Magnolia Tree

Head of School Chris Fortunato announced on April 1 that distance learning will remain in effect at Blair Academy indefinitely as the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect our region, the nation and the world. In a video message to the Blair community, Mr. Fortunato acknowledged the disappointment that students, especially seniors, will no doubt experience knowing they will not return to campus during the spring semester, a time that would ordinarily be filled with many culminating events and celebrations, including commencement. However, he also expressed faith in students’ courage and commitment to the greater good amid the challenges we are all facing at this time.

“Many of you to whom I’ve talked to in recent days knew my decision today was likely coming. I have been deeply moved by the sentiment that I’ve heard echoed over and over again—that while we understandably grieve the loss of a spring semester together, our focus and energy must remain on all who are fighting to keep our fellow citizens around the country and the globe, including our friends and loved ones, safe and healthy in the midst of this crisis,” Mr. Fortunato said. “We grieve the loss of the joy and togetherness that a beautiful Blair spring normally brings us, but, as always, we look beyond ourselves to others. We grieve the loss of lives and livelihoods that the coronavirus has wrought, and we channel our grief into an unwavering resolve that we will be back here on this campus when this crisis ends to learn, laugh, compete and create, and to celebrate our spirit and your accomplishments.”

Mr. Fortunato noted that a virtual commencement celebration will take place in May for graduating seniors, while the School will make plans for an in-person graduation and other celebratory events just as soon as possible. “I promise you, even if it’s hard to see right now, that the best is truly yet to come,” he said to the members of the class of 2020. “Seniors, your Blair friends and faculty who care so much about you are here for you, not just for one last season on the hilltop but for a lifetime, no matter where life takes you and us.”

A series of FAQs accompanied Mr. Fortunato’s message to the Blair community. The School will continue to build upon its first weeks of distance learning as the semester progresses by incorporating virtual versions of many of quintessentially Blair programs, including Society of Skeptic lectures, School Meeting, Head of School Roundtables, service work and more.

Mr. Fortunato concluded his message with an affirmation of Blair’s core value. “People are the heart of this school. People must always come first. At this time of great uncertainty and challenge, we are committed to taking exceptional care of our students and our dedicated faculty and staff,” he said. “I don’t have every answer I wish I had for you today, but I can promise you this: We will deliver on our mission every day, we will put our people first, we will take great care to do the next right thing as circumstances change, and we will be back here together and stronger than ever. Stay strong, stay home and go Bucs.” 

Stacey Spring '95

Stacey (Gorski) Spring ’95, PhD, connected with Blair students, faculty and staff on March 31 at 7 p.m. to discuss “Lessons from Europe: Could the U.S. Break Its Two-Party Political System?” at a virtual Society of Skeptics presentation. A member of the history faculty at Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts, since 2015, Dr. Spring is a familiar face at Blair as both an alumna and former faculty member. 

To watch the presentation in full, click "play" below:

Having recently completed her doctorate in political science at Boston University, Dr. Spring traced her love of the subject to the Russian history course she took as a Blair senior with longtime history teacher and Society of Skeptics coordinator Martin Miller, PhD. She subsequently earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and English at Middlebury College and began her teaching career at Peddie School before joining Blair’s history and English faculty in 2002.

Amid the busy whirl of life as a Blair faculty member, Dr. Spring immersed herself in the world of political science when she began teaching AP comparative politics in 2007—in fact, she read 18 books that summer in order to nail down her knowledge of the countries covered in the course and their systems of government. The next step of her career—after she and her husband, former Blair history teacher Ryan Spring, welcomed their son, Owen, to the world—brought her to a sabbatical year in 2010-2011, during which she completed a master’s degree in political science at Lehigh University. There, she studied the European Union, nationalism and regional parties under Dr. Janet Laible, while completing independent work on Nigerian nationalism.

Dr. Laible encouraged Dr. Spring to consider doctorate programs and, in 2013, with her second child, Elly, a year old, she began pursuing her PhD at Boston University under Dr. Vivien Schmidt. “I could not have gotten luckier,” she reflected. “Besides being a top American scholar in the field of European politics, Vivien is so optimistic and encouraging. I like to think I have a nose for finding people like this in my life, dating back to the people at Blair who motivated me in the late ’90s.” She counts Dr. Miller, English teacher and Dean of Campus Life Carolyn Conforti-Browse ’79 and former Athletic Director Dan Hazen among her many Blair mentors.

Dr. Spring’s dissertation focused on the historic rise of the Scottish National Party since 2007, and she will bring her research to her discussion at Skeptics. “Attendees will learn about politics across the pond, the role of paradox in politics and a potential pathway to third-party growth in the U.S.,” she said. “Beyond that, I hope that faculty and students alike will be inspired by my story to keep pushing limits and expectations despite momentary setbacks, fear of failure and the notable detail that nothing worthwhile is easy.”

“It’s was an honor to speak at Skeptics,” Dr. Spring added. “I was excited to share my current work and, hopefully, inspire a community I love.”

The History of Skeptics

The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.

The program was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon.’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.

Head of School Welcomes Community Back from Afar on Eve of Distance Learning

Dear students and families, 

Welcome back, even from afar! As our faculty and students prepare to launch into our collective “new normal” tomorrow that includes distance learning, virtual engagement and online connection, I wanted to take a moment to tell you how proud I am of our entire community. Despite the challenging realities our world faces and the uncertainty that accompanies them, Blair will continue to provide exceptional and innovative learning experiences for students and foster a community spirit of deep care and connection. Tomorrow, your teachers will welcome you back to your classes and guide you through the first steps of distance learning. There will be a Senior Class Council-led video School Meeting. Skeptics will return virtually next Tuesday (more details to come). Dr. McCarthy and I will announce an upcoming Head of School Roundtable next week. And there is much more to come that will bring us together even while we’re geographically apart. 

I know we can’t fully replicate the experience of being all in and all together on campus through screens and apps, but we will assuredly settle into daily routines, learn in new ways, and reconnect with friends, teachers, advisors and coaches. And, while we understandably work through our own inevitable personal, family and even institutional challenges, I am reminded of our collective responsibility to stand up for others and do good things for a world that needs us now more than ever to be fierce, generous, authentic and understanding. That obligation has not gone away, and I have been so gratified to already hear about the many ways you all are doing your part to help others. I look forward to sharing more of those opportunities with you in the near future.

In addition to expressing my gratitude for the courage shown by our students, parents, faculty and staff as we enter this uncharted territory, I want to especially commend our teachers for their hard work in preparing for and implementing our distance learning program. Although this time is strange, turbulent and anxiety-provoking in many ways, together we are courageously making history at our 172-year-old institution. We are committed to supporting you at every turn, regularly reevaluating what is working and what isn’t, and offering every member of the student body the resources they need to best navigate distance learning in the short-term. As for what the semester will look like beyond April 17, I will make and communicate a decision about the rest of the school year by April 1.

I walk through the Arch every morning with not just a sense of nostalgia but excitement and hope for when our senior class will march through it as Blair graduates (and, yes, graduation will happen—I can’t tell you just yet exactly when, but it will happen). I am keeping an eye on the magnolia tree for you (Mr. Hanson is filming a time lapse of it blooming so we can all experience that together virtually). I may even let seniors wear shorts early this year! I still greet Mr. Pagotto at the door of Clinton Hall each morning, albeit from a distance of at least six feet. And tomorrow and in the days and weeks ahead, I look forward to virtually welcoming you to your classes and all of the other programs that are quintessentially Blair. Home is more about people than place; when we reconvene in new ways and begin to more fully reconnect again, we’ll be welcoming each other home.

My dear friend and Blair’s favorite son, the late Jack Bogle ’47, was fond of saying we must "stay the course." We are making history, blazing new paths of learning and connection borne out of necessity and, yet, we are staying the course—staying true to our culture, our mission and our people. Blair remains Blair, and we look forward to filing this chapter in our School history books as one of great resiliency, perseverance and care for one another. Ever always, dear old Blair. See you tomorrow.


Chris Fortunato

Blair Academy

Dear Blair community,

As the global situation around the novel coronavirus continues to evolve, our administrative team has closely monitored developments worldwide, as well as in our nation and the state of New Jersey. We are in close contact with the New Jersey Department of Public Health, and we know of no confirmed cases of coronavirus among Blair students, faculty and staff members on our campus. Nonetheless, as authorities have cautioned, we should expect continued increases in the number of confirmed cases in New Jersey and across the United States.

It has become clear that public health officials are recommending against close contact among groups of people. After consulting with experts and peer institutions and reviewing the plans of many colleges and universities, out of an abundance of caution amid a situation that remains fluid and challenging, we have decided to delay the return of students to campus from spring break and implement a distance-learning plan. We believe this is the responsible next step to support not only the Blair community, but the many communities around us during this public health emergency.

Rest assured that we have prepared for this eventuality and, as always, our highest priority remains protecting the health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and the larger community. Blair Academy remains open, but effective immediately, normal operations will be adjusted to include social distancing, as well as remote learning. This plan will be in effect until at least April 17. We will continue to assess the situation throughout this time and provide guidance on plans for the remainder of the school year well in advance of April 17.

While we are finalizing the details of our plan, we wanted to make you aware of it now so that you can adjust any travel plans. We realize there are challenges to this and encourage anyone who needs support or assistance with making arrangements to contact Associate Head of School Ryan Pagotto at pagotr@blair.edu.

While more detailed information will be forthcoming, at this time, I share the following important information:

  • Faculty members will return to campus on March 23 to finalize our preparations to launch our remote-learning plan.
  • Remote learning will commence on March 26 for all students. Dean of Academics Nathan Molteni will be in touch with families early next week to detail the specifics of what such distance learning will entail. At that time, Ryan Pagotto will also share information on other supports that will be in place to serve our students and keep them connected during this time. The student life office will coordinate pick up or shipment of textbooks or other items students need to complete school work. 
  • All Blair Academy events on and off campus are cancelled through April 20, including all athletic contests, Grandparents’ Day and Blair’s participation in the concert at Carnegie Hall.
  • Beginning immediately, all faculty and staff who live off campus and do not need to be on campus will work from home.

This is a time of concern for us all, and we will continue to work in close partnership with the New Jersey Department of Public Health and local health officials to keep every member of our community healthy and well.

We are eager to have everyone back on campus just as soon as it is safe to do so, and I will share updates regularly over the coming days and weeks. Should you have questions in the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact me at the phone number or email address listed in my signature below.

I realize this is not a situation any of us envisioned as we opened the school year, but I know what this community is capable of even in the face of uncertainty and adversity. And I know that together we will meet this challenge with courage, creativity and mutual care that will allow our community to learn and stay connected even when we are, at least temporarily, not all on the same hilltop.


chris fortunato signature
Chris Fortunato
Head of School
(908) 362-5614


Blair Buccaneer

Blair Academy is proud to announce the Athletic Hall of Fame class of 2020: Janet (Jones) Harrington ’76, Melissa Henderson Koenig ’84, Chris Nallen ’00, Patrick Santoro ’85 and Steven Mocco ’01. The Blair community will celebrate the athletic careers of these outstanding Buccaneers at Alumni Weekend. All are welcome to attend the induction ceremony on June 6 at 9 a.m.

“I am excited to induct another very impressive Hall of Fame class,” said Director of Athletics Paul Clavel ’88, chair of the Hall of Fame Committee. “Each of these former student-athletes had a successful high school career and won a number of accolades at Blair and beyond. Several have competed at the highest level in their respective sports and one continues to do so. These inductees are a solid group of individuals that truly represent the excellence of the Blair Academy athletic program.” 

The class of 2020 is the fifth group of athletes named to Blair’s Athletic Hall of Fame. In keeping with the School’s long tradition of excellence in sports, Blair established the Hall of Fame in 2016 to recognize the athletic achievements of alumni and coaches. 

In order to be considered for Hall of Fame membership, nominees must have exhibited the highest caliber of athletic accomplishment during their time at Blair and have been outstanding members of the School community in the areas of scholastic achievement, citizenship, integrity and moral character. Selection is based primarily on athletic accomplishments while a Blair student or coach, although subsequent achievement in athletics or other areas may be considered. Finally, alumni nominees become Hall-of-Fame eligible in the 10th year following their graduation, while coaches become eligible after their retirement from Blair.

This year's Hall of Fame Committee members include former athletic directors John Frere, Dan Hazen and Jim Stone; Chief Operating Officer and former wrestling coach Jim Frick; Assistant Director of Athletics, head wrestling coach and former Blair athlete Brian Antonelli '93; history teacher and track and cross country coach Martin Miller, PhD; Dean of Campus Life, softball coach and former Blair athlete Carolyn Conforti-Browse '79; Chief Advancement Officer Craig Hall; Director of Alumni Relations Shaunna Murphy; Sports Information Director and former Blair athlete Rhett Moroses ’13; former Director of Alumni Relations and former girls' soccer coach Jenny Maine; Athletic Operations Manager Danielle Cosantino; and Board of Governors President Robert Van Stone '69. The committee considered more than 50 nominees, many of whom were suggested by Blair alumni, parents and friends of the School.

Blair congratulates this year’s Athletic Hall of Fame inductees! Read more about them below.

Janet (Jones) Harrington ’76 

A three-season athlete, Mrs. Harrington captained Blair’s field hockey, basketball and softball teams as a senior. “Nettie,” as she was affectionately known at Blair, earned all-New Jersey Prep League accolades for field hockey in 1975 and softball in 1976 and was the first recipient of Blair’s William Zester Prize, given to the female athlete who best represents Blair in competition. 

Mrs. Harrington continued her athletic career by playing field hockey at Widener University before transferring to Rider University. Mother of Stephen T. Harrington ’12, she served as a member of Blair’s Alumni Board of Governors from 2005 to 2011.

Melissa Henderson Koenig ’84

Winner of 11 varsity letters, Mrs. Henderson Koenig was a member of the Buccaneer field hockey, swimming and track teams. She was a top New Jersey swimmer during her years at Blair, finishing second in the 200 medley relay and third in the 100m breaststroke at States in 1982, third in the 200 individual relay and first in the 100m breaststroke at States in 1983, and third in the 100m breaststroke and second in the 50m breaststroke at the 1984 and 1985 Y district championships, respectively. She received the William Zester Prize and Captain’s Trophy as a senior, but her accomplishments extended well beyond Blair’s athletic venues. Mrs. Henderson Koenig was awarded the Harding Memorial Prize for contributions to musical organizations and the Lee Rose Memorial Trophy for performing with merit in the classroom while contributing significantly to Blair life. As a sophomore, she received the John Kinch Leach Merit Award for her record of scholarship, participation in activities and citizenship. 

Mrs. Henderson Koenig matriculated at Kenyon College, where she earned varsity letters in field hockey from 1985 to 1987 and in swimming and diving in 1985. She was a Division III All-American swimmer in 1985, placing 15th in the 100m breaststroke as a member of Kenyon’s NCAA championship-winning team. Having taken up speed skating in recent years, Mrs. Henderson Koenig currently serves as vice president of racing for the Amateur Skating Association of Illinois and head coach of the Glen Ellyn Speed Skating Club. She is an accomplished Masters skater who holds multiple national age-group titles, as well as the former national record-holder in the 777m race for ages 40 to 49. At the 2020 Winter World Masters Games in Innsbruck, Austria, she placed second in the 50-to-54 age group in the 500, 1000 and 1500m races and was a member of the fourth-place mixed gender relay team.

Chris Nallen ’00 

Having swung his first golf clubs at 3 years of age, Mr. Nallen was well on his way to becoming a serious player when he entered Blair in 1996. By the time he was a senior, he was a state champion golfer with a 32.5 nine-hole scoring average, a record for the area. Mr. Nallen won Blair’s Zimmerman Golf Prize and became the New Jersey Herald and Blairstown Press “Male Athlete of the Year” in 2000. That same year, he won his second straight American Junior Golf Association Junior Izzo championship, tied for 13th at the New Jersey State Golf Association (NJSGA) Open, placed second at the Lucent Technologies Junior Boys championship and made the first team Rolex Junior All America. 

Mr. Nallen continued his stellar career at the University of Arizona, where he helped lead the Wildcats to three top-10 NCAA championship finishes, including third-place finishes in 2001 and 2004. He won a number of tournaments over his four years in college, and his many honors include Golf Coaches Association of America Freshman All-American (2001), NJSGA Player of the Year (2002 and 2003), first team All-Pac-10 (2002-2004), Pac-10 Player of the Year (2004) and four-year All-American, making the first team in 2003 and 2004. He was selected to represent the United States as a member of the Walker Cup team in 2003 and the Palmer Cup team in 2003 and 2004. 

After becoming a semifinalist for the 2004 U.S. Amateur championship, Mr. Nallen joined the ranks of professional golfers. He won the 2004 Gila River Classic in his first Nationwide Tour start, becoming the first player in tour history to simultaneously qualify on Monday, lead wire-to-wire and win his first career start. Another professional highlight was winning the 2008 BMW Charity Pro-Am partnered with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. Mr. Nallen became an assistant coach at Arizona State in 2013, where he has since helped guide the Wildcats to individual and team success.

Patrick Santoro ’85

Throughout his storied wrestling career, Mr. Santoro has achieved national success as a competitor and coach. He captained the Buccaneers during his postgraduate year, earning accolades as the 1985 prep national champion at 142 lbs. and outstanding wrestler of the tournament. Wrestling for the University of Pittsburgh, he was the Panthers’ only four-time NCAA All-American (1986 to 1989), winning the NCAA championship at 142 lbs. in 1988 and 1989. He was also a three-time Eastern Wrestling League champion and the recipient of the 1989 Golden Panther Award as the University’s outstanding athlete of the year. 

On the world wrestling stage, Mr. Santoro was a four-time member of the U.S. national team from 1995 to 1999, serving as an alternate to the 1996 U.S. Olympic team and the 1999 world team. He placed second at the 1992 U.S. Open Freestyle championship, third at the 1992 U.S. Olympic trials and fourth at the 2000 U.S. Olympic trials. 

Mr. Santoro’s coaching career has taken him from Penn State and Duquesne University, where he served as assistant coach, to head coach at the University of Maryland from 2003 to 2008, and, finally, to Lehigh University, where he has served as head coach of the powerhouse Mountain Hawk wrestling program since 2009. His coaching achievements include NWCA National Assistant Coach of the Year (2003), ACC Coach of the Year (2008), EIWA Coach of the Year (2009, 2012, 2016 and 2018) and NWCA Division 1 Coach of the Year (2018). He has mentored two NCAA champions and led 11 wrestlers to 20 All-American finishes at the NCAA Division 1 championships. Mr. Santoro has also taken leadership roles within the sport, serving as an NWCA board member and mentor for the NWCA CEO leadership-training program. 

Steven Mocco ’01

Mr. Mocco is one of the country’s most accomplished heavyweight wrestlers, a four-time NCAA finalist and member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. He came to Blair as a junior and built upon the outstanding wrestling career he had established at St. Benedict’s Prep, winning the Stephen Curry Prize for marked improvement during his first year at the School. By the time he graduated from Blair, he was a four-time prep state and prep national champion (1998-2001), three-time junior national champion (1999-2001), two-time Ironman and Beast of the East champion (1999, 2000) and Cadet National champion (1998). He also participated in judo, earning a junior national championship in 1999 and placing third at U.S. nationals in 1999. Mr. Mocco was recognized for his high school wrestling success with four national awards: the 2001 ASICS Tiger High School Wrestler of the Year, the 2001 Junior Hodge Trophy, the 2001 NHSCA National High School Wrestler of the Year and the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award. He placed fourth in the 2001 Junior World Championship. 

Heavily recruited by top college wrestling programs, Mr. Mocco continued to excel at the University of Iowa, where he placed second nationally as a freshman in 2002 and was NCAA champion as a sophomore in 2003. Additional accolades in 2003 include the New York AC Christmas International and Sunkist Kids International Open championships, as well as a second-place showing in Russia’s Ivan Yarygin Cup. He then transferred to Oklahoma State University, where he concluded his college career as the 2005 NCAA champion and 2006 NCAA runner-up. He received the Dan Hodge Trophy as the nation’s best collegiate wrestler in 2005 and helped lead Oklahoma State to NCAA team titles in 2005 and 2006. Mr. Mocco also played football for the Oklahoma State Cowboys in 2006, appearing in five games as a defensive lineman. He concurrently pursued freestyle wrestling and was a five-time finalist at the U.S. Open from 2004 to 2009, earning the senior national title in 2009.

Mr. Mocco won the U.S. Olympic trials in 2008 to earn a berth on Team USA at 120kg, placing seventh in his weight class at the Beijing Olympics. He continued his successful competitive career over the next several years, winning the prestigious Ivan Yarygin Gold Medal and Alexander Medved International Championship in 2009, earning gold medals at the Pan American Games in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and winning the Cerro Pelado gold medal in Cuba in 2010. He also earned a national title in judo and won five professional mixed martial arts competitions from 2012 to 2015. 

During his coaching career, Mr. Mocco served as assistant coach under fellow Blair Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Pat Santoro ’85 at Lehigh University in 2011 and 2012, where he mentored a heavyweight champion and helped lead the team to top-10 national finishes both years. He is currently the head wrestling coach and head of the Mocco Wrestling Club at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, named the best mixed martial arts gym in the world for three consecutive years. Mr. Mocco has coached many fighters to world championships in all professional fight leagues. He is the former president and current chairman of the Florida Amateur Wrestling Association.

Student-Athletes Honored at Varsity Awards Banquet

On March 2, Blair honored the winter varsity teams for their memorable performances this season at the annual varsity awards banquet. Highlights of the 2019-2020 winter athletic season included championship wins, personal bests and impressive accolades for every squad.

"This winter, Blair was once again represented by a great group of student-athletes," said Paul Clavel '88, director of athletics. "All season long, players demonstrated not only a high level of performance, but incredible team spirit in supporting each other through adversity."

The following student-athletes received prizes at the banquet:

Brooks Basketball Prize: Olivia Miles ’21 and Dominique Darius ’21

Leroy Haskins Basketball Prize: Jaylen Blakes ’21

Blair Squash Prize: Omar Ali ’20 and Theo Reginensi ’21 (not pictured)

Blair Squash Prize: Zoe Reinert ’20

Most Improved Wrestler Award: Eli Anthony ’20

James C. Jamieson Wrestling Award: Ryan Miller ’20

Winter Track Award: Morgan Jones ’21 and Madina Shabazz ’20

The Captain's Swimming Trophy: Nate Castimore'’20Camille Williams ’20, and Aidan Stockhausen ’20

Merit Ski Award: Kirk Holton ’20Emia Musabegovic ’20, and Chloe Rayer ’20 (not pictured)

Ancient History Class

If you are interested in human nature and curious about how people lived and what they thought about thousands of years ago, a study of ancient Greece and Rome is a good place to start. So says language teacher Mitchell Towne, who is leading nine juniors and seniors through a chronological survey of major periods in the history of these two civilizations in the yearlong elective “Ancient History.”

“Of all ancient societies, the reality is that we probably know the most about Greece and Rome,” said Mr. Towne, who holds a bachelor’s degree in classics from Williams College. “Many texts and artifacts have survived to the present day, allowing us to paint a good picture of what the world was like for Greek and Roman citizens.”

What’s more, he added, it is worthwhile to study ancient Greece and Rome today because of the tremendous influence these civilizations have on the modern world, particularly in America. “From architecture to language to food, ancient Greece and Rome affect us in ways we often do not even realize. It’s no accident that the eagle, the symbol of America, was also the animal that adorned the standards of the Roman legions,” he observed. “Many ideas and even phrases we consider cliché today were first expressed by the ancient Romans and Greeks. Whether we like them or not, we cannot escape their influence.”

One of Mr. Towne’s main goals for the course—besides teaching students the facts of ancient history—is to expose them to primary sources so that they better understand the mindset of the ancients. Thus, class members tackled parts of The Iliad last fall and are currently delving into The Aeneid, along with selections from a variety of historians, including Herodotus, Livy and Plutarch. Lectures help them place the readings in context, but students spend the large majority of class time discussing the themes in the work at hand, as they share impressions and findings.

“Students are drinking knowledge directly from the springs (ad fontes!) by reading these texts, but they are engaging with them on a more personal level by forming and presenting arguments and opinions to their peers,” Mr. Towne said. “The process is not just improving their knowledge of the material but also their ability to think clearly and hold their own in a debate.”

Domonic Mata ’20 is enjoying thought-provoking exchanges with his classmates as much as he is reading the classical works that captivated his interest several years ago. “Ever since reading Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series when I was young, I have been fascinated by the fantastic myths and heroic tales of ancient times,” he said. “When I chose this course, I was excited to finally have a reason to read The Aeneid and The Iliad, and I’ve gained a deeper appreciation and understanding of the ancient world through its most famous stories. I’d highly recommend this course to anyone interested in Greek and Roman mythology or the ancient world.”

Mr. Towne is leading a trip to Greece in June, during which he, Timken Library Director Ann Williams, and a group of Blair students will visit 14 cities and towns following an itinerary that integrates history, literature, language and cultural immersion. Blair has partnered with the Paideia Institute for Humanistic Study for this adventure, an organization for which Mr. Towne worked for three years leading classics-oriented tours around Italy, Greece and Sicily before joining Blair’s faculty in 2019. Although most of the students on this year’s trip are not currently enrolled in his ancient history course, Mr. Towne would “love for them all to come,” and he hopes to connect the class to a trip in the future. 

Be Well @ Blair

Having worked together for the last several years to expand Blair’s health and wellness curriculum during Blair’s academic day, Erin Fortunato and Andee Ryerson teamed up in 2019-2020 to create a non-curricular group that seeks to create positive change on campus by focusing on peer health education. 

In its inaugural year, Be Well @ Blair includes nine juniors and seniors who, according to the mission statement they drafted during a planning retreat during preseason last year, “strive to be supportive, reliable, trusting, relatable and open-minded.” Their goals include taking a hands-on approach to spreading knowledge, positively influencing peers, and promoting individual and community-wide well-being.

All In, All Together

The genesis of the group began in a meeting related to the health-and-wellness pillar of Blair’s strategic plan for 2019-2025, All In. As Mrs. Fortunato, the school’s health-and-wellness coordinator and a member of the Head of School’s office, listened to colleagues talk about ways to incorporate more health education into curricular and co-curricular opportunities, she zeroed in on peer health education as a particularly impactful option. 

“We knew students are interested in this, and there is a lot of research that shows peer education is effective in changing behavior, especially in college,” she said. “While there aren’t a ton of studies right now focusing on high schoolers, we do know that kids are much more likely to take the same information an adult offers them from a fellow teenager and feel like it is more applicable to their lives.” 

Given that the programming of Be Well @ Blair is entirely student generated also makes the group’s work feel more relevant to campus life. “Students are looking around and saying, ‘These are the unhealthy choices I see people making, and I want to do something about it,’” said Mrs. Ryerson. 

When Mrs. Fortunato and Mrs. Ryerson first announced to the community that they’d be accepting applications for the group in 2019, they were pleasantly surprised that so many students expressed candid interest in becoming involved: In fact, they were only able to accept a third of the students who applied.

During their first meetings last September, they immediately got to work, focusing on group management and facilitation, generating ideas and goals, and honing in on the idea of planning dorm health-and-wellness seminars to educate community members about different topics.

Increasing Sleep; Minimizing Stress

Once the school year got underway, the group began gathering every Friday after School Meeting, ultimately settling on the Romano Dining Hall as their meeting spot. Activities over the course of the fall semester ranged from offering advice and organizational supplies to freshman embarking on their Blair careers and considering a “screentime challenge” to decrease the negative effects of mobile device preoccupation to designing posters with sleep tips for classmates and executing very successful seminars on sleep and stress to residents of Insley Hall, South Cottage and Freeman Hall.

In addition to imparting lessons about health-and-wellness, Mrs. Fortunato and Mrs. Ryerson have been gratified to see how much group members have learned about work ethic, project management, public speaking and content creation. Their next undertaking will be a student-driven Sunday Evening Reflection on February 23 that will explore sleep, stress and mindfulness.

In fact, it is the opportunity to find creative ways to educate the Blair community about health-related issues that students have most enjoyed. “We emphasize outreach to the student body to establish Be Well @ Blair as an accessible resource for wellness-related information on campus,” said Abby Morris ’20. “I hope that students are aware of the group's purpose and feel comfortable approaching group members to seek advice or ask questions. This peer-to-peer style of health education allows for casual conversations, complementing the more rigid structure of a health class.” 

Dividing & Conquering the Work

In sitting down with the group’s two advisors, it is clear that their strengths are very complimentary: Mrs. Fortunato brings to bear a bachelor’s degree in biology from Trinity College (1998) and a master’s degree in public health from Boston University (2007) and many years working as a health educator and researcher focused on adolescents. Mrs. Ryerson, on the other hand, was deeply involved in peer health education as a student at Amherst College and has gained unique perspective on Blair students as a longtime Blair housemaster and member of the student life office.

“Erin is the one with the health expertise who always makes sure we have a lesson plan and a learning objective before we get too far down one path,” said Mrs. Ryerson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in geology, art and art history from Amherst in 2011. “I am more free flowing and jump in if the kids want to go in a different direction. But we both feed off the kids’ energy and have gotten into a good groove of working together and dividing and conquering.”

As someone whose career has always focused on teenagers and required connecting well with them in the classroom, Mrs. Fortunato has enjoyed the opportunity to work with students who she knows well on a regular basis. “In previous positions, I would drop into a school and do a program for eight weeks and then drop out to go to the next school,” she said. “It is exciting to see how much students evolve and how their perspectives change as time passes.”

She is also really impressed with how hardworking, smart and courageous Blair peer educators are. “The work they are doing requires them to be very brave,” said Mrs. Fortunato. “It is not easy to get up in front of kids you know well and command their attention, especially if kids are relaxed in their dorms. We are proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

And students are grateful for Mrs. Fortunato and Mrs. Ryerson’s support. “Both are knowledgeable about health-related information and are experienced in presenting this material to students,” Abby said. “While student members are taking the lead in organizing and executing Be Well @ Blair's endeavors, Mrs. Fortunato and Mrs. Ryerson are constantly available to offer feedback and advice, improving the overall quality of our work.”

Where Strategic Priorities Meets Daily Campus Life

The fact that Be Well @ Blair is happening in conjunction with Blair’s overarching Strategic Plan, while also being driven by students themselves gives the group an especially organic feel that underscores how closely the School’s strategic pillars align with what is happening in students’ daily lives on campus.

“Our goals are very high-level in that we want students to be interested in and aware of how important health and wellness is,” said Mrs. Ryerson. “But, at the same time, we are teaching them about the hurdles of starting something from scratch. And that the time and effort you put into something is equally proportionate to what you get out of it.” 

Group members have also learned how much environment, tone and preparedness can impact the work they are doing. Since deciding to meet in the dining hall, the vibe of gatherings has become much more focused and productive. Students leading seminars quickly learned it was easier to connect with smaller groups of peers, especially when the ratio of educators to peers was at its highest. And taking a soft or forceful manner in communicating what you want to say has an impact on how listeners receive those messages.

A Future of Growth

Looking ahead, Mrs. Fortunato hopes that the group will remain the same size but plan more seminars in different formats, get creative about engaging more students and offer input about how to best reach students through Blair’s regular curriculum. Even just six months into the school year, the group’s advisors are happy to see members speaking more forcefully, feeling more empowered and knowledgeable about data, and confident about the messages they are delivering to peers across campus.

In the next year, Mrs. Fortunato and Mrs. Ryerson will encourage juniors who were involved this year to help carry forward the group’s work, ideally eventually planning at least one weekly Be Well @ Blair activity and bringing their seminars to every dorm on campus. “Right now, our students are setting a foundation,” Mrs. Fortunato said. “They’ve gone in and created something from nothing and, next year, we’ll be able to build on that and do much more.” 

As spring comes to a close and students prepare for exams and graduation, they will also take a look at what worked well in the group’s first year and what tweaks must be made going into the new school year ensure their programming is most impactful in 2020-2021.

Headmasters’ Societies Games

Blair’s campus was awash with red, blue, purple and green—the respective colors of Teams Breed, Kelley, Sharpe and Howard—during the annual Headmasters’ Societies Games in mid-February. The beloved tradition marked its 17th year in 2020, and students and teachers enjoyed heated competition and lots of good, old-fashioned fun.

Throughout the week, students took part in all kinds of contests, including the tried-and-true tug-of-war, volleyball and quiz bowl, and newer Segway robotics race. The Games culminated at the Friday night talent show, when Team Sharpe was declared the winner and awarded the coveted Hardwick Trophy. Congratulations!

National Prep Champs

Marc-Anthony McGowan ’23 (106 lbs.), Shayne VanNess ’21 (132 lbs.) and Rylan Rogers ’22 (180 lbs.) earned the national prep champion title in their respective weight classes at the 2020 National Prep tournament, held February 21 and 22 at Lehigh University. As a team, the Bucs earned a total of 268.5 points to finish in second place behind rival Wyoming Seminary.

In addition to being crowned national prep champion, Shayne also received the Ray Mendoza Award as the wrestler who produced the most team points in the tournament. Ryan Miller ’20 (120 lbs.), Cody Chittum ’23 (132 lbs.) and Peyton Craft '21 (195 lbs.) each placed second in their weight classes, while Noah Pettigrew ’22 (220 lbs.) and Eli Anthony ’20 (285 lbs.) placed third. Danny Wask ’22 (126 lbs.) placed fourth while wrestling up a weight class. 

Sean Kilrain ’20 (170 lbs.) placed fifth and T.J. Stewart ’22 (160 lbs.) placed in eighth in their respective weight classes, rounding out the place-winners for the Bucs.

GIrls' Varsity Basketball State Champs
GIrls' Varsity Basketball State Champs

After a two-year drought, Blair’s varsity girls' basketball team won the NJISAA prep “A” state championship on February 19 with a decisive 76-52 victory over the Hun Red Raiders. The win marked the fulfillment of a season-long team goal to earn the state title, and the Bucs never took their foot off the pedal from the opening tip.

Helena Friend ’22, the team’s leading scorer, seized the moment by dropping a career-high 26 points. Center Tabitha Amanze ’22 followed her on offense with 24 points—she was unstoppable in the paint throughout the game, scoring at will at the rim. The contest was a special win for floor leaders Olivia Miles '21 and Dominique Darius ’21, as they earned their first state championship since entering Blair as freshmen.

The Bucs will close their stellar season this weekend when they travel to Mooresville, North Carolina, to participate in the Insider Exposure Independent School National Championship.

Sergio Troncoso Skeptics
Troncoso Book

Award-winning author Sergio Troncoso returned to the Society of Skeptics for his second appearance on February 25. Mr. Troncoso’s presentation centered around his linked short-story collection, A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant's Son, and the concept of the immigrant outsider. His presentation was held in the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration.

Mr. Troncoso is also the author of The Last Tortilla and Other Stories and Crossing Borders: Personal Essays, as well as the novels The Nature of Truth and From This Wicked Patch of Dust. His stories have been featured in many anthologies, including We Wear the Mask: Fifteen True Stories of Passing in America (Beacon Press) and Thoughtful Writing (Cengage Learning), among others. His work has also appeared in New Letters, Yale Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Texas Monthly, Dallas Morning News, Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas and Newsday.

A Fulbright scholar, Mr. Troncoso has won numerous awards, including the International Latino Book Award, the Premio Aztlan Literary Prize and the Southwest Book Award. He was born in El Paso, Texas, and attended Harvard College as an undergraduate and Yale University, where he earned graduate degrees in international relations and philosophy.

For many years, Mr. Troncoso has taught fiction and nonfiction workshops at the Yale Writers' Workshop in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Hudson Valley Writers' Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York. He is vice president of the Texas Institute of Letters and a member of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund's Alumni Hall of Fame.

In his previous Skeptics engagement in 2013, Mr. Troncoso addressed Blair about the US-Mexico border and read from his essay, Our Lost Border: Essays on Life, which was written amidst the narco-violence in Mexico.

To watch his full presentation, please click below:

The History of Skeptics

The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.

The program was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon.’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.


2020 Media & Tech Forum

On March 10, Blair’s alumni office hosted its first-ever networking event at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. The program, designed for those interested specifically in the fields of media, technology, entertainment, marketing and public relations, was coordinated by founder and CEO of Dynamo Events Chrissy (Devenny) Thompson ’08. The evening began with a keynote address from Blair Kohan ’85, partner and board member at United Talent Agency, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Blair Trustee Derek Peachey ’93, who steered the conversation, engaged with the audience and offered his perspective as managing partner at Floodlight Digital. 

Panelists included Charisse Manzi ’98, senior producer at Trailer Park; Will Neff ’08, screenwriter and digital influencer; Jaya Vadlamudi ’95, vice president of marketing and communications at Make-a-Wish Greater Los Angeles; Dan McClung ’99, co-founder and chief operating officer at Pureplay Entertainment; and Tim Peacock ’08, product manager Google Cloud. 

“The impressive standing of our alumni and parents in law, finance, government and other industry verticals is well documented, but I am not sure that many in our community are aware of their outstanding accomplishments in e-commerce, production, entertainment, artificial intelligence and other areas,” Mr. Peachey said. “Our panel discussion not only highlighted the fascinating work being done in these fields, but also generated excitement about how Blair is developing leaders in this innovative segment of our economy.”  

The program’s 25-plus attendees not only had the chance to network with one another at an evening reception following the formal part of the program, but they also enjoyed an hourlong walking tour of Sony Pictures Studiosa definite highlight of the evening. 

Presenters and participants alike would like to see this forum continue on an annual basis, and Blair’s advancement office is exploring other industries that could be the focus of similar events in the years ahead. 

Read on to learn more about the evening’s keynote speaker, moderator and panelists.  

Blair Kohan ’85

Partner & Board Member, United Talent Agency

After graduating from Blair in 1985, Blair went on to attend Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she studied writing and met her best friend, actress Julianna Margulies, with whom she moved to Los Angeles in 1989. She began her career as an agent trainee at the Bauer-Benedek Agency, which later merged with United Talent Agency. 

Shortly thereafter, she left to become a feature development executive, serving in that capacity at Brillstein Grey; as vice president of production for Oliver Stone and Dan Halsted at Illusion Entertainment; and as a production executive at 20th Century Fox-based Horizon Entertainment. In 1997, Blair joined United Talent Agency and returned to her first passion: representing top creative voices in entertainment and promoting the art of storytelling. 

As an agent at United Talent Agency, she works closely with some of the industry’s most accomplished actors, directors and writers, including Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen.

Derek Peachey ’93

Managing Partner, Floodlight Digital

Since graduating from Blair in 1993, Derek has remained engaged in all things Blair, serving as a class rep, a Blair faculty member, a member of the Board of Governors (2006-2010) and a Blair Trustee (2016-present). As a Trustee, he continues to work as a liaison to the Board of Governors, and brings to bear his extensive experience in strategic business development and digital technology.

After completing his undergraduate work at Dickinson College in 1997 and earning an MBA at Texas Christian University in 2002, Derek began his career in the technology sector, first as senior director of business development at Handango, then as vice president of sales and business development at July Systems. In 2008, he continued his work in wireless content solutions at Nokia, where he worked extensively in the Latin American market, before returning to July Systems as a member of the executive leadership team in charge of sales and corporate development.

In 2010, Derek became managing partner at Cathcart Ventures, LLC in the San Francisco Bay area, a media strategy business in the digital technology arena that provides a range of services, including expertise in sales, distribution strategy, digital product development, capital raises, business development and mobile marketing. Derek, his wife, Stephanie, and their two sons reside in Healdsburg, California. 

Jaya Vadlamudi ’95

Vice President, Marketing & Communications

Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles

Jaya is vice president of Marketing & Communications for Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. In her role, she prioritizes storytelling through media and technology for the purpose of connecting individual and corporate donors with this worthwhile mission. Before joining Make-A-Wish, Jaya headed up communications and media efforts for global humanitarian organizations Team Rubicon and International Medical Corps, traveling to sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and flood-ravaged areas of the United States to relay the life-saving work being carried out by disaster response teams. Prior to her time in the nonprofit sector, Jaya worked in New York City in marketing for global organizations including Morgan Stanley, Sotheby’s Auction House and Zagat Guide. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University with an MA in communications and a BA in international studies, Jaya remembers her time at Blair Academy fondly. She credits Blair’s amazing faculty with developing her communication and people skills, as well as her curiosity for global communities.

Tim Peacock ’08

Product Manager, Google Cloud 

As a product manager at Google, Tim works on security products for Google Cloud. His work, always aimed at keeping the Internet safe, is designed to protect Cloud workloads at scale with low latency and high signal-to-noise. He was previously a product manager at Stripe and Shape Security, where he helped grow the gross domestic product of the Internet and protect the country’s largest banks, airlines, federal agencies and consumer brands. 

His career began in Washington, D.C., at the Brookings Institution, where he was a research assistant. After graduating from Blair in 2008, he studied political science at Brown University. Since then, Tim has remained connected to the School and, in particular, to Blair’s longest-serving teacher, Wayne “Razz” Rasmussen, who shares his love of motorcycles. 

Dan McClung ’99

Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer

Pureplay Entertainment

Boston-bred Dan co-founded the production-forward outfit Pureplay Entertainment in 2016, after a decade of working in physical production across varied media platforms in Los Angeles. He currently manages day-to-day operations and directly oversees all physical production for the company. Previously, Dan served as an in-house producer for both Relativity Digital Studios and BermanBraun, where he helped build out internal infrastructure to support video production across multiple departments, managed development slates, and created content for the company’s brand partnerships, original channels and series.

As an independent producer, Dan has worked for the multi-channel network  Fullscreen, the music video house Anthem and the agency SAV, and he has executed several features and award-winning short films. He has worked with many prolific brand clients such as Evian, Lexus, Absolut, IKEA, Lenovo, Mercedes, Hasbro, Miller Lite, Edmunds, MSN, YouTube and Vans Warped Tour.

Dan has been at the intersection of technology and content for most of his career, and has taken a hands-on approach to shaping the landscape since the industry began its significant shift in 2010. His company is now helping to bridge this gap for streaming networks like Amazon and a variety of independent clients.

Will Neff ’08

Screenwriter & Digital Influencer

Will studied communications and interactive media science at Elon University in North Carolina, receiving a BA in 2012 and MS in 2013. He has honed his skills as an improvisational actor at Chicago’s Second City Theatre, Hollywood’s Laugh Factory and the iconic Groundlings acting school in Los Angeles. During seven years in California, he has worked as a researcher with the Reason Foundation, a writer, actor and producer of video entertainment at Buzz Feed and Full Screen, and as producer of his own screen stories. Having recently sold his first feature-length script, Will continues to advance his own video and screen compositions. He currently serves as a partner at the innovative livestreaming platform known as Twitch.

Charisse Manzi ’98

Senior Producer, Trailer Park

Upon graduating from Fordham University with a degree in communications and media studies, Charisse remained in New York City, where she worked for several networks including MTV, Discovery and Oxygen. A move to Los Angeles changed the trajectory of her career, when Charisse and her classmate, Marcel Wepper ’98, founded Marcel Wepper, Inc., in 2011. This endeavor expanded her career into the commercial world, where she focused on branded entertainment with clients such as Elle, Benefit Cosmetics and Kate Spade. In 2015, she helped create the branded entertainment division at Windowseat Productions, producing content while overseeing its day-to-day operations. Three years ago, she created the branded content division at Herzog & Company, where she developed content across all spaces, from short form to original docu-series to feature documentaries. She recently wrapped two docu-series for ESPN celebrating 150 years of college football. In 2019, Charisse took all of this experience to her current position at Trailer Park, a leading entertainment marketing company, where she is building out their custom content division to include branded and original work. Her ability to think outside the box and bring new creative ideas to the table give her an edge when working with her clients to share engaging and impactful stories.

Faculty & Staff Art Opening

Blair's annual faculty and staff art show is one of The Romano Gallery's best events, and this year's exhibition, featuring the artwork of Blair's teachers and staff members, runs from February 10 to March 7. An artists' reception on February 27 at 7 p.m. will give the Blair community a chance to learn more about the creative process behind the works on display, which represent several different art mediums.

The following Blair faculty and staff members have pieces on display:

  • Lisa Acker (director of counseling) – Watercolor painting
  • Rita Baragona (co-director of the Romano Gallery)  – Painting
  • Tim Devaney (language teacher) – Photography
  • Erika Croat (academic office administrative assistant) - Hand-painted mandalas
  • Keenan Friend (math teacher) – Photography
  • Rod Gerdsen (science teacher)  – Chainsaw wood & rock sculpture
  • Sonia Hanson (spring play director) – Painted silk scarves
  • Robert Hanson (video studies teacher)  – Timelapses, photography & painting
  • Joyce Lang (language department chair)  – Photography
  • Andrea Magat-Molteni (former yearbook advisor)  – Macrame
  • Aimee Neary (director of children’s learning center)  – Photography
  • Shana Russell (associate dean of college counseling) – Photography
  • Kate Skeffington (library assistant)  – Hand dyed, woven shawls
  • Kate Sykes (fine arts department chair)  – Ceramic planters
  • Evan Thomas (fine arts teacher) – Painting, drawings & photography
  • Tyson Trish (fine arts teacher)  – Photography

Mrs. Skyes calls the show eclectic and notes how it demonstrates the artists’ personal, unique interests and thoughts.

“It is important for students to see that the love for being creative and making things can be a life-long pursuit,” Mrs. Sykes said. “Some people create just for fun or as a hobby, and others for the personal, intellectual challenges and problem solving that come from making art.”

Mrs. Sykes also noted the example the art show can model for students, especially when it comes for making time for things you love. “We can show our devotion to art for our students, who see us often dominated by work and familial commitments,” Mrs. Sykes said. “This way, they can see that it is possible to find a balance in their lives and pursue what matters to them.”

To learn more about The Romano Gallery and the arts this year, visit www.blair.edu/the-arts

Christina Tan Art Star

Ten Blair students received recognition for their visual artwork in the 2020 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for the northern New Jersey art region. Students submitted their artwork to the Montclair Art Museum (MAM), one of 100 affiliate partners of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and a panel of professional artists judged it. Dylan Bentley ’22, Kate Gerdsen ’20 and Xiaopei Chen ’21 received Gold Key awards, and their artwork will be displayed in MAM’s Scholastic Art Award exhibition from February 15 to March 22.

Established in 1923 and presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is the nation’s largest, longest-running, most prestigious visual and literary arts program recognizing creative accomplishments of students in grades seven through 12. In addition to Dylan, Kate and Xiaopei, the following Blair students also received recognition in this year’s contest: Christina Tan ’21 (honorable mention), Alice Hwang ’22 (honorable mention), Will Thomas ’22 (one Silver Key, two honorable mentions), Sofia Ciminello ’22 (honorable mention), George Gan ’22 (one Silver Key, two honorable mention), Ava Nothstine ’21 (honorable mention), and Emma Swirbul ’21 (Silver Key, honorable mention). View their award-winning artwork by clicking “play” below.