If I had to pick a headline to summarize the entire COVID-19 pandemic here in America, it would have to be “North Carolina Man Steals Truck With 18,000 Pounds of Toilet Paper”. In a close second would probably be our good friend, the Florida Man with, “Florida Man Steals 66 Rolls of Toilet Paper”. In this time of great struggle and uncertainty in our nation, and indeed the entire world, it has become evident that it is fear, not reason, that drives the decision making of not just the two aforementioned characters, but also that of the entire world. We’ve all seen the news. Videos of people fighting over the last bag of rice at the supermarket. Lines stretching out the door of big box stores. As my friends across the world can confirm, there is not a single scrap of toilet paper to be found on store shelves anywhere. People are fearful, and it is evident that hope, just like toilet paper, is nowhere to be found.
Yes, people do have a right to be scared. The statistics can speak for themselves: Over 2.6 million people have been infected globally, with more than 800,000 cases here in the US alone. The world economy has come grinding to a halt, and American jobless claims are at their highest in the last 10 years. Our everyday lives have come to a complete standstill, as everyone around the world practices social distancing to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Yet, with all of these tribulations and challenges that we face presently, there is a brighter side to this crisis — more than just the infection numbers, death toll, or economy the media keeps yapping about.
The coronavirus has brought out the best in America, a good side that many in our country did not believe exist. Our entire nation, once derided by political pundits as “hopelessly divided”, is now united in a great crusade to fight back against the coronavirus. On Capitol Hill, for what may be the first time in recent memory, Democrats and Republicans have found common ground in a bid to provide relief packages for all Americans. President Trump and New York Governor Cuomo, once bitter political enemies, now work together daily to direct government policy towards the virus. Governor Cuomo’s daily press conferences have now become regular viewing for millions of Americans trapped at home, as he continues to send messages of encouragement and positivity not just to the state of New York, but to the entire nation.
Manufacturing companies have put aside their quest for profits to retool the production lines and make much needed PPE and ventilators. America’s biotech firms have now developed testing kits that can diagnose the virus in minutes and allow for more tests to be run, while scientists in laboratories across the globe work at breakneck speed to develop a vaccine in record time before winter arrives.
Doctors, nurses, and first responders in all 50 states are working tirelessly around the clock to contain this virus. It is thanks to the valiant work of our healthcare companies and professionals that the rate of infection is no longer exponential, and as Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said two weeks ago, “we’re seeing [the curve] stabilize, and that gives us great encouragement”.
Social Media, once criticized as a force that only divided society, has now become the very thing holding everyone together while we are all separated. Crowdfunding campaigns to save local businesses from the economic tsunami caused by COVID-19. In New York City alone, thousands upon thousands of dollars have been raised by New Yorkers on GoFundMe to support local restaurants and stores who have been forced to close due to the pandemic. John Kransinski, of The Office fame, publishes new videos detailing good news happening around the world on YouTube every day to try and keep people positive during social distancing. New quarantine food trends, such as Dalgona coffee and no-knead bread have become popular as a result of these easy but tasty recipes being shared on the internet. Facebook groups have been set up to help provide groceries, toiletries, and home cooked meals to the elderly in order to keep them protected from the virus.
But the coronavirus hasn’t just brought out unprecedented goodness within our communities. It’s also brought us new opportunities. While COVID-19 may have forced us all to social distance inside, this new reality presents a whole host of opportunities for us. We have been given the gift of many months of free time, so what do we do with it? How about learning a new skill, or experimenting with new recipes? What else can you do with all that stockpiled food anyways?
Perhaps you could build a healthier lifestyle and use this time to build a better you. You could finish those side projects that you never had time for, or maybe start a new lifelong obsession with a new hobby. The choice is in your hands.
There is no way to know how long we will be inside, and based on the current numbers, there will be many more months, if not a year, before things return back to “normal”. But until then, as we witness the first great global crisis of the 21st century, an event that will be forever etched into the collective memory of our generation, let us be reminded that this crisis will be over some day. As we edge closer and closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, let’s put our best foot forward and do our best to remain positive through this tumultuous time. Let’s be inspired by the acts of kindness and humanity throughout the entire world and be our best selves. Let’s not allow our fear to control us, and instead remain hopeful that there are better days ahead of us. All we have to do is stay positive, keep smiling, and just believe.
As the ball in Times Square finished its long descent, with the chants of over a million people in Times Square and millions more glued to their TV screens counting down, our world would be ushered into not only a new year, but a new decade.
5. 4. 3. 2. 1. Happy 2020.
For many of us here at Pingry, 2020 will be a year of great accomplishments and change. Seniors will go to college. Juniors will embark on the college process. Sophomores will start another hectic year of high school, and the freshmen will no longer be the wide-eyed newcomers they once were when they first walked in. This year, we will meet new people, we will learn new and fascinating subjects, and we will write the next chapter of our lives, as we enter another year, full of hope for the future.
At least, that was the plan.
On January 3, I opened Instagram to find a deluge of posts about World War III. These posts were in response to the U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, and they ranged from sensationalized faux news reports on how the US was about to start a war with Iran, to memes detailing how to dodge the draft that the U.S. government would soon supposedly start. Media outlets had a field day with this news, as they scrambled to point a finger at who was to blame for this sudden escalation of panic.
As tensions rose, Iran would launch missiles at American troops, and 176 people would tragically die in a commercial airplane crash after being accidentally shot down. Maybe World War III would start after all. Of course, as we know now, World War III never did start, no one would be drafted, and the world breathed a collective sigh as we stepped back from that tense moment.
But it was just the start.
Later that week, I read on Hong Kong news that a new SARS-like virus had infected around 100 people in Wuhan, China, and medical experts were scrambling to identify what this new deadly virus was. By the next week, experts called it the novel coronavirus, which was spreading at an exponential rate and killing hundreds. As of February 2020, coronavirus has now spread to 28 countries, infected 35,000 people, and has killed 700 people.
As the world focused on the possibility of World War III and the spread of coronavirus, there would also be terrible and highly destructive environmental disasters. New wildfires would ravage the Australian Outback, there would be devastating earthquakes in Turkey and the Caribbean, and the worst locust swarms in over 70 years in East Africa would destroy thousands of acres of crops, eating over 1.8 million tons of vegetation a day.
On January 26, I, along with many other people around the world, watched in horror at the news that the great Kobe Bryant, at age 41, and his daughter Gianna, age 13, had been killed in a horrific helicopter accident in California. Fans around the world mourned the basketball legend, who had been an inspiration to the whole world on and off the court.
All of these horrible events, in the span of just a month into the new year. It is evident that this is not the 2020 we were looking for.
Browsing the internet today, it’s very easy to find memes or articles lamenting just how bad the start of the year was. The memes try to find some sense of humor in all the tragedies, while the articles will try to find a source of blame for the problems, whether in politicians, climate change, or even ourselves. Both sources continue this fearmongering with the argument that 2020 will only get worse. These memes and articles, while trying to be funny or push a pessimistic message, expose a wider, pernicious problem. It is evident that there has been a loss of hope in our world these days. According to a recent YouGov/Economist poll taken on January 9, 2020, less than 39% of respondents said they are optimistic about 2020.
Is this the world we want to live in? As we move deeper and deeper into 2020, we should not be afraid of this new year.
Pope Francis told diplomats in a speech at the Vatican in early January as tensions rose between the U.S. and Iran that “Precisely in light of these situations, we cannot give up hope. And hope requires courage. It means acknowledging that evil, suffering and death will not have the last word, and that even the most complex questions can and must be faced and resolved.”
If we move on past all the terrible events of January, there is a lot of hope that 2020 will be a good year. Already, efforts are being made to combat the spread of coronavirus, with new treatments and potential cures being discovered every day. New technologies will be unveiled that have the potential to change our world forever. We will meet new people and start new friendships and relationships that will change our lives forever. The year is still young, and there is so much to look forward to in this new year, regardless of all the tragedies that have befallen us. All we have to do is just remind ourselves there still is good in this world, and there is so much more to look forward to.
On Thursday, March 12, amid concerns over the novel Coronavirus, known as COVID-19, Head of School Matt Levinson announced that Pingry would adopt a remote learning model until at least April 10. On Friday, March 27, heeding Governor Murphy’s updated advisory, this remote learning regime was extended to April 17.
School-sponsored activities, including athletics, were suspended as well, in hopes of keeping the Pingry community safe. This news followed the cancellation of multiple spring break trips, including the French exchange program and the athletic trips to Florida.
Prior to Spring Break, as New Jersey reported its first case of COVID-19, Pingry prepared for likely disruptions as a result of the virus. Mr. Levinson assembled a task force, led by Associate Director of Operations, Safety, and Strategic Initiatives David Fahey, to monitor the situation as it evolved. This model “allows us to act with deliberate speed and care in our decision-making, while also being nimble and adaptive to changing circumstances,” said Mr. Levinson. So far, the biggest challenge for the task force “has been the speed at which [COVID-19] has unfolded.” While COVID-19 spread from China to South Korea to Italy, the virus seemed to be a distant threat. Though, by late March, the United States had over 27,000 confirmed cases.
As Pingry does its part to slow the spread of COVID-19, a new reality of “social distancing” has affected faculty and students. Governor Phil Murphy ordered a statewide lockdown, which encourages people to stay home and shuts down all non-essential business, leaving vacations cancelled, standardized tests postponed, and store shelves empty. Pingry’s remote learning model looks to continue fostering educational growth, while keeping Pingry and the greater community healthy. Teachers, by using virtual classes and online assignments, hope to make remote learning engaging and effective. Mr. Tim Grant, a chemistry teacher, explained the “need to try to create a classroom feel where everyone can feel heard and be involved,” as he believes “a class does involve the transfer of information, but much more importantly it must have the feeling of community.” For many teachers, including Mr. Grant, effectively using remote learning will be a “journey that to me looks like I’ve been air-dropped into the Amazon and I can’t imagine what comes next. The journey will be both scary and exciting with many new discoveries.”
Dean Ananya Chatterji echoed this sentiment in an email to Upper School students, expressing the faculty’s shared hopes for the extended closure. She explained that transitioning to online learning “is NOT going to be perfect. Everyone knows this, and no one — not a single one of us — expects that this will go smoothly. We are hoping to treat it like an adventure: something we can try our best at, knowing there will be pitfalls and successes. Most of all, adventures should be fun. So our hope, as a faculty, is to have fun with it.”
Students will also have to adapt to new circumstances, not only academically, but also extracurricularly. With delayed athletic seasons that face possible cancellations, students look to make the best of the unexpected situation. Mr. Grant, who coaches girls’ varsity track, explained his realization “that [he] must give enough information so that each athlete can learn how to coach themselves.” Both students and coaches must find “some gems against the rubble,” as they stay in-shape and prepare for a potential season at home. Along with sports, clubs face new challenges, as they hope to keep members connected online.
Furthermore, this new territory of remote learning changes many students experience socially. Sanjana Biswas (V) said, “I’ll miss my friends the most and just the experience of being in school. As much as we complain about it, we all have fun talking to our friends during lunch and flexes and going to class.” Though, she added, “It’s pretty easy to stay in touch through FaceTime and text.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, the Pingry community looks to be cautious, as the possibility of extended closure looms. Students and faculty alike promise to remain open and positive throughout these uncertain times. Gia Kalro (V) believes that while “we’ll have a lot of trial and error, eventually it will all work out.”
As of March 22, global Coronavirus cases have surpassed 300,000. In just a few weeks, everyday life in the United States and abroad has been replaced by social distancing and self-quarantining, while each day the number of cases grows. Though, during this time of uncertainty, both the Pingry and global community has stressed the importance of staying calm and maintaining hope. Mr. Levinson encourages students “to have fun, try new things, be creative, and take the time to get outside for some fresh air,” while finding “ways to build community remotely, whether it’s around a shared interest like a club, or around a passion project.” He asks the community to “be patient as we all discover new ways of learning and being in community together.”
Last year, my history teacher started the year with a thought experiment. He told our class, “History is irrelevant. If the only reason why we learn history is not to repeat the mistakes of the past, then in today’s world, it is useless and everything you learn in this class is irrelevant. You’re much better off taking useful subjects like science and math.”
I was taken aback by this statement. History has always been one of my favorite subjects, and I have always enjoyed learning about various civilizations and how past events have shaped the world today.
Now, I was told, by a history teacher, that the subject I loved the most was useless. It was being slowly replaced by new cutting edge STEM subjects. In a similar vein, at the beginning of my English class this year, we discussed the waning role of English and other humanities subjects in our modern world, especially as STEM subjects take center stage in schools.
STEM is incredibly important in our world today, and it is crucial that students learn these types of skills in order to have success in our modern world. Pingry has recognized the importance of STEM subjects and has successfully created a comprehensive science curriculum, which teaches students everything from the mechanisms of cancer to advanced physics. Research opportunities also offer Pingry students access to cutting edge science, whether it be through their science classes, the molecular biology research class, or the many IRT projects offered. Pingry’s technology labs are also similarly well equipped, with brand new laser cutters, 3D printers, and VR tech.
Needless to say, Pingry’s investment in STEM has paid off. Pingry was ranked by Newsweek as 150th out of the top 500 STEM schools across America. Although this is great news for Pingry, much of this success has come at the expense of the humanities.
In our STEM driven world, the humanities still play an important role in the development and growth of human society. It was humanities that brought our civilization out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance with the re-discovery of Ancient Greek and Roman teachings. Humanities allow us to understand ourselves better and teach individuals how to think creatively and critically. Whether it is poetry or the arts, humanities allow us to learn more about the human condition. That is something STEM cannot do.
Pingry’s efforts to make sure humanities are just as important as STEM subjects have been successful this year. With the expansion of HIRT, humanities at Pingry are being refreshed. HIRT serves as a means for students to apply techniques learned from STEM subjects to humanities, which brings a fresh perspective to humanities at Pingry. New groups this year include Russian Literature, Gentrification in Jersey City, and many more new and exciting projects. As a member of the Children’s Literature HIRT, I have so far enjoyed this new approach to humanities, and together with my group, I have conducted intensive research into altruism in young children using stories collected from lower schoolers at Short Hills.
This new fusion of STEM and Humanities is an excellent model of how humanities can be taught to students effectively in the 21st century. By combining both techniques learned from STEM fields and applying them to humanities, this can be an effective way of teaching students the value of humanities through a new lens.
At the end of my freshman year, we did an exercise in my history class where we again discussed the purpose of studying history and other humanities subjects. My class decided that humanities are important because they enable us to understand other people and cultures through learning about the human condition and people’s experiences. Whether it is reading stories or poems, learning about history, or making art, humanities allow us to learn about what makes us human, and helps us discover the accomplishments of the past, understand the world we live in, and arms us with the tools to build the future. The importance of humanities cannot be forgotten as we move deeper into this century, and I applaud Pingry’s steps to teach humanities to students in a cutting edge and modern way.
This year, the Upper School History Department welcomes Mr. Saad Toor, who will be teaching three sections of World History 9 and one section of World History 10.
Mr. Toor recently completed his M.Sc. in South Asian Studies at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, where he was fortunate enough to be taught by important world leaders such as Hillary Clinton, the Prime Ministers of Kosovo and Kenya, and many British ambassadors. In addition, he was a classmate to politicians and important figures in the world, such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
At Oxford, Mr. Toor studied the history of Pakistan and India under British colonization, as well as the geopolitical aftermath of decolonization that continues to affect the region to this day. Outside of class, Mr. Toor played cricket for the Oxford Pakistan XI club team and Merton College club teams, and trained with the Wolfson-Saint Cricket Club and Oxenford Cricket Club. Mr. Toor was also active in debate at Oxford, and was fortunate enough to debate Gandhi’s grandson on the Indian Partition.
Alongside his M.Sc. in Modern South Asian Studies, Mr. Toor holds both an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction and a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in History and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Connecticut.
Mr. Toor taught college students at the University of Connecticut’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Stanford Unviersity’s Bing Overseas Program. He also taught history to high school students for two years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia at an international school, and taught for two years in the Connecticut public school system.
Mr. Toor brings a unique global perspective from his studies in the UK and two years teaching in Saudi Arabia, and he hopes that his “extensive global experience will inspire Pingry students to reach out of their comfort zone and go abroad to have life-changing experiences similar to what I did.”
Having lived in three different countries and two different states in the last four years, Mr. Toor hopes that New Jersey will be a new and welcoming home for him. He is especially interested in Pingry’s Honor Code, and how it “inspires students to hold themselves to the standards of ‘Excellence and Honor’ and try new things in school.” He plans to try new things as well, and intends to “learn all sorts of life lessons from [his] own students” as they grow throughout the year. He is thrilled to bring expertise on the histories and politics of the Middle East, Pakistan, and India to the classroom, and hopes that his students will be just as interested in history as he is.
In his free time, Mr. Toor loves playing and watching cricket, and has written several commentaries on the sport. He is an avid Dallas sports fan, and loves watching UConn college basketball during March Madness.
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.
The boys’ winter track team has now been renamed to the boys’ indoor track team. Despite losing many seniors after a strong season last year, the team is back, being led by Captain Nick Robinson (VI). This year, although comprising a small roster, the boys are determined to push through the harsh winter weather and build a strong core of runners over the course of the season.
With training sessions every day in the cold weather, Head Coach Chris Shilts said, “Despite the weather not being in our favor, we are going to work hard so we can to improve as much as we can.” With new freshmen to fill in the gaps left by the seniors, Robinson said, “My hope is to be able to put together at least a couple of very competitive relay teams with our small roster, and win big at our State Championship on February 16th.”
The girls’ winter track team, now the girls’ indoor track team, led by captain Cathleen Parker (VI), is excited for the season. This year, new freshmen talent rounds out a strong team to help replace Avery Schiffman ‘18 and jumper Sophia Weldon ‘18, who graduated last year.
Head Coach Chris Shilts, while discussing the team’s goals, said, “We want everyone to individually work their hardest and improve as much as they can.”
With intensive outdoor practices and a focus on personal health after an injury-ridden cross country season, Parker hopes that “our girls can set new personal bests and contribute to a few county, conference, state, and even national titles for themselves and the team. We have a lot of girls that can compete in multiple events, so I am excited to see them contributing points in a diverse set of events as well.”
After finishing second last year, the team hopes to win the Skyland Conference and beat Lawrenceville for the preps title. In February, they will compete for the Non-Public A state title against their rival Union Catholic. With lots of strong talent, the girls’ indoor track team is ready for a successful season. Their first meet will be the Bishop Loughlin Games.