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Reading is an essential component of a Blair education, and faculty members encourage reading throughout the year. The summer is no exception, which is why all Blair students are expected to read a minimum of five fiction or nonfiction books over the summer, and they are urged to read even more.

The five books students read  may include titles of their choosing in addition to those required by their teachers. Depending upon their courses, they may also have associated assignments and/or assessments to complete.

Titles for 2020 summer reading assignments are listed below. New and returning students enrolled in certain language courses for the 2020-2021 academic year must also complete summer work. Details about the summer work for language courses is linked in the list below.

All School Read for 2020-2021: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Requirements for Selected Courses (listed by department) for 2020-2021

 

English

English 1: The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)

English 2: Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury)

English 3: Into the Wild (Krakauer)

English 3 AP or 4 AP Literature: Let the Great World Spin (McCann)

English 4 AP Language: Between the World and Me (Coates)

 

History

Global Issues; Modern European; US History: In lieu of summer reading, these courses are allowed to assign a book over either the winter or spring break.

AP European History: Darkness at Noon (Koestler); please review instructions here for this reading.

 

Science

Chemistry Honors: Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape our Man-made World (Miodownik). Dr. Sayers and Dr. Markolovic ask that you review this document as part of the assignment. 

AP Chemistry: Summer reading is Sam Kean's The Disappearing Spoon, Back Bay Books, 2011. Dr. Sayers asks that you complete this assignment here.

AP BiologyRiddled With Life (Zuk) complete RWL Supplemental Questions

 

Language

Summer work in language courses differs by grade level and language studied. Please review the below requirements closely and click on the appropriate link.

 Spanish 2/2H: Click here for the assignment from Mrs. Castillo, Mr. Merino and Mrs. Lang.

Spanish 3/3H: Click here for the assignment from Mr. Mundo and Mr. Merino.

Spanish 4/4H:  Click here for the assignment from Mr. Devaney.

AP Spanish Language:  Click here for the assignment from Mr. Devaney.

Honors Spanish Literature & Conversation: Click here for the assignment from Mrs. Lang.

All classics students: Click here for the assignments from Mr. Towne.

French 2: Click here for the assignment from Mme. Lavalle.

French 3/3H: Click here for the assignment from Mme. Merrifield.

French 4/4H:  Click here for the assignment from Mme. Lavalle. Here are more fun ways to stay connected to French.

AP French Language: Click here for the assignment from Mme Lavalle. Here are more fun ways to stay connected to French.          

All Chinese students: Click here for the assignment from Mr. Facciani and Mrs. Wang.

 

Music & Performing Arts

 AP Music Theory: The Complete Book of Scales, Chords, Arpeggios and Cadences…  (Palmer, Manus, Lethco)

 

Student Donates Proceeds of Clothing Line to Local Hospital

Many people have been getting creative and using their talents to keep themselves occupied during the recent quarantine due to coronavirus. Others have been using their time to help fight the coronavirus by doing charitable acts. Blair Academy’s Patrick Plum '21 did both while stuck at his home in South Carolina. He raised money for the Southampton Hospital Foundation during quarantine selling socially distant sweatshirts that he designed himself.

While Patrick was sick and stuck at home, he thought of the current situation that he, and the rest of the country was in and decided he could help, “I had caught a bug at my home down in South Carolina and couldn’t move for three days, I just locked into designing a logo in my room and my final product pretty neat” Patrick said. The design, two socially distant figures on the front accompanied by the text ‘quarantine responsibly’ on the back, was a hit and quickly netted Patrick almost $3,000 in proceeds. Patrick saw the opportunity to do something good for his community and donated the money to help those who are sick and the healthcare workers that work in the hospital. 

Local newspaper, The Southhampton Press, caught wind of the great work that Patrick had done and wrote a story commending his efforts. Writer Alec Giufurta explained how Patrick clearly made a difference in his community, “On May 14, Patrick, with $2,750 in hand, donated the sum to the [Southhampton Hospital] foundation’s Healthcare Heroes’ Fund, the foundation’s president, Steven M. Bernstein, noted. “Stony Brook Southampton Hospital is deeply grateful to Patrick Plum for conducting a thoughtful and enterprising fundraiser on our behalf.”

When Patrick returns to campus, he hopes to continue designing clothes and start a club, “All of last year I wanted to start a clothing design club for kids who want to get into that area of fashion or whatever it may be. Hopefully, this coming year I’ll finally start the club!” Patrick has had a passion for fashion ever since he was young, “Since I was 7, I’ve wanted to do something involved with fashion or something creative,” Patrick stated. He also noted that we could be seeing more of his work in the near future. “Currently, I’m working with a few big brands to help design some clothes and various pieces so hopefully we’ll see some of those out soon!”

Patrick’s social distance sweatshirt can be purchased on his website blindinemotion.

Steps for action

Dear Blair Community,

Now, more than ever, Blair must and will move forward with critical action steps in furtherance of the diversity, equity and inclusion priorities laid out in our 2018-2025 Strategic Plan. We are all committed to more fully ensure that we are an inclusive, safe and welcoming community for every student and every adult.

Over the last several weeks, I have listened to and read stories of pain and struggle among Black students and alumni/ae in the Blair community. During my recent parent Town Hall, I shared that our students and extended Blair family must and will hear from us that Black Lives Matter. They must and will hear from us that teaching about race and social justice will be a meaningful part of our lives and curriculum at Blair. They must and will hear from us that Blair is committed to doing and being better. That is why we embarked on our Strategic Plan. That’s why we will listen and act with determination, humility and grace. When we say “Ever, Always,” that is our oath to honor the best of who we are and to make Blair the School our students and families need it to be now. We are committed to engaging in a dialogue with all stakeholders in our community about race, starting in the small-group forums we are hosting this summer. As we move forward into the next school year, we will remain committed to listening, learning and ensuring Blair is an institution in which every student feels included, supported and cared for.

Our actions are and will be grounded in our mission—to know our students and to prepare them to thrive in a diverse and complex world that we believe they will make better. As a School, we’ve endeavored to be thoughtful and deliberate so that our actions are meaningful and based on good advice, real data and our community’s lived experiences and truths. Yet, we are also compelled by the fierce urgency of now to accelerate work that will immediately impact the Blair experience and that is responsive to the needs of our community. We must demonstrate our commitment to practicing our mission every day and more fully realizing a culture that allows students to be and express their authentic selves, that is anti-racist, that fosters meaningful understanding and deep relationships and that, in reality, as opposed to just words, feels truly “all in” and “all together.”

I include here important steps we are and will be taking immediately in furtherance of key priority initiatives from our Strategic Plan, understanding that our work and future steps will continue to evolve as we evaluate what is most effective and listen to our community’s experiences, stories and ideas, not just in the coming weeks and months, but throughout the School’s future.

1.   FACULTY TRAINING

Sustained and effective faculty training is crucial to Blair’s nurturing a campus climate that fosters inclusion and equity. Building on recent professional development efforts, Blair has retained an expert diversity practitioner to inform and partner with our academic office and Inclusivity Committee to implement targeted training plans based on best practices for faculty. This effort will start this summer and continue throughout the school year. Moreover, we will substantially expand faculty participation in known, meaningful professional development programs, particularly the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference and the National Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) Project in the 2020-2021 school year.  

2.   CURRICULUM

As per our Strategic Plan, our Curriculum Committee, working with the academic office and our department heads, will conduct a comprehensive audit of our academic course offerings and provide recommendations that will be published for our entire community in late spring of 2021 as to how Blair’s curriculum across disciplines can better reflect the diversity of identity, thought, experience and background critical to providing a world-class education to all of our students. This will allow Blair to develop a thoughtful and comprehensive plan that builds upon what we are doing well and embraces opportunities for growth and improvement in our programs.

Over the course of the coming school year, Blair will be revising its current curricular offerings, including developing a new course that all students must take on the historical and modern realities of racism, intolerance, empathy and understanding. This class will launch in the fall of 2021 and build on other course offerings, seminars, discussion groups and speakers that we have developed over recent years and will continue to offer in the coming school year.

3.   FACULTY, STAFF & BOARD DIVERSITY

We will continue to expand our online and in-person faculty recruitment efforts and tools, including participation in diversity hiring fairs, targeted outreach to colleges/universities, including HBCUs, continuing our winter internship program for aspiring teachers, outreach to alumni/ae for hiring referrals and on-campus recruitment opportunities. While we have made progress, we will build on those efforts in the coming weeks and months and expand our capacity to do this work. Toward that end, this winter, we appointed veteran faculty member Leucretia Shaw to the School’s senior leadership team in the role of Dean of Strategic Initiatives, effective July 1, 2020. Leucretia has already partnered with me, Dean of Faculty Lorry Perry and others to recruit, retain and support exceptional faculty of color to join our community and to provide mentorship to all of our teachers. She will be seeking the input and help of our extended Blair community to do so.  

To make important strides on this front, we will accelerate our plans to create a teaching fellowship program that will enable Blair to tap into a diverse range of aspiring graduate students/early career teachers, with plans to bring on our first teaching fellow(s) at the start of the 2021-2022 school year. We are in the process of raising more endowed funds to support this initiative, which we know works to enhance faculty diversity in other schools.        

Blair’s Board of Trustees has reaffirmed its commitment to more fully reflect the diversity of race/ethnicity, background and experience of our students, alumni/ae and families. A standing Inclusivity Committee has now been established at the Board level, and its Chair will serve on our Board’s Executive Committee and provide Trustee oversight of Blair’s campus climate and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

4.   ENGAGEMENT & TRANSPARENCY 

We have much to learn and must continue to listen to all members of our community to inform our work on identifying, addressing and educating around issues of bias in order to better create a more inclusive community. This past school year, we conducted the NAIS Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism, a survey instrument sent to students, faculty, staff, Trustees, parents and alumni/ae. We were in the process of analyzing those results when we had to transition to distance learning in March, and we will share that data with the full community as we return to campus this fall. 

I am further asking our Inclusivity Committee to engage the broader Blair community through outreach, open meetings and regular updates in order to make recommendations to the School on staffing, programming and student support needs. We also will be sharing plans for regularly auditing our discipline process and responding to issues of bias and intolerance on our campus in ways that are consistent, appropriately transparent and honor the dignity, privacy and humanity of all involved.  

In addition to investing in these areas, we remain committed to assembling a diverse group of talented students from across the United States and around the world on our campus. That’s why increasing endowed financial aid funds is among our Strategic Plan’s priorities and our admission office will continue to partner closely with organizations and foundations that promote access and opportunities to schools like Blair.   

Blair stands first and foremost for its students. Because of that, whenever our students (past or present) are hurting and need to be heard, it is our responsibility to listen, acknowledge and honor what they’ve told us, to investigate concerns thoroughly to better understand what happened and to do better. Then we must go ahead and do that work thoughtfully and decisively and provide a safe space for our students, parents and alumni to learn from each other, evolve and support one another. That is my promise to you. That is Blair’s promise to you as we map our path forward. We should expect to be held accountable for fulfilling that promise. I thank those of you who have reached out to share your thoughts and experiences and offered to partner with us as we assume that responsibility and do the work. 

Book

Blair’s English department and all-school read committee have selected Trevor Noah’s 2016 memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood for the 2020-2021 all-school read. During the summer months, students and teachers will delve into the book, a #1 New York Times bestseller, in which Mr. Noah recounts his journey from a harrowing childhood in apartheid South Africa to a career as a political commentator and host of television’s “The Daily Show.” 

“We anticipate that reading and discussing Born a Crime together will be a fascinating, valuable experience for the Blair community, one that will offer us both insight and hope in these disconcerting times,” said English department chair Jim Moore. “Students and faculty members who are already fans of Mr. Noah’s television work will recognize in Born a Crime his ability to clarify complex social issues through his unique combination of unvarnished observations and a wry sense of humor.”

Mr. Moore noted that despite Mr. Noah’s celebrated accomplishments as a political commentator, television host and comedian, Born a Crime is his first published work. Thus, the selection of the book for the 2020-2021 all-school read is in keeping with Blair’s focus on debut authors as a way to reduce the distance between students and writers, one of the main goals of the all-school read program since its 2017 inception.

A brief synopsis of the book by publisher Penguin Random House describes how Mr. Noah’s life story began with a criminal act: his birth. “Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.”

Born a Crime has been widely praised, and it was named one of the best books of the year by Michiko Kakutani of The New York TimesUSA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Esquire, Newsday and Booklist. Learn more about the book and its author here.

WeAreListening

Blair Academy stands in solidarity with people of color during this moment of cultural reckoning, and we acknowledge that incidents on our campus have occurred that do not reflect this solidarity. We are committed to listening, learning and making the changes that we recognize need to happen at Blair. As part of that work, tonight, Blair's Inclusivity Committee is hosting the first in a series of small-group discussions in which we will talk to students, parents and alumni about current events, share ideas, and identify ways to ensure we can better understand and improve the Blair experience for all students, no matter the color of their skin. We are committed to doing more and being better. Dealing with the many things that have led us to this moment, both on our campus and off, is essential. These discussions will inform curricular changes, teacher training, hiring practices and other work to promote empathy across our community. Please know that our purpose is to listen and learn from every member of the Blair family who wishes to share his or her thoughts. 

 

Blair Celebrates Annual Day of Giving for Fifth-Consecutive Year

On June 10, 2020, Blair students, parents, grandparents, alumni, Trustees, faculty, staff and friends celebrated Blair’s commitment to being “all in” and “all together” on the School’s fifth-annual Day of Giving. 

One of the many things that makes Blair special is that so many people connected to the School realize just how special and extraordinary the Blair experience is, explained Director of Annual Giving Colleen McNulty P’18 ’20, who organized the Day of Giving.

“We all have so many different reasons for supporting Blair,” she said. “Some of us loved our experiences as students or are grateful for the opportunities our own children or grandchildren have had. Others have spent their careers teaching and working at Blair because they believe our graduates will go on to change the world. And even those loosely connected, who came to a Society of Skeptics lecture or a musical performance, felt the community’s warmth and unity and want to do something to support that. We are deeply grateful to everyone who made a contribution.”

Over the course of the day, the advancement office staff and Blair volunteers made connections via the telephone and social media asking for support of the Blair Fund and the newly established Blair Academy COVID-19 Relief Fund. As the global pandemic continues to impact people’s health and livelihoods around the globe, Blair is committed to providing increased financial aid to families who need it and supporting other critical needs, including support of Blair’s dedicated faculty and increased healthcare and technology resources.

Blair Buccaneer

At the end of the 2019-2020 school year, Blair Academy will say goodbye to three longtime coaches, history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, math and theatre teacher Wayne Rasmussen and Dean of College Counseling Lewis Stival. With a combined 90 years of coaching experience, these faculty members leave a footprint of what it means to be a Blair coach and a legacy for the community to admire as they move on to the next chapters of their lives. 

“Words can’t express my gratitude to these three coaches,” said Paul Clavel ’88, director of athletics. “They have made a profound impact on the lives of so many student-athletes, as well as represented the Blair athletic program with great sportsmanship and excellence. These men have been excellent role models for me and other coaches in our program. I thank them for their many years of service to Blair athletics.”  

Dr. Miller, who is retiring after 40 years at Blair, has been the varsity boys’ cross country coach for the past 40 consecutive seasons. During his tenure, he won seven Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) championships and five state titles. He was also an assistant running coach for the track-and-field team for 34 years, coaching multiple distance-runner state champions.

Mr. Stival coached the varsity boys’ tennis team for 27 years and the girls’ varsity team for four. In 2010 and 2011, the team won back-to-back MAPL championships and 29 straight matches, including a state championship in 2011. He has been a great mentor to many tennis players who have had successful college careers. Mr. Stival will continue his career as director of college counseling at Ransom Everglades School in Miami.

Blair’s senior master, Mr. Rasmussen, is retiring in June, having coached multiple sports throughout his 43-year teaching career, including 15 years of football, three years of JV baseball and two years of 3rds boys’ basketball. In addition to being the leader of the theatre tech crew, Mr. Rasmussen has also been a huge support for the Blair football program as the videographer for the varsity team.

The entire Blair community wishes these three coaches well in their future endeavors. 

Message from Blair’s Head of School to Community in Light of Recent Events

Dear members of the Blair community,

Words alone fail to do justice to the depths of injustice, anger, sadness, and despair felt and experienced across the country at this time. I add my voice and my words to the many (though not yet nearly enough or loudly enough) who have publicly denounced racism, hatred, inhumanity and senseless violence. I offer the love and sympathy of the entire Blair community to all who grieve over the horrifying and tragic killing of George Floyd and the unconscionable number of similarly lost lives in the black community over many years. These events compound the terrible loss of lives and livelihoods during the global pandemic and can, for many, make this time feel like too much to bear.  

Blair stands with and for the diversity, equality, safety, justice and dignity of not just our own community but all communities. Celebrating the diversity that strengthens and distinguishes our school community is important, but it is not enough. Blair's mission is to prepare our students not simply to excel in college but to become impactful and humane citizens of the world who promote genuine understanding and connection and who will bring their intellects, talents, passions and compassion to bear on the greatest public challenges we face, including the scourge of racism.  

While I'm proud of the work our community has done to support and model inclusion and understanding and to teach our students about the history and present day realities of overt and systemic racism, there is much more work required of us if Blair is to more fully fulfill the promise of its mission. Though school is not currently in session, this is a time when Blair needs to support and hear from our community.  

To that end, we will convene an ongoing series of discussion forums on the topic of race in America, with the first focusing on processing currently unfolding events. These discussions will build on and benefit from the work already being undertaken by our Inclusivity Committee, being studied in our courses such as "Race in America," being considered in our Belonging and Martin Luther King Jr.  seminar programs, and the many ways we are exploring one another's perspectives and stories, formally and informally, on and beyond our campus.  

We need brave and thoughtful spaces to share our authentic viewpoints and our collective desire to build a better, safer and more hopeful world. Later this week, I invite you to join me for our first online forum. More details on the date, time and format of our meeting will follow in another communication in the coming days.  

Hopes and prayers are desperately needed and warranted, but themselves are not a strategy for making the world a better place. Educational institutions are powerful drivers of unlocking students’ power and potential to make a difference in ways that honor their values and character. I look forward to coming together, learning together, understanding together and acting together, even if (and especially when) we see the world differently from one another, so we can make it more of the place we aspire to create. Beyond this forum, I encourage you to reach out to me, our faculty and staff and all members of the Blair community whose love and resolve will help us through this painful time.  

Take good care,
Chris Fortunato
Fine Arts Teacher Robert Hanson’s Film Featured in Brooklyn Film Festival

Robert Hanson, Blair’s instructor of digital media and film, was honored recently when his film “Kingdom of Archers” was selected for inclusion in the 2020 Brooklyn Film Festival (BFF), New York City’s longest running international-competitive film festival. This year’s BFF, presented virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, features more than 140 films chosen from 2,590 submissions from 92 countries. All festival films, including Mr. Hanson’s documentary, are viewable for free from May 29 through June 7 on the BFF website, and viewers have the opportunity to vote for their favorites.

“Kingdom of Archers,” a world premiere in the feature documentary category, explores the rich cultural tradition of archery in Bhutan, focusing on how the sport is changing amid the rapid Westernization, industrialization and globalization the country is experiencing. Mr. Hanson, the film’s producer and director, as well as a former competitive archer, traces his inspiration for creating it to his work with a nonprofit organization in 2008, prior to the Beijing Olympics.

“The nonprofit sponsored Bhutan’s Olympic archery team, which, at that point, consisted of just one archer and a coach,” he explained. “I became interested in Bhutan, where archery is the national sport, and learned that the traditional game of archery there is vastly different than what I knew archery to be. I wanted to explore that tradition in a documentary film format.”

The seed was planted, but it wasn’t until five years later that Mr. Hanson began actively working on the project. A meeting at Stanford University with the Prince of Bhutan in early 2014 “got the ball rolling” in earnest, and he then took two trips to the South Asia kingdom, spending just over a month in total in Bhutan with cinematographer Zebediah Smith. 

“With close to 100 hours of footage from the two trips, the major challenge was figuring out how to present the story and boiling everything down into a cohesive film,” Mr. Hanson said of the intensive work that followed. “All told, I’ve spent seven years on the project. Even though I was not actively working on it much of that time, it was constantly on my mind.”

The 77-minute “Kingdom of Archers” is Mr. Hanson’s first feature-length film, and this is the first time he has made a major festival run for a film he has produced. He is thrilled that his work is premiering at the BFF. “Even though I won’t have the chance to see the film on the big screen or interact in-person with my audiences due to the festival’s virtual format, the online platform will allow many more people to see the film who otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance,” he said. He is especially glad that members of the Blair community will have the opportunity to screen his film, and, he added, “I would certainly appreciate their votes in the competition!”

To register for the festival and view this year’s films, click here.

UnderclassPrizeAssembly

The Blair community came together virtually on May 26 to celebrate students’ accomplishments at the annual Underclass Prize Assembly, during which faculty presented a number of subject and department prizes. The event is an annual highlight as the school year comes to a close. To view the Underclass Prize Assembly, click play below:

Dean of Academics Nathan Molteni opened the presentation, acknowledging the unusual circumstances that the School has been facing this semester. He also reminded students how proud faculty and staff are for their hard work during this difficult time.

“Today we get to celebrate the best of what our students have accomplished this year,” Mr. Molteni remarked. “You each deserve a slice of the credit for how rich the intellectual life of the School has been this year. We thank you for your willingness to invest yourselves in different opportunities and ideas. Each of you makes the experience of learning here better.”

Mr. Molteni also noted that, in recognition of their hard work and dedication in the classroom, each of the departmental prize winners will have a donation made in his or her name to a charity chosen by the department head that aligns with the department’s broader mission.

After his remarks, the chairs of eight of Blair’s academic departments recognized awardees for exceptional work. English teacher Kaye Evans then inducted juniors into Blair’s cum laude chapter. Following that presentation, Associate Dean of Students Andee Ryerson and Dean of Students Carm Mazza joined Head of School Chris Fortunato and Associate Head of School Ryan Pagotto’97 in recognizing underclassmen with a number of special School prizes. The assembly ended with a message from Mr. Fortunato.

“Our 173rd year ahead offers an unmistakable opportunity for greatness, but we have to be ready for it, and we must rise up to it,” he remarked. “That means sticking together, having each other's backs, putting cause above self, embracing our vulnerabilities, and doing what Blair has always done best, to live and learn and come together as a community.”

The time for Blair’s greatest generation, he added, is here and now. “You may be burdened, but you are also blessed with the responsibility to be Blair’s greatest generation,” he concluded. “Never has there been a time in the history of this School when we will be relying more on every single individual in this community to achieve greatness.”

Congratulations to these awardees:

The Durland Prize for Excellence in Computer Science: Akshar Aiyer ’21

Freshman English Prize: Fengyi Fiona Han ’23 & Xiaoyu Emily Wang ’23

Sophomore English Prize: Vivien  Sheridan ’22 & Mia Stillerman ’22

The Henry B. Cowan Prize: Grace Hogue '21 & Linda "Lily" Starrs '21

2D Art Prize: Margaret Dericks ’22

The Kampmann Video Prize: Wingate Hopkins ’21 & Thao Nguyen ’21

Photography Prize: Xiaopei Chen ’21

Global Issues Prize: Elizabeth Kim ’23 & Ellie Walker ’23

Western Civilization Prize: Keith Delaney ’22Duc Dinh ’22 & Caroline Johnson ’22

U.S. History Prize: Nicholas Harpe ’21 & Jonathan Wong ’21

The Marguerite Deysson Habermann Memorial French Prize: Johannes Boellhoff ’21

Pythagoras Prize for Geometry: Elizabeth Kim ’23

Gauss Prize for Algebra: Aidan Ward ’22

Newton Prize for Calculus: Hao Hank Cui ’22

The Euler Prize for Analysis: Linda "Lily" Starrs '21

Underclass Theater Prize: Nicola Kirkwood ’21 & Michael Richardson ’21

Vocal Music Prize: Ethan Rackleff ’21

Instrumental Music Prize: Jenna Park ’21

Freshman Biology Science Prize: Elizabeth Kim ’23

Sophomore Chemistry Science Prize: Hao Hank Cui ’22

Junior Physics Science Prize: Dylan Zhu ’21

The Joan and Fernando Marcial Prize: Amos Debah ’23

The Stephen Curry Prize: Lual Manyang ’22

The David Avery-Jones Freshman Prize: Mallory Allen ’23 & Carnegie Johnson ’23

The John Kinch Leach Merit Award: Sophia Davis ’22 & Gabriel Ramirez ’22

The Phillips-James Rosen Trophy: Grace Hogue ’21 & Morgan Jones ’21

Cum Laude Inductees - Class of 2021

Alexandra Bakulina ’21

Arjun Krishna Chopra ’21

Lucy Pearl Clayton ’21

Ashley HanRui Dai ’21

Daniel Siyuan Dai ’21

Grace Anderson Hogue ’21

Hayoung Jung ’21

George Lund Sigety ’21

Linda Marie Starrs ’21

Jonathan Jinghei Wong ’21

Jenna Madison Van Valkenburg ’21

Dylan Tianyu Zhu ’21

Class of 2020 banner

Blair Academy’s 172nd commencement ceremony was a tradition- and joy-filled celebration of the class of 2020, as well as the first graduation in School history to take place online. Families and friends from around the world came together virtually on May 21—appropriately a beautiful, sunny day in Blairstown—to listen to words of wisdom, honor the achievements of students and faculty members, and celebrate a truly outstanding senior class. (To watch the ceremony in full, click "play" below.)

The Rev. Lisa Durkee, Blair’s chaplain and chair of the religion and philosophy department, opened the ceremony with a benediction, before Head of School Chris Fortunato and Senior Class Council members Aidan Riano ’20 and Robert Donnelly ’20 welcomed seniors and their families to the event. Mr. Fortunato, speaking from Sharpe House lawn, expressed his wish that everyone could have been with him that day at the traditional site of graduation. 

“I welcome us all back together in this moment to celebrate the achievements, character and spirit of the Class of 2020,” he said. “You have arrived at this long-awaited and momentous day at a time when the world is in pain and the path ahead is filled with both endless possibilities and significant uncertainties. I honor the strange place in which we and you as graduates find ourselves, but I refuse to begin today with sadness and, instead, choose to look up in hope. Seniors, the joy you have brought us will forever eclipse the sadness I feel in missing you today and over these past two months. Your talents and courage will carry us forward to a bright future for all.”

Mr. Fortunato recognized Blair’s two longest-serving faculty members, math and theatre teacher Wayne Rasmussen and history teacher Martin Miller, PhD., both of whom were participating in their final commencement ceremony. He thanked them for their combined 80-plus years of service to Blair as they prepare to retire in June. The ceremony continued with presentations of awards to several faculty members in recognition of their dedication to Blair students and their profession. 

Likewise, several seniors were honored for their accomplishments throughout their course of study at Blair, and three recipients accepted their appointments to U.S. service academies (see below for full list of awards given at graduation). Dean of Academics Nathan Molteni presented the day’s final award, the George P. Jenkins ’32 Prize, to class speaker Seo Yeong (Shauna) Kwag ’20, who addressed her classmates in an uplifting and personal speech.

Shauna touched upon her deep fascination with mathematical patterns, as well as her appreciation of the patterns and routines of everyday life at Blair. These routines, including the expectation of a fun-filled, culminating “senior spring,” were ripped away by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite what was lost, however, something has also been gained: a newfound perspective of the beauty that goes unnoticed in routine.

“As we all move into each of our uncertain futures, I want to challenge you all to try to discern the patterns that dictate your daily lives,” she said as she concluded her remarks. “And once you find that pattern, I hope you can all stop to notice the beauty of it, of its masterful and sophisticated design, of how you’re forming it, and how it’s forming you. All patterns—let them be in nature or more in our human lives—are beautiful and worthy of appreciation. Especially since, unlike an infinitely repeating decimal, our lives are not infinite; they, and each moment that makes them up, are finite.” 

Congratulating her classmates on their graduation, Shauna added, “We are all so lucky to have something we can miss so much, to have been shaped by the pattern of our daily lives at Blair, which will always be with us no matter where we are. So to you all: thank you, stay well, and take comfort that we will meet again.”

The moment the members of the class of 2020 had been waiting for finally arrived: the conferring of diplomas. Faculty advisors read the names of each of their senior advisees, acknowledgment of the special relationships that had been forged during students’ Blair years, while images of each graduate scrolled across the screen.

Mr. Fortunato then addressed the newly minted alumni, reminding them that the many memories they had created over the course of their years at Blair—imbued with joy and, at times, pain—would keep them connected far more powerfully than anything that might separate them, including a global pandemic.

“It is appropriate that the class of 2020 should so sharply bring into focus what it truly means to be a Blair student—and a Blair graduate—and what it means to live the Blair way,” he said. “Since I first addressed you as freshmen at Convocation in 2016, you have been the class that, no matter what the world has thrown your way, continues to look up, chooses to build relationships, bridges and paths forward even when the shadows of cynicism threaten to darken our hopes, and remains kind to others, even in moments of hardship.” 

He urged them to raise their eyes to the Blair star about which he had spoken at that long-ago Convocation whenever they need a reminder of their connection to their alma mater. “Always remember, it is there for you and that Blair is always there for you.”

Senior Class Council member Lula Mantegna ’20 had the honor of closing the ceremony, but the festivities for the class of 2020 continued during the afternoon as classmates who lived within driving distance converged on the hilltop for a drive-through celebration. Graduates and their families had been invited to drive the campus loop road, which was lined the entire way with cheering faculty and staff members—all at appropriate social distance, of course. Honking horns and shouts of gladness filled the air as Blair family members shared their joy on this momentous occasion.

Congratulations to the class of 2020!

Faculty awards presented at graduation:

Apgar Award for Teaching Excellence: computer science teacher Michael Garrant
Riether Residential Life Award: English teacher David Mamukelashvili
John C. and Eve S. Bogle Teaching Prize: English teacher Sarah O’Neil
Headmaster’s Faculty Prize: Dean of Academics Nathan Molteni
Tedlow Teaching Prize: history teacher Andrew Sykes 

Student awards presented at graduation:

Selena & James Howard Prize: Dylan Robert Benson ’20 & Camille Aleksandra Williams ’20
Harold F. Walker Memorial Prize: Corey Stephen Downey ’20 & Robert Frederico Rucki ’20
Lee Rose Memorial Trophy: Kathleen S. Devlin ’20 
Headmaster’s Prize: Aidan Gilmore Riano ‘20 
Blair Academy Trophy: Alexandra Leigh Kirby ’20 
George P. Jenkins ’32 Prize: Seo Yeong (Shauna) Kwag ’20 

Appointments to U.S. service academies:  

U.S. Naval Academy: Sarah Elizabeth Richardson ’20 & Peter McBride Montgomery ’20 
U.S. Military Academy at West Point: Damon Myles Washington ’20

Outstanding Seniors Recognized at Virtual Senior Prize Assembly

Blair community members came together from their homes around the globe on May 18 to honor outstanding members of the graduating class during the School’s first-ever virtual Senior Prize Assembly. Dean of Academics Nathan Molteni welcomed parents, students and faculty members to the online event, which celebrated students’ achievements in academics, athletics and student life. To view the Senior Prize Assembly, click play below:

“We must start by celebrating your resilience through this spring,” Mr. Molteni said to the members of the class of 2020. “We are very proud of what you have accomplished, despite the challenges of the last two months, and know that you head off well-prepared into the next phase of your lives. While we aren’t physically together tonight, we can still share in each other’s joy and pride for the success you have achieved. If there’s one lesson we all learn each year at Blair, students and faculty alike, it is this: experiencing this journey of learning and growth together is what makes our experiences worthwhile.”

Mr. Molteni announced that in recognition of the impact Blair’s award-winning students will have upon the world, a donation will be made in the name of each academic departmental prize winner to a charity that aligns with the department’s broader mission. 

The first awards of the evening were presented for academic excellence, and department chairs from across Blair’s curriculum took pride in recognizing their top students. English teacher Kaye Evans announced those seniors who had earned membership in Blair’s Cum Laude Society, and this was followed by the presentation of prizes for overall development in all areas of student life. Finally, Director of Athletics Paul Clavel ’88 accorded recognition to Buccaneer athletes for their noteworthy accomplishments as members of Blair’s athletic teams. (Please see below for the names of student award-winners.)

The James M. Howard Jr. Fellowship Prize, which honors a faculty member early in his or her career who has especially impacted the Blair community over the course of the school year, was the final award of the evening. Assistant Head of School and Dean of Faculty Lorry Perry presented it to history teacher Marianna Paone, noting that, according to tradition, the Senior Class Council had helped to choose her as the recipient. 

Head of School Chris Fortunato concluded the Senior Prize Assembly by sharing warm words of congratulations with the class of 2020, noting that this was the final gathering for seniors—albeit virtually—before they become Blair alumni. “Congratulations to all of you who have been recognized for your achievements today,” he said. “I so wish we could be together in Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts, but I can visualize standing at that podium and looking out at all of you, and I think about how extraordinary your accomplishments have been during your time at Blair.” The premier of the Senior Video, a retrospective of the 2019-2020 school year created by members of the senior class, brought the assembly to its celebratory close.

 

2020 Awards Presented to Students:

THE HARDING MEMORIAL PRIZE, awarded to that student who has contributed most to musical organizations: Hannah Kate Picabo Starorypinski

THE ROBERT F. HARRIS MEMORIAL TROPHY, awarded to a member of the senior class for special interest and outstanding achievement in the study of English literature: Cameron Goodwin Bentley & Emia Musabegovic

THE ROBERT F. HARRIS DRAMATICS AWARD, presented to that member of the student body who has shown the highest standard of excellence in dramatics: Ryan Gomez & Audrey Katherine Sacks

THE PAUL R. WHITE HISTORY PRIZE, awarded to that student who is considered to be the most proficient history student in the senior class: Katherine Danforth Holding & Carmen Joseph Liuzza III

THE CHARLES H. BREED LATIN PRIZE, awarded to an outstanding student in advanced Latin: Hugh John Crossen III

THE DUMONT ENGLISH PRIZE, awarded to the member of the senior class who ranked highest in English and presented in memory of the late Senator Wayne Dumont and his father, Wayne Dumont Sr. by Mrs. Helen Dumont: Dylan Robert Benson & Hugh John Crossen III

THE JOSEPH F. EBERLE MEMORIAL PRIZE, awarded to that student who exhibits outstanding achievement in music: Abigail Paige Morris & Kendra Lee Payne

THE WINSON D. EWING PRIZE, awarded to that student who is considered to be the most outstanding mathematics student in the senior class: Tanadol Lamlertprasertkul

THE AP SCIENCE PRIZE, presented to that student who exhibits an overwhelming passion and commitment toward science and who has written a superior academic record in multiple AP science courses: Peter Chun Pang Li & Olivia Shea McLaine

THE DONALD E. LAWSHE PRIZE, presented in memory of former Blair physics teacher Donald E. Lawshe and presented to that student who has consistently demonstrated a passion for science and a dedication to interests beyond the classroom: Chloe Park

AN ART PRIZE, awarded to the student who, in her study of art, is widening her life by sharpening her perceptions: Elizabeth Brandon Sigety

PURCHASE ART PRIZE, awarded to the student for the purchase of their artwork to be displayed at the School: Thomas Franz Engel, Kate Mackenzie Gerdsen & Julia Josephine Thomas

THE PETER L. AMERMAN RELIGION PRIZE, awarded to that student of religion who has been most challenged by the material encountered and who has demonstrated an effort to re-evaluate the philosophy of life accordingly: Muzi Marilyn Fang

 

Other prizes given for outstanding performance were:

Chinese: Dylan Robert Benson

Spanish: Joop Alexander Olthof

Two-Dimensional Art: Helena Siobhan Frawley

Three-Dimensional Art: Elizabeth Ann Negvesky

Photography: Lydia Duval Richardson

Newton Prize for Calculus: Dylan Robert Benson

John Wyeth Yearbook Prize: Emma Mei Bo Abbott, June Dinias & Ally Eun Kim

World Religions: Olivia Shea McLaine

 

INDUCTED INTO CUM LAUDE SOCIETY:

Inducted as juniors:

Cameron Goodwin Bentley

Samantha Bianca Cerami

Thomas Franz Engel

Katherine Danforth Holding

Alexandra Leigh Kirby

Seo Yeong Kwag

Timothy Matthew Harry Launders

Peter Chun Pang Li

Emia Musabegovic

Joop Alexander Olthof

Lydia Duval Richardson

Audrey Katherine Sacks

 

Inducted as seniors:

Dylan Robert Benson

Kathleen S. Devlin

Muzi Fang

Helena Siobhan Frawley

James Patrick Hinsperger

Kelsey Amelia Jackman

Ashton Paige Martini

Olivia Shea McLaine

Chloe Park

Robert Frederico Rucki

Priscilla Arpana Sharma

Hannah Kate Picabo Starorypinski

Jordan Anne Ullman

Jinghan Zhang

 

THE FRANKLIN PRIZE, awarded to the senior who has shown the greatest development and improvement throughout the course: Gwen Allison Safin

THE ELAINE & JAMES KELLEY PRIZE, awarded to that student who best represents the spirit of the postgraduate program by strengthening academic skills and his or her horizons through meaningful participation in the life of the community: Sarah Elizabeth Richardson

THE HERBERT J. SIEGEL ’46 SPORTSMANSHIP PRIZE, presented to those seniors whose sportsmanship, spirit and selfless dedication to their teams best represents the ideals of Blair Academy: Ashlyn Nicole Alles, Kendra Lee Payne, Thomas Franz Engel & Ryan Vincent Miller

THE ROBERT DALLING PRIZE, presented to the male athlete who has best represented Blair Academy in athletic competition: Elijah Lee Anthony

THE WILLIAM ZESTER MEMORIAL AWARD, presented to the female athlete who has best represented Blair Academy in athletic competition: Kathleen Emerson Antonelli

Senior Athletic Award, given to students who have earned seven or more varsity letters (five varsity letters for new juniors or three varsity letters for postgraduates):

Ashlyn Nicole Alles

Elijah Lee Anthony

Kathleen Emerson Antonelli

Dylan Robert Benson

Nathaniel James Castimore

Corey Stephen Downey

Cameron Edward Grant

Rebecca Hope Groseibl

Martin Kirk Holton

Savannah Lee

Ashton Paige Martini

Elizabeth DuBois Montfort

Kendra Lee Payne

Chloe Liquan Axelson Rayer

Zoë Nolan Reinert

Aidan Gilmore Riano

Sarah Elizabeth Richardson

Madina Amani Shabazz

Damon Myles Washington

Blair Musicians Harmonized from Home in Virtual Spring Concert

Blair’s vocal and instrumental musicians took part in a unique musical event on May 15 when they presented the School’s first-ever virtual Spring Concert. The online performance showcased the repertoire students prepared for their Carnegie Hall debut in April, and celebrated their Blair spirit and determination to make music together, despite physical distance, a global pandemic or any other obstacles that might come their way. You can view the full concert by clicking "play" below.

A Repertoire to Remember

Until they departed campus for spring break in early March, Blair’s musical ensembles were focused on their trip to New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall, where instrumentalists were to have performed as part of the Spring Instrumental Music Festival and vocalists as part of the National Youth Choir. The April 18 concert would have been a “historic moment in Blair music history,” according to performing arts department chair and director of instrumental music Jennifer Pagotto, but with COVID-19, it simply was not to be.

Nonetheless, as Blair’s musicians settled into distance learning from their homes in every corner of the world, they continued to polish the significant and challenging repertoire they had begun to work on last fall and winter. Through online group work, one-on-one virtual lessons and coaching sessions with Mrs. Pagotto and director of vocal music Ryan Manni, not to mention plenty of practice on their own, Blair’s instrumentalists and vocalists prepared for a memorable Spring Concert.

“Several Orchestra pieces in our repertoire are significant works from the Western canon, so that alone makes these concert performances stand out,” Mrs. Pagotto said, citing Bach’s Fugue in G Minor as a work that is “incredibly difficult” to play. “Students put so much work last winter into preparing their parts and learning how the parts fit together. They had to learn their own rhythms, but in order for the piece to work, each player had to play exactly in rhythm. The audience will definitely hear the complexity of the music in this piece.”

Mrs. Pagotto also described Modest Mussorgsky’s “Great Gate of Kiev” as a beautiful orchestral work. “This would have been the opener at Carnegie Hall, and I’m very proud of how the musicians approached their tone production and phrasing in this piece,” she added.

Mr. Manni chose vocal works “Ave Maria,” by Kevin A. Memly, and “I Don’ Feel No Ways Tired,” arranged by Stacey V. Gibbs, as concert highlights. “‘Ave Maria’ includes complex rhythmic patterns that many students struggled to learn at first, but their hard work fostered a new appreciation for this composition,” he said. “The Singers especially loved learning ‘I Don’ Feel No Ways Tired’ for its ending that includes a few large and chromatic chords. They take full advantage of their vocal technique to really sing out.”

Robbie Donnelly ’20 is also a fan of “I Don’ Feel No Ways Tired” because the piece is super energetic and upbeat. “It also has a lot of cool dynamic changes and harmonies,” he noted. “Overall, it’s just a fun song to sing!” 

Tapping into Technology

In addition to its exciting repertoire, the virtual Spring Concert’s presentation format and the way it came together also make it a standout event. Students recorded their parts for each work from their homes, and Mrs. Pagotto and Mr. Manni tapped into technology to create virtual compilations of each ensemble. The audience will hear—and in some cases, with accompanying video, see—the final result during the virtual concert.

“There is nothing ‘normal’ about having each vocalist or instrumentalist perform separately—in fact, it is antithetical to what we strive for as an ensemble,” Mrs. Pagotto reflected. “Usually, we try to function as one performer and to make music and create a piece of art together, in the moment. It is amazing that we can use technology to recreate, as best we can, an ensemble performance. The audience will hear some outstanding music from our students—which represents a huge amount of work on their part—and probably not realize just how difficult it was to pull it off.”

‘Still Together Through Our Music’

These past weeks of distance learning may have presented some challenges for Blair’s musicians, but being apart from one another has inspired an even deeper appreciation for making music together. “We were disappointed not to be able to sing at Carnegie Hall, but that didn’t stop us from finding ways to perform our repertoire for the Blair community,” Mr. Manni said. “Students worked more diligently than ever before, and we have still been together through our music despite the physical distance.”

Nicola Kirkwood ’22 thanked her fellow vocalists for making participation in virtual Singers just as much fun as singing together on campus. “Everyone has been great at keeping together and continuing our choral experience,” she said. “I can’t wait to see everyone next year!”

For Mrs. Pagotto, online classes have been a “refreshing treat,” and she especially recognized the participation of several Orchestra members who have been at home without their musical instruments. “These students have been working behind the scenes to offer suggestions during rehearsals, write program notes and create introductions to each of our concert pieces,” she said. “It has been a joy to see them and all our musicians connect during class sessions, converse with one another and listen to each other’s playing. It’s also been refreshing to see our students’ commitment to continue making music, despite the situation.”

Robbie, too, has been impressed by his fellow musicians’ commitment to a common goal as they have worked on their recordings. “The dedication shown by Mr. Manni and our choir to produce a virtual concert under these circumstances has reminded me why I enjoy participating in choir so much,” he said.

Senior instrumentalists Cameron Grant ’20 and Daniel Heo ’20 are both looking forward to their final performance of the Orchestra’s signature piece, Klaus Badelt’s “Pirates of the Caribbean,” during the virtual concert. “I’ve played ‘Pirates’ many times during my Blair career, but this is taking it to a whole new level. It will be like hearing it for the first time,” Cameron said. He added that it has been especially meaningful to come to online music classes and play the instrument he has been playing since fourth grade during this unsettled time. “Mrs. Pagotto always came to class excited and genuinely happy to play for and with us, despite missing out on everything she had planned for the spring. I hope she knows we all really appreciate her.”

Daniel hopes that the Orchestra’s performance of “Pirates of the Caribbean” brings Blair family members from all around the world together as one community. “For me, working with peers and teachers half a world away at a time like this has shown me Blair’s dedication to not only making sure that we get a great education, but also to creating an unforgettable experience by making memories together.”

Twelfthnight

In yet another first for Blair Academy, the Blair Academy Players presented a virtual reading of William Shakespeare’s classic Twelfth Night. To watch the performance, please click "play" below:

Nearly 20 students had been working on the production before they left campus for spring break in early March. When the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the transition to distance learning a few weeks later, director Craig Evans, who has taught theatre and English at Blair since 1994, had to develop an alternative way to share the fruits of students' labor. With actors sheltering in place on three continents, the virtual rehearsal process for Twelfth Night proved to be a fun challenge for all involved. 

“The most interesting part of rehearsing a virtual play, especially a Shakespeare piece, is having to change how I deliver lines and interact with the other actors,” said Victoria Crow ’20, who plays Olivia. “There’s a disconnect when acting through a computer, which means we’re lacking the relationship you have in person with your scene partner. That was something unexpected, but it’s been a great challenge to conquer.”

One of Shakespeare’s most-performed comedies, Twelfth Night presents a tale of love, gender-changing disguise and harsh pranking of the pompous. Duke Orsino of Illyria is in love with Olivia, but she rejects his advances. A shipwrecked Viola arrives on Illyria’s shores, and, with the help of a Captain, disguises herself as a boy, calling herself Cesario, and enters Orsino’s service. Orsino comes to trust Cesario, and sends “him” to woo Olivia for him. Viola realizes to her dismay that Olivia has fallen for her Cesario rather than Duke Orsino—further complicated by the fact that Viola is falling herself for Orsino. Meanwhile, a group of rascally characters make the haughty Malvolio believe that his mistress, Olivia, is in love with him. At the same time, Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, has survived the shipwreck as well, and, helped by Antonio, a former enemy to Illyria, comes upon the scene and, of course, is mistaken for Cesario.

"We try to perform a Shakespearean play once every few years," said Mr. Evans. "Experiencing a Shakespearean play in an outdoor setting is ideal, but I know the students will have an equally memorable experience virtually this year."

Cast & Crew:

Duke Orsino of Illyria - Ryan Gomez ’20
Olivia - Victoria Crow ’20
Viola - Olivia McLaine ’20
Captain - Audrey Sacks ’20
Sir Toby Belch - Jonathan Lee ’20
Sir Andrew Aguecheek -  Omar Ali ’20
Maria - Madina Shabazz ’20
Fabian - Abigail Morris ’20
Malvolio - Marc Lui ’23
Sebastian - Sid Mehta ’21
Antonio - Jake Tran ’23
Olivia’s Jester - Nick Callan ’23 

Annie Mulholland ’20
Kelsey Jackman ’20
Savannah Lee ’20
Christina Enodien ’20

 

The Show Will Go On: Players Shared Scenes from Men on Boats
Men on Boats Poster

Despite Blair’s move to distance learning this spring, the show went on for the Blair Academy Players, who virtually shared a few scenes from Men on Boats with the Blair community. To watch the virtual production, click “play” below.”

The recording of the production, which director Sonia Hanson called “an extended trailer” for the live, staged reading that the actors plan to perform in the Robert J. Evans Open Air Theatre next fall, took the audience on a whitewater rapids adventure through the Grand Canyon. 

The “true(ish)” plot delves into the history of an 1869 expedition of one-armed captain John Wesley Powell (played by Lucy Clayton ’21) and a crew of nine loyal volunteers who set out to chart the course of the Colorado River following the Civil War (see below for a full list of cast and crew members). The expedition, sanctioned by the U.S. government, later divvys up the land and displaces Native Americans who had been living there for hundreds of years. Written by Jaclyn Backhouse, the show pushes the boundaries of storytelling with a gender-fluid cast that allows audience members to intently focus on the nuances of the characters’ experiences and more closely examine how stories of our history are told.

“I originally wanted to open some of the storytelling process by having live on-stage sound and lighting that was exposed to the audience,” said Ms. Hanson. “Having the show turn into this multipart experience for the Blair community actually still opens and shares the rehearsal process. Our final performance won't be a fully produced show, but it will still have the power of story behind it with the characters that have resonated through time.”

Even though plans for the live production had to be shelved in mid-March due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the 12 cast members have enjoyed growing the bonds they formed in their few rehearsals before spring break. “My favorite part, despite the unfortunate circumstances, has been getting to know the many great people in our cast,” said Hanna Wilke ’23 (who plays Old Shady, Major Powell’s war veteran brother). “From the start, it was quite evident that a great show was beginning to bloom, and it was because of my great fellow castmates!”

The lighthearted-yet-serious nature of the show has also made the experience of virtually producing it interesting for all involved. In many ways, the play pokes fun at American history and how it is written, taking a long look at erasure from history, especially in the case of Native Americans and women.

“In the same way that Hamilton takes a new look at America’s founding, this show relooks at history in a way that includes us,” said Ms. Hanson, who has acted since high school, studied theatre arts as an undergraduate at Stephen F. Austin State University and earned her MFA in costume design and technology at San Diego State University. She later taught theatre at Missouri Western State University, and her work as a freelancer for television, film and theatre led her to become a props artisan on Whose Line Is it Anyway? and create costumes for arts organizations across the U.S.

Calling the play’s director “one of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met,” Hanna has been impressed with how well Ms. Hanson knows the show (she first saw it off-Broadway in Kansas City with Mr. Hanson and they had no idea at first it was cross-casted). “While it is sad Men on Boats could not be performed live this spring, Ms. Hanson still came up with a really fun and creative way for us to share the show with everyone, for ‘the show must go on!’ I am honestly so grateful for all Ms. Hanson has done, and I can’t wait to see what she does next,” Hanna said.

Although she has been directing plays since senior year in college, this is Ms. Hanson’s first time directing high school students. She and assistant director Dr. Wendy Bedenko Moore have been incredibly impressed with Blair actors’ ability to adapt and their openness to the artistic process. 

As for why Blair students, teachers and staff should tune in for the virtual scenes to be shared this week, Ms. Hanson says she is certain they have never seen a show like this. “It is so difficult to explain how unique this show is because the actors are literally on boats riding down a river,” she said. “It is hard to do that creatively and artistically when you are actually standing still.” 

The production also leaves audiences wondering about the definition of success: The expedition is considered a success, but there are devastating consequences, and not just for Native Americans. The Colorado River was dammed, which changed the landscape. Most of the men were not recognized in the history books, except for Major Powell, who went on to work for the State Department. “Yes, the government got what it wanted, and yes, the men survived, but even Powell proposed setting up the entire West around the river system so it would be ecologically sustainable,” Ms. Hanson concluded. “But the government dammed the river and ignored him, and I wonder if he would have gone on the mission if he had known its outcome.”

In addition to taking a look at the unintended consequences of success, the show also imagines what women could have accomplished if they were able to take part in the expedition. “The original historical event had a male lead, but Men on Boats is the female-empowering, gender bender version that’s bound to not only give you a laugh but also a glimpse into how strong our all female cast is,” Hanna said. 

Cast & Crew

Lucy Clayton ’21: John Wesley Powell

Kelsey Jackman ’20: William Dunn

Annie Mulholland ’20: John Colton Sumner

Alex Schamberger ’22: Hawkins

Sophia Davis ’22: Hall

Aavya de Silva ’20: Seneca Howland

Hanna Wilke ’23: Old Shady

Emily Wang ’23: Bradley

Kayleah Strunk ’23: Frank Goodman

Ari Albino ’23: O.G. Howland

Duc Dinh ’22: The Bishop

Lindsay Juge ’21: Tsauwait & Mr. Asa

Arjun Chopra ’21: Stage manager/student director

Kendra Payne ’20 & Audrey Sacks ’20: Sound design & composition