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Blair Academy is pleased to welcome James H. Dickerson, PhD, who will speak to students, faculty and staff during a virtual Society of Skeptics lecture on September 29 at 7 p.m. His presentation, “Using Science for Good,” will

center around his work at Consumer Reports and the use of scientific findings to drive marketplaces changes to improve products. History department chair Jason Beck will share a link to the private webinar on the morning of Dr. Dickerson’s presentation. Blair will post a recording publicly on its website the following day.

Dr. Dickerson is the first chief scientific officer for Consumer Reports, an independent, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that works with consumers to create a fairer, safer and more transparent world. He received a BA in physics from Amherst College in 1994 and earned his PhD in condensed matter physics from Stony Brook University in 2002. In 2019, Dr. Dickerson was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society for his longstanding contributions to physics diversity through mentoring and outreach, as well as his leadership to assure quality science continues to underpin all Consumer Reports product evaluations. Dr. Dickerson served on the Committee on Minorities of the American Physical Society for four years and acted as its chair in 2007.

Dr. Dickerson’s presentation will give attendees a look into the scientific research process for products used every day. He explained that we expect that the products we use will be safe when they hit the market, but that is not always the case. Through his work at Consumer Reports, he is committed to revealing the truth, raising the bar for safety and fairness, and empowering consumers with trusted information. He noted that attendees will see how to use science for good, applying its findings for diverse audiences with the goal of driving marketplace change that benefits everyone.

“My presentation will allow insight into why science-backed reviews are necessary for all products,” Dr. Dickerson said. “I will attempt to address the skepticism that many have about ratings or reviews of consumer products and how our process is different. Consumer Reports undertakes a robust scientific review process that is far superior to user reviews seen on a multitude of sites, which are largely subjective rather than objective.”

Dr. Dickerson hopes attendees of all ages will see the plethora of potential career paths that one can take if one is interested in science, engineering, public policy, law or a multitude of other traditional career trajectories.

“My career has largely involved different elements of science communication, be it working as a high school teacher, a tenured college professor, an assistant director of a government nanoscience laboratory, or in my current position as chief scientific officer,” he said. “Speaking with students versus adults has relatively little difference, as everyone is a consumer of products, goods and services. I am sure each attendee will take away useful information they can use in the future, and I am looking forward to the discussion surrounding my presentation.”

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, which is funded in part by The Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, 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 and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, 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.

Curran Family

Dear Blair Family, 

I write to you today about the end of one chapter in Blair’s history and an exciting new beginning. After more than seven years at Blair, Chris Fortunato has decided to return with his family to New England, where he will lead Thayer Academy, a day school outside of Boston. We are most grateful to Chris for his excellent leadership and many contributions over the course of his tenure and wish him and his family well. As we now look to Blair’s future, I am thrilled to announce that our Board of Trustees unanimously voted to appoint Associate Head of School and Dean of Admission Peter G. Curran as Blair’s 17th Head of School, effective January 1, 2021. In the coming months, Chris and Peter will continue to work together closely as they transition to their respective new roles. I have no doubt that the process will be smooth and seamless.

Of course, many of you have already gotten to know Peter well over the last 10 years as he traveled the globe and connected with families and alumni to share with them the transformative nature of a Blair education. In addition to being bright, enthusiastic and engaging, Peter has literally become the face of Blair in many parts of the world and has done much to elevate our name and reputation. Under his leadership, Blair has enjoyed a record number of applications year after year, and admission to the School has become increasingly selective. Even during the current coronavirus pandemic, Blair is fully enrolled and thriving, a reflection of Peter’s ability to connect with families and a testament to his leadership of our excellent admission team.

I hope you will join us in wishing Chris, Erin, Matt and Katie the very best as they embark on their next chapter in Massachusetts. We are grateful to Chris for his tireless work in managing the challenges of day-to-day school operations, conceiving of and building our state-of-the-art Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration, renovating and expanding the Bogle Science Center and launching our Strategic Plan that has put Blair on a positive trajectory for the next five years. Our School is stronger and more financially secure because of his efforts and stewardship. 

We are fortunate that Peter and Chris have worked side-by-side for the better part of a decade, and Peter understands and deeply loves Blair’s culture and its diverse and close-knit community. During his tenure, Peter has been involved in every facet of school life and has demonstrated his commitment to building community and connecting with prospective families, students, parents and alumni of every background and experience. We are confident that this leadership transition will best position Blair for continued success moving forward, especially as we execute the people- and program-focused initiatives of our 2018-2025 Strategic Plan, All In. 

Peter has had an expansive career, spending 20 years working at schools across the globe. Upon graduating from Milton Academy in 1997, he matriculated at Bowdoin College, where he met his wife, Sarah. After college, Peter taught history at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland, and Sarah earned her master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University. They then moved to Arizona, where Peter taught and worked on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, while Sarah conducted research on obesity prevention and promoted healthy-eating strategies.  

Shortly after getting married in 2004, the Currans moved to Cambridge, where Peter earned his MEd at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and Sarah worked at Harvard Medical School. When he graduated in 2005, they accepted positions at The American School in Switzerland (Peter as dean for 10th and 11th grades, as well as a teacher and coach; Sarah as a teacher and coach of soccer, a sport she had played at Bowdoin). The Currans returned home to the United States each summer during the two years they lived abroad, and Peter worked at Harvard as assistant dean of the secondary-school program.  

Peter furthered his experience in boarding-school administration in 2007 when he was appointed dean of students at Fountain Valley School, where he also taught and coached for four years. During that time, the Currans welcomed their twins (Toby and Grace, now 11) before moving to Blair in 2011. The School’s vibrant student-centered culture resonated deeply with Peter and Sarah, and they were equally impressed by Blair’s flourishing reputation in the boarding-school world. 

In his time at Blair, Peter succeeded David Low as a new dean in the student life office and taught English. He later became dean of admission, eventually rising to assistant head of school for enrollment and communications. In recent years, Peter, now associate head of school, took a leading role in the architecture and execution of our 2018-2025 Strategic Plan. Importantly, Peter has also been active professionally outside of Blair, regularly presenting at national conferences focused on education, co-founding The Deans’ Roundtable, a nonprofit that promotes best practices among independent schools, and serving as a trustee at Oldfields School in Sparks Glencoe, Maryland, and North Country School in Lake Placid, New York. 

Sarah, a registered dietitian, works as a program associate for Rutgers Cooperative Extension’s Family and Community Health Sciences Department. Toby and Grace, now in sixth grade, love growing up on campus with 460 big brothers and sisters, countless friends among faculty children, dozens of faculty-and-staff aunts and uncles, and their yellow lab, Bowdoin. When they move into Sharpe House, the Currans look forward to hosting the Blair community in their home, where they will deepen existing relationships and forge new ones as they welcome new members to the Blair family.

Let me conclude by wishing the Fortunatos the very best and stating our utmost confidence in our new Head of School. In welcoming Peter to this role, we look forward to his fresh leadership perspective while continuing to embrace our beloved Blair traditions as we approach our 175th anniversary in 2023. To learn more about Blair's 17th Head of School, click here.

Warm regards,
Doug Kimmelman P’12 ’13 ’15 ’22
Chair, Blair Academy Board of Trustees

Fall Campus

Blair’s admission team invites prospective students and their parents to join us virtually for an in-depth view of Blair Academy during a series of online events. The series opens on September 30 with a virtual Open House and continues throughout the fall and early winter with live tours on Saturdays, information sessions with an admission officer on Wednesdays, and Co-curricular Expos on October 15 and December 2. Registration is now open for each event, and prospective families across the U.S. and around the world are welcome to sign up.

Associate Head of School and Dean of Admission Peter G. Curran is looking forward to sharing all that Blair has to offer with prospective Buccaneers during the online sessions. “Although we cannot welcome visitors to Blair this fall, we’ve designed our suite of virtual programs to give students and parents a robust view of the School,” he said. “Through different events and formats, they will experience our welcoming and inclusive community from many different angles and truly gain a sense of who we are as a School.”

During the virtual Open House on September 30, families will hear from parent and student panels, learn about Blair’s outstanding academic and extracurricular programs, find out about the admission process and much more. The 90-minute program will be held again on November 12 and January 13.

Families are also encouraged to join one of our live virtual campus tours that will take place on Saturdays throughout the fall. The tours offer prospective students and parents the opportunity to accompany a Blair tour guide and admission officer on a walk through Blair’s beautiful and historic campus. Wednesday information sessions feature a presentation and Q and A with a Blair admission officer, and once students have completed their online admission interview, they and their parents are invited to biweekly panel discussions with current parents and students on Sundays.

Finally, prospective students won’t want to miss Blair’s online Co-Curricular Expos. During these 90-minute programs on October 15 and December 2, they will meet athletic coaches and leaders of the School’s myriad co-curricular programs. Breakout sessions will offer opportunities to ask questions and get to know Blair faculty members and coaches.

“We are planning online regional admission receptions, as well as outreach to prospective families by alumni, parents and current students,” Mr. Curran added. “The members of the admission team and the Blair family are excited to meet prospective families this year and share what makes the Blair experience one-of-a-kind.”

Community Weekend Unites Students

Super Sunday is a much-anticipated Blair event that brings students of every grade together to celebrate the start of the new school year and get to know each other outside of the classroom. The weekend-long event looked a little different this year, as all activities and participants adhered to the policies set in place to keep community members well and healthy amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Associate Dean of Students Rod Gerdsen, who runs the event along with Associate Dean of Students Andee Ryerson, noted the goal for this weekend was to unite the community in tradition. 

“Now that Blair has its full student body together, we were so excited to once again host our traditional community weekend, but with additional activities held over two days,” Mr. Gerdsen said. “This year it was truly Super Saturday AND Sunday.”

Students enjoyed a weekend of fun under the sun featuring Super Sunday favorites such as the Kon-Tiki cardboard boat races, dunk tank, games on Marcial Field, an egg toss and the classic soap slide. New additions included desk chair painting, time on the turf, a Blair faculty cookout, movie night and a fishing trip on Lake Genevieve.

“While the coronavirus pandemic is impacting so many parts of our lives, we are working to ensure it does not affect our Blair traditions,” Mr. Gerdsen said. “I hope everyone enjoyed a little normalcy this weekend, and we look forward to recreating other traditions for students to bond over this year.”

Nishta Mehra
Nishta Mehra

The author of Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion, Nishta Mehra spoke on “Brown White Black: Living Authentically” at a virtual Society of Skeptics on September 22, beginning at 7 p.m. To view her full presentation, please click below:

 



Ms. Mehra is the first-generation daughter of Indian immigrants; her wife, Dr. Jill Carroll, is white; and her adopted child, Shiv, is Black. In Brown White Black, she paints a portrait of her family through essays on motherhood, marriage, love and acceptance. 

The book’s description on its publisher’s website highlights how Ms. Mehra’s “clear-eyed and incisive writing on her family's daily struggle to make space for themselves amid racial intolerance and stereotypes personalizes some of America's most fraught issues.” Published in 2019, Brown White Black is Ms. Mehra’s second book, as she penned The Pomegranate King in 2013. In addition to her work as an author, Ms. Mehra teaches high school English.

Reflecting on the topic of her Skeptics presentation, Ms. Mehra offered Blair community members some advice on living authentically. “It’s taken me a long to realize that my relationship with myself is the most important relationship I’ll ever have in my life,” she said. “Culturally, I think we conflate knowing ourselves with being self-obsessed or self-centered, when, in fact, the more at ease and at home I feel with myself, the more I can show up in service to or support of others. Likewise, without the courage to look carefully at myself, I have little access or ability to examine my behaviors and patterns to see if I am truly living in line with my values. We tend to be destination-oriented, thinking that we will ‘arrive’ at a place of being our most authentic selves, but the truth, I think, is that this is a lifelong process or approach of curiosity and humility.” 

By sharing her story with the Blair family, along with what she has learned, Ms. Mehra hoped that audience members would find points of resonance for themselves and opportunities to think about their own lives more deeply or in a new way. “Perhaps I allowed them to acknowledge themselves or see themselves newly; perhaps I gave them permission to change their minds about something,” she said. “My most basic hope was for genuine human connection; as Elizabeth Alexander writes in her poem Ars Poetica #100: I Believe, ‘[A]re we not of interest to each other?’”

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, which is funded in part by The Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, 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 and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, 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.
 

Niki Applebaum

Blair alum Niki Applebaum ’01 took the reins of the college counseling office this summer, bringing extensive experience on both sides of the college admission process. Earlier in her career, she served as an admissions officer and territory manager for Stanford University, as well as a senior admissions officer and assistant director of financial aid at Harvard University. Most recently, Ms. Applebaum was the co-director of college counseling at the Baldwin School, an independent school in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Along with her knowledge of college admissions, Ms. Applebaum has also taught and coached at boarding schools. Get to know more about the new dean of college counseling below.
 

Q. Being a graduate of Blair Academy, what are you looking forward to most as you return to campus to start your tenure as a faculty member?

A. Over the years since I graduated, I have realized just how important the education I received at Blair has been. Yes, I knew that Blair fostered my intellectual growth, sparking for the first time an interest in learning that wasn’t tied to performance on a test or to memorizing material. I realized through classes taught by Blair faculty that I loved to explore ideas, connect concepts and change my own opinions by being challenged by others. What I didn’t realize as a student was the depth of my education outside the classroom. Blair faculty supported me as I grew from my mistakes and developed my values and integrity through moments shared in the theatre, in the dorm, on the field and under the Arch. I can’t wait to join the Blair faculty in that second capacity: connecting with students to help them grow not just as learners but as people with a strong sense of self and respect for the world and humanity around them.

 

Q. With extensive experience working in both independent schools and colleges, how has your experience prepared you to take on the role of dean of college counseling at Blair?

A. Teaching writing as an English teacher, reading applications as an admissions committee member, calculating aid awards as a financial aid officer, and helping students build balanced lists while guiding them to craft compelling applications all play a part in the preparation. However, I think the experience that emboldens me to embrace this role most fully is the work I did in founding and leading the Harvard First Generation Program, a program designed both to encourage first-generation students to apply to colleges (including Harvard, if it were the right fit) and then to support first-generation students who matriculated to Harvard. Developing this program taught me so many valuable lessons: how to evaluate institutional practices to design and implement improvements; how to listen to past and current students’ experiences to foster greater inclusivity in the community; how to recognize and utilize the talents of my staff members to yield the best results while pushing them to grow; and, perhaps, most importantly, how to be vulnerable to learn from my own weaknesses and to acknowledge my own faults and failures. As a first-generation college student myself, my identity felt woven to the program, and I wanted it to best support all the students it aimed to serve; as a Blair graduate, my identity already feels woven to this School, and I similarly want our office to best support all of the Blair students we serve.

 

Q. What are some of the most important things college counselors can do to help students find the right fit in a college or university?

A. The college process doesn’t start abruptly during junior year when a student has her first meeting with her counselor; rather the college process is a time to take stock of all the student has done and continues to do during her high school years. For me, the most important aspect of helping a student find his or her “fit” is to ask questions about the choices he or she has made along the way, as it encourages reflection about what is important to the student. Answering these questions and describing experiences can help students recognize patterns in their choices and likes/dislikes that may not have been obvious in the day-to-day moments. Developing a sense of which decisions, activities, experiences and lessons brought the student the most joy is paramount; with that knowledge, students, counselors and families together can find the places that will support the continuation of those joys and that trajectory. The name of a school on a bumper sticker may invoke momentary pride, but the experiences of four years at the right place will invoke a lifetime of happiness.

 

Q.  As an experienced dancer and previous student-choreographer of musicals at Brown University and Blair, do you have any plans to continue to share your talents with students?

A.  I may have something up my sleeve—you’ll have to wait and see! In all seriousness, while I am not currently slated to work officially with musical theatre or dance at Blair, I’ll certainly be on the lookout for opportunities to weave dance into my life in any way as a faculty member, just as I did as a student. For me, dance isn’t a discrete activity you do to build toward a dance recital or a musical number; instead, dance can deepen your understanding of the world, breathing life into the experiences of reading literature, of honoring cultural traditions, of studying history. My Blair teachers always encouraged me to bring my passion for dance into my studies in truly interdisciplinary ways: I used interpretive movement to analyze an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem in Mr. Parauda’s English 3H class; I completed cultural research on the history of Flamenco and took Flamenco dance classes for Señora Wenner’s ([Senior Associate Dean of Admission] Mr. [Teddy] Wenner 96’s mom!) AP Spanish class; and I choreographed a ballet piece for a project on the tenets of the Romantic era for Dr. Miller’s AP European history class. And I still bring lessons I learned through dance into my life and my work every day: the creativity developed through choreography fuels my writing, the discipline learned in ballet drives my work ethic, and the joy of finding a shared passion deepens my desire to forge connections with others.

 

Q. As a former faculty member at Peddie, you have experience on both sides of the Blair-Peddie rivalry. How does it feel to be back on the Bucs’ side?

A.  I’m so relieved to be back on the right side of things; during my time at Peddie, I never quite acclimated to calling it “Blair Day!” Conflicted loyalties tore me apart each November when I was coaching there, as I cheered loudly for my field hockey players and simultaneously hoped the other contests weren’t going as well for the Falcons...I suppose, in reality, I always got to “win”—no matter who brought home the Kelley-Potter Cup. But chanting the “Ala Viva” never felt as good as huddling with the Blair field hockey team as we built to the crescendo of our “We are the Bucs, oh yeah” or joining the chorus of “Peddie Socks” at the pep rally during [Blair English teacher] Mr. Evans’ stories. (Does Mr. Evans still do that?) Experiencing the school spirit spark across campus, seeing teams sprint their hardest, and feeling the energy vibrating in the dining hall the morning of the competitions is special indeed, whether you are at Blair or Peddie. It’s part of what makes each place feel like a family and a home. We’re all lucky to have this cherished tradition!

 

Q.  What advice do you have for seniors who may be worried about the college application process during the coronavirus pandemic?

A.  In the spring, as students shared their anxiety about canceled testing, curtailed activities and interrupted courses, I kept telling them that all seniors across the country, indeed, across the globe, were in the same position. The advice I thought would be most helpful was to tell students that they are not alone in this experience, and they wouldn’t be at a disadvantage because of it. As we’ve lived through more of these months of this “new normal,” that advice still stands, but my own thinking has shifted to trying to acknowledge the silver linings—the advantages even—of having lived through this period, whether those are in the form of new lessons learned, new connections made, new hobbies and interests developed, or new perspectives adopted. So, seniors, you have this advantage: In a process that oftentimes requires you to be flexible in exploring different paths, to move forward after disappointing news, and to wait for what can feel like an eternity to know what the next school year will hold, you’ve honed those abilities already. You’re prepared to tackle these challenges, and Blair college counseling is by your side, albeit six feet away!

Blair Academy Graduate Creates Software Application ‘StoryDesk’

It is perhaps no surprise that Tys Sweeney ’17, founder of the student-run Blair publication The Oracle and Oracle Radio, has gone on to create a new project management software called “StoryDesk” as an economics and political science major at Tufts University. The college senior developed the software to expedite the process from assignment to publication of a written piece, in newsrooms, communications offices and many other settings. The young entrepreneur believes that StoryDesk will not only save time but also create an easier process for writers everywhere.

Tys’s interest in creating a project management software came while he was working at The Tufts Daily, the university’s independent student newspaper. “We had used a simple software called Content Manager for years to keep track of articles for each section, but it's quite limited and isn't useful for individual editors when they're organizing their teams,” he explained. “Having to keep track of content in my own spreadsheet as the opinion editor this past fall, and coming to understand the informational disconnects managing content this spring in my role as associate editor at The Tufts Daily, I was inspired to create something more robust.” So he began working on software that would not only benefit him but his peers and the world outside of Tufts as well.

The shutdown of Tufts campus due to the coronavirus pandemic last spring provided Tys with the window of opportunity he needed to get started on his software. He believes that StoryDesk’s two most important benefits lie in its ability to automate and consolidate information. “StoryDesk consolidates the management process into an easy-to-use visual dashboard, keeps all your deadlines and data in an easy-to-access ‘project,’ and handles assignment notification and reminders,” he said.

After working on the software for some time, Tys was ready to try using it at The Tufts Daily. Although there were initial problems with the first version, several tweaks to the software have made StoryDesk a success. “StoryDesk 1.0  didn't have enough features, and it was difficult to use. So I worked for most of June on redesigning the user interface and implementing several new features such as integration with WordPress. It's nowhere near done, but it's a usable, reliable and feature-packed product now, and I’m proud of it,” said Tys.

Tys’s entrepreneurial spirit began while he was at Blair, and he attributes the founding of The Oracle and Oracle Radio to this drive to create. “My experiences at Blair empowered me as a leader, strengthened my entrepreneurial resolve, and have encouraged me ever since. Whenever I've faced a challenging problem, I always know to turn to allies and mentors, build support and be an entrepreneurial leader as I was taught at Blair.”

Tys is looking forward to his senior year at Tufts and the future of StoryDesk. While it is a one-person pursuit at the moment, he hopes to bring in additional team members in the fall. The road ahead for StoryDesk is certainly promising, as Tys hopes to add StoryDesk Agency, which he describes as “a marketplace for advertisers to buy placement in college newspapers, which will help college newspapers increase their revenue streams at a critical time of economic uncertainty.”

StoryDesk has already been purchased for use in Blair Academy’s English and communications departments, a sign of future success for Tys and StoryDesk, no doubt.

 

Jason Howk
Jason Howk

“The Afghan Peace Process” was the topic for the evening when Islam scholar and retired Army major Jason Howk once again visited the Society of Skeptics. Mr. Howk is a regular Skeptics presenter, who has shared his expertise on foreign policy, Islam, the Qur’an and Afghanistan with the Blair community over the past several years. To watch his presentation, please click below:

 

 

Mr. Howk began his military service as an enlisted paratrooper; upon earning his commission in 2000, he served the balance of his career as an engineer officer and foreign area officer. During two tours in Afghanistan, as aide-de-camp to Maj. Gen. Karl Eikenberry (2002-2003), aide-de-camp to Gen. Stanley McChrystal and military assistant to Sir Graeme Lamb (2009-2010), he was involved in building the Afghan national army, guiding the Afghan Security Sector Reform program and developing the Afghan Peace, Reintegration and Reconciliation program. As a South Asia foreign area officer from 2011 to 2013, he led high-level government and civilian teams focused on the Afghan and Pakistan regions.

Mr. Howk’s work in 2009 to help build a team that would assist the Afghan government in developing a plan to end the war by diplomacy rather than an overwhelming military victory is the genesis of his upcoming Skeptics presentation. “This year, the Afghan government and the Taliban have agreed to start direct peace negotiations,” he explained. “I will discuss how we got here with the Blair community and four likely outcomes of the talks.”

By the end of the evening, Mr. Howk hopes the audience has gained an appreciation for the length of time it takes for diplomatic efforts to unfold, as well as a better understanding of the way in which negotiations will likely evolve and what is at stake. Finally, he hopes to convey America’s role in changing the way this war would end and convincing the world to support the diplomatic effort.

Mr. Howk holds a master’s degree in Middle East and South Asia security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School and studied Dari (Afghan Farsi) and Arabic at the Defense Language Institute. A Malone Fellow in Arab and Islamic Studies and former term member at the Council on Foreign Relations, he has authored numerous scholarly and professional articles, and his books include Lions in the Path of Stability and Security: Oman’s Response to Pressing Issues in the Middle East and The Qur’an: A Chronological Modern English Interpretation. He is currently co-authoring a study on the requirements for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces after a peace process takes hold.

For Blair community members who would like to get a “leg up” on his September 15 presentation, Mr. Howk recommends reading “The Long Pathway to Peace in Afghanistan” and “Afghan Peace Talks: 4 Possible Outcomes,” articles that he penned earlier this year. “I love speaking and guest teaching at Blair,” he concluded. “Students and faculty are curious about global events, and they ask great questions that show they have been studying the issues.”

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, which is funded in part by The Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, 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 and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, 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.
 

Jason Beck
Jason Beck

The Society of Skeptics is one of Blair’s most storied programs, a fact that can undoubtedly be attributed to the vision and deep commitment of former history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, who helmed the program from the 1980s until he retired last June. Upon Dr. Miller’s retirement, history department chair Jason Beck took the reins after years of working closely with Dr. Miller and supporting the development and execution of the program. Read on to learn more about Mr. Beck’s approach and plans to ensure Skeptics is a can’t-miss opportunity for students every Tuesday night as the program’s new director.

 

Q. How do you plan on building upon Dr. Miller’s great work with the Society of Skeptics and implementing your own vision for the future of the program? 

A. The Society of Skeptics has been an important part of the intellectual life of this School for 40 years, and the way we think of it today is completely due to the work that Dr. Miller has done during his time at the School to raise the level of dialogue, bring wide-ranging opinions and ideas to campus, and welcome every guest with humility and in friendship. Maintaining a program that means so much to so many Blair alums over the years and that is so important to the life of the School each year is a huge responsibility, but it is one that I am very excited to be taking on. My hope is to maintain the momentum of Marty's work all these years, while also embracing new opportunities in the years ahead.

 

Q. Did Dr. Miller give you any advice or wisdom when you took the reins of Skeptics from him?

A. Dr. Miller and I have worked very closely together for a long time—as friends and colleagues. And, I have had the opportunity to support the program directly in recent years as we made the move to the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration. So, I've had a front-row seat to see how Marty has done the very good work he has done. When it came time to pass on the program, Marty's most important advice was simple: make it your own and enjoy every moment. I look forward to doing both for many years to come!  
 

Q. Who are some of your favorite Skeptics speakers during your time at Blair and why?

A. There are simply too many to mention—the thing that really stands out to me as I reflect on 19 years in the audience is how each and every week gave me something to think about and inspired even more questions for me to reflect on.  

 

Q. What would you say is the benefit of Skeptics for new students at Blair or students who have yet to attend many lectures? 

A. Every Skeptics is a wonderful chance to extend learning outside of the classroom, to hear from, to meet and to ask questions of a wide range of people. One of the most important moments in my own academic growth was as a freshman in college when I realized how readily I could draw connections among all of my coursework, the reading I was doing on my own, the conversations I was having with my peers, and the lectures and performances I was lucky enough to have at my disposal on that campus.  It seemed like a glimpse of some greater understanding, and it was an exciting moment that I think about quite often. I see Skeptics as a way to bring that excitement, those connections, to Blair students and, in doing so, help them prepare and to be inspired to tackle the problems of the world around us. 

Meet the Class of 2024!

Blair Academy welcomed 152 new students at the start of the 2020-2021 school year, including 96 freshmen in the class of 2024. The School received more than 1,300 applications for admission during the 2019-2020 admission cycle, the highest number in its history. Now that the academic year is underway, each new student has the opportunity to uniquely contribute to the Blair community and make the most of all that the School has to offer.

Comprising 50 boys and 46 girls, the class of 2024 includes residents of 14 U.S. states (New Jersey, New York, California, Nevada, Connecticut, North Carolina, Texas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Virginia and Illinois) and nine countries (China, Bahamas, Hong Kong, South Korea, Russia, Japan, Turkey, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia). In addition to freshmen, Blair also welcomed 36 new sophomores, 12 new juniors, and eight seniors and postgraduates.

“The members of the admission team were especially excited to welcome our new students in August,” said Associate Head of School and Dean of Admission Peter G. Curran. “We kept in close touch with them over the spring and summer through numerous virtual meetings and helped them start to form connections throughout the community before the school year started. I am looking forward to great things ahead for all of them!”
 

Luol Deng
Luol Deng

Having fled war-torn South Sudan with his family in 1990, Luol Deng ’03 entered Blair Academy nine years later as a freshman from the United Kingdom and went on to a storied basketball career that took him to the highest echelons of the sport. Today, the former two-time NBA All-Star is a global philanthropist and leader of the Luol Deng Foundation, a nonprofit he founded in 2005 that uses basketball and education as tools to give hope to all South Sudanese in Africa and around the world.  

Mr. Deng joined the Blair community virtually to discuss “Global Philanthropy” on September 8 at the opening presentation of the 2020-2021 Society of Skeptics.

To view his presentation, please click below:

 

At Blair, Mr. Deng ran track and played four years of varsity basketball, serving as basketball team captain and earning accolades for athletics, sportsmanship and contributions to the life of the School. He was selected to the 2003 McDonald’s and Parade magazine all-American basketball teams, and as a senior, he was ranked second (behind LeBron James) of the 100 top high school basketball players by a host of publications.

Mr. Deng committed to Duke University, where he played for the Blue Devils for one season (2003-2004). During that year, he scored an average of more than 15 points per game; led all Atlantic Coast Conference freshmen in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage; received recognition as the NCAA Atlanta region’s Most Outstanding Player; and played in the NCAA Final Four. He entered the NBA draft in 2004 and was selected seventh overall by the Chicago Bulls.

During his illustrious 15-year NBA career, Mr. Deng played for the Chicago Bulls (2004-2014), Cleveland Cavaliers (2014), Miami Heat (2014-2016), Los Angeles Lakers (2016-2018) and Minnesota Timberwolves (2018-2019). Among many highlights on the court, he made consecutive appearances in the NBA All-Star game in 2011 and 2012, and he played for Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympic Games. Mr. Deng signed a commemorative one-day contract with the Chicago Bulls in 2019 and formally retired as a Bull and the team’s fourth all-time leading scorer on November 20. 

Throughout his time in the NBA, Mr. Deng devoted himself to his philanthropic work, determined to give back for the opportunities he had been provided. He was recognized for this work and his dedication to human rights with the NBA’s Joe Dumars Trophy sportsmanship award (2006), the Midwest Light of Human Rights Award (2010) and the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award (2014). 

Today, the Luol Deng Foundation works in South Sudan, the United Kingdom and the United States, focusing specific efforts in each nation. In South Sudan, its work includes building basketball courts, rebuilding schools, providing emergency relief and collaborating with local and international organizations who “reach the unreachable.” Its efforts in the UK help to provide opportunities for participation in basketball for all sections of the community through camps, clinics, events, and coaching and club development. Finally, in the U.S., the foundation works to unify the country’s South Sudanese community through impactful workshops, a variety of events and a weeklong basketball camp for future NBA hopefuls. 

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, which is funded in part by The Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, 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 and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, 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 Convocation

Blair’s 173rd year opened on August 30 with an outdoor Convocation that brought the community together, both in person and virtually, on the eve of the academic year. Head of School Chris Fortunato set the tone for a year that will surely hold a special place in School history as he encouraged faculty and students to keep trying no matter what challenges they face and no matter what the world throws their way. To view the ceremony, click “play” below.

As the School community endeavors to stay healthy and well amid the coronavirus pandemic, Convocation necessarily looked a bit different than it has in the past, yet the joy and excitement of starting a new school year were the same as ever. Only seniors took part in the traditional bagpiper-led procession, and they wore face masks and maintained appropriate physical distance as they excitedly walked through campus. Several faculty members and underclassmen, holding the flags of every nation represented by this year’s student body, cheered the seniors as they entered Meerwarth Courtyard and proceeded through the Arch to Hardwick Lawn. There, the members of the class of 2021 took seats—six feet apart—in colorful portable chairs. Faculty and underclassmen watched the proceedings via livestream from dormitories and other campus locations, while online learners and Blair families tuned in from their homes around the world.

Convocation proceeded with pomp and ceremony, as well as great optimism for the 2020-2021 school year. Trustee the Rev. David Harvey and Senior Class Council members Emma Van Der Veen ’21 and John Boelhoff ’21 welcomed all who were in attendance in person and remotely. Ava Roche ’21 sang “It’s the Climb,” sharing the song’s inspiring message with her peers, and Mr. Fortunato spoke from his heart as he reflected on the “Blair way” and encouraged community members to endeavor to achieve that ideal every day in the year about to get underway.

Mr. Fortunato explained that people have different definitions for the Blair way, but he has come to understand it as Blair family members’ courageous commitment to do three things: to stand up for each other and have each other’s backs; to sit down with each other, connect deeply and discuss our differences; and to never, ever stop trying to learn and be better.

On that final point, Mr. Fortunato offered advice for the year ahead as he concluded his remarks. “Never stop trying to stay together—wear a mask, stay six feet apart and do everything we must to do,” he said. “Never stop trying to learn from one another, to believe and see the best in one another and to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Never stop trying to find the good, the humor, the joy. And never stop trying to be the person you are and wish to become and to honor that opportunity for others around you.”

It has become Mr. Fortunato’s tradition to share a gift with the campus community at Convocation, and he announced that this year, every student, faculty and staff member would receive a portable Blair chair like the ones in which seniors had been seated during the ceremony. The chairs will help everyone spend as much time outdoors together as possible this fall and, in the Blair way, stay closely connected, even from six feet apart. 
 

2020 Orientation

Orientation is a much-loved Blair tradition that brings students and faculty together at the start of each new school year. This year, as the community endeavors to stay safe and well amid the coronavirus pandemic, Orientation has expanded and taken on a different look, yet its goals remain the same: to help students learn their way around campus; get to know their fellow students and the faculty; and feel comfortable being at Blair.

Associate Dean of Students Andee Ryerson, who coordinates the event along with Associate Dean of Students Rod Gerdsen, noted an additional goal for Orientation 2020: helping students understand that they can have meaningful social connections while staying physically distant from one another. “We kept this goal in the forefront of our planning and incorporated lots of activities to acquaint students with the new norms of life on campus,” Mrs. Ryerson explained. “They won’t be able to be together in quite the way they are used to this year, so we made sure to show them lots of new ways to have meaningful social interactions even if they have to stay six feet apart and wear a mask.”

Orientation began this week with “mini-orientation” activities that kept students busy as they arrived in small groups and moved into the dorms. Students were organized into orientation “pods,” and they participated in in-person activities with their fellow pod members and pod faculty, as well as virtual multi-pod activities, including competitions, dorm room scavenger hunts and “crib” tours. Seniors also had the opportunity to attend online seminars with their college counselors to start their college application process and develop tools for successful virtual college visits and interviews.

On August 29 and 30, students and faculty members will participate in a community-wide Orientation weekend, and this will include virtual options so that remote learners can log in and participate. The weekend’s activities include team-building and communication exercises that will have students solving puzzles without being able to touch each other or the puzzle pieces; a COVID relay, in which students will practice health-and-safety protocols with a fun, competitive twist; and virtual getting-to-know-you games and challenges.

Senior leaders, including prefects, the Senior Class Council, and members of the Blue and White Key Society and Be Well @ Blair, have taken leadership roles in several virtual Orientation events. During mini-orientation, Blue and White Key Orientation leaders ran virtual activities for freshmen and other new students that focused on acquainting them with the physical campus and connecting with each other and their assigned big siblings. This weekend, senior leaders will host presentations on utilizing campus resources and facilitate conversations about the 2020-2021 all-School read, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. They will also hold discussions around diversity, equity and inclusion that will help set the stage for meaningful conversations throughout the year.

“Orientation 2020 offers returning students a chance to participate in activities that are very similar to the ones they enjoyed in past years and gives new students many opportunities to form strong bonds—even from a physical distance—among the student body and within their dorms, advisory groups and classes,” Mr. Gerdsen said. “I encourage students to join the ‘Dream Team,’ a group that will be working with me to brainstorm ideas for similar fun and safe activities throughout the year.”

“I hope by the end of Orientation, students feel prepared, energized and excited to start the new school year,” Mrs. Ryerson added. “We want them to realize that even with all the health-and-safety protocols that are new this year, this is still the Blair they know and love!”

Update on Blair's Athletic Program Plans for Fall Semester

The health of our students, faculty and staff is Blair’s highest priority, and limiting our community members’ exposure to others is critical to our plans to stay safe and on campus this fall. That’s why, out of an abundance of caution, Blair, along with all five other schools in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL), has decided to cancel the fall 2020 MAPL season. 

In keeping with recent New Jersey guidelines recommending interscholastic competition be limited to a school’s existing league or conference, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s prohibition of competitions with out-of-state schools, and our own current campus protocols, Blair does not at this time plan on participating in interscholastic athletic competition for the fall 2020 semester.   

Although we are not returning to “full play” this fall, we remain committed to offering a wide range of athletic and exercise options for our student-athletes. These activities will further our mission of promoting good physical, mental and emotional health and cultivate skills that will help students become community-minded leaders. Our fall teams will still practice while maintaining appropriate physical distance from others, and our coaches will emphasize skill training, team-building and conditioning. 

We are also exploring opportunities to partner with MAPL schools, including Peddie, to introduce virtual opportunities for spirited competition and community building. That may look different for every sport and coaches from each of the six schools will work closely with their MAPL counterparts and their own athletics departments to create the most robust and engaging offerings possible. Some coaches have already expressed interest in creating a “skills challenge” that allows athletes to push themselves and compete weekly against students at other MAPL schools, likely during the month of October.

Given the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to closely monitor all public health and government guidance and the situation on and around our campus. We certainly hope that as the fall progresses, conditions will allow Blair to introduce intramural and intrasquad competitions, and we will remain open to considering limited opportunities for competition with area schools if guidelines change and it is safe and appropriate to do so. The MAPL schools are also discussing the possibility of holding an abbreviated fall season later in the year and will reconvene this fall to make decisions about competition during the winter or spring seasons. 

We deeply appreciate your understanding and flexibility as we navigate this unprecedented situation in a way that keeps everyone safe and well. I will be back in touch with any updates as the situation continues to evolve and change.

Blair Academy Honors Veteran Faculty & Staff

At the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, Blair Academy celebrated and thanked eight faculty and staff members who reached milestone years of service to the School. 

Director of technology and chair of the computer science department Sam Adams and maintenance staff member Kyle Thomas were honored for having served Blair Academy for 25 years. Language teacher Tim Devaney, grounds supervisor Dan Andrus and assistant director of communications Joanne Miceli were recognized for 10-year service anniversaries. Also celebrating 10-year anniversaries are Jeff Mack of the maintenance team, advancement associate Melissa Sneed, and registrar and yearbook advisor Kecia Tillman. 

Assistant Head of School and Dean of Faculty Lorry Perry thanked the dedicated members of the community, stating: “To have faculty and staff who dedicate so much of their lives to Blair for so many years is a tremendous boon for our school community; these eight individuals contribute so much to Blair through and beyond their roles at the School."