By Brynn Weisholtz
In this time, we are surrounded by unknowns, unsure of whatever comes next. The media outlets have analyzed this pandemic from every angle, scrutinizing each viewpoint… except, it seems, the positive one. It is with this sentiment I find myself longing to share what I believe to be Pingry’s greatest quality: its deep commitment and dedication to the student body.
As I walked out of the clocktower on March 6th, my backpack filled with books, I was prepared to depart for my final Spring Break at Pingry, ready for the exciting conclusion to my senior year. However, this year, that anticipatory aura was not present. Preparing for COVID-19, teachers and administrators instructed us to bring everything home. When my extended Spring Break turned into a permanent quarantine, I feared this marked the end of high school. Nevertheless, while my time inside the Pingry walls came to a close, the faculty, staff, and administration refused to allow this to be our official end of high school. Even apart, we were able to stay connected as a class and community.
From this point, we went online. Teachers willingly made adjustments to their disrupted personal lives. The Pingry family grew, children and pets being a welcome inclusion into the virtual classroom. They helped us retain a sense of normalcy, even from our bedrooms and kitchen tables. Outside of the classroom, we were still able to participate in quintessential senior events. From the comfort of our homes, the Virtual SAC Assembly was as humorous and witty as ever. Dressed in spirit gear in our living rooms, the athletic awards were a welcome reminder of all we have accomplished over these last four years. The Pingry faculty and staff was instrumental in allowing us to keep these traditions, but that was not all these wonderful individuals did for us.
We, the Class of 2020, will go down in history for the world we are graduating into, but in our minds, we will fondly remember the special gifts and events we got to have, unique to our class. On the morning of May 1st, each senior woke up to balloons on our front steps, commemorating our final day of classes. Later that day, we were welcomed back to the Pingry parking lot, social distancing from our trunks and sunroofs. We received surprise packages, filled with bookstore memorabilia and graduation regalia. The Pingry community ensured that I could still display the Pingry colors proudly.
The teachers gave us lasting memories, bringing the student body and faculty together in unity. Whether the special videos with messages, the college shirt video, or the advisor Spotify playlist, we were able to get a window into the lives of our beloved teachers. No other class had received these special senior gifts, and they are ones my peers and I will continue to cherish.
Then came the senior picture day on campus. My family packed into our car and made the journey west on Route 78, perhaps for my last time as a high school student. We turned the corner past the stone entrance, and were met with familiar faces: ours, smiling back, all together. The car slowed to a crawl down the driveway as I scanned the images of my friends and peers. This was quite the surprise, and such a special one at that. The Pingry community had given us this treasured gift, one even my brother, Class of 2016, laments he did not receive. Although we missed out on the last few months in Basking Ridge, we received innumerable and immeasurable gifts, specially curated for our class, that we will take with us forever, uniquely ours.
There is a theme throughout these activities: connection and community. While we certainly did not envision ending our Pingry career this way, we, the collective Pingry community, have not allowed quarantine to rob us of our traditions. From the award ceremonies over Zoom to the senior photos on campus, we maintain a positive and unified group. The Class of 2020 will certainly be remembered, and the teachers and administration are sending us off with unprecedented fanfare that will propel us into our future colleges with courage and resilience. Things may be more different now that ever, but we are still going out strong. Thank you Pingry and congratulations to the Class of 2020 once more.
By Brynn Weisholtz (VI)
As the sun rises each morning, I wake to see the light peeking through the shades in my bedroom window. In front of that window hangs a gown, my senior prom gown, draped from a hanger with nowhere to go. April 22nd was supposed to be the night of my senior prom, a night that my friends and I have looked forward to since walking through the clocktower doors many years ago. I find myself in a state of limbo, walking from floor to floor and room to room all within the walls of my home. I silently wonder, how can my senior year be slipping away this quickly? Is this really happening? What can I do to turn the shadows of the moment into light for what will ultimately be?
As events started to get cancelled, part of me could only focus on the negatives of this tumultuous turn of events: no prom, no fashion show, no senior prank day, and possibly no graduation. The suddenly unnecessary prom dress casts a shadow on my outlook for the rest of my senior year and beyond. Towns that once were bustling with open businesses and families walking the streets now look more like ghost towns as masked people stop their cars for curbside pick up from their favorite local restaurants. How is life supposed to return to normal? Will we ever shake hands and talk to strangers on the street again? Will our town centers thrive once more?
As quarantine continued and classes began, I developed a morning routine, returning some normalcy to my day. I wake up, brush my teeth, put in contacts, and then start my commute: walk down the stairs, take a sharp right and then a quick left, and I have arrived at my destination, my classroom. While my classes don’t have the same level of energy virtually as they did when on campus, I know students and teachers alike are giving their all to remain upbeat and engaged. We hold on to what we can in the midst of what appears to be life spiralling out of control, and when the day ends I return to my room to see light coming through my prom dress in my window.
The shadow of my prom gown is a subtle reminder of the darkness we all feel as a community, born from the uncertainty and loss of the familiar and the known, the expected and longed for, the mundane and extraordinary––but I choose to see the light. I choose to focus on the moments when the sunlight escapes and shines through the shadows, illuminating the silhouette of my dress and reminding me to embrace the here and now, to be thankful for those around me, and, above all, to be hopeful for the joys of life that will emerge in the days and months ahead.
While the world is at a socially-distanced standstill, the ways the public has been able to shift into this new norm is nothing short of remarkable. In what felt like a blink of an eye, we’ve connected via our computers, reached out to old friends, checked in on our grandparents, and found appreciation for what was. We have embraced the unexpected family time that was once thought as long gone. My brother, another graduating senior, now lives at home for the first time in four years, bringing back game nights, family dinners, movie nights, wiffleball games in the backyard, and walks through our neighborhood.
Though I miss seeing my friends, having passing conversations in the hallways with teachers, and occupying Mr. Ross’ office, we as a community are making the best of everything. I continue to be inspired by those around me and optimistic for our collective futures. In light of this, I took down my prom dress from the window and let all the light shine through.
By Brynn Weisholtz (VI)
At Pingry, a student’s academic coursework is primarily determined by the administration and follows a fairly regimented path. There is limited flexibility for a student to “choose” any portion of his or her schedule in the early years of high school. This rigidity is seen mostly during the freshman and sophomore years when students are expected to take core classes to meet Pingry’s requirements for graduation. With the exception of a few electives, such as Art Fundamentals or a second language, ninth and tenth grade schedules are overflowing with mandatory classes in math, English, history, science, and foreign language requirements. These packed schedules do not leave much room for signing up for more specialized classes.
While junior year allows for some wiggle room with course selection, there are still mandatory classes, like American Literature and the next math and language classes on a student’s respective track, that eleventh graders must take. The real change occurs senior year when no mandatory classes are required, and the course choices become abundant. For the first time as a Pingry student, I had the ability to select courses I truly wanted to take. AP Gov or AP Euro, Science in the 21st Century or Anatomy and Physiology, Greek Epic or Shakesphere, Spanish 6 or French 1. This was empowering.
Every class I am participating in this year is a class I chose to be in, with subject matter I wanted to explore. While I have always been happy to come to school, eager to share my insight in class, it wasn’t until this year that I felt everything align, allowing my innate curiosity to soar beyond my own expectations. This heightened sense of fulfillment can only be attributed to the personal interest I have in each class I selected. Sitting side-by-side with peers with similar interests, we seem more motivated to engage deeply in the subject matter.
Having the opportunity to finally spend my days studying material that sparks the most interest in me leaves me asking the question: why did it take so long to arrive at this point? Could I have benefited from having more choices earlier in my academic career? What experiences could have further shaped me into me? Rather than lament what could have been, I choose to look ahead and embrace what is and what will be.
That said, I believe it would be beneficial to explore offering additional electives to students starting freshman year as a way to broaden horizons and spark intellectual curiosity, which is inherently one of Pingry’s pillars. Who knows what class will inspire a young mind to thrive intellectually?
Brynn Weisholtz (VI)
As I boarded the plane and walked to my seat, I paid little attention to the people surrounding me––I was unaware of who they were, how they looked, and where they were going. I placed my carry-on bag in the compartment above my head, took my seat, secured my seatbelt, inserted my airpods and chose my favorite playlist; I was settled in and ready for a relaxing flight. It’s odd––every individual has their own life, in which they make their own choices, have their own opinions, and live with their own consequences. As such, we rarely think about strangers because we are so consumed with our own existences.
But on this flight, I thought about the person three rows ahead of me en route to our sunny destination.
Listening to my downloaded Spotify playlist, my song was interrupted by a loud disturbance, an escalating conversation between a passenger and a United Airlines representative. I wasn’t sure what the argument was about. Was it a seating issue? Was the passenger on the wrong plane? Did she possess a liquid more than the permitted 1.7 ounces? All I could deduce was that something very serious was going on.
The stranger in row 7 became a topic for most of the passengers on the plane. People were suddenly interested in something other than their magazines and music. What we came to learn is that this woman entered the aircraft as every other paying passenger did, and was asked to leave the plane because of her clothing. Her crime was wearing a tube top. Apparently, exposing one’s midriff on a United Airlines flight is against the company’s dress code and results in removal from the aircraft. How could this be? She wasn’t unclothed. I didn’t find her outfit tasteless, especially since I had, on multiple occasions, boarded a United Airlines flight wearing some variation of that outfit; actually, on that very flight, I, too, donned leggings and a tube top; however my stomach was covered by a zippered sweatshirt, for the sole purpose of staying warm inflight. I was actually shocked that this was an issue, as I had never even heard about a dress code for a flight. After some research, I located the United Airlines Dress Code, which bans attire like swimwear and mini skirts.
While, I understand the necessity for some of these restrictions, whether it be to safeguard people from derogatory words or protect passengers from clothing deemed hazardous by the airline (i.e., open toes shoes or barefoot), I do question the implementation of the airline’s dress code when deciding what makes an outfit fit for travel. This passenger was not offered a complimentary shirt or article of clothing, nor was she provided with a blanket to wrap around her exposed area. Rather, she was forced to forgo her seat and return to the terminal. United Airlines did not care that she would be missing out on her vacation or that she paid for this flight and hotel accommodations. All that seemed to be of importance was that her clothing was out of dress code for the flight.
This inherently begs the question: how can our society, which preaches freedom of expression, dictate what we as people wear when it is not offensive nor harmful? Limiting a person’s clothing choices in a public arena is in opposition to a freedom we hold in high regard in America. And the lack of compassion expressed by the employees for the passenger and the situation was equally as shameful in my opinion. I am confident that the woman did not choose to wear a tube top to blatantly defy the airline’s policy. On the contrary, she likely chose her outfit for the same reasons I chose my outfit that morning….it was comfortable.
By Brynn Weisholtz ’20
Standing in line to see Come From Away at the Schoenfeld Theater in New York City, I found myself wishing I were on a different line waiting for basically any other show. I peered around at the other shows near me. I saw Dear Evan Hansen and sighed; Kinky Boots and smiled; Hamilton and gasped. Indeed, I knew nothing about Come From Away except that my mother had met an older woman at Dear Evan Hansen who raved about it and convinced her to catapult Come From Away to the top of our Broadway wish list.
As the doors opened at 7:30, the line filed into the smallest theater I had ever been in. My family took our seats and, as I looked around, I noticed that the average age of the audience was somewhere between the ages of my parents and my grandparents. Suddenly, I heard a woman explaining that she and her husband had flown into New York City from Newfoundland this very morning to see the play. As the lights began to dim, my curiosity was piqued by her story; she had, in fact, lived through some of the events that were to be featured in the musical.
I knew Come From Away centered around the small town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada, where an intimate community rallied to help strangers following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. However, I did not have any concept of how the tragic events of the day forever changed the lives of the selfless people of Gander. With air traffic halted and planes unable to land in the United States, 38 planes were diverted to Gander Airport, and Gander, with a population of only 9,000, welcomed over 7,000 strangers from across the world with open arms. At a moment’s notice, cots were set up in schools, supplies were retrieved from local stores, food was prepared, and no questions were asked except, “What else can I do?”
I was truly in awe of all the people who opened their hearts and homes to complete strangers. The residents of Gander welcomed citizens from all walks of life and were not deterred by language or cultural barriers; instead, they bonded, embraced one another, celebrated life, and mourned the world’s tragedy alongside strangers, some of whom would become lifelong friends.Throughout the 100-minute musical, I was entranced by the story depicted on stage, one that brought both laughter and tears to my fellow onlookers and myself. While the majority of the audience appeared to vividly remember the events of 9/11, I only know of that day through second hand stories, as I was not yet born. Growing up in a post-9/11 world, I cannot fully comprehend how different life used to be, but the musical brought me to a better understanding of how radically the world around me has changed. Although I was not alive that fateful September morning, the tears I shed at the performance of Come From Away connected me with the people in that theater just as the people of Gander connected with their visitors. The show I regretted leaving my house for opened my eyes to see how selfless humans can truly be.
Brynn Weisholtz ’20
With last year’s record of 8-9, the girls’ ice hockey team is ready to begin another exciting season led by Captains Clare Hall (VI) and Sophia Smith (VI).
Starting goalie Emma Barrison (V) said, “I think the season will be really good because we have improved a lot since last year. We have a slightly smaller team this year, so we have to rely on each other to become stronger and that has put a lot of pressure on us to become better as a team.” This growth is evident: in their first game against Chatham they lost only by one point as opposed to last year’s nine.
The team looks promising, but the hardest is yet to come: some of their toughest competitors (Princeton Day School, Immaculate Heart, and Morristown Beard) are scheduled to play the girls soon. Pingry supporters are looking forward to cheering the on the girls throughout the season.
By Brynn Weisholtz ’20
From November 28th to December 1st, Ethan Malzberg (VI), Nia Phillips (VI), and Noelle Mullins (V) and 19 faculty members attended the annual People of Color Conference (PoCC)/Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in Nashville, Tennessee. The mission of PoCC is to “provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools,” whereas SDLC “focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community.” The conferences are run by the National Association of Independent Schools.
Surrounded by activists, teachers, and fellow students from around the country, Malzberg, Phillips, and Mullins attended lectures, took part in group discussions, and shared their opinions on the issues that face our society today. The regularly engaged in activities with their family groups, which were smaller breakaway groups of 50 students meant to serve as a microcosm of the conference at large. The three students also attended affinity groups – larger meetings that brought together all attendees of certain identifiers – including Black/African, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander, and LGBTQ+. Finally, the conference pulled in a handful of high profile keynote speakers, including CNN journalist Lisa Ling and former white extremist turned author Christian Piccolini.
Near the end of the conference, Malzberg, Phillips, and Mullins created their own activity based on what they had learned at the conference and presented it to the Pingry faculty who attended. While presenting, “many of the teachers were able to open up and speak about their personal struggles and experiences dealing with identity in their lives. It was so impactful for me to delve deeper into my teachers and their lives, but to also see how diverse and interesting our teachers are,” said Mullins.
The students, attending PoCC to initiate their work on the Student Diversity Leadership Committee (SDLC) at Pingry, were pushed out of their comfort zones in a deeply diverse community. According to Mullins, “I had never in my life been around so many people who were as committed to activism as I am. It was amazing.”
Not only did the event influence the students, but the teachers were also greatly affected by this experience. Dr. Megan Jones said her biggest takeaway came from the topics the workshops presented. “One workshop discussed how the faculty can foster respectful dialogue between people with different points of view concerning contentious issues. Another workshop leader discussed how one can determine the differences between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. The workshops were really helpful and thought-provoking,” said Dr. Jones. Dr. Delvin Dinkins noted that his biggest takeaway reflected the themes – “harmony, discord, and the notes in between,” and that to “achieve harmony you have to recognize that there are going to be a lot of bumps, twists, and turns on the journey there. Something harmonious might be fleeting for a very finite period of time and then it becomes discordant and then you have to go through the process again.”
While talking about the student’s presentation, Ms. Meghan Finegan said, “Ethan, Nia, and Noelle posed questions that forced us to reflect and really talk about our feelings related to everything we’d been learning over the past few days. They led it beautifully and it was very emotional; many of us were in tears with our heightened awareness and gratitude for being there.”
Overall, Malzberg said, “PoCC answered so many questions I never knew I had. As a white person, I had always accepted the notion that politics are life-threatening for people of color without understanding why; hearing the experiences of the diverse array of fifty students in my ‘family group’ gave me the context and the ‘why’ to this question.”
By Brynn Weisholtz ’20
On Tuesday, October 9, Middle and Upper School students and faculty members convened in Hauser Auditorium to hear Mr. Tony Hoffman, a speaker from Common Ground Speaks. He shared his journey of suffering through addiction to eventually achieving sobriety. Mr. Hoffman’s story began in the seventh grade when he was first exposed to marijuana. It was in high school when his use of drugs, alcohol, and prescription painkillers began to impact his life. Mr. Hoffman candidly discussed how his drug abuse progressed from marijuana usage, the drug he identifies as a “gateway drug,” to heroin, crack, and opiates.
Prior to becoming a drug addict, Mr. Hoffman described himself as a gifted athlete with aspirations to play professional basketball for the NBA. However, he now admits that he did not put forth the effort needed to make this dream a reality. He further described his childhood attitude as entitled; he was always looking to take shortcuts in life in order to reach his achievement as quickly as possible. After realizing that his basketball hopes would not come to fruition, Mr. Hoffman set his sights on BMX racing, a sport he had always excelled at. Soon, he was recognized for his talent and received sponsors and endorsements by his senior year in high school. While his family and friends envisioned a future of success for Mr. Hoffman due to his natural talent in BMX, he was internally struggling with undiagnosed social anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. These issues, he explained, made it extremely difficult for him to achieve his goals.
In addition to his success in the BMX world, Mr. Hoffman was presented with another opportunity prior to graduation. He was offered a position as a network administrator with a six-figure salary. At that moment, it appeared he had everything: money, respect, and a chance to excel professionally. In actuality, he felt helpless, struggling through his mental illness. Mr. Hoffman’s drug addiction continued to intensify and soon enough his accomplishments began to disappear. With his drug addiction spiraling out of his control, Mr. Hoffman began to see his loved ones and financial stability leaving him. He resorted to robbery to pay for the drugs fueling his addiction and was arrested and imprisoned for two years. While serving his sentence, Mr. Hoffman dedicated himself to self-betterment, knowing he had entered a “door” with only two exits: death or changing everything in his life. He chose the latter.
Upon his release from prison, Mr. Hoffman set forth to achieve the goals he created while behind bars. He was invited to a BMX Olympic training center, started a non-profit foundation, became a coach for BMX Olympians, and, most importantly, he has stayed sober. He kept the attention of students throughout the full hour; Varun Seetamraju (VI) said, “It was great and informative, and I feel like he addressed a topic that needs to be talked about.” Students found his story enthralling, and Drew Beckman (VI) said, “Mr. Hoffman presented his story in a down-to-earth way that allowed the students to connect with him.” Mr. Tony Hoffman has been sober since May 17th, 2007; he now spends his time speaking at different high schools throughout the country helping turn students away from substance abuse and inspiring them to live their lives with purpose.
By Brynn Weisholtz ’20
On a mighty first day of class trips, the junior class explored the historical sites of Philadelphia and a renowned museum.
Arriving bright and early on an unseasonably hot September morning, the junior class prepared to board coach buses and embark on a trip to Philadelphia. The students gathered in their advisory groups and, upon arriving in the City of Brotherly Love, began a grade-wide scavenger hunt.
Walking around Philadelphia on a search for historical artifacts and buildings, students rekindled friendships from last year while finding everything from jumbo-sized puzzle pieces to the famous Prince Music Theater.
Following the scavenger hunt, the students and faculty made their way to the acclaimed Reading Terminal Market. Celebrating 125 years in existence, the Reading Terminal Market is one of America’s largest and oldest public markets, offering its visitors a wide selection of produce, meats, poultry, seafood, cheeses, baked goods, and much more.
The market is not only a source of locally grown and exotic food choices – it is home to a variety of restaurants and, more importantly, is regarded as a piece of Philadelphian history that draws tourists and locals year round.
As they ate their lunch in the National Historic Landmark Building, which is home to the Reading Terminal Market, the students took some time to relax and rest after their hunt around Philly.
The final stop of the day was to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where the students had an opportunity to walk the halls of the quiet museum and take in all the beautiful works, especially noting the serene water lily paintings and antique Chinese artifacts.
After a full day of touring Philadelphia and spending time learning and laughing with classmates, the students and faculty were ready to return to campus. The students’ day in Philadelphia was undoubtedly the perfect outing to kick off junior year at Pingry.
By Brynn Weisholtz ’20
Among the twenty new faculty welcomed to Pingry this year is Dr. Gillian Johnson, who hails from Hilton Head, South Carolina, where she taught at Hilton Head Preparatory School. She is a graduate of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish, and she went on to receive her master’s degree and PhD in Spanish literature from the University of Virginia.
Dr. Johnson is inspired by both her parents, her grandfather, and her great-grandfather, all of whom had a career in academia. Raised in a family of educators, she has a passion for helping and motivating students to reach their full potential. Dr. Johnson said, “I want to help students develop the same love and appreciation of the Spanish language and culture that I have.”
At Pingry, Dr. Johnson will be teaching Spanish 5, AP Spanish 5, and Spanish 7. She is also the Junior Varsity Field Hockey Assistant Coach. When asked what she likes best about Pingry thus far, Dr. Johnson stated that her favorite parts of the school are the block schedule, lunch, and the students. She shared that the block schedule provides ample time to efficiently prepare for each class, along with some relaxing down-time in between. She loves not having to pack lunch every day and noted how delicious our served lunch is. Regarding the students, Dr. Johnson said, “It feels like students here want to learn and are willing to work hard to accomplish their goals.” The motivation of the students is inspiring to her and she cannot wait to get to know the students and faculty even more. Her main goal for the school year is learning the school song, “Old John Pingry,” so she will be able to sing it with the rest of the community.
Dr. Johnson has limited free time due to her seven-month-old daughter, who she loves spending time with. Besides being a mom, she enjoys running and spending time outdoors.
Señora Johnson, as she is referred to by her students, is thrilled to be a part of the Pingry community and is eager to spread her passion for Spanish, and learning in general, throughout the school.