Sex, Drugs, and Defamation: Anonymous Gossip on Campus


If you want to see the smiling, multicultural, frisbee-throwing side of college students, look at a university brochure. But if you were curious about their darker side — their gossip, profanity, and racist/sexist/homophobic comments, say — you’d find it all conveniently located at the school’s ACB, or Anonymous Confession Board. Until recently, that is.

The site — founded in 2008 by two college students — was controversial from the very beginning. Anonymity seemed to encourage rampant rudeness; students saw their full names attached to speculations about their sexual preference/habits, or comments about their looks. Some schools blocked the site from their wireless networks; others argued that the boards — as odious as they often were — counted as free speech. Not surprisingly, controversy led to popularity:  by January of this year, the site covered 150 schools and logged more than 20 million monthly page views.

Recently the site was bought out and underwent a name change; it’s now Blipdar, and includes a few features that seem to try to steer posters to chat about less unsavory topics — say, which buildings are good to live in on campus, rather than compiling a list of the school’s biggest sluts.

Will it work? Unclear. A fair number of posts recently up on the Johns Hopkins Blipdar were complaining about how stupid Blipdar is. And a competing anonymous Hopkins-centric site — — has sprung up. Odds are, neither site will make you feel particularly encouraged about the state of the contemporary undergraduate:  Bipdar has a post up entitled “Homosexual sex is not beautiful,” while a Hopdirt poster posts something too vulgar/irritating to reprint about a particular sorority. But it’s not all quite so dismal. There are also posts about what kinds of exercise burn calories most efficiently, and which science classes are easiest.

Ultimately, though, all the trashy talk begs quite a few questions:  Should a school try to limit students’ access to anonymous gossip sites? Are today’s students more heartless than those in days of yore, or does technology make everyone more vicious?

Farewell to the Valedictorians


When Justin Schuster sat down to pen his valedictory address to Gilman School’s class of 2011, the administration gave him very loose guidelines:  address the occasion and keep it under ten minutes. Even so, Schuster says with a laugh, “I still didn’t really listen to them.” Instead of speaking in airy generalities, Schuster spent his ten minutes “talking about what made my class unique. I wanted to make it personal, rather than just reflect on the occasion.”  (Read Justin’s speech in Students Speak on the Baltimore Fishbowl Schools page.) 

Justin had the right idea. In the competitive rush of senior year, it can be easy to forget that valedictorians are people too, with their own quirks, aspirations, strengths, and weaknesses. And increasingly, the traditional valedictorian is being phased out, or revamped to honor many students, instead of just one. So what does it take make it to the top of the class in today’s uber-competitive high school environment?  To that end, we caught up with Justin and a few other local graduates who rank first in their class and got them to talk about their high school experiences, their plans for next year, and what they do in their free time (if they have any). 

Justin Schuster has attended Gilman School since sixth grade (before that, he attended Ft. Garrison Elementary, a public school in the Owings Mills/Pikesville area), and deems it “a phenomenal place — and I promise Gilman isn’t pressuring me to say that!” He’ll attend Yale in the fall, where he hopes to double-major in political science and Near Eastern Studies. If all goes according to plan, he’ll continue his coursework in Arabic and end up doing something related to politics or law. “I used to want to run for office,” he says, “But lately I’m thinking State Department, CIA, something in intelligence, Assistant U.S. Attorney…” This interest in politics is no recent whim; Schuster spends summers working with a political consulting firm in Bel Air, interacting with politicians on a day-to-day basis; he also had an internship with Baltimore City’s state’s attorney, and worked on a Congressional campaign.

Dana Katzenelson, a graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute who will be attending Harvard in the fall, has the whole valedictorian thing in perspective. When asked how her life might’ve been different had she not ended up at the top of her class, she pauses then says, “Well, then I wouldn’t have to write a speech right now.” Not that the speech should be much of a problem for her; Katzenelson has run for student office a few times, and has been otherwise active in the school’s decision-making processes. “There’s a lot of opportunity at Poly for people who are looking for it,” she notes — two examples being the school’s new strategic plan and its search for a new principal, both endeavors that Katzenelson participated in.

David Goodman has been at Boys’ Latin since kindergarten, and credits the school’s close-knit, supportive community for his scholastic success: “I had a serious accident in lower school and it was because of the help and support of the students and the faculty that I was able to make a full recovery and become the student I am today,” he writes in an email. “The class of 2011 was an especially close group of 71 students and [we] have always had each other’s backs.” Goodman kept busy in school taking college-level math courses like linear algebra and multivariate calculus; editing the school newspaper; and playing on the varsity soccer and baseball teams.  He’ll be another Baltimore-area valedictorian at Yale in the fall, where he plans to study math and economics.

While these students may be thriving, the valedictorian is something of an endangered species at highly competitive schools in some parts of the country — and Baltimore is no exception. Bryn Mawr, McDonough, Roland Park Country School, Friends and the Park School don’t recognize valedictorians in the traditional sense. “We honor students for academic achievement in all disciplines,” notes Nancy Mugele of Roland Park Country School, pointing out that the school awards more than 30 academic awards to its students. Why sidestep this traditional honor? For one, competition over class rank can lead to pressure and competition between classmates, and the final verdict often comes down to a fraction of a percentage point. Howard County schools don’t recognize a valedictorian, and Montgomery County schools don’t put class ranks on college transcripts.

Alas, eliminating the valedictorian doesn’t necessarily make students at these schools (or their parents) any aware of who got the best grades. For example, while Bryn Mawr doesn’t recognize a valedictorian, they do give a special award (the College Scholarship Prize) to the senior with the highest cumulative GPA. Which begs the question — if everyone knows who the de fact valedictorian is, why not just have a valedictorian?

Nationwide, other school districts are taking a different tack — honoring multiple valedictorians for the same graduating class. One Colorado district boasted a total of 94 valedictorians at its 8 high schools, all of whom had a GPA over 4.0, while a high school in the suburbs of Houston recognized 30 valedictorians — or 6.5 percent of its graduating seniors. Perhaps these kids are all so brilliant that it’s impossible to distinguish between them — or perhaps other forces are at work? “It’s honor inflation,” Chris Healy, associate professor at Furman University, told the New York Times

The valedictorians we spoke to all seemed to have a good sense of perspective about the honor. For one, they recognize that they weren’t alone in their academic achievement. As Goodman notes, “the top portion of my class [all] challenged themselves academically. For us, there were many long nights working on AP and honors assignments….[We] pushed each other to work hard and I share this honor with them.” Will being valedictorian have a big impact on Katz-Nelson’s future? “Not really,” she predicts. “It’s not as significant as other people think. It just means I focussed on getting good grades more than other people did.”  Schuster agrees:  “Quite frankly, I think it’s a title and nothing more than that.” What’s important to him is not so much the title itself as the skills that got him there:  his work ethic, and his ability to organize his time. “I didn’t stay in on Friday and Saturday nights, cramming over SAT books. I just did my homework.”

While these students have plenty to be proud of, there’s something a little wistful about the valedictory moment, as well. After all, “valedictorian” comes from the Latin for “farewell sayer,” and it’s true that these students are leaving a lot behind. But judging from what they’ve accomplished so far, the future should be pretty exciting, too.

Gilman Class of 2011 Valedictory Speech


Mr. McBride, Mr. Schmick, Ms. Turner, faculty, family, friends and distinguished classmates, T.S. Eliot wrote, “only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” While Eliot may not have been directly addressing the Gilman class of 2011, his quotation certainly defines the character of our class. Since I started Gilman in sixth grade, our class has always carried a bit of an infamous reputation. It might be fair to say that we’ve been a little rebellious. We’ve walked the line between hubris and confidence and, well, we’ve frequently crossed that line.

Yes, we have pushed the envelope and at times gone too far. But as Eliot writes, we can only discover our true potential if we are willing to dare. What Eliot neglects to mention, however, is that daring is only half the picture. What is just as important is learning from when one has gone too far. Now, I don’t think that there is anyone in this audience who can say that the class of 2011 never risked going too far. Let’s take a look: Due to an abundance of class spirit, we single-handedly made all artificial noisemakers banned from MIAA sporting events after we deafened the opposition with vuvuzelas and a vintage crank air raid siren. Under Austin and Joe’s leadership and Sam’s spirit, we came out in record numbers to support the volleyball team, though at times with too much baby powder in an attempt to imitate Lebron James. Perhaps our greatest measure of school spirit is manifest at this very moment…this is the first year when we actually have complete attendance at graduation.

The beauty of this year’s graduating class is not solely based on the success of its students, as wonderfully talented as they may be. What defines this class is how we refused to accept infamy, and how we not only dared to make mistakes during our earlier years but how we learned and matured from these mistakes. That youthful exuberance that so keenly characterizes our class never waned. Rather, we learned to channel that energy towards class solidarity as exhibited during our senior retreat. 

This year we grew just as much as individuals as a class. Our accomplishments are not limited to school spirit either. In sports, our class came together, bringing home championships in lacrosse, track, and soccer to name a few. I also read in The Sun that Darius is pretty good at football. Academically, Byerly took the It’s Ac team back to another state championship match, Sam Davidoff-Gore won the Best Delegate Award at Model UN and oh don’t forget Prewitt isn’t too bad with a calculator. Artistically, Snouffer, Flaks and the rest of the cast kept audiences howling during a wonderful musical performance, while the artwork of Griffin, Sam, Elliot and Allan made our halls a daily pleasure to walk through. Gi mobilized the troops in his countless lunches for the homeless and Christopher’s Place campaigns, and Drew introduced us to The Wounded Warrior Project. Seniors, you really stepped up this year. Such success may have been unthinkable when we were freshmen. But it was through taking chances and then channeling this brimming energy that we have had such a successful senior year.

We are the ones that tested boundaries more “thoroughly” than others. But we too are the ones who never gave up on ourselves. We could have left Gilman in a couple of ways: at war with the administration, divided among ourselves, the same as when we entered. But instead we learned from our mistakes. We did not lose our identity, we did not conform or sell out but we learned. There was no pivotal, cataclysmic moment when the light switch turned on and we became the young men you see today. We did not transform over night; rather, we grew over four years. Our grade has a remarkable trait, which has fostered this growth, and that is our inherent energy. 

And if there is one accomplishment that symbolizes and encapsulates our class’ development and character, it is the lacrosse semifinals. Supposedly we played a pretty good game. Ryan and Connor, you may have to refresh my memory on that one. And as incredible as that comeback was and as triumphant as that following championship victory felt, its significance far surpassed the thrill of just those ten men on the field. That come-from-behind, man down, three goals in the last minute performance, serves as a vignette of our Gilman experience.

We battled back from sure defeat. We are that lacrosse team.  We are the 1980 miracle on ice team. We are the Little Giants, the Mighty Ducks, and the Bad News Bears. We are Rudy, Rocky, the karate kid and every other underdog that miraculously triumphed against the odds. We are the Jamaican Bobsled Team. We are the ones that refused to go down in infamy. We are the ones who rallied back from the steepest of climbs. We are the Gilman Class of 2011. We have all heard of Remember the Titans, but I say to everyone in the audience: remember the class of 2011.

If there has been one person who has symbolized the adult support for the Gilman Class of 2011 throughout our four years in high school, one person who dared to believe in us, it has been Ms. Hammer. While Ms. Hammer may have been the most vocal supporter of our grade, she is emblematic of the patience that the faculty and all of our parents allowed our grade. From our freshman year antics to this very day with a class of Gilman’s finest graduates, she has unwaveringly supported us.  She would always say, “Just you guys wait; with all that energy you are going to come together and you are going to be great.” That patience on the part of all that supported us is what allowed us to grow. And for that I would like to say thank you. 

You saw our chutzpah and our energy not as destructive signs of arrogance and defiance but rather as the sure mark of irrepressible youth. Our potential has always been there, budding, waiting to be realized. And it is because we dared that our potential remains so great. It is because we had the courage to question and ask why that we have become one of Gilman’s most unforgettable graduating classes. That audacity, that boldness, that daring, that courage is what defines the class of 2011.

So important is that courage: the courage to do the right thing in the face of adversity, the courage to speak one’s mind, the courage to have an opinion. Our grade has never feared making mistakes, but more importantly we have always possessed the courage to learn from past failures.

As we leave for college, we feel like there is nothing we cannot accomplish, and that is because we learned and became a closer class as a result of it. We didn’t just make it here by stumbling across the finish line either. We roared onto this stage as students, as artists, as athletes, and most importantly, as a class. We will forever go down in Gilman history, and I challenge anyone to tell me otherwise. 

There is no doubt in my mind that we will approach the world with the same daring and the same willingness to learn. There is such talent on this stage. With such talent, there is enormous potential. We have already made our mark on Gilman; now let’s do so in the world.

I could fill this speech with mere maxims and platitudes, Seize the day class of 2011 or The world is your oyster, class of 2011, but the truth of the matter is you don’t need me to give you advice. Graduates, you don’t need me to give you encouragement as we prepare to leave for that unknown world ahead. You, each and every one of you on stage, have made it, not in infamy, not at war, but united with the willingness to dare and the courage to learn from past mistakes. Underclassmen, you have big shoes to fill…Go for it.

Graduates, I began this speech with a quotation, and so too will I conclude this speech with one by novelist Paulo Coelho. “The world lies in the hands of those who have the courage to dream and who take the risk of living out their dreams.” Class of 2011, congratulations. It is an honor and a privilege to be standing here alongside each and every one of you. Keep daring and never stop learning. Now go out into the world and make a difference. Thank you


The Drama of the SAT II


To the parents of the rising junior: Congratulations! Your child has just finished sophomore year. You probably have a fair sense of his or her academic style and capacity at this point, and hopefully you are both feeling good. Two years down, two to go, right? 

Now let me invite you to dip your toe into the cool stream of college admissions vernacular. It’s coming your way soon, so you might as well get started! There are terms you may already know, and some that may be unfamiliar. Everyone knows about the SATs, and PSATs, but not everyone has heard about the SAT IIs – or SAT subject tests. (These should not be confused with the AP Exams, or CLEP Exams, all of which are administered by College Board. More on those later…) The SAT IIs are one-hour multiple choice tests, in specific subject areas:  Literature, US History, World History, Mathematics Level 1, Mathematics Level 2, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, French, French with Listening, Chinese with Listening, German, German with Listening, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Japanese with Listening, Korean with Listening, Latin, Spanish, Spanish with Listening. Not all schools require the SAT subject tests, but most of the highly selective colleges and universities require one, two, or three subject tests in addition to the SAT. You cannot earn college credit with the subject tests, but they certainly can make your application more competitive, assuming you’ve done well.

Here’s a twist: Your child cannot figure out which SAT subject tests he or she will need to take until he or she determines where s/he wants to go. Different colleges and universities have different requirements, and you have to figure it out one by one. Now, it is true that you probably want to take your subject tests in the areas where you are academically strongest.  But you will have to figure out if your dream college requires physics or chemistry, even if you are gunning for a liberal arts degree.

My very brilliant child took two subject tests last Saturday. She will score somewhere between 200 and 800. Naturally, we are expecting 800s, but you never know. She figured out that she should take World History and Chemistry this spring, after her sophomore year, when the information was freshest in her mind. Good idea. Now I hope she figures out the rest of this testing mess. To AP or not to AP? In the same subject as the subject test? What is the CLEP, and how is it different from the AP? You can earn college credit through the AP and the CLEP, so how are they different, and are these tests like the SAT and SAT subject tests, just more data for college admissions officers to consider when her application hits their desk? When she figures it all out, I will be sure to pass it on. 

Why We Need International Education


As Congress focuses on trimming fat and cutting budgets, a few long-standing international education programs might find themselves significantly de-funded — or perhaps non-existent. I never thought I’d say this, but I agree with John McCain on this one — he recently called the proposed cuts to international education “short-sighted.” To say the least.

For me, it’s personal. In 2006-7, I had a Fulbright to Morocco. I didn’t come out of the experience with any ground-breaking research or publish any scholarly articles, but I made some friends, saw a sheep get slaughtered, felt the hunger pangs of the Ramadan fast, went to a country wedding, facilitated a forbidden romance, and ate a lot of great food.

So why should the State Department fund programs with results that are a lot less concrete than nabbing terrorists or building schools? Well, I’d argue that the Fulbright — and its fellow State Department-run outreach programs — do a subtle, sneaky amount of good for the U.S.’s image. I remember haggling over a pair of shoes in the souk and throwing in some of my best colloquial Moroccan Arabic expressions, figuring they’d help me get a better price. The shopkeeper said something I didn’t understand, and I must’ve given him a puzzled look. “Oh,” he said, slightly disappointed. “Most of the Americans around here speak Berber.” (He was referring, of course, to the Peace Corps volunteers, many of whom got training in local languages even more obscure than colloquial Moroccan Arabic.)

The State Department’s educational outreach programs foster the kind of daily exchange between people that provides the foundation for diplomacy. We learn each other’s languages. We start to appreciate each other’s trashy pop music and weird ice cream flavors. We attend each other’s weddings, and recommend books to one another. Our scholars bounce ideas off one another. In an increasingly splintered, factionalized world, we learn about one another. Not to mention that a recent internal audit found that we don’t have nearly enough skilled foreign language speakers in our national security agencies.

 Where do you stand on the issue of funding international education programs?

(Petitions against de-funding can be found here and here.)

Johns Hopkins’ Massive Yard Sale


Not all of us have the stamina for yard sale season. Maybe you’re tired of scouring Craigslist for nearby listings, then mapping out a way to hit the most promising yards in the most efficient way. Instead, maybe you daydream about a a huge room full of many people’s gently used clothes, furniture, and small china figurines.

If so, you’re about to have that disconcerting (yet pleasant) experience of seeing your dream become a reality on Saturday, when Johns Hopkins hosts its second annual U-Turn Sale. The idea is simple — gather together all the sweaters and electronics and books and stuff that college students can’t fit in their cars, and don’t feel like storing until next year; combine that with donated objects from students, staff, and faculty; then spend a month organizing and sticking (cheap!) price tags on things. You’ll (hopefully) wind up with a gym full of objects finding a useful second career, and a host of happy shoppers, glad to get a bargain.

Proceeds will benefit the Johns Hopkins Neighborhood Fund, a plan launched in 2007 aiming to connect the school more closely with nearby non-profits, as well as to the neighborhoods that border its campuses. In the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at the relationship between Hopkins and its neighbors — but for now, we’re content to go shopping for a good cause.

Paramilitary Expert — and Doctor of Philosophy, Too


Maybe they feel like they’ve got a lot more to learn. Maybe there are subjects they never got a chance to dive into as an undergrad. Or maybe they just want people to call them “Doctor.” Every year, plenty of people head back to school part-time to work toward a degree while still clocking in at their day job. It’s just that most of those people don’t have “track down al-Qaeda” as their day job.

    Yep, that’s right — Michael Vickers, the Pentagon’s top intelligence chief has been taking philosophy classes while also working as assistant secretary of defense, which is maybe why it took him 17 years to graduate from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). So now Vickers can add “doctor of philosophy” to his wildly intimidating resume, alongside “CIA paramilitary operations officer,” “Green Beret,” “expert in martial arts, parachuting and weapons,” and “fluent in Czech and Spanish.”

Yeesh. No wonder he’s head of the Pentagon’s “‘take-over-the-world’ plan.

Prom Pictures and a Contest Winner


We had a friend visiting from Poland last weekend who asked about a girl he saw at the Inner Harbor who was “dressed like a goddess.”  We explained that she was going to the prom and was there to take pictures. It made us realize how unusual this funny high school ritual must look to others. 

Proms have changed over the years and now include elaborate asks (from signs at school to videos on You Tube), post-parties, post-post parties, group dates, co-ed slumber parties and prom “goddesses.” But the pre-prom photo op remains the same: kids assemble looking their dressed-up best while mom and dad snap away. We’d love to post your prom pictures on Inside the Fishbowl on the Community page. You can post them yourself too. We already have a few. 

A few weeks ago we asked readers to post their prom horror stories.  The winning entry comes from Mrs. Batworth, who wrote: 

“It was 1977 and my then-best friend had a boyfriend, so she was hell-bent on going to the prom, and wanted me to go with her. I couldn’t find a date, so she told her little brother he had to escort me. I was mortified. Then-best friend wore red, slinky satin; I wore a recycled, very prim Gunne Sax dress in pale green. She and her boyfriend spent the whole evening making out while I tried to make conversation with my 15 year-old date. We danced to “Fooled Around and Fell In Love.” He was a very nice kid and surprisingly gracious, and I’ve always had the sense that he grew up to be a great human being.” 

She wins a $50 gift certificate from Pazo! Please email us Mrs. Batworth at [email protected] to claim your prize.  

What Are College Students Reading These Days?


    The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a “campus best-sellers” book list for forty years; as of last week, they stopped. Turns out that there wasn’t really much of a point to the list in recent years — campus bookstores were selling a lot of copies of the books that regular bookstores were also selling:  Twilight, Harry Potter, etc.
    “When the lists are averaged together, the banal tastes of the mass market obliterate…nuances,” the Chronicle notes. A senior editor at the Washington Post’s Book World put it more harshly:  “The only specter haunting the groves of American academe seems to be suburban contentment.”
    Of course, it’s not just college students whose taste runs to the mass-market — over the past decade or so, a shrinking number of books account for the lion’s share of sales, a trend some call “blockbuster syndrome.” Who’s to blame?  Well, depends on who you ask — maybe it’s the panicky publishing industry; or the public clamoring for escapist fluff. More and more books are being purchased at major discount retailers (Target, Wal-Mart) that don’t devote much shelf-space to books — and so, guess what? They only stock a small number of titles, and those titles sell a ton of copies.
    But while we can bemoan the homogenization of campus culture all day, the Chronicle is hoping to highlight some of the differences that still exist — they plan to replace the old list with a rotating selection of particularly intriguing/noteworthy best-seller lists from individual campus bookstores (for example, before the Dalai Lama’s visit to the University of Buffalo, 8 of the top 10-selling books were about Buddhism).

Diving In


McDonogh senior Olivia Millspaugh shares her college essay on the terror and thrill of free diving in the Caribbean. Olivia will attend College of Charleston next fall.

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you

My free diving instructor at the Island School, Ian, explained, “You will believe you are dying. First you will feel a burning sensation in your lungs, and then you will experience diaphragm spasms. But you should ignore it, because this feeling would actually have to occur four times consecutively before you are really in trouble.” That statement didn’t calm my nerves. I was still afraid to touch the bottom of a swimming pool, and here I was in the ocean. 

As the boat stopped, I looked down into the ocean and noticed how menacing the choppy water seemed to be. I slowly slipped on my flippers and snorkel in an attempt to delay my entry into the ocean, but after a few moments I managed to jump into the water. The three-foot swells pushed me around, and I pictured myself the victim of a shark attack in a movie. “Relax,” I said to calm myself, and I stuck my head into the water to glance at the ocean floor one hundred feet beneath me. 

The sea was like another world underneath the dark waves. Surprisingly, my anxiety vanished. The ocean was so tranquil and serene. Inside the infinite blue were enormous reefs covered with sea fan coral and multiple aquatic organisms. Swimming around me were Queen Triggerfish, Blue Chromises, Townsend Angelfish, and many other marine animals in vibrant blues and yellows. I had never seen such an array of colors together in a natural environment. Even the occasional Bull Shark seemed peaceful. It was all so beautiful, and I was amazed that there were ecosystems in the world like this. I felt as if I had been let in on a secret of the universe.

My first time free diving was an extremely scary and life changing experience, and it has impacted me in two different ways. Once I conquered my fear of free diving, it proved to me that if I put my mind to it, I can accomplish anything. It has also inspired me to explore the world more and to take advantage of my surroundings. Free diving has exposed me to another environment, and it has sparked my love for the natural world. As Rachel Carson once stated, “To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides … is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.”