of the week is best may also be introduced next year.
COVID-19 serenades were, overall, a huge success and are truly a testament to the adaptability, creativity, and resilience of the Pingry community.
By Sarah Gu (III)
On February 26, students and faculty alike were enthralled by the annual Robert H. Lebow Oratorical Competition. The assembly is held by William Hetfield (‘58) and the Pingry Class of 1958 in honor of Dr. Robert Lebow. After a closed-audience preliminary round, the larger Pingry community had the opportunity to listen to the six finalists.
Elspeth Campbell (V) won the competition, with a speech that analyzed the use of one’s voice for the common good; she drew inspiration from a New York Times article and the Capitol riots. Campbell used her speech as “a means for me to process everything that was happening and interpret all these types of events.” While writing, she “wasn’t even sure I was going to enter the competition,” as she had never written a speech before.
Martine Bigos (V) was named the runner-up of this year’s competition, after having been named a finalist last year. “It definitely feels pretty surreal,” she said, “But it actually doesn’t feel different for me each year. I was just as nervous the second time as I was the first time.”
As mentioned in her speech, Bigos’ brainstorming process was self-referential. She had initially written a speech that felt ingenuine: “I kept telling myself that you have to write something that’s going to win because I felt this pressure to win. Then, I realized that it was an absolutely garbage reason to want to do the competition.” Thus, she then decided to write about losing sight of passion and participating in activities solely for the sake of college.
Campbell took a different approach while preparing her speech: she never voiced her speech aloud until the preliminary round, out of respect to her parents at home. Instead, she mouthed the words and practiced her delivery, as she read her speech over and made edits. Her rhetoric was inspired by Barack Obama’s speechwriters; she noted, “As I was writing, I was also learning the skill of oratorical delivery.”
As Campbell did, Bigos also edited her speech while preparing her delivery. She noted that “the writing process doesn’t necessarily stop once you rehearse the speech.”
Additionally, both contestants expressed the competition’s impact on their futures. Campbell noted the competition was “a necessary way to overcome that fear [of public speaking],” especially in order to develop that skill for her future career. Bigos also found the experience challenging and, conversely, did not see herself public speaking as a profession. “For me, the reason I was really interested in the competition was writing an original speech,” she said. Nevertheless, Bigos believes the process will push her to reach greater heights.
As for advice to future LeBow competitors, Campbell emphasized the importance of taking the audience into consideration. To her, a successful LeBow speech employs the strategy of “tak[ing] larger scale issues and refram[ing] them in the context of Pingry.”
Bigos’ tips included the following: slow down, avoid eating before speaking, drink lots of water, and take deep breaths. In terms of advice, she said, “If you’re interested, but the public speaking part is getting in the way of deciding whether or not you want to sign up, just realize it’s going to be okay at the end of the day.” Bigos affirms that the process will be rewarding no matter what, as “getting to talk to people after you give your speech is one of the best feelings because it is so fulfilling to know that what you say impacts somebody.”
By Emma Drzala (V)
As we approach the end of the winter trimester, the Pingry community finds that it is once again time for the annual Robert H. LeBow ‘58 Oratorical Competition. The contest was founded by the Pingry Class of 1958 (LeBow’s graduating class) and William Hetfield (‘58), in honor of their classmate, Robert LeBow. Featuring six student speakers with four-and-a-half to six-and-a-half minute speeches, the assembly is consistently deemed a favorite among the school community. This year, the competition was organized by Ms. Judy Lebowitz, and was open to students from both the sophomore and junior classes. From a pool of 26 students in the preliminary round, the top six advanced to the finals: Martine Bigos (V), Elspeth Campbell (V), Caleb Park (V), Milenka Men (IV), Sophia Lewis (V), and Israel Billups (V). They will be judged by a diverse panel of teachers and administrators, as well as the past two winners of the LeBow Competition: Cal Mahoney (VI) and Noah Bergam (VI).
Of the contestants, Martine Bigos was the only one who qualified for the finals last year. This year, she wrote a speech entitled “All That’s Left.” In it, Bigos expresses her concern about our actions as high school students, and how everything we do seems to be for an end goal, rather than for our enjoyment or the betterment of society. She also discusses dishonesty in today’s world, and how the majority of students are looking for ways to “win”—whether that be getting into college, or winning a competition—rather than truly caring about what they are doing. Rather than writing about something that she did not have a passion for just because she felt the judges would appreciate it, Bigos decided to write about the need for winning in society today. There is a beauty in her speech that cannot be replicated, and Pingry students will surely be able to relate to the message of it.
Elspeth Campbell (V) wrote a speech entitled “We, the Politicians.” Her idea came about after reading a compendium of internet conspiracy theories in the New York Times. Confounded by the juxtaposition between baseless theories and factual journalism, Campbell began writing a speech about the dangerous effects of factionalism on social media. She initially believed that the exponents of such ideologies were only harming themselves. However, she soon realized that her speech seemed both prescient and naïve, and was enlightened on how misinformation is able to prevail so easily today. Campbell confronted the obvious hypocrisy of her argument wondering, “How could I, someone who was too nervous to speak in class, let alone share my political beliefs, encourage others to participate in political discussions?” Her speech became an exercise in introspection, designed to empower both herself and her peers.
The next finalist is Caleb Park (IV), with “My Dark, Beautiful, Twisted Isolation.” Park’s speech analyzes isolation during quarantine; he believes that sometimes, isolation can lead to a masterpiece, citing both Kanye West and Ludwig van Beethoven as examples of this theory. He mentions that although on a surface level, isolation appears to be a pain to us, but it actually gave us an opportunity to explore ourselves and to make time for personal growth and realization. Park also talks about his first encounter with isolation and that is where his inspiration for his speech came about. His speech is captivating in that everyone can think back to their quarantine experience and wonder if a “masterpiece” came from it.
Milenka Men’s (IV) “We’ve Kept the Mountains and Lost the Grass” is a speech about social interaction during COVID-19, and how quarantine has affected our social psyche as a community. She describes her speech as something that has “evolved into a discussion of how the structure of our social lives has been altered as a whole.” Her inspiration behind the speech came from her own personal experience with quarantine; when quarantine began, Men initially enjoyed the break and the time it gave to her. She was able to explore herself, which allowed her to realize her introverted nature. Similar to Caleb Park, Milenka takes on the difficult subject of quarantine and what it meant to her.
Next is Sophia Lewis (V) with “Self Care [sic] Isn’t Caring for Me Anymore.” Lewis’s speech discusses her frustration with self-care. She felt that recently, self-care has dwindled down to becoming superficial, which she believes is unacceptable. In her speech, she discusses self-care and what it means to her, as well as how it has come to affect her.
The final speech is “The Velocity of Fear.” Written by Izzy Billups (V), the speech is centered around the magnitude of fear in society today. Billups discusses how fear is what leads to the destruction of embracing personal thoughts and ideals. She aims to communicate that we should not fear being different, but rather embrace the idea of breaking out of the box that society has set up for us. Finally, she notes that no two people are the same, so in turn, we as a community should not conform to the pressures of society. Billups drew inspiration from a mere conversation with her sister, proving that universal truths can come to us at any moment. After realizing that both she and her sister have been making decisions based on how they would be perceived in society, Izzy decided to write a speech to combat the mentality of fear controlling so many people, thereby naming it “The Velocity of Fear.”
The competition will be held on February 19 in Hauser Auditorium. Good luck, finalists!
Hansen Zhang (III)
After two weeks of Winter Break, a remote-learning week, a week-long delay in school activities, and plenty of asynchronous workouts, Pingry athletes are ready to return to the fields, courts, mats, and slopes. The Squash, Basketball, Ski, Hockey, and Fencing teams have all resumed practice and played their first games. Swimming and Winter Track began to practice on February 1st, and Wrestling starts on March 1st. All sports, regardless of the start time, have a competitive season of approximately one month.
Although Winter sports are back, they still bring a great deal of uncertainty. Ms. Carter Abbot, the Director of Athletics and Community Wellness, said, “Sports are operating from week to week as we’re evaluating the situation based on our testing, the state’s testing, and the different counties that we play sports in.” So then, how would athletics operate if there was an influx of COVID cases, causing Pingry to shut down for a long period of time?
Well, the situation is pretty complicated: athletics can either resume after school as they did in early November of 2020, or they can be completely canceled due to a high case count, which happened during the second remote week after Winter Break. The main reason why Fall sports were able to resume when Pingry went remote was that they were all outdoor sports. On the other hand, all Winter sports are indoors (with the exception of Winter Track). According to the CDC’s Youth Sports resource page, “indoor activities pose more risk than outdoor activities.”
In addition to considering the possible effect that a shutdown may have on athletics, it’s important to consider whether sports are important enough to be continued during the pandemic. A similar question was the subject of a Word in the Halls in the last issue of the Record. When asked again, JP Salvatore (IV) remained adamant on his opinion that sports should be resumed. He explained, “My opinion on this really hasn’t changed much. I will continue to say sports are essential to keep kids active, to give opportunities to kids dependent on their sport, and to maintain school spirit. I understand indoor sports are more of a concern, but without an audience the risk is limited.” But, some would argue against that, especially after COVID cases surged after the new year. In a telephone survey of 1,065 adults by NPR between December 1st and December 6th of 2020, thirty-six percent of those surveyed thought indoor sports should continue, fifty-eight percent thought indoor sports shouldn’t continue, and the final five percent were unsure. For many, the pros of having sports outways the cons of potentially contracting COVID. According to a Harvard Health article, exercise can “boost memory and thinking indirectly by improving mood and sleep, and by reducing stress and anxiety.” Sports may be even more crucial for remote students, as it could help with “Zoom fatigue”: the exhaustion that occurs after staring at a computer screen for long periods of time.
In summary, although there is no doubt that sports are beneficial for students, one must still consider their possible consequences. For the time being, however, it is important that athletes wear masks whenever possible, and we look forward to a future where people can once again play sports without pandemic-era concerns.
By Zala Bhan (IV)
I took part in Pingry’s “What is a Nation?” virtual Global program in December 2020, which specifically explored the history of Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia, which emerged in the aftermath of the Yugoslav Wars. Yugoslavia existed in the Balkans region in Southeast Europe. The Balkans is home to a diverse and complex religious history, as many religious followings took shape there; these religions include Christianity brought by the Romans, Orthodox Christianity following the East-West Schism, and Islam spread by the Ottoman Empire. In the Balkans, such religious diversity resulted in conflict in the late twentieth century. On top of this existing entanglement, the peninsula was also a playground for foreign forces, from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Third Reich to the USSR and NATO. As a result of these influences, harmony in the region has been difficult to solidify. I have always found the convoluted manner in which history unfolds intriguing. While I gained much insight into the region during this program, there continue to be many knots to untie in hopes of approaching the truth.
The Yugoslav Wars, which took places in the 1990s, were caused by ethnic nationalist sentiments. Pingry’s Global Program, What is a Nation?, covered the basic history of these events and gave a compelling overview of its complexities. During the program, we had an opportunity to hear from speakers from the Balkans; their first-hand insights led me to realize the destruction of the war left deep wounds in the people’s hearts and planted the seeds of strife. No one in the region seems to “recognize [the others’] victims,” said Alec, our Serbian guest speaker. However, there was a brief period of unity in the region under Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia, a country formed following WWII, which included modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. Tito’s emphasis on brotherhood during his time in power resonated with many people in the region. He kept, as Alec described it, his “beautiful, […] honorable dream” of making Yugoslavia strong by denouncing nationalism (calling it a bourgeois concept). As a result, he founded the Non-Allied Movement during the Cold War and adopted market socialism, which united a diverse region. However, suppressing nationalist sentiment only led to its eruption when Tito died; in 1991, 11 years after his death, the Yugoslav Wars began. Throughout the wars, over 140,000 people died, as Yugoslavia crumbled.
To me, it’s unsettling to accept that this conflict occured recently. After hearing witnesses’ first-hand accounts, reading articles, and analyzing the political climate during Pingry’s virtual program, I became aware of the long-lasting impacts of the conflict. For centuries, nationalism and religion have turned Balkan politicians to hatred, a pattern that many historians have tried and failed to figure out. When the “political elites […] revert to nationalist rhetoric to maintain support” in the region, I cannot see a solution ever being found. Therefore, I put my hope in the future generation of politicians; the youth can look past the gruesome divides to build a future based on peace and progress. The youth has the burden of inheriting authority control over the Balkans and bringing the region to either success or ruin. We are at a crossroads, as the roads diverge. Thus, I ask: will the region continue to dwell blindly on the past and strengthen the tradition of hatred and division, or will it rise above conflict? After hearing the refreshing ideas from our guest speakers, I see hope not just for this conflict, but others too. In the recent past, we have seen nationalism rise globally; although each global conflict has its own set of circumstances, people, and demographics, the underlying theme remains the same: competing narratives of history and schism rooted in ethnicity, religion, or region.
Our guests from the Balkans agreed that there must be a mutual acceptance of shared narratives for reconciliation. As a result, the shared economic interests will bring everyone together.
When two roads diverge, humanity cannot travel both, and now it is up to the youth to decide which one it will be.
By Ashleigh Provoost (V)
This year’s drama students have had to face an unparalleled level of difficulties in regards to their craft. With masks, remote classes, and social distancing, drama classes have been completely revamped to accommodate new health guidelines. Despite the adversity, the enthusiasm of the Drama Department still remains strong––especially that of senior actors. They faced their challenges with the utmost rigor, putting on a performance at the December 9 Drama IV Assembly that didn’t disappoint.
Every year, in designing the assembly, the group of seniors in the Drama IV class choose headlines that address events occuring in society. The students then write, direct, and act in scenes based upon the headlines they have chosen. What made this year so different, though, was the emphasis on the tumultuousness of the latter half of 2020. “We were aware going in that this, historically, is a production that students use to talk about social issues,” Cal Mahoney (VI) said. “We thought that it would be strange not to bring up everything that was going on.”
The ultimate goal of the assembly was to start conversation. “We needed to bring attention to the fact that people ignore or repress their reactions to hard situations,” Mahoney continued. “We wanted to bring attention to these current situations through the usage of both humor and scenes with strong themes in hopes to start that conversation.”
“The community needs conversation,” notes Ms. Stephanie Romankow, the Drama IV teacher. “With conversation, we continue to learn and grow together. Student perspectives and voices are the most powerful in this community, and we wanted to give the students the ability to share that voice.”
The Drama IV class also collaborated with Ms. Shelley Hartz, Director of Community and Civic Engagement, to delve more into the curriculum and history of the scenes prior to their development. “The students weren’t making up stories,” Ms. Hartz said. “They were using stories that actually happened; the inequities, unintentional biases, and microaggressions that were occurring concurrently really resonated with them. This is why the scenes carried such a strong tone.”
Naturally, the usual collaborative process that goes into the presentation of this assembly proved to be much more difficult this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. “This has not been an easy feat,” Ms. Romankow said. “Theater is all about connection, and this year there are multiple barriers in terms of masks and social distancing. The seniors, though, were able to take these obstacles in stride and really succeed.”
This group of seniors is quite a remarkable and diverse one. Having been together for four years, the students in the class have built a community that supports one another. The closeness they share makes the collaboration needed for this assembly all the more meaningful. “The collaborative part of it was super important, especially because of our comfortable class dynamic,” Mahoney said. “We’re not afraid to get deep.”
The Drama IV Assembly most certainly achieved the goal that the students had hoped for. “It was weird as an actor to not know how you were perceived. It was hard to tell if the performance was successful, but [the class] decided that it had to be … People were listening and they confronted these current issues.” Mahoney also spoke to the uniqueness of this specific performance: “We challenged people’s perceptions of theater. It was a good decision to do something that the audience had trouble to watch. I think that a lot of these scenes made people uncomfortable; discrimination was right in front of you, and you had to watch it happen. And that was the point.” Ms. Romankow added, “Kids did not know how to react to the ending of the assembly. They needed to take pause, and that’s important for us to do. We’re not providing the answers to these issues; we’re just sharing our perspective.”
Ms. Romankow couldn’t emphasize enough how proud she was of the senior class. “The impact this had on the class was invaluable. It allowed for creative expression and for expression of values and concerns and community. It certainly was meaningful, at least for me, to work through this process with the kids.” She also spoke to the senior class as a group: “The amount of openness, connectivity, care, generosity, and risk-taking from this group is tremendous. I can’t imagine what they’re going through as seniors, but I am truly honored to be going on this journey with them.”