Schools

Summer Learning: Not As Bad As it Sounds

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We tend to think of summer as a time when kids relax, play around, laze in hammocks, and generally try to stay as far as possible from anything remotely educational. But a decades-long Johns Hopkins study shows that kids learn a lot over the summers, even when they don’t necessarily notice that it’s happening. And those summers can make all the difference, especially for disadvantaged students.

For the Beginning School Study, Hopkins researchers followed Baltimore City Public School kids for more than a quarter-century — from first grade through adulthood — looking at how summer experiences affected academic performance. Those lazy summers turned out to be hugely important.

All students in the study — whether they were economically disadvantaged or not — made comparable strides during the school year. Surprisingly enough, it was the summer months that made the difference. While school wasn’t in session, better-off students were going to the library, taking lessons, visiting museums, playing soccer, and just generally taking advantage of resources that helped them learn and develop. Disadvantaged kids didn’t have the same access to these programs — and so fell behind.

During those months, disadvantaged students started to lag significantly in reading, so much so that they were nearly three years behind their peers by the end of fifth grade. And, according to the study, nearly all those losses were due to the difference in how they spent their summers.

Baltimore has started to address the issue with programs like YouthWorks, which offer jobs and financial literacy training to high school students. Over at the Audacious Ideas blog, Brenda McLaughlin suggests that private camps and programs reserve a quarter of their spots for disadvantaged students: 

“While the economics of this proposal may seem improbable, consider the economics of our current school year. We spend nine months and tremendous amounts of energy and resources to promote learning and achievement for all students while school is in session; and then we step back for three months only to let 1/3 of that investment fizzle away. We have created an incredibly inefficient system in terms of how we invest our resources.  What many people don’t realize is that we will pay for this inefficiency regardless, whether it’s proactively through summer scholarships, or retroactively through social services and lost tax revenues.”

How else could schools, students, and parents help make up for the summer learning gap?

What’s the Budget for College Touring Travel?

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Is there a budget for college touring travel? 

I often wonder how the rest of the world seems to cruise through these expensive times, seemingly without a care.  How is it everyone else appears to have so much more money?  We work hard at professional jobs, and are pretty conservative with saving and planning.  But, I’ll say it, there is still a budget!  So, when I listen to the really sweet, intelligent father whom I’m speaking with at a cocktail party, and he is describing the next three summer weekends with his rising senior daughter — one to Miami, one to Colorado, and one to New Orleans — I think, “Jeez, I wish I were your daughter!”

It begs the question, is there a budget for college touring travel, or should there be?  Is the college investment just so huge that a few grand on the front end for sightseeing trips is just insignificant?  Nothing more than a rounding error?  Will we take our children wherever they want to go, no matter how far or how many schools are on the list?  Truth is, I just don’t know.  So far, we have taken two road trips to New England.  And stayed with family at most of our stops.  Cheap.  But this is our first child, and she is making it easy.  No interest in the West Coast, or the deep South.  Her first filter for the college search is geography – “New England, please.”

So, even though we know we’ll travel a relatively easy road with this child in terms of college touring, we can still find something to worry about.  She has siblings!  What makes sense?  What is reasonable?  Should we refuse to fly or drive to the really unlikely “reach” schools?  Or does that telegraph that we don’t have any confidence in our child’s ability to get in there?  Should we tell him/her it doesn’t make sense to spend time and money (both finite resources in our lives) going to the schools that are utter “safeties”, where they are unlikely to attend?  Or does that telegraph the message that that school isn’t good enough?

I’m working myself into a pitch!  Perhaps I should just take a deep breath, and remember it will all be okay.  Perhaps I should accept that there need not be a formula for everything in life, and maybe we’ll wing it, child by child.  Perhaps the answer will be driven by the disposable income at any given time.  If you have an answer, please, comment.    

Johns Hopkins Proves It: Magic Mushrooms Make Life Meaningful

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Baltimore’s pot-smoking parents are lightweights next to the Johns Hopkins medical researchers making news this week for delving into more exotic substances — namely psilocybin, or (as the stoner down the block might prefer to call them) magic mushrooms.  According to findings published in Psychopharmacology this week, JHU scientists figured out how to “reliably introduce transcendental experiences in volunteers,” thereby offering a sense of peace as well as “long-lasting psychological growth.”

The study wasn’t huge — it included only 18 adults, all healthy and with an average age of 46 — but it seemed to have an outsize impact on the participants:  94 percent (or all except for one lonely experimentee) counted the experiment as one of the top five most meaningful experiences of their lives. Nearly one in four (39 percent) called it the most meaningful thing that had ever happened to them. And the results seemed to ripple outward as well:  friends, family, and colleagues reported that participants became “calmer, happier, and kinder” during the course of the experiment.  The researchers are hoping to expand the study, exploring whether psilocybin can soothe terminal cancer patients, or help smokers quit.

Of course, the experimenters have to grapple with the legacy of drug experiments gone awry — as well as the inconvenient fact that psilocybin is classified as a Schedule One drug. But with the institutional might of Johns Hopkins behind them — and the admiration of America’s first drug czar — maybe we’ll find ourselves picking up our mushroom prescriptions at Rite-Aid in the not-so-distant future.

Chris Ford Redirects Baltimore School for the Arts

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The city’s most promising high school artists may have gone home for the summer, but Dr. Chris Ford’s studies are intensifying. Ford was named director of the Baltimore School for the Arts in April, beating out 185 national candidates after Leslie Shepard stepped down from her 10-year post. But Ford’s no fresh-faced kid. Despite having already spent three decades at BSA, he’s ready to learn something new.

Dr. Ford took recess in the Aaron & Lillie Straus Foundation Recital Hall to talk about what’s in store for the school, what challenges he’ll face, and what they’re still doing right. 

Until last week, Ford taught saxophone lessons—his first job at the BSA. And, while he’ll miss it, the idea of managing this school has long intrigued him. In the days ahead, the school’s administrative teams will meet and share their visions for the next five or ten years. “There’s a process, and I think dictating it from above is kind of silly,” Ford says. But he feels some issues pressing harder than others. “Most of the administrative team—certainly most of the arts department—are my age or older, so they will be aging out in the next ten years.” He intends to find a way to make it easier for new hires to come in and do well from the beginning.

“Side by side with that, for those of us that have been here for thirty years: We grew up at a time when the world of  professional arts was really quite different”—not just technologically, but economically. In order to direct students toward viable career paths, they need to ask whether the programs offered at BSA prepare students for the outside world. “And that’s a difficult, challenging thing to do, because you’re asking people who are comfortable with their training and their work to get outside their comfort zones a little bit,” he explains.

Twenty-five years ago, it seemed feasible for a violin student to enroll with the plan to become a concert violinist. Then, the NEA was throwing money at orchestras, and their numbers grew.  With them, the numbers of music schools grew. “So there was this great increase in terms of work, in terms of trained people,” Ford says, “and we’re not there now.” The jobs are simply gone. “Orchestras are figuring out how they can pay people less. I think the thing that really got people in the music world’s attention is when the Philadelphia Orchestra declared bankruptcy.”

And herein lies the school’s key challenge. “There’s not a cookie-cutter career path, and I’m not sure how much leverage we’ve got as a high school to help them with that, but we can certainly help them with the awareness that you need to have a lot of different skills.”

And perhaps that does mean a course in making YouTube videos and distributing your own music. “When I came out of school, people made LPs. CDs are now 30 years old. They’re done!  …So that’s more what I’m thinking about. The connection with the world of work for artists.”

Dr. Ford is eager to send the message that the opportunities haven’t disappeared; they’ve just changed. He tells the story of a concert violist who graduated and went to Juilliard. She was interested in new music, works written by her contemporaries, and got a job with WNYC. Soon, she parlayed it into a career as a radio producer. “She had the right group of skills at the right time…and she has this new-music-all-night-long show, which is so weird. Who would’ve thought something like this could happen? She thought it could happen, and she made it happen.” He plans to continue sharing the stories of successful alumni so that students can be inspired by them—even if it means they’ll have to deliver pizzas for a couple of years to get that unusual idea off the ground.

The school’s relationship with its alumni is one of the BSA’s most successful areas. Others include the TWIGS program, and the school’s original charter, which allows this public school to hire career artists, rather than career teachers. “That wouldn’t be feasible now because there’s so much in the way of government regulations about what you have to do to be a teacher.”  Other schools don’t get to hire the concert master of the BSO, as the BSA has proudly done.

Perhaps the school’s best success is its community—not merely its proximity to Centerstage, the Walters, and the BSO, but its community of students. This recital room, where there are usually about 120-130 chairs, is where community begins. “Every music student starts the day [here], with chorus. They’re all together. Why do we do that? We think it develops their aural sense. We think it develops their sense of community—everybody knows everyone else.” That community is fundamental to being an artist. “I think they find their place as an individual, but yet their place in a larger group that’s embarked in a similar mission.”

Race a Sticky Issue on College Apps

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For mixed-race students, the question of how to state their ethnicity on college applications is not only complicated, but controversial. According to a recent New York Times article, many non-mixed minority students feel that mixed-race students are opportunistically embracing their minority background on their college application (which may qualify them for preferential treatment), even as they downplay it in their everyday lives.

Reading this story reminded me of my own school days, when I was known to check “American Indian/Alaskan Native” in addition to “Caucasian” on demographic surveys to emphasize my own thinly multi-racial background. (I am 1/32nd Mohawk; the rest is white European.) I thought my speck of minority heritage made me more interesting. I wanted to stand out against all the other Sex: Male, Race: White students, if only to myself. By my senior year of high school I had decided that checking both boxes was disrespectful to people who are actually part of a Native American culture and live somewhere outside of white privilege.

I still feel that, for myself,  when I checked two boxes, I wasn’t being completely honest. But, in general, it seems that America needs to get with the multi-racial program. The controversy of how a student identifies racially stems largely from our seeming inability to view race as other than a discrete value. Perhaps there are students who need to work on owning their multi-ethnic backgrounds day-to-day, but society needs to allow space for that and relent with the endless sorting of people into categories. The fact is that we are a mixed-race nation, but we are oddly disinclined to acknowledge it. Our president is a prime example of our strange hang up. How often have you heard Barack Obama referred to as the first bi-racial president? What gives?

Boys’ Latin Valedictory Speech

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Thank you Mr. Post.  Good morning members of the Board of Trustees, Mr. Schools, faculty, fellow classmates, family and friends.  I am truly honored to speak to you today.  On behalf of the Class of 2011, thank you for joining us on this auspicious occasion.  I would like to begin by asking my fellow classmates to give a round of applause to those who have helped us reach this milestone:  the faculty, our families and friends.  

Class of 2011—this is our day.  As the 167th class to graduate from Boys’ Latin and the 50th on Lake Avenue, the world of 2011 is very different from the world of 1845, or even the world of 1961.  But some traditions have not changed.  Graduation day is still a significant day, marking the completion of our education at Boys’ Latin.  There are few moments in life so powerfully mixed with happiness and sadness, hope and fear as this one.  And like all rites of passage, it is both retrospective and prospective.  It marks the end of high school, when we bid farewell to the security of Boys’ Latin, and become part of the Laker legacy.  Yet today’s ceremony is also called a commencement, the beginning of the next phase of our lives.

Some of our class has been fortunate enough to spend thirteen years on this campus, with Boys’ Latin becoming our second home as we matured from young boys through adolescence to adulthood.  When we crossed over the bridge from middle school to upper school, we were nervous and not sure what to expect.  Now, it is time for us to cross the bridge to our future.  Once again, we are apprehensive and not sure what to expect.  But this time we are not crossing with our BL buddies, we are crossing on our own.   The seventy-one members of our class will attend 43 different colleges that span the nation from Maine to California.  Many years ago, cartographers used the term Terra Incognita, the Latin term for “unknown territory,” to identify regions that had yet to be explored.  Today, leaving behind the reassuring routine of life at Boys’ Latin, we will begin the journey into our own Terra Incognita.  It is appropriate that we take a few minutes to reflect on our Boys’ Latin experience.

This is the end of a thirteen-year run for me at Boys’ Latin, fourteen for Taylor McKissock!  Some things have remained constant:  thirteen years without girls, pretty much the same guys and the same scenery.  However, there have been some changes during this time:  four new headmasters, a new upper school wing, and a brand new middle school.  We won the first baseball championship in fifteen years but managed to go through four baseball coaches in four years.  There are some things I will always remember: lower school dodge ball, Mrs. Sczcpinski’s bullhorn, Jimmy Scharff’s endless trips to Mrs. Sczcpinski’s office, Mr. Franklin telling Mitchell Horning to cut his hair or telling me to tuck in my shirt, Jack Durkee’s bear hugs, Job Bedford always arriving late for class, rapping with Kendall Newman, Elliott Taft’s many supportive female relatives, and Mrs. Whitman mothering us all.  Nothing is more memorable than a teenager’s first car and we’ll all remember Derrick Wright’s jalopy, Attman’s yellow Camaro, and for Ben Kellar especially, seeing Drew Mank’s sister behind the wheel. 

There have been exciting sports moments as well:  carrying the coffin onto the St. Paul’s field, Well’s excessive celebration, Durkee’s three pointer, and Aaron Mack’s infamous home run and his 4 minute dance around the bases, as well as the soccer, baseball and volleyball championships.  Trust me, there is nothing better than rushing the field with all of you.  And, I will miss putting our fists together in a circle and shouting, “1-2-3 Lakers.”

Jack Loizeaux, a 1935 BL graduate, once observed, “During the sixty years since I have graduated from Boys’ Latin, hardly a day has passed that I haven’t smiled as I’ve remembered my teachers, the sports, and the school in general.  How much richer my life has been due to the influence of Boys’ Latin.” I, too, am proud to be a Laker.   In 44 BC, the ancient Roman statesman, Cicero, wrote an essay on the qualities of friendship, using the phrase that has become our school motto, Esse Quam Videri, “to be rather than to seem.”  Written over 2,000 years ago, these words still reflect the essence of Boys’ Latin, where a Laker is defined by his character, integrity, and compassion for others.  I have witnessed countless examples of these core values among the faculty, the parents, and my fellow classmates.  In the movie The Blind Side, when Leigh Ann feels threatened in Michael’s old neighborhood, he tells her, “I’ve got your back.” And that is precisely what Boys’ Latin and this class is all about.  We’ve always had each other’s backs.  I wouldn’t be standing here today if my classmates and teachers didn’t have my back when I had an accident in lower school.  Faculty like Ms. Tooma, Mrs. Szczpinski, and Mrs. Barnett, along with all of my classmates made sure they gave me the help and support I needed to make a full comeback.  The Class of 2011 has always stood beside me, encouraging me and helping me become the person I am today. 

We leave high school today with high hopes, pride and gratitude to those who have helped us through the years.  As we enter the world beyond Lake Avenue, we will have to live without Mr. Bowling’s sage advice, Mr. Logan’s eloquent stories, Mr. Doherty’s deadlines, Mr. Osborne speaking faster than the speed of light, Mr. Shriver’s voice echoing across Lake Avenue all the way to the baseball fields, and Ms. Mullally pushing us farther than we ever thought we were capable of going.  We are leaving our safe haven, the halls of Boys’ Latin, but we will take what we have learned and let it guide us through our future.  As Mr. Bowling likes to say, Carpe Diem.  We must “Seize the Day.”
The Class of 2011 is a remarkable group of people, with gifted athletes and scholars, worthy musicians and talented artists.  Our class has accomplished a lot: starting an award winning robotics club, reviving the school newspaper, taking college classes, Tyrelle and Jeremy’s musical achievements, travelling abroad, starting community service Saturday road trips, making all-star teams in football, soccer, volleyball and lacrosse, and the list goes on…  We have pushed ourselves academically, artistically, and athletically.  We will be entering a technology-driven world moving at the speed of light.  Our generation will be judged not on the technology we create but rather on the values we embrace.  Bart Giamatti, former Yale president said, “to strive for principles, even if the journey is never completed, is to tap a vast source of energy, the energy to commit to your best in the brief, precious time that each of us is blessed to have.”   Fifty years ago, in 1961, the first class graduated from Boys’ Latin on Lake Avenue.  They faced a tumultuous decade.  Whatever our generation has to face, I am confident our class will face it with character, integrity, and compassion for others, in the true spirit of Esse Quam Videri.

Shortly we will say goodbye to each other and scatter to different universities around the world. We will never be sitting here together as this group again.  We have achieved, learned, laughed, gotten into trouble, and matured.  We are bound by friendship, by brotherhood, and by our shared experience.  And we can move confidently toward the future knowing that we will always have each other’s backs because we are part of something bigger than ourselves, the Laker Legacy.  Fellow graduates, it has been my honor and privilege to share 13 years at Boys’ Latin with you.  After years of effort, long nights of studying, endless tests, pop quizzes, papers and DBQ’s, we are finally graduating!   And so we say, Ave, Atque, Vale:  Hail and farewell. 

Sex, Drugs, and Defamation: Anonymous Gossip on Campus

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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 — Hopdirt.com — 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

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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

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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

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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. 

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