By Mirika Jambudi (IV)
On November 20, Pingry students participated virtually in the Princeton Model Congress (PMC), originally scheduled to be held in Washington, D.C. PMC, the oldest model congress in the country, provides students the unique opportunity to learn about and experience the American legislative process.
Unlike most Model Congress conferences, PMC is unique in that students are not assigned a member of the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate to represent at the conference. Instead, students arrive at the conference with pre-written bills, which they then debate and amend in their committees, with the ultimate goal of passing them. Students can write bills on any topic that falls under their committee’s scope and take whatever stance they would like in the discussions.
Despite the virtual format, students engaged in extensive policy debate and ultimately walked away with a greater understanding of the process that goes into passing legislation. Vared Shmuler (IV) stated that he “had lots of fun, despite the virtual format.” Olivia Roure-Singh (IV) said that “though this was [her] first conference, it was still a very engaging and informative one.”
A special thanks goes out to Dr. Megan Jones and Dr. Gillian Johnson for organizing and coordinating Pingry’s participation in the virtual conference, especially in the midst of all the scheduling changes.
Ultimately, the conference was a success for Pingry students. They were able to participate in a lively and exciting weekend filled with lots of debate, and they are looking forward to returning (hopefully in-person) to Princeton Model Congress next year.
By Sophia Lewis (V)
This year, the Pingry Drama Department put on a successful Fall production, albeit in a different format due to COVID-19. Almost, Maine, by John Cariani, was picked for this year because of its format of nine small vignettes, which allowed for socially distant rehearsals. A play “for romantics, not for sentimentalists,” each of the segments is about love in its many different and sometimes comedic forms. All nine scenes take place in the town of Almost, Maine at 9:00 PM. Themes such as new love, marriage, and even the ending of a relationship are explored. Because of COVID-19, the stage directions calling for kissing, hugging, and handholding were off limits. So, throughout the play, the cast sought to answer a crucial question: How do we show love for someone during a pandemic?
Many other changes were made due to pandemic restrictions. For example, rehearsals were done primarily outside with masks on and with a limited number of people. Additionally, scenes were filmed before the dates of the live performances in the event that the school had to go remote. Unfortunately, the actual play was not on the Macrae Stage, but was instead performed outside in the middle of the Student Village. The set and tech crew had to assemble the set outside and then manage the tech equipment while protecting it from the elements. This included cold and rainy weather, with the stage freezing over halfway through opening night.
Despite the restrictions, the experience was still an enjoyable one for everyone involved. Cast member Grace Stowe (IV) stated that “doing Almost, Maine was one of the best decisions I’ve made this year- it was so wonderful to be able to connect with people during the pandemic.” Ronan McGurn (IV) agreed, saying: “It was pretty poggers [slang for amazing].” Student Director Anna Stowe (V) said that she was “beyond happy to be working with everyone because everyone worked so hard and never gave up hope even when we didn’t know if school would stay open.”
Thankfully, Almost, Maine was able to go forward as an in-person performance, and ended up a huge success. One audience member remarked, “I was blown away with the amount of commitment it took from both students and faculty to produce such a thought provoking show during a pandemic” and that “it was very enjoyable to watch as an audience member.” Not only was it a success, it was also COVID-safe; not a single member of the cast tested positive for or was contact traced for COVID-19 during the duration of rehearsals and performances. Senior class member Lily Arrom (VI) said that “even though I missed performing in Macrae, doing the show outside was actually really enjoyable, and I will definitely cherish my time spent performing at Pingry.”
By Rohan Prabhu (V)
On November 13, 2020, both in-person and remote students tuned in to watch the annual John Hanly Lecture on Ethics and Morality. With the unfortunate passing of Mr. Hanly in August, it was only proper that this year’s lecture would honor its namesake and Pingry’s former headmaster.
Mr. Levinson prefaced the lecture with a few remarks about Headmaster Hanly’s impact on the Pingry community; he mentioned that “[Mr. Hanly’s] leadership helped to shape Pingry . . . and [he] is remembered most for his commitment to ethical and moral education . . . as he expanded the scope of our Honor Code.”
Pingry also invited Mr. Al Romano, a former Drama Department chair, to speak to Mr. Hanly’s importance to the community.
Mr. Romano’s speech was a strong testament to Mr. Hanly’s focus on morality and virtue, as he highlighted Mr. Hanly’s philosophy on running Pingry. Mr. Romano, noted “[Mr. Hanly] placed in the hallway a bench, where he could often be seen sitting, chatting with students.” This gesture reflects Mr. Hanly’s emphasis on connecting with Pingry students.
Drawing on an end-of-year speech made by Mr. Thomas Keating, Mr. Romano recalled Mr. Hanly’s public speaking skills. Mr. Keating explained that Mr. Hanly’s emphasis on a positive teacher-student relationship empowered teachers to continue their work, even as summer vacation approached; this quality made Mr. Hanly a masterful teacher. In addition, he led an annual tradition of reciting “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas to help alleviate the stress of college admissions and more. As a tribute to Mr. Hanly’s legacy, Mr. Romano recited this poem himself.
Following Mr. Romano’s remarks, a panel of students from the Middle School student government and the Upper School Honor Board were invited to the stage. These students read messages from former students of Mr. Hanly’s during his time as Head of School. Each of the messages reflected on Mr. Hanly’s morality; one note, read by Olivia Telemaque (V), shared a fond memory: “Mr. Hanly was an inspirational leader of Pingry. During my difficult first year at college, Mr. Hanly sent a letter from Pingry with a quote from an educator, regarding struggle and character. I wrote to Mr. Hanly explaining how his letter touched me deeply. He wrote back a kind and encouraging letter. I kept his letters in my desk drawer throughout college and medical school as inspiration and encouragement,” Jong Yung shared.
The 2020 Hanly Lecture on Ethics and Morality highlighted Mr. Hanly’s role in Pingry’s growth, as he helped sculpt the school into what it is today. The Pingry community is forever indebted to his work, and both Mr. Romano’s speech and the messages shared by alumni are a tribute to his long-standing impact on Pingry.
By Emily Shen (V)
In early November, as the number of COVID-19 cases continued to spike in New Jersey and across the country, members of the Pingry community wondered whether the school would transition to fully remote learning. And it did. On November 13, Head of School Matt Levinson sent out an email to the Pingry community addressing the operational status of the Basking Ridge Campus. From that date through the week after Thanksgiving break, the Middle and Upper Schools would transition to all-online instruction. According to Mr. Levinson, this was a difficult decision based on numerous factors, including case numbers at Basking Ridge and concerns about travel during the holiday season.
Many members of the Pingry community expressed a lack of surprise by the School’s decision. Leila Elayan (V) was expecting Pingry’s decision to shift to remote learning the week before Thanksgiving due to “the steady increase in cases in the area and nationally.” Moreover, the increasing number of students who were contact-traced was another salient indication of the impending shutdown. According to Lailah Berry (V), “a lot of students and staff were contact-traced after Halloween, so going fully remote seemed like a necessary precaution,” especially with the prospect of folks visiting family over Thanksgiving break.
Last spring, Pingry transitioned to remote learning for almost a whole semester, but for many, the remote experience feels different this year. Teachers spent a lot of effort over the summer experimenting with remote learning and are now much more prepared. When asked about her classes as compared to those back in March, Sarah Gagliardi (V) said, “I think since then we’ve managed to fully adapt to the idea of learning and working remotely, because, this school year, the idea of being fully remote is not as new or surprising as it was last spring.” She continued that “because this is not the first time we’ve gone completely virtual, it has given the Pingry community more time to prepare and work out the flaws in the process.”
Although the community is more prepared this academic year, some students still find remote learning to be exhausting. As teachers assign roughly the same workload they would if students were in school, students find screen time to be one of the biggest challenges of remote learning. “Remote learning is still exhausting,” agreed Sam Wexler (V). “I spend around ten hours on my laptop pretty much every day, partially because of classes, but also because nearly all my work is online.” However, given the nature of remote learning, there isn’t a lot that the teachers can do to improve screen time exhaustion. Most teachers have adhered to the “45-minute synchronous class” rule, but asynchronous work can still get overwhelming since most materials are still online. “I would rather we just have class for the full hour and five minutes, as whatever asynchronous activity we do is always on the computer anyway,” said Kristin Osika (V).
In this era of uncertainty, members of the community have learned to appreciate the time they spend together in person. Many students who experienced both remote and in-person learning actually preferred classes to be fully remote rather than a hybrid model. “I much prefer it when everyone is home instead of the hybrid. I like it when everyone is pretty much on the same page and I don’t have to fear missing out,” said Elayan. Christine Guo (V) agreed, adding, “it was difficult to participate in class since half of us were in person and the other half were not. Once more of the class became remote, it wasn’t a problem.” Despite this, most students still hope to be together in-person again. Emma Drzala expressed that “in-person was definitely a better learning experience. Teachers could carry out more activities, especially in STEM classes.”
When discussing Pingry’s reopening plan after Thanksgiving, many were cautiously optimistic. Although the school has done everything it can to take health precautions, other factors, such as national COVID-19 case numbers and local guidelines, may affect the plan moving forward. However, although students and faculties could not all be in person, Pingry is still holding on. With the holiday season coming up, it is important to appreciate the efforts and progress that everyone is making. Stay connected and stay safe.
By Mirika Jambudi (IV)
In place of traditional class trips this year, each form in the Upper School had a special orientation day the week before school started. These orientations started with briefings on Pingry’s new safety procedures and were followed by a team bonding activity centered on diversity and inclusion.
Afterwards, students spent time with their advisory groups and reconnected as a grade in the new Pingry “Student Village” tents. Spikeball nets and ping pong tables were also set up, such that students were able to mingle with each other outdoors in a safe and distanced manner.
Traditionally, Form III students would go on an overnight retreat in Pennsylvania with their peer leaders to bond as a grade. However, this year, they stayed on campus at Pingry, participating in back-to-school safety procedures and spending time with their peer groups. “Despite the unusual circumstances, [the] peer leaders did try to make it a fun day for us all, with activities like UNO, icebreakers, and Jeopardy,” Divya Subramanian (III) said.
The way the Pingry community has adapted during these times is an example of our resilience and commitment to the Honor Code. The administration and students put in a lot of effort to ensure that the events ran smoothly and everyone stayed safe. Even though orientations and class trips were not the typical experiences students have had in the past, students could still catch up with other members of their grade while also having some time to relax and enjoy the last week of summer before the start of school.
By Mirika Jambudi (IV) On Wednesday, September 30, the Upper School gathered together in Hauser and over Zoom to celebrate student achievements and exceptional academic effort in the 2019-2020 school year.
The ceremony started with recognizing the Form VI students who were distinguished for their scores on last year’s PSAT/NMSQT exam by the National Merit Scholarship Program. This year, thirty-three Pingry students were named National Merit Commended Students, a significant increase from last year. A total of fifteen seniors were recognized as National Merit Semifinalists, allowing them the chance to advance in the selection process and potentially become finalists in the spring. These seniors were Noah Bergam, Joseph Castagno, Monica Chan, Zara Jacob, Rhea Kapur, Aneesh Karuppur, Dean Koenig, Jemma Kushen, Julian Lee, Justin Li, Guanyun Liang, Helen Liu, Katherine Overdeck, Eva Schiller, and Avidan Shah.
Following these distinctions, Upper School Director, Ms. Chatterji, presented the Citizenship Prize, which is given to one student in each grade who best represents the Honor Code’s spirit. Afterward, the Faculty Prize was awarded to students who showed dedication and commitment to their school work during the past academic school year. Finally, the Scholarship Prize was awarded to the student(s) with the highest GPA in each grade.
Next, seniors excelling in math and science were recognized with awards from the respective department. The Rensselaer Mathematics and Science Award and the Whitlock Prize for Math were among some of the awards given.
As per tradition, Mr. Levinson and Dr. Dinkins went on to present the College Book Awards. Each award is given to a senior class member who best meets the selection criteria provided by the particular college. Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Mount Holyoke, Penn, Princeton, Smith, Wellesley, Williams, and Yale were represented this year.
On behalf of the English Department, Dr. Dickerson announced the winners of the annual Justin Society writing contest. Students submitted their entries last spring, which the English Department then reviewed. Writers and poets from each grade received awards for their creative writing, poetry, memoir, and more.
The annual Fall Awards ceremony is a celebration within the Pingry community of student achievement, excellence, and honor. It serves to recognize the efforts that every individual puts into school every day. The Pingry community looks forward to another year of student achievement and hard work, and congratulates all the students honored at the ceremony.
By Andrew Wong (V) As a tumultuous 2019-2020 school year came to an end this past June, and the COVID-19 pandemic stretched into yet another month, many members of the Pingry community were questioning if in-person learning would be possible in September. With teachers, administrators, and students desperately wanting to go back to school, Pingry Anywhere, the framework to try and facilitate school in the era of COVID-19, was created. The goal of the project was simple: get Pingry safely back in session this fall. However, it was less clear at first how this would be done. Head of School Mr. Levinson underscored the complexity of the task, summing up how Pingry Anywhere needed to “strategically [align] all dimensions of the School, from teaching and learning to technology to operations and facilities.” A leadership team, consisting of various teachers, administrators, and outside consultants, overseen by Mr. Levinson himself, was formed to manage this Herculean endeavor.
Throughout the summer, Pingry was transformed into a construction site, as facilities staff worked daily to install plexiglass safety barriers, set up massive outdoor tents, and convert the Hyde-Watson gym into a massive cafeteria. Student volunteers and faculty members spent countless hours packaging and distributing thousands of face masks and shields for the entire Pingry community. Meanwhile, the tech team installed speakers, microphones, cameras, and TV monitors in the classrooms to facilitate Pingry’s new hybrid learning model. Teachers rewrote their curricula to make sure that their plans for the year could handle both in-person and remote environments.
After a great summer-long effort, Pingry Anywhere was ready to be unveiled to the community. On September 14th, Pingry students walked back into campus to begin a school year like no other. Each student was required to fill out a pre-screening form before arriving on campus, wear a mask and shield, and try their best to spread out. Classes were hybrid, with some students joining via Zoom from home. After so many months of preparation, Mr. Levinson said of the occasion, “it was just so uplifting and gratifying to see months of planning come to fruition to bring our community back together.” Students were also extremely happy to be back.
“It was by far the oddest school day I’ve ever had,” said Dean Koenig (VI). “Seeing hundreds of faces in the same building for the first time in months, I thought there was no way in-person learning would last more than a few weeks.” While many students and faculty were initially doubtful about how long Pingry Anywhere would last, the new hybrid model proved to be extremely successful and resilient, in even the face of an uptick of local COVID-19 cases. Daily information on the spread of the virus was provided via the Pingry Anywhere Dashboard, and the addition of weekly pooled COVID testing provided by Mirimus Labs has helped to further ensure student safety.
Now almost two months into the new hybrid model of learning, Pingry Anywhere has proven to be a reliable system for learning during the COVID-19 era. As Mr. Levinson stated, Pingry Anywhere has “strengthened the sense of belonging that students feel as part of the Pingry community and has allowed us to come up with new ways of delivering on our promise of excellence.” Mr. Fahey, director of Pingry’s Health and Wellness Task Force, agreed, speculating on how “maybe the future of Pingry Anywhere is the future of education!” In the weeks that lie ahead, the limits of Pingry Anywhere will most definitely be tested, as the nation prepares for a possible winter spike in COVID-19 cases. Nonetheless, thanks to the flexibility of Pingry Anywhere, regardless of what happens, Pingry students and faculty can be assured that they will be well-protected, and the school will adjust to whatever circumstances arise.
By Emily Shen (V)
One of the most memorable and cherished traditions at Pingry is Convocation, a ceremony marking the school’s commitment to the Honor Code and a kick-off to the academic year. It was started in 1987 by Mr. John Hanly, the headmaster from 1987 to 2000. Mr. Hanly’s passing this year is a considerable loss, and Head of School Mr. Levinson acknowledged his significant impact on Pingry.
Each year, students arrive at the auditorium in formal attire, sitting alongside their peers and teachers. However, due to new social distancing measures only seniors could be seated in Hauser. Other students and faculty members watched the ceremony remotely, either in their advisory locations or at home. Senior faculty member and Magistri Mr. Miller Bugliari ’52 delivered the invocation, emphasizing that this year is a year of “testing” — a test of our community’s determination, resolve, and will.
After Mr. Bugliari, Student Body President Nolan Baynes (VI) lightened the mood by telling the Pingry community about a movement he started called “#respectfulsnowday,” an Instagram hashtag that demanded for snow days in a “polite” manner. However, the movement halted when it shifted from a hilarious tradition to serious conversations with Mr. Jake Ross, former Dean of Student Life. Although the fire of his first social media movement was extinguished, Baynes used that experience to fuel another one. Baynes spoke up about the racial injustices in the country, specifically the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. In contrast to #respectfulsnowday, this story stemmed from genuine concern, confusion, and pain. When he expressed these emotions to the Pingry community, he found immense support in meetings, emails, and messages between the school’s leadership and students. This time, supportive actions were taken; Baynes emphasized the importance of voicing one’s genuine concerns and speaking out against injustice to spark change. The Honor Code teaches us that it is our responsibility, as members of the Pingry community, to use our strengths to create substantial impact and stand up for what is right.
The next speaker, Honor Board Chair Meghan Durkin (VI), began her speech by describing a news broadcast, which consists of 25 minutes of news and a kicker: a 5-minute positive bookend that leaves viewers “a sweet taste in their mouth to walk away with.” Although this year has felt like the negative news of the first 25 minutes, Durkin argued that we are now at the kicker, where the Pingry community has the opportunity to “redefine and bolster our values.” This year, the Honor Code is growing with the community to create a positive and compassionate environment; when there are challenges or obstacles, the Pingry community still upholds the Honor Code’s fundamental values of honor and integrity. At the end of Durkin’s speech, advisory and Honor Board representatives from the Middle and Upper School came to the stage to present Durkin and Baynes with copies of signed pledges that affirmed the students’ commitment to the Honor Code.
Then, Board of Trustees Chair Jeff Edwards ’78, P ’12, ’14, ’18 delivered his speech; he used Einstein’s saying of “in every difficulty lies opportunity,” but one’s mindset determines if a situation is one or the other. Despite the unpredicted difficulties, what lies at the heart of Pingry remains unchanged — our support and care for one another. He encouraged the students to approach the difficulties with an open mindset and an opportunistic outlook.
Mr. Levinson then recognized the twenty-five Magistri faculty members, who have served at Pingry for at least 25 years. He recounted a story about flat tires, highlighting the importance of seizing opportunities to learn from and understand each other.
Following Mr. Levinson’s remarks, members of the Pingry community joined together to listen to, and hum, “Old John Pingry.” As students and faculty exited Hauser and their advisory locations, each community member was reminded of our community’s values and traditions.
By Meghan Durkin (VI)
This year’s freshman retreat, held on Thursday, September 3, kicked off an unprecedented school year. Instead of visiting Bryn Mawr Mountain Retreat as originally planned, this year’s retreat was held at Pingry to respect coronavirus guidelines. Although masks and shields brought an unusual element to the retreat, the goal of the day remained the same: provide freshmen an opportunity to interact with their classmates, as well as their peer leaders, before the official start of the school year.
Leading up to the retreat, this year’s 36 peer leaders met to prepare during a retreat of their own. They participated in bonding activities, found out who their co-leader was, and created various icebreaker activities for the freshman. Typically, the freshman retreat is planned by Bryn Mawr; however, this year, the activities were left to the peer leaders. As a group, they brainstormed ideas such as “icebreaker UNO” and Jeopardy.
With all that preparation, Thursday kicked off with a quick coronavirus safety briefing by Mr. Graham Touhey and an introduction to the peer leaders. Then, each peer group, consisting of about eight freshmen and two seniors, went off to get to know each other. Each group did their own activities, from charades and kickball to Jenga and “Shark Tank.”
The day did bring many new challenges, as this was the largest number of students on campus since March. Peer leader Zara Jacob (VI) described these difficulties: “There were quite a few bumps and some moments where the last thing I wanted to do was talk with my mask on, but I still got to meet my freshmen in-person. I got to know them on a level you just can’t through a screen.”
Like many others, Jacob was able to make the most of the day, even though it was different than anticipated. Her favorite activity was the peer leader hunt: each peer group and one of their leaders used clues to find the other leaders hidden throughout the building and campus. “When I was with my peer group, we were all just walking together, listening to music, and talking,” Jacob recalled.
Throughout the day, the peer groups also competed in a TikTok challenge. These videos had to reflect how they hoped to be defined as a group; at the end of the retreat, all the TikToks were viewed in Hauser and voted on. Ultimately, this challenge allowed the groups to explore their creativity and work together.
While this year’s retreat still allowed freshmen an opportunity to get to know each other, the traditional overnight retreat was missed by all. Ms. Lorian Morales, one of the peer leadership advisors that helped plan the retreat, acknowledged those disappointments: “Having that time away together, whether it’s on the bus, walking the trails, sharing meals, or hanging out in the cabins, allows students the opportunity to interact at their own pace in a relaxed environment.”
However, the retreat’s unusual elements brought many positives as well, as the Pingry community finally came back together. “Watching the day unfold put me at ease. Students were back on campus, making new friends, reconnecting with old friends, and just enjoying each other’s company,” Ms. Morales said.
By Brian Li (V)
The Pingry Credit Union is a student-founded and student-run club that aims to increase and promote financial wellness throughout the Pingry community. As Club President Jason Lefkort (VI) describes, “financial wellness” has different meanings for different people – faculty, staff, and parents may interpret it as financial health, while students may define it as “greater financial independence”.
The original team members hoped to meet these varied needs through a “standalone credit union.” However, upon realizing that this was infeasible, the Pingry Credit Union decided to partner with Affinity Federal Credit Union to offer its services to the community. This would allow them to cater to the Pingry community in its entirety.
In a few weeks, the Pingry Credit Union will officially launch its services and go live with their signup webpage, providing the community an opportunity to register for an account and engage with the Credit Union’s services.
When a Pingry community member makes a credit union account, he or she will receive a variety of the benefits that come with a typical credit union. Where banks primarily try to profit off of customers, a credit union works for the individual by redistributing profits to its members. Other benefits include lower loan rates and higher savings rates. The student-led Pingry Credit Union team is also offering specialized merchandise, discounts to local businesses, raffles for amazing products, and even more!
As for the team’s main goals for this school year, Lefkort said spreading “greater awareness throughout the Pingry community is a priority.” The team hopes to have more people understand what the Pingry Credit Union is and what it has to offer. They also aim to expand financial wellness, and ultimately, have it play a “significant role in the Pingry experience.”
During COVID-19, the Pingry Credit Union was forced to reshape its future plans. The official launch would have directly involved people on the Pingry campus with a launch party, but that was infeasible for this year. Discount cards also posed a challenge at first, as the standard process of contacting local businesses could no longer be followed, but the team was able to pivot and successfully connect with businesses remotely.
Furthermore, in past years the group’s partnership with Affinity Federal Credit Union has provided Pingry students with internship opportunities that did not require a separate application process. This was also halted during the pandemic; however, the Pingry Credit Union hopes to begin offering internships again in the near future.
Led by Lefkort, Co-Vice Presidents Julian Lee (VI) and Justin Li (VI), and faculty advisor Mr. David Rushforth, the Pingry Credit Union is looking forward to a successful launch this year, and hopes to see a rapid increase in financial wellness within the Pingry community.