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Blair Academy Players Present Love/Sick

The lights will go up at the Robert J. Evans Open Air Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on May 19, 20 and 21, when the Blair Academy Players present John Cariani’s Love/Sick.

Billed as “a darker cousin to Almost, Maine,” Love/Sick is a collection of nine short plays that take place on a single Friday night in a fictitious suburban town. Depicting the highs and lows of love experienced by nine different couples, the play explores the delicate moments that shape the life cycle of love, from a young couple left breathless by love at first sight to a middle-aged man wondering why the thrill has left his marriage. 

“Love/Sick is a sequel of sorts to Almost, Maine,” says veteran performing arts teacher and theatre director Craig Evans, “which Blair students performed a number of years ago. The stories are not quite as sunny, by and large, but Cariani’s care in telling the characters’ stories is remarkable.”

“The plays covers the evolution of love from meeting to marriage to having children to post-divorce,” he explains. Theatregoers can expect to find both rich humor as well as moments of deep poignancy in the production. “The audience may be laughing at one point, and then moved by the resolution of the situation.”

The production’s cast of 18 includes Ari Albino ’23, Schuyler Anderson ’22, Samantha Antonelli ’22, Archer Benedict ’22, Grant Breckenridge ’24, Sofia Ciminello ’22, JC Cong ’23, Sadie Donnelly ’22, Richard Gimbel ’24, Amogh Katare ’24, Bertrand Li ’23, Marc Lui ’23, Julian Perello ’24, Alex Schamberger ’24, Vivien Sheridan ’22, Julia Twomey ’24, Emily Wang ’23 and Hanna Wilke ’23. Amalia Scripsick ’23 serves as the student production director. 

Director Evans explains that, unlike traditional plays in which a handful of roles form the leads, Love/Sick’s structure enables each of the actors to hold equal roles, providing ample opportunity for each of Blair’s performers to shine. 

Cast member Richard Gimbel, who first experienced a performance in the Robert J. Evans Theatre last year, is especially looking forward to his role and taking part in the show’s premiere. “The audience can expect a delightful show that blends comedy and tragedy on the outdoor stage. It’s very compelling!” he says. 

General admission tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students; admission is free to all Blair faculty, staff and students. In the case of inclement weather, the play will be presented in the nearby DuBois Theatre in Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts.
 

Tom Malinowski

Representing the 7th District of New Jersey in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Tom Malinowski joined Blair on Monday, May 8 to speak with students about his career and work in human rights while offering his perspective on the current state of international affairs. 

Filling nearly every seat in the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration (CECIC) students listened attentively to Rep. Malinowski’s talk, which rounded out the 2021-2022 Skeptics season.

To view his presentation, click here:

“By way of introduction, there’s a part of my background that I wanted to share with you all,” started Rep. Malinowski, who went on to divulge that his great-great grandfather was 19th-century railroad mogul John Insley Blair, who founded Blair Academy in 1848.

Moving on from the uncanny bit of history, Rep. Malinowski proceeded to explain the main reason for his attendance: To share his belief that people, especially citizens of the United States, needed to demand the truth, especially in politics. 

“We’re a very divided country right now, as I’m sure you noticed. We’re not the only country that is divided or polarized on political issues, issues that people are passionate about,” he said.

“There’s never one cause for a problem, but one of the causes [of our nation’s dividedness], I think, has to do with the significant change in technology that has happened in the world in the last 10 or 20 years,” said Rep. Malinowski before pointing to how the digital era affects the trustworthiness of the news. 

In the past, he said, “Anchors were widely trusted in our country and tried to answer the question, ‘What’s important and what’s true?’ and there were still Democrats and Republicans then as there are now, but they would argue over the facts. Having that common understanding of the truth was a unifying force in the country.”

Delineating the history of America’s relationship with the news paved the way for Rep. Malinowski to then focus on his change-yielding actions while sitting in the House Foreign Affairs, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Homeland Security committees. He recently co-signed legislation, including bill H.R.5665, which aims at combating the International Islamophobia Act and also bill H.R.3755, which establishes the option for states to waive certain federal health-insurance requirements and provide residents with health-insurance benefits plans through a state-administered program.

After discussing politics and his political background, Rep. Malinowski opened the floor to answer questions, making sure that he took the time to respond to each student just as he would for each one of his constituents. 


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, is 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 thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.

Blair’s Emily (Xiaoyu) Wang ’23 Addresses the United Nations

According to the United Nations, nearly 140 people die each hour from AIDS-related causes. While the international community has made progress in combating the disease, nearly 37 million people continue to live with AIDS and halting the spread of HIV remains one of the public health challenges of the 21st century. 

On March 18, Blair’s Emily (Xiaoyu) Wang ’23 lent her voice to the critical issue, delivering a 20-minute speech to the 66th United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women that addressed the causes of elevated HIV/AIDS transmission rates and provided potential solutions aimed at youth. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where I could both represent students from Blair and learn from the other attendees,” Emily says. “I’m so grateful for the experience.”

Emily has long held an interest in using education—and her talent—to make the world a better place. In middle school, she tutored public school students from rural Liangshan, China, volunteering to teach English and creating an art textbook titled Let Me Draw the Vocabulary that is now used by her former pupils. At Blair, Emily stepped up to teach a seminar to classmates during 2021’s Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month, and this year, she led one of Blair’s Black History Month seminars, educating her peers and the school community about the American civil rights movement. After Mr. Redos’ Human Rights class and Mr. Thomas’ Art for Social Change class sparked her interest in human rights, Emily applied for an internship at a nonprofit focused on HIV education in China. That nonprofit’s website led her to an application to address the United Nations—and that is how the Blair junior found herself speaking to a conference of 200 international dignitaries in March.

Although she blushes when called a representative of global youth, Emily is delighted to have had the opportunity to inform policy on an international level and to be an advocate for using education to combat HIV/AIDS. “My advice at the U.N. conference was that students are a powerful tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Peer education promotes dialogue and helps combat the deep-seated stigmas that can lead to a lack of health education worldwide.”  

Currently in the process of applying for a position on the United Nations’ ECOSOC Youth Forum, Emily hopes that her international work to improve the lives of others is just beginning. As she told the U.N. conference in March, “We cannot be satisfied until everybody, in both developing and developed countries, receive the care they need to lead healthy lives.”

Spring Student Art Exhibition

Enthusiastic chatter filled The Romano Gallery on the evening of May 5 as students, faculty, staff and parents gathered to view the Student Art Exhibition. Displaying 240 pieces by more than 130 students, the annual show provides an opportunity for Blair artists to showcase their work for their classmates to enjoy. The walls of the gallery were filled with paintings, drawings, photographs, architectural drawings, cyanotype prints and more, while the center of the gallery contained pedestaled sculptures and ceramic works. 

“The student art show is always a favorite of mine because it gives our community the chance to appreciate the artwork their peers have been creating all year long,” shared fine arts department chair Kate Sykes. “This show is like our state championship game. It’s the culmination of months of effort, persistence and growth. It’s always so rewarding to see the pride on our students’ faces as they explain their pieces to their family and friends.” 

The exhibition also allows our students to experience a new element of being an artist and consider questions as professional artists: How do you want your work to be displayed? How can you best present your work so the viewer will understand your intentions? Duc Dinh ’22, a seasoned photography student at Blair, used the exhibition as an opportunity to combine photographs from throughout his Blair career into an interactive experience. Taking inspiration from early childhood viewfinder toys, Duc created slides for each of his favorite pieces and meticulously taped each one into a View-Master wheel. The result was its own miniature, interactive and immersive gallery of Duc’s work that visitors could enjoy. 

“Being part of the student show was truly phenomenal,” explained Duc. “I got to connect with people around campus that I otherwise wouldn’t see. Through my work, which I have dedicated a significant amount of time to, as well as others, we were able to form a community connection. It is amazing to see how all artwork was consumed, talked about and appreciated by people of all ages. I especially loved seeing the different messages viewers took from the art, depending on their stage of life!”

While the cheers in the gallery didn’t quite rival those of stadium stands, a contagious excitement filled the room as community members explored the gallery, asking questions and exclaiming over their favorite pieces. The celebratory energy certainly felt like a culminating championship after months, or even years, of dedication.

The Student Art Exhibition opened for viewers on May 5 and will remain open through May 23 for visitors and community members to enjoy.
 

Blair Orchestra performs onstage during the Fall 2021 Concert.

Blair music department chair Jennifer Pagotto may be a rarity among conductors: a genuinely nice person, a masterful teacher possessing incredible expertise and a sense of humor about the art of music. She defies, in many ways, the traditional stereotypes of conductors that come to mind: the Chicago Symphony’s legendary Fritz Reiner commanding the stage with dictatorial flair or Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, as famous for his temper and theatrics as for his musicianship.

Yet, it is clear to veteran Blair audiences why Mrs. Pagotto has been called to teaching and conducting. As maestra, she holds the audience in the palm of her hand, keeping time for her musicians and deftly weaving each student’s musical interpretation into the wider composition. As teacher, she leads Blair’s Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Band to push their creative boundaries and take risks. Standing before the assembled musicians with arms raised, she guides her students with surgical precision and creates breathtaking musical moments. 

Jen Pagotto

An Avant-Garde Repertoire
On Friday, May 6, attendees of the Spring Concert got a taste of Mrs. Pagotto’s magic when she and the Symphony Orchestra debuted a sampling of classical favorites, as well as a few unconventional choices, including “Sogno di Volare,” the theme to a video game. With a sweeping melody that Mrs. Pagotto described as “artistically stunning,” the orchestral piece was selected by her and Director of Vocal Music Ryan Manni because of its dramatic beauty, created by its rich orchestration and dynamic vocals, and so that students could take part in a growing genre. 

“Movie scores started out years ago as pleasant background music, and then, somewhere along the line, composers started writing really beautiful and intricate scores for the cinema,” she explained. “The same thing may be happening now with video games.” 

When Mrs. Pagotto and Mr. Manni, who work in tandem to bring the Spring Concert to life, came across Civilization VI’s choir-and-orchestra piece, they agreed that it would be the perfect opportunity to push students’ musical boundaries. “Video game music is growing as a genre, and our musicians haven’t performed a choir-and-orchestra piece since before COVID, so this was both a return to form for our students and a chance to explore new horizons.” 

Blair’s jazz musicians, who recently had the opportunity to study under jazz legend Curtis Lundy, have been playing incredibly well this year, noted Mrs. Pagotto, and performed pieces including “All Blues” by Miles Davis, a quintessential “cool jazz” composition, and “Come On, Come Over” by Jaco Pastorius, a jazz-funk song that has become a Blair student favorite this year. “It’s a little closer to Motown and rock and roll,” Mrs. Pagotto said, “and our musicians really latched on to it.”

Blair Academy Singers, led by Mr. Manni, captured the audience’s ear with “Ner Ner” by Jake Runestad, a piece requiring extended vocal technique from Blair’s performers, and their imagination with “Kaval Sviri,” a Bulgarian folk song that introduces students to an Eastern European style that is new to them, among others. In another highlight, senior Sadie Donnelly ’22, made her debut as the Singers’ student conductor with “Over the Rainbow.” 

Mrs. Pagotto noted that the concert was the product of many hours of practice from Blair’s students, and she hoped that the audience noticed the level of commitment and skill the performers demonstrated on their pieces. “To see their progress, how our musicians stepped up and played, was amazing,” she said. 

Swept Away in Sound
Prior to the concert, first-year student Courtney Payne ’25 said she looked forward to sweeping the audience away in waves of music during the evening, and she hoped that family and friends would appreciate how the performers’ skills have developed since September. A clarinetist in the Symphony Orchestra, Courtney credited Mrs. Pagotto with enabling Blair’s instrumentalists to blossom, and said, “She is just the nicest teacher and is, at the same time, so commanding. In one sweep of her arm, the room grows quiet. She has this way of pulling out the best from each of us.” 

When asked what advice she has for members of the community in advance of the concert, Courtney put it simply: “Expect to be amazed!”

Blair’s musicians graced the stage for an evening of spectacular music Friday, May 6, 2022, at 7:00 p.m. in the DuBois Theatre of the Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts.
 

To watch the Spring Concert in its entirety, click play below:

Candice Riviere
Candice Riviere

Recently, Blair alum Candice Riviere ’12 was named editor in chief of The University of Chicago Law Review. The acclaimed publication is among the five most-cited law reviews in the world and places Ms. Riviere in esteemed company, notes her former AP microeconomics teacher James Moore. “As editor-in-chief of The University of Chicago Law Review,” Mr. Moore explains, “Candice manages the content of one of the most prestigious legal journals in the world. Articles in the quarterly publication come from high-ranking judges and legal scholars and are often cited in Supreme Court cases. Some University of Chicago Law graduates who preceded Candice in this role have gone on to become attorney general of the state of Ohio, the current president of Princeton University, and many judges and law professors.” 

In honor of this notable achievement, we’d like to share a profile about Ms. Riviere by Lulu Soranson Way ’22. Written in 2021 and updated this year as part of the J-term course titled “Where Have You Come From, Where Are You Now?,” the piece showcases one of Blair’s talented student writers and illuminates how Ms. Riviere made her way from the banks of the Rhone in Avignon, France, to the hills of Blair in rural New Jersey—and now finds herself at the pinnacle of the University of Chicago’s law journal. 


What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “law student”? Perhaps an overworked, late-night paper writing, singularly focused, frantic individual hustling between studying in the library and lecture halls? Meeting Candice Yandam Riviere ’12 on Zoom dispelled any of my past notions about the life of a graduate student. Candice is a third-year law student, (or 3L as she calls it) studying to get her J.D. At 28 years old, she is an example of the modern graduate student. From her Chicago apartment that she shares with her husband, Cesar, Candice is currently enrolled as a Ph.D. candidate at Pantheon-Sorbonne University as well as studying law at The University of Law Chicago Law School. She is set to graduate from UChicago in June of 2022. Besides Candice’s impressive educational accomplishments for someone so young, what strikes me as even more impressive is both her kindness and prevailing curiosity for the world. 

Born in France, Candice is a dual French-American citizen and grew up in Avignon, a small city in southeastern France. After graduating high school in Avignon, she opted for a postgraduate (PG) year at Blair. She recounts that going to Blair was a chance to try something new and explore different options. You might wonder how much change a single year as a PG student could bring to someone’s life? Candice shared, “I gained a lot of confidence in my time at Blair. When I first started, I was a little introverted and somewhat shy, but the people at Blair helped me to gain so much more confidence and allowed me to feel secure in my friendships. I’ve spent only one year there, but still some of my closest friends are from my time at Blair.” 

Equally, some of her Blair classmates share the same perspective. Former classmate and close friend Emma Moore ’12 says, “It’s funny because I only knew Candice for such a short time and she’s not someone I talk to often, but every time I see her, we pick up right where we left off.” It’s also clear that it wasn’t just Candice who gained from her Blair experience. Current English department head James Moore recounts, “Candice was a really inquisitive student. You could just see she was someone who loved to learn and was a highlight of my senior Economics class that year.” Candice was also Mr. Moore’s squash manager, a student position he had been previously reluctant to assign; however, because of Candice’s work ethic and spirit, Mr. Moore reports he has grown to appreciate and value the role. 

Candice’s love of economics has grown from her days in Mr. Moore’s class to now being a PhD candidate in the Economics department at Pantheon-Sorbonne University. She also earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in economics, both of which she received cum laude from Pantheon-Sorbonne. Thereafter, she gained an advanced master’s degree in development economics. When I asked Candice what had ignited her passion interest in economics, she replied, “Honestly, I’ve always been interested in econ, and Mr. Moore’s class made me realize that it was a true passion.” Studying at Pantheon-Sorbonne aided Candice in her drive for academic research, and she recounted that “the Sorbonne was great because I was able to declare my major on the first day of school and get started on exploring economics intensely.” 

Interestingly, Candice shared that also while at Sorbonne, she started Sorbonne Gourmet, a food blog where she and a few friends shared fast, easy and healthy recipes to make at home. The blog quickly transformed into a food club where members attended events such as sushi-making classes, wine tastings and even went to famous Parisian restaurants for dessert tastings! I was surprised that someone who seemed so immersed in serious academia had such an unconventional and fun-loving hobby. Candice was quick to share that although she did love learning more about food and cooking, Sorbonne Gourmet also gave her a chance to interact with and meet people from lots of different majors and areas of Pantheon-Sorbonne, something she didn’t have the opportunity to do on a day-to-day basis in her economics classes.

Further, Candice’s passion for economics and research combined with her interest in meeting new people has proved pivotal as she was invited as a visiting scholar at Columbia University. In 2019, she was a visiting scholar at the China Center for Social Policy at Columbia University School of Social Work where she learned about China, social policy, and welfare while sharing her research in economics. Similarly, in early 2021, Candice gave a talk at Yale Law School, on Zoom, focused on labor market monopsony in the agriculture sector. Here, her love for economics, law and social policy all seemed to blend together. Candice shared, “I’m writing a paper right now related to antitrust law and labor markets, and it’s very policy-oriented. I think about what are the next steps? How (do we) create a competition policy that works for companies and workers? How do we go about changing what’s wrong or does not work anymore? Truthfully, a lot of answers to these questions stem from law and economics.” 

Ever passionate, Candice went on to explain the enjoyment she received from sharing her research. As a current high schooler, I wondered what it must be like for someone who is also still studying herself to have such confidence in her thinking around such complex issues and further share that thinking with other students Here, I learned that Ph.D. and graduate students are different from high schoolers or even undergraduates in how they share research and contribute to collective academic ideas. Part of the role of Ph.D. candidate is to “get out there and share your research and ideas.” Candice shared, “The more I do research, and the more I get into academia, the more humbled I am. When I present some of my research, I’m always eager to receive feedback from other people and students, and to learn from their ideas…and then you get to meet new mentors, which is always fun and rewarding!”

Candice’s passion for meeting new people, understanding different perspectives, and challenging her way of thinking is present throughout her experience as a PG at Blair and continues throughout her academic journey.

After our meeting, I took a moment and pondered Candice’s story. I was struck by how fortunate I was to meet a young woman, early in her career, who has grasped every opportunity and now already has so much life experience. During our chat, Candice asked me about my own Blair experience and subsequent plans for college, and I couldn’t help but hope for a journey similar to hers. Perhaps someday I will be able to share with others the same kind of diverse experiences and insight. I hope to possess that same forceful curiosity that has driven Candice to seek out new experiences and build relationships across a diverse range of peoples, allowing her to gain and instill varying perspectives in her academic study. I hope that my journey will entail Candice’s willingness to be open, her profound kindness in sharing her experiences with others, as well as her great joy for all that life has to offer. Candice’s inspiring journey so far leaves a mark, something to be proud of as a Blair alum but equally something for me to strive for. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Luella “Lulu” Soranson Way ’22 is a current senior at Blair. A Hong Kong native, Lulu captains the girls’ varsity soccer team, is president of A Cappella and serves on Blair’s Be Well Committee. Her first story, “First Day Curse,” was published as part of the Kids4Writing for a Cause competition in 2014. She has recently published her research on “Selective Mutism in Bilingual and Immigrant Children,” which she completed under Notre Dame University’s undergraduate psychology program. She looks forward to studying psychology and linguistics next year.

Sophomore speech contest thumbnail

The students in Ms. Queally’s 10th-grade English class know that there are a handful of historic speeches that have ascended to the level of legend—Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” address, Lou Gehrig’s farewell to baseball or Malala Yousafzai’s comments at United Nations—and they have closely studied winning speeches delivered by past Blair students. They note how all these speakers have mastered the basic techniques of skillful delivery: They pace their words, make eye contact with the audience, speak confidently and rehearse their speech thoroughly. 

In examining footage of effective speeches with her class, English teacher Caroline Queally notes that one element seems to matter most: “Good speeches create audience engagement,” she says. “There are different ways the speaker can do that. You can make the audience laugh, keep them on the edge of their seat or move them with a story, but every great speech keeps the listener fully engaged.” 

On April 25, 2022, Blair’s elocutionists rose to the occasion, competing in the annual rite of passage: the Sophomore Speech Contest.

Ms. Queally notes that the 10th-grade public-speaking competition is a valuable tradition at Blair. “The ability to communicate effectively, to captivate an audience, is incredibly important,” she says. “We want our students to be scholars but also just well-adjusted citizens. Communicating effectively is a life skill. Our hope is that through practice with public speaking, they gain confidence and become comfortable communicating in a public setting, so they are better prepared for the careers they’ll have when they leave Blair.” 

To that end, each year, sophomores are tasked with speaking about a different topic. This spring, they were asked to choose an image and reflect on how it has impacted their life. To prepare, sophomores took part in a variety of activities. They brainstormed topics, bounced ideas off their peers, reviewed winning speeches to determine what qualities make for a good speech or speaker, and practiced before an audience—all before each class helped its teacher decide who would advance to the contest.

On April 25, the finalists from each sophomore English class approached the stage in the DuBois Theatre. One by one, they stepped into the beam of light, took a deep breath and offered inspired performances aimed at captivating the audience of faculty, staff and students. The resulting speeches varied widely—some students attempted to inform, others to entertain and still others sought to persuade the audience of the value of their image. All the orators, noted English department chair Jim Moore, made clear that their weeks of preparation had paid off. “I am always gratified when one of my former English 1 students makes it to the main event; not only am I glad to see someone with whom I've worked closely in the past on stage, but I'm always impressed by how much more thoughtful and articulate that student has become over the course of the last year.” 

Having managed the event since 2016, Mr. Moore has overseen several inspiring Sophomore Speech Contests, and he knows from past experience that the deliberations that follow by a cross-disciplinary slate of judges can be intense. Facing difficult choices, this year’s five-member panel awarded first place in the contest to Arthur Huang ’24, second place to Brynne Grant ’24 and third place to Audrey Zawoiski ’24. As for the future, Mr. Moore looks forward to the continued growth of his students’ skills—and the day when the most captivating orators from Blair follow in the footsteps of King, Gehrig and Yousafzai and deliver the next speech to one day be called “legendary.” 

To view this year’s winning speeches, click “play” below:

Afghan Refugees Mohammad and Frozan Nabizada Relive Their Experiences at Skeptics 

Every refugee, no matter where they’re from, has a story to tell that from which we can learn. On Tuesday, April 19, Blair Academy was lucky enough to hear two stories from brothers Mohammad and Frozan Nabizada, both individuals who, today, identify as dual nationals and Afghan-U.S. citizens.

To view their full presentation, please click below:
 

“We left our country because we had lost our hopes,” said Frozan, referring to the more than three million Afghan refugees who have been forced out of their homes since 2020. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, Afghan refugees make up the third-largest displaced population in the world, following Syrian refugees and displaced Venezuelans.

“Overnight, I was with my kids and some other friends when we heard that the Taliban were impounding and were at the gates of the city,” shared Mohammad, providing students a deeper look into the grim event. “I made some phone calls and confirmed it was true. Next thing we know, we’re leaving some 20 years of our history, the schools we grew up going to. Thousands of people piled onto flights into New York and Washington D.C. I still can’t believe what happened; it was an unfortunate situation with my having lost close friends.”

Throughout the evening, Mohammad reiterated how lucky he felt to be where he is today. “I was a contractor and in the process, there was a program that gave special visas for our [American] allies,” he explained. 

And though he humbly recalled how lucky he felt, Mohammad also revealed how much he and his family had been forced to sacrifice. For example, his wife had once developed a women's fashion brand, Afghan Couture, only to close the store in order to flee to safety.

Today, all members of the Nabizada family work with a group of other Afghan refugees to help one another adapt to their new homes in the United States. 


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, is 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 thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.
 

Commander & Astronaut Susan Kilrain Debuts at Society of Skeptics 

What do you want to be when you grow up? An astronaut. It’s what many children dream of becoming. Yet, the chance of actually becoming one is between  0.04 and 0.08 percent, according to The Verge. On Tuesday, April 26, a member of that elite class, Navy commander and NASA astronaut Susan Kilrain P '20 '23, joins the Blair community to encourage students to keep pursuing their biggest dreams.

Ms. Kilrain will join students at in the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration (CECIC) to reveal some of her secrets for defying the odds and what it is like to travel in space. She believes it is important to share her experiences while also commenting on where she sees the national space program heading.

Not only does Ms. Kilrain look forward to recounting her experiences as a naval officer and astronaut, she also wants to express what it was like to serve as a distinguished Navy test pilot, aerospace engineer and experienced world traveler.

Ms. Kilrain is the youngest person, and one of only three women, to ever pilot a space shuttle. Additionally, she served twenty years as an officer in the U.S. Navy and has flown more than 3,000 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft. For her service, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded her with the Defense Superior Service Medal, as she paved the way for young women to follow in her footsteps.


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, is 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 thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.
 

Loved Ones Connect on Grandparents’ Day 

Each year on Grandparents’ Day, grandparents from across the globe travel to Blairstown to spend the day with their loved ones on the hilltop. This April 20, grandparents had the opportunity to take in a concert featuring Blair’s Symphony Orchestra, attend class with their grandchildren and catch up over lunch, as well as meet the teachers, coaches and friends about whom they have heard so much. 

Beyond the pleasure that sharing in our family’s lives provides, science shows that the involvement of grandparents brings real psychological and health benefits—to members of both the older and younger generation. Research from the University of Oxford, for example, shows that grandparents who are highly involved increase their grandchild’s sense of well being; those students experience fewer difficulties with peers in school. An Australian study found that benefits also work the other way; grandmothers who regularly interact with their grandchildren perform better on cognitive tests than those who see their kin less frequently and peers without grandchildren. 

Science, in short, has confirmed what many of us already knew: adolescents’ relationships with their grandparents are important in so many ways. Grandparents’ Day is a tradition that the Blair community looks forward to warmly, because, in addition to strengthening familial bonds and reinforcing a family’s support for education, the daylong program is just fun—just ask any grandparent enthusiastically cheering their favorite Buc on the athletic fields or being introduced to the marvels of Blair’s soft serve piled high with just the right toppings.  

“Grandparents Day is a favorite event on campus, because so many grandparents are just happy to just be here, spending time with their grandchildren and learning about their lives,” said Susan Long, assistant director of advancement for parent relations. “It’s always a pleasure to see so many happy faces on campus, and we hope the opportunity to see Blair first hand will lead grandparents to better understand their students’ experience and remain connected to the School well into the future.” 
 

Anthony D'Amato

RollingStone.com named him an "Artist You Need to Know" while Newsweek hailed his songwriting as "smartly sweet." On April 20, internationally acclaimed singer, songwriter and indie-folk musician Anthony D’Amato ’06 returned to his roots, performing with the Blair Academy Orchestra and Singers. 

A Blairstown native, Mr. D’Amato grew up playing piano and soon picked up guitar, bass, banjo and harmonica while also honing his vocal skills. He released his first album, “The Shipwreck from the Shore” in 2014, shortly after he graduated from Princeton University. Reflecting the classic sounds of American folk rock made legendary by his idols, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, the album was inspired by Mr. D’Amato’s studies with Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon and garnered rave reviews on both sides of the pond. His 2016 release, “Cold Snap,” resulted in Mr. D’Amato’s first national TV appearance and recognition from Rolling Stone for his “folk music raised on New Jersey grit.” Billboard praised his latest release, “Five Songs from New Orleans,” as “stunning.”

Taking a break from preparations for his European concert tour, Mr. D’Amato returns to the hilltop this week for a two-day residency working with Blair’s musicians in the classroom and culminating in a performance with the Orchestra and Singers on Wednesday, April 20. It is not the first time Mr. D’Amato has come home to give the next generation of musicians a hand up. A guest speaker for the Society of Skeptics and J-term courses “The Power of the Artist” and “Artistry and Activism,” Mr. D’Amato has returned to Blair regularly to share his experience and talent with students.

Director of Instrumental Music Jennifer Pagotto, for one, is grateful for his mentorship. “Anytime our students get to work with a professional artist,” she notes, “they get a view into how they can grow. Because Mr. D’Amato is an alum, he really understands Blair and that deepens the connection for students—It allows our students to see themselves in him and see what is possible.”

At the workshops, Mr. D’Amato will be joined by Broadway musical director Lon Hoyt, who is known for his work on productions of Footloose, Hair and Hairspray, among others. The pair will prepare “Ludlow” with students, a ballad arranged by Mr. Hoyt, to be performed before the entire Blair community at the Wednesday concert. 

Students, parents and friends of Blair are all warmly invited to join Mr. D’Amato and the Blair Academy Orchestra and Singers as they grace the stage on Wednesday, April 20, at 10:45 a.m. in the Armstrong Hipkins Center for the Arts’ DuBois Theatre.

Learn more about Mr. D’Amato and his upcoming European concert tour here: http://www.anthonydamatomusic.com/.

Jazz Luminary Curtis Lundy Captivates Blair 

On April 11 and 12, Grammy-nominated composer, arranger and recording artist Curtis Lundy captivated the Blair community, performing with a jazz combo and holding a series of master classes for students in the School’s Jazz Ensemble, Orchestra and Singers. A renowned jazz bassist, Mr. Lundy began the two-day event with a concert at School Meeting during which he and a jazz combo, featuring Miles Lennox on piano, Wallace Roney Jr. on trumpet, Bobby Watson on alto saxophone and Victor Jones on drums, played a mix of familiar jazz and Motown hits that had feet tapping in DuBois Theatre. During a post-concert question-and-answer session, Mr. Lundy chatted with students, capturing the attention of hip-hop fans as he recounted his experience working with Kanye West and how the rapper sampled Mr. Lundy’s arrangement of “Walk with Me” for his Grammy Award-winning hit “Jesus Walks.” 

The following day, Mr. Lundy hosted a series of master classes for Blair’s musicians, providing an opportunity for student learning that delighted performing arts chair and Director of Instrumental Music Jennifer Pagotto. “Anytime we have a guest performer, it’s a chance for all of our musicians to bring their skills and also be open to new ways of being led as a performer,” said Mrs. Pagotto. 

At the workshops that he led for the Singers and Orchestra, Mr. Lundy taught Blair’s musicians a song, demonstrating how to riff on certain passages. Since Blair Singers and Orchestra students traditionally perform fixed compositions, Mrs. Pagotto noted, “This master class allowed those students to step out of their boxes and try learning by ear and improvisation.” For the students in Blair’s Jazz Ensemble, who are more practiced in spontaneous musicianship, Mrs. Pagotto observed, “They worked directly with the jazz combo, honing their skills and learning from very skilled professional musicians.”

Member of the Jazz band, student Laila Davson ’22, had high praise for the experience, describing Mr. Lundy’s workshop as intense. “Mr. Lundy pushed us to elevate our playing from simply notes on the page to what he and his ensemble demonstrated to us at School Meeting: Jazz music. We got to see classmates come out of their shells and improvise as well. It was awesome!”
 
Raised in Miami, Florida, Mr. Lundy hails from a musical family that includes his sister, acclaimed jazz vocalist Carmen Lundy. After studying at the University of Miami under the tutelage of bassist Dr. Lucas Drew, Mr. Lundy burst onto the New York jazz scene in 1978. Best known for his performances with jazz vocalist Betty Carter’s band, Mr. Lundy quickly gained notoriety playing rhythm on the albums of fellow jazz luminaries John Hicks, Bobby Watson, Steve Nelson and Johnny Griffin and is noted for his collaborations with musicians Art Blakey, Brandford Marsalis and Wynton Marsalis. 

Mr. Lundy came to perform at Blair thanks to a fortuitous musical connection with Blair alum Darryl Jeffries ’73. His visit is part of the School’s Bartow Series, a program endowed with the mission to expand students’ artistic experiences by bringing professional performers from far and wide to the Blair stage. The series honors Nevett Bartow, a dedicated music teacher and talented composer who helped shape Blair’s music program. Mr. Bartow taught at Blair from 1961 until his death from leukemia in 1973 at the age of 39. 

A student performs a traditional Chinese dance during International Week.

International Weekend has long been a favorite Blair tradition, highlighting the different cultures and regions that are represented throughout the School’s student and faculty population. The event gives the Blair community a chance to share and celebrate the wide variety of traditions represented on campus, as well as to exhibit cultural learning. 
 
This year the intercultural learning exchange started early with a number of additional opportunities to express one’s home culture and learn about the customs of peers and faculty. On Wednesday, April 6, faculty led a trip to an Asian market in Parsippany, and students began to plan for their exhibitions and the food tasting event that would happen on Saturday evening. On Thursday and Friday evenings, students sampled traditional cuisine in faculty homes, including Italian, Filipino and Thai meals and attended events centered around important discussion topics like arranged marriage in India. 

When Saturday arrived, excited students shared in cultural exhibitions, such as information about Ramadan to prepare for the Iftar buffet at sundown, a Chinese dance demonstration with lessons, the cuisine of the Spanish-speaking world and the cooking traditions of Thailand. Faculty cheered on their students, who had become the teachers, as conference rooms and classrooms hosted educational events in the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration (CECIC): a slideshow, discussion, and educational quiz about Nigerian and Ghanaian cultures; and a presentation of the history of fashion in the Tang dynasty. Once the exhibitions concluded, faculty and students moved upstairs to the café to enjoy a food tasting, where they were able to experience a bit of gastronomy. The events in the CECIC were capped off by a presentation and fundraiser to benefit Ukraine. Students then traveled across campus to the turf as Saturday evening ended with the Blair World Cup soccer tournament under the lights.
 
International Week concluded on Sunday with international tea and music on Insley Porch, crepe-making and pétanque-playing in one faculty home, dumpling-making in another and an Indian cooking lesson in a third faculty home, as well as a visit from the Portuguese Angry Chouriço BBQ food truck. Mrs. Lang, language department chair and Inclusivity Committee member, remarked, “The events of this week are crucial to the growth of intercultural learning skills in our community. We will not soon forget the smiles on students’ faces in the exhibition space as they learned the graceful art of holding a Chinese fan, listened attentively to the stories of Nigerian and Ghanaian traditions, and feasted their eyes on an exquisite Polish pottery display. The enthusiasm with which these events were met was heartwarming.” 

Members of the Blair community who planned the events are grateful to all who contributed and participated. The hope is that there is a better sense of and respectful curiosity about our rich diversity and how that diversity impacts the vibrancy of our campus. Ultimately, we look forward to the ways in which this weeklong celebration will continue to deepen our appreciation for one another.

To view photos from International Week, click here.

Sam Mihara

On Tuesday, April 12, Japanese-American internment camp survivor Sam Mihara makes his first appearance at Blair Academy to speak about his experience growing up as a second-generation Japanese American in the United States in the early 1930s. 

Born to Japanese parents who immigrated to the United States in the 1920s, when many were still recovering from the first World War, Mr. Mihara  grew up in San Francisco in the 1930s. When World War II broke out, the U.S. government forced his family to move, first to a detention camp in Pomona, California, and then to a remote prison camp named Heart Mountain Relocation Center in northern Wyoming. There were a total of 10 of these camps in the United States, and altogether, about 120,000 West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry were detained in them, living in the poor conditions Mr. Mihara has spoken about publicly.

“Mass Imprisonment in America” is how Mr. Mihara often characterizes his family’s three grueling years living in a 20×20 square-foot room in a barracks.
 
“The most important takeaway from my talk [will be] that such injustice should never happen again. During WWII, it was German and Italian families. After 9/11 and Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was identified as a Muslim, there were calls for Muslims to be incarcerated. A few years ago, there was a minister in Florida who advocated for removal and imprisonment of all gays and lesbians. The next time it could be your family, relatives or friends,” said Mr. Mihara in an interview prior to the talk.
 
“There should be no exception to adhering to the Constitution—liberty and equal justice for all must be maintained.”
 
After the war ended and he and his family were released from camp, Mr. Mihara returned to San Francisco where he attended Lick-Wilmerding High School before enrolling in University of California, Berkeley, for his undergraduate degree in engineering and then UCLA for his masters, also in engineering. Upon graduating, he accepted a position as a rocket scientist for The Boeing Company. Soon thereafter, Mr. Mihara created his own high-tech consulting firm and developed his renowned “Memories of Heart Mountain” presentation to ensure that the civil rights violations that he and his family endured never happen again. 
 
Today, Mr. Mihara is a board member of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, a museum created in 2011 at his family’s forced relocation campsite in Wyoming. He continues to consult with individuals and takes any opportunity he gets to tell his family’s story—the most impactful audience being young individuals.
 
“Personally, it is very gratifying to educate people on a hidden part of our history. I have spoken to over 85,000 students of all ages across the country. Most know very little about what happened to Japanese Americans during WWII,” said Mr. Mihara. 
 
“I found that my audiences have learned something that they did not know and did not learn in history lessons, so that is what motivates me—the pleasure of seeing my ‘students’ learn an important lesson in our history. As President George W. Bush said, ‘A great nation does not hide history—it faces mistakes and corrects them.’”


 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, is 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 thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.

Day of Giving drawing

On the sixth day of April, 174 years ago, John Insley Blair walked across Blairstown’s dusty Main Street toward the recently constructed Presbyterian church, pulled open the heavy front door and, seeing his partners, called the meeting to order. Joining him in the softly lit chapel were a half-dozen prominent citizens who had gathered to appoint a committee to oversee the erection of a new coeducational school. On that day, Mr. Blair graciously offered to donate land on a nearby knoll, located just south of the town burial grounds, as the site for the new school.

Mr. Blair’s gift marked, of course, the founding of Blair Academy and represented the first of many contributions that would enrich the lives of thousands of Blair students over the ensuing years. Today, the date that Mr. Blair made his first contribution–April 6–is celebrated by the School community as both Founders’ Day and Blair’s annual Day of Giving.

On April 6, Buccaneers from across the world came together to support the people and promise of Blair. In a record giving day yesterday, 732 generous donors contributed $330,817 to the School, giving to what they love most about Blair and investing in the areas about which they are most passionate–from arts and academics to high-impact scholarship and campus life. 

At Blair, Day of Giving has become one of the School’s most important philanthropic traditions, a day when all members of the community come together to pay their own experience forward and give back. For the last seven years, the 24-hour fundraising drive supports the Blair Fund, which strengthens learning opportunities for today’s students by funding everything from extracurricular programs and service and leadership opportunities to scholarship aid.

Director of Advancement Cara Mohlmann P’18 ’21 explains that, every year, the tremendous show of support from students, alumni, parents, faculty, staff and friends on April 6 plays a critical role in this philanthropic initiative. “The Blair Fund needs to raise more than $3 million annually to bridge the gap between tuition and the cost to attend Blair,” Ms. Mohlmann says. “So, any gift, no matter the size, enhances the community and allows us to continue the tradition of offering our students extraordinary curricular and co-curricular experiences.”

Associate Director of Annual Giving Anna Andrasek P’24 adds that, within the Blair Fund, “You have the ability to choose what you love most about Blair and to donate your gift to that cause.” This year, on April 6, Blair students joined donors from 37 states and 14 countries supporting the School with gifts and sharing what they love about Blair. Over the course of 37 years on the hilltop, veteran Blair English teacher Bob Brandwood has seen firsthand the difference that the Blair community's generosity, care and support can make. (Click “play” below to see him encourage students to share why they love Blair.)

“One of the things that makes Blair special is days like this,” says Assistant Director of Annual Giving Kristine Scialla P’20 ’22 ’25. “A group of community-minded citizens pulled together 174 years ago to make a difference in the lives of children, and Blair alumni, parents, students and friends are still doing that today. Thank you to all those who joined us for Day of Giving. Your gifts continue to transform the lives of students.”