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EvanThomas

Throughout history, art has played a vital role in driving and fostering social change. From paintings to music, artists have created works with important messages, and many are committed to making art that changes the way we perceive the world. At Blair Academy, students are encouraged to explore their artistic interests to better understand themselves and the community around them.

When “Art for Social Change” was proposed as a new, semester-long course starting in spring 2021, fine arts teacher Evan Thomas saw the potential impact it could have on students. The class was designed to be a successor to “Meaning & Media,” a fine arts course in which students develop a language for constructive critique and media literacy.

“I wanted to keep the elements of ‘Meaning & Media’ that I loved—including reflection, social and emotional learning (SEL) and visual literacy—while offering a new experience that was unlike any other course I had come across,” Mr. Thomas said. “I wanted to create a space that embraces student voice and choice, and empowers students to be agents of change.”

A Look Inside the Course

“Art for Social Change” explores the power of different art forms—such as drama, dance, visual arts, media, music, poetry or film—as educative, imaginative and innovative art forms that are catalysts of change. During the early overview of the syllabus, Mr. Thomas noted, students responded strongly to the opportunity to explore the topics of identity, charity, empathy and protest art. Students were also excited about the prospect of a culminating social change project or collaborative art installation.

The class is structured to give full autonomy to students and their imaginations. For each project, they are given a prompt or question to answer and are directed to select the medium best suited to their artistic inspiration. The class also collectively looks to different artists for inspiration in drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, literature, music and media.

The group of seven meets weekly in the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration, with a mix of both in-person and virtual attendance. At the core of the course is a strong emphasis on student-led discussion and independent learning, as students support and seek guidance from each other while they learn to foster dialogue and action in the community.

Miki Wang ’21 and Megan Donaghy ’22 both chose to enroll in “Art for Social Change” due to their mutual interest in visual arts and topics relating to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). They knew this course would give them the opportunity to learn more about art and its power as a catalyst for social change.

“When I saw this class being offered I knew it bridged my two interests,” Miki explained. “It has also allowed me another avenue to explore my identity and issues surrounding DEI through the lens of art.”

In the Classroom

To date, the class has focused attention inward on self-exploration, mainly through self-reflection and identity. During the first exercise of the semester, students studied the roles of artists throughout history, how that history is told and who tells the story.

Students also watched a TED Talk called “The Danger of Single Story” by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and then created artwork in response to a single story that was told about them or a story they knew about someone else. This first exercise produced drawings, an acrylic painting, original photographs, collages and ceramic sculpture.

The class is currently exploring cultural identity and the factors that influence one’s worldview. This includes discovering more about who they are, their values and what issues matter to them. Students will then begin working on projects to act on these issues.

“It's been an impactful experience to hear about the way my classmates, even my teacher, see and define themselves,” Miki noted of the exercise. “This has definitely made me gain perspective on their lives and the impact identity has on us overall.”

Besides actually creating art, Meghan likes the course for its enlightening group discussions. With an intimate class size, students have gotten comfortable discussing a number of different, sometimes controversial topics. Miki agreed, noting that this is her smallest class of the semester.

“Even though some students are virtual, our class is very open and reflective during discussions, presentations and projects,” she said. “It really feels like our own small community.”

The Lasting Impact

Mr. Thomas is looking to the future of the course and developing the curriculum further using student input and suggestions. He noted that it is gratifying as an educator to have the opportunity to develop a diverse and inclusive curriculum. From the lens of an artist, however, it’s gratifying to see the variety of approaches students are using to solve problems, explore meaning and dig deeper as they learn more.

“The course is a perfect mix of education, meaningful discussions and art creation, which is hard to find,” Meghan said. “The way in which we are able to learn and communicate in this class is unique, and I would highly recommend it to my peers.”

Ultimately, Mr. Thomas hopes that students will feel empowered to create the change they wish to see in the world, both within the “Blair bubble” and beyond.

“I’m so proud of this group's willingness to talk about their ideas and observations,” he said. “I’ve often needed to modify my plans for each class as discussions will run longer than I originally expected, and it’s been a gift to work with such a talented and thoughtful group of learners.”

 

 

Headmasters

Like many treasured Blair traditions, the 18th-annual Headmasters’ Societies Games will look a little different this year as the community endeavors to stay safe and well amid the coronavirus pandemic. Led by co-commissioners and Associate Deans of Students Andee Ryerson and Rod Gerdsen, the 2021 Games are designed to create another successful weekend of competition, camaraderie and community-building.

From April 8 to 12, Blair students of all class years will be “sorted”into four teams named after former Headmasters Breed, Howard, Kelley and Sharpe. Over the years, the Games have continually changed and evolved, and this year's contest is no exception. Mrs. Ryerson noted that despite the pandemic, students will be able to enjoy many of their favorite events, with a few new ones included, as well.

The 2021 Headmasters’ Societies Games began Thursday night with the opening ceremony, faculty relay and capture the flag. Over the next several days, the teams will compete in volleyball, a guided obstacle course, a spelling bee, ultimate frisbee, football, a scavenger hunt, frisbee golf, chess, water balloon dodgeball, cup stacking, tug of war and more. Mrs. Ryerson and Mr. Gerdsen hope to take advantage of the warm spring weather and hold many competitions outside.

Mrs. Ryerson noted that although students are not able to be together in quite the same way they are used to, the Games will offer a number of opportunities for meaningful social interactions that will bring a sense of comfortable normality to campus.

"The Games always help students get to know peers they may not otherwise meet in their daily routines,” she said. “It truly gets better every year because we are continually looking for ways to make it a fun and spirited experience for everyone involved.” 

The co-commissioners hope students get an extra boost of excitement from the Games and enjoy some good old-fashioned fun. Stay tuned to see which team will claim the Hardwick Trophy!

Sociologist & Author Tony Jack to Visit the Society of Skeptics

Sociologist and author Anthony (Tony) Jack will join the Society of Skeptics on April 13 to discuss his debut novel, The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students. The event, moderated by history department chair and Society of Skeptics director Jason Beck, will begin at 7 p.m., and Mr. Beck will share a link to the private webinar that morning. A recording will be posted publicly on Blair’s website the following day.

Mr. Jack is a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and an assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He holds the Shutzer Assistant Professorship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and earned his doctorate from Harvard in 2016.

Based in Massachusetts, his research documents the overlooked diversity among lower-income undergraduates. His writing has appeared in the Common Reader, Du Bois Review, Sociological Forum and Sociology of Education, and has earned awards from the American Educational Studies Association, American Sociological Association, Association for the Study of Higher Education, Eastern Sociological Society and the Society for the Study of Social Problems. He also held fellowships at the Ford Foundation and the National Science Foundation, and was a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellow.

Mr. Jack has been featured in The New York Times, Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The HuffPost, The Nation, American Conservative Magazine, The National Review, Commentary Magazine, The Washington Post, Financial Times, Times Higher Education, Vice, Vox and NPR for his research.

His first book explores both how and why disadvantaged students struggle at elite colleges and explains what schools can do differently to help these students thrive. During his talk, Mr. Jack will explain his experience as a first-generation college student and how Blair students can use this knowledge for years to come.

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.

 

 

Girls' Field Hockey team in the mid-70s

Blair’s girls’ athletic program began in the 1970-1971 school year and quickly became competitive against top opponents. Within that first decade, five Buccaneer girls’ teams won New Jersey prep state championships, including skiing (1975), field hockey (1976), track (1978), softball (1978, 1979) and basketball (1979). The rise of Blair’s girls’ athletic program was meteoric, to say the least.

Youth sparked the program as female enrollment accelerated, resulting in more freshman girls participating in sport. Blair started the fall of 1970 with 26 day girls. The following year, 43 girls enrolled as boarding students. In 1972, there were 72 total girls at Blair. This led to girls’ teams having many freshmen in the program, allowing years to develop skills and team culture.

It is a difficult feat for any coach to develop a strong team on the field of play. But throughout the early and mid-’70s, these freshmen developed into competitive athletes under the guidance of legendary Blair teacher, coach and Athletic Hall of Fame member Jan Hutchinson, the founder of Blair’s girls’ athletic program. Valerie Ross ’78 wrote in a 1977-1978 issue of The Blair Breeze that Coach Hutchinson was “always the same, smiling, willing to help any and everyone, and always ready for the long hard work-out in any sport.” 

Coming to Blair in 1971, Coach Hutchinson was the first head coach of the School’s field hockey, girls’ basketball and softball teams. Both field hockey and girls’ basketball were established in the 1971-1972 school year and posted below-average inaugural seasons. But in just a few years, both programs achieved winning overall records and contended for state titles. In the 1976-1977 school year, field hockey went 12-1-2 and girls’ basketball finished with an 8-5 record. Softball recorded a 6-2 record in the 1973-1974 school year. Under Coach Hutchinson’s leadership, Blair quickly grabbed its first state championships in field hockey, girls’ basketball and softball in less than 10 years. 

Blair Academy Athletic Hall of Fame member Laura (Cochran) Morris ’75 captained the field hockey (1974, 1975), girls’ basketball (1974, 1975) and softball (1975) teams and earned 12 varsity letters during her four-year Blair athletic career. She is the only female athlete to ever win Blair’s Robert Dalling Prize as the School’s overall top athlete. In 1976, the School established the William Zester Memorial Award for the top female athlete and designated the Robert Dalling Prize for the top male athlete. The first girl to win the William Zester Memorial Award was Janet (Jones) Harrington ’76, who captained the field hockey, basketball and softball teams as a senior and won eight Blair varsity letters. She and Trustee Anne Cramer ’75, a varsity skier, field hockey tri-captain and softball player, are both members of Blair’s Athletic Hall of Fame and products of Coach Hutchinson’s expert coaching.

Blair’s Dean of Campus Life and director of leadership programs Carolyn Conforti-Browse ’79 played on Coach Hutchinson’s field hockey and softball teams. Currently, she is head softball coach, a role she has held for more than 25 years. She has led the Lady Bucs to numerous Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) and state championships, including back-to-back MAPL and state titles in 2018 and 2019.

“It was an amazing time to play organized sports, just like boys did,” said Mrs. Conforti-Browse of her athletic career as a Blair student. “I fell in love with field hockey under Coach Hutchinson, and our team was super strong. All the other teams came to many of our games to support us.” 

The legacy of determination, hard work and success established by the 1970s girls’ teams lives on today at Blair. Current girls’ programs have won multiple MAPL and New Jersey prep “A” championships. Furthermore, Blair has expanded offerings for female athletes over the years to now include golf, crew, volleyball, tennis, soccer, swimming, wrestling, indoor track, cross country and lacrosse. Since coeducation at Blair started, girls’ athletic programs have continued to grow and excel, on and off the field. 


 

Boys' varsity lacrosse

The spring athletic season got underway on April 3, with competitions planned for each Buccaneer team. Although our COVID-19 health-and-safety protocols currently prohibit spectators from attending home athletic events, we will livestream many upcoming games and meets at the links listed below. Viewers can also access the livestream schedule here. GO BUCS!

Schedule of Events

Day of Giving 2021 logo

April 6 was Blair’s sixth-annual Day of Giving, and Blair community members worldwide came together to contribute a record 963 Blair Fund gifts. “All In, All Together” was the theme of the event, which was held on Blair’s Founders’ Day. The number of gifts far surpassed the advancement office’s goal of 705, one for each member of the campus community who makes Blair special, including students, teachers and staff members.

“We invited the Blair family to make a difference by supporting the programs that help provide our students with the skills needed to navigate our increasingly complex world,” said Director of Annual Giving Emma Barnes O’Neill. “We are deeply grateful to everyone who contributed on the Day of Giving and to all of our volunteers who helped us spread the word. This day was an excellent way to unite the School community across many generations and all around the world, and I want to thank everyone who helped make it a tremendous success!”

Doug Bandow

The Blair community was excited to welcome foreign policy and civil liberties expert Doug Bandow to the Society of Skeptics on April 6. His talk focused on foreign policy challenges facing President Joe Biden and his administration. The event, moderated by history department chair and Skeptics director Jason Beck, will began at 7 p.m. To view his full presentation, please click below:

Mr. Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C., public policy research organization. He writes for leading publications, including Fortune magazine, National Interest, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times, and comments regularly on major news networks. Mr. Bandow is also a ForeignPolicy.com and Huffpost contributor, where he reflects frequently on policy in the United States. He has written several books, including Foreign Follies: America's New Global Empire, The Korean Conundrum: America's Troubled Relations with North and South Korea and Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World.

A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, Mr. Bandow previously visited the Society of Skeptics to discuss terrorism, drug legalization, international relations and presidential elections. He holds a JD from Stanford University.

On April 6, Mr. Bandow explored the complexity of issues facing the Biden administration. These challenges, he notes, have remained constant in the administrations of both President Biden and President Donald Trump.

“Many people imagine that President Biden will be able to solve the problems left by the last administration, but I want the audience to understand how complex many of these issues are,” Mr. Bandow said. “Moreover, it is important for people outside of Washington, D.C., to understand that there is substantial and surprising continuity in policy between the Trump and Biden administrations, even though their tone and rhetoric are very different.”

Mr. Bandow hopes the audience took away an interest in international affairs and a commitment to learning more about these issues. “I find the world to be endlessly fascinating, and international travel is the most interesting aspect of my work,” he said. “We all should be active in helping to make the world a better place.”

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.

 

Mark Lieberman ’74 Achieves National Wrestling Hall of Fame Honors

Blair Academy and Lehigh University wrestling legend Mark Lieberman ’74 will be recognized for his outstanding accomplishments and contributions to the sport when he is inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Member this spring. A former Blair Trustee, Mr. Lieberman is a member of the Blair Academy Athletic Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of 2016. His National Wrestling Hall of Fame selection marks the latest achievement in his celebrated wrestling career. 

As a Buccaneer, Mr. Lieberman earned national prep championships in 1972, 1973 and 1974 and two-time honors as the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler. He helped launch Blair’s freestyle program and won the USA Wrestling Junior National Freestyle championship in 1973 and the AAU Junior World Freestyle championship in 1974. At his Blair graduation, Mr. Lieberman received the Headmaster’s Prize, the Jamieson Wrestling Prize and the Robert Dalling Prize, an award named for his first Blair wrestling coach and given to the male athlete who best represents the School in athletic competition.

“Mark Lieberman is acclaimed as Lehigh University’s greatest overall wrestler, if combining all styles,” lauds his National Wrestling Hall of Fame citation. His achievements at Lehigh include two undefeated seasons, winning the NCAA championships in 1978 and 1979 at 177 lbs., and a runner-up finish in 1977 at 167 lbs. He was the first wrestler in Lehigh’s history to win four Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) championships. Mr. Lieberman was the first NCAA champion produced by Blair Athletic Hall of Fame member and legendary USA Wrestling Coach of the Year Tom Hutchinson. His wrestling achievements also include World Cup gold and silver medals, a Pan Am Championships gold medal and three USA Wrestling National Freestyle Open Championships, including winning the Outstanding Wrestler and Most Falls awards. In 1978 he was named the USA Wrestling Athlete of the Year.

Distinguished Members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame are those who have achieved extraordinary success in national and/or international competition; coaches who have demonstrated great leadership in the profession and who have compiled outstanding records; or contributors whose long-term activities have substantially enhanced the development and advancement of the sport. 

During the weekend of June 4-5, 2021, Mr. Lieberman will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame along with fellow Distinguished Members Bruce Burnett, Dremiel Byers and Bill Zadick. The inductees will also include Meritorious Official Tim Shiels, Order of Merit recipient Gary Abbott, Medal of Courage recipient Gary Chopp and Outstanding American Carl Eschenbach.

“This group has accomplished and done so much for wrestling, and they continue to give back to our great sport,” said Lee Roy Smith, National Wrestling Hall of Fame executive director. “We are proud to honor these remarkable individuals.”

A proud and deeply loyal Blair alumnus, Mr. Lieberman is part of a Blair legacy that includes many family members who share his dedication to the School. His brother, fellow Lehigh alumnus and renowned wrestler Michael Lieberman ’71, was Blair’s first NCAA champion. He was inducted into Blair’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017. Their sister, Marianne Lieberman ’79, P’17 ’19, served two terms on Blair’s Board of Trustees. In addition, Mr. Lieberman and his wife, Deborah, are the parents of Trustee Maria Lieberman Smalley ’01, Thomas Lieberman ’02, Nicholas Lieberman ’03 and Kevin Lieberman ’07

Read the full National Wrestling Hall of Fame announcement here

(In the photo above, Blair freshman Mark Lieberman ’74 (right) and his brother, fellow Lehigh NCAA champion Michael Lieberman ’71, show their Buccaneer pride.) 
 

The Five Fundamentals of Living & Working at Blair

During the many conversations and interactions that resulted from the events of the summer of 2020, Dean of Strategic Initiatives Leucretia Shaw thought a lot about the ways in which Blair could better express its values and hold community members to a standard for living and working together. The idea of identifying and introducing a series of community “norms” was born. The ensuing guideposts of how we care for and treat each other took shape throughout the fall, as Mrs. Shaw and a team of students, faculty and staff invited classmates and colleagues to submit suggestions. 

The group received hundreds of submissions promoting kindness, dignity, positivity, respect and acceptance, and spent the fall and winter months combing through them and determining which made the most sense for Blair. After much collaborative distilling and wordsmithing, the team shared five norms with a variety of individuals on campus to discern if they captured the spirit of how Blair should function with regard to day-to-day life on the hilltop. The group listened to wide-ranging feedback and refined the norms and its plans for introducing them to the community.

Along the way, an official name and visual for the norms came under consideration, and Renee Tracey ’23 brilliantly coined The Five Fundamentals. “The name was perfect and truly captured the foundational expectation to which all Blair community members should hold themselves and others accountable,” explained Mrs. Shaw. “Regarding the visual, fine arts teacher and Fundamentals Selection Committee member Evan Thomas took to developing a graphic that depicted The Five Fundamentals in a way that pleases the eye while maintaining the importance of each Fundamental individually.” Associate Dean of Students Andee Ryerson also lent her artistic perspective to an additional design the group adopted. Both will be used accordingly, on campus and beyond.

The Fundamentals were officially introduced to the campus community during School Meeting in early March. Student members of the committee presented each Fundamental one by one and offered thoughts on what it means to live them. In a presentation anchored by words from other faculty committee members, including English teacher Bob Brandwood and Dean of Campus Life Carolyn Conforti-Browse ’79, The Five Fundamentals—1) See the good; 2) Know yourself & practice honesty; 3) Honor the dignity of others; 4) Show care in all spaces; and 5) Be curious & suspend judgment—made their debut. Directly following the rollout of The Fundamentals and the visual, teachers and students spent advisor block together discussing them with prompts devised by Mrs. Conforti-Browse (and approved by the Selection Committee).

The work of The Fundamentals Selection Committee is not done, as part of what the team worked on throughout the months before the March presentation centered on the infusion of The Fundamentals campuswide. Focusing on how The Fundamentals can best be incorporated into all aspects of school life—academics, residential life, student life, athletics and other areas (which include the work of the admission office and Blair staff, as well as sharing them with members of Blair’s extended family)—will be a major part of efforts throughout the spring. Additionally, a new Fundamentals Recognition Committee has been formed to periodically celebrate nominated individuals who embody particular Fundamentals at School Meeting. 

“What I’ve loved most about this endeavor has been hearing our student voices,” said Mrs. Shaw. “Our five student team members were so honest and quick to tell us adults what would and wouldn’t speak to students. I give them a huge amount of credit for attending our twice-a-week meetings, sharing their insights and offering input. Without their contributions, we wouldn’t have ended up where we did, and their commitment to helping develop The Fundamentals really showed how much they care about the way Blair is and what Blair people do.”

In fact, that sentiment captures exactly the goal of the committee at the start of the norms-creation process: Articulating a collective sense to the Blair community of how we want to be and developing values for how we live and work in this space together. “Everyone at Blair has value and should be uplifted, and we should all show care for each other,” Mrs. Shaw said. “To be committed to making sure everyone is thriving and growing in ways that make sense is a real testament to one’s own development as an individual and how we develop as a whole community.”

Mrs. Shaw expresses her deep thanks to members of The Fundamentals Selection Committee for all that they have done and will continue to do moving forward:

Barbara Angiolelli, instructional technologist
Bob Brandwood, English teacher
Carolyn Conforti-Browse ’79, Dean of Campus Life & director of leadership programs
Eleanor Dana ’22
Sharon Merrifield, language, mindfulness & health/wellness teacher
Ryan Pagotto ’97, Associate Head of School
Patrick Payne ’23
Lorry Perry, Assistant Head of School for Academics & Dean of Faculty
Laura Posner ’22
Leucretia Shaw, Dean of Strategic Initiatives
Evan Thomas, fine arts teacher
Kecia Tillman, registrar
Renee Tracey ’23
Miki Wang ’21

 

Gillian Sciaretta

Gillian Sciaretta ’03 has traveled extensively to wine regions throughout the world as Wine Spectator’s lead taster for France’s Beaujolais, southwest France, Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence regions, Spain, Portugal’s table wines, and Israel. On March 30 at 7 p.m., she (virtually) returned home to Blair to discuss her career, the wine industry, and the current state of restaurants and the hospitality sector at the Society of Skeptics. To watch her presentation, please click below:

A 2007 graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Ms. Sciaretta began her career as a sustainable real-estate consultant in New York, where she helped to LEED-certify commercial buildings. Her shift to the wine industry was not out of the blue—during high school and college, she had worked at hotels and bars, and she had taken courses in wine and restaurants at Cornell. “When I moved to New York City, I was obsessed with going to restaurants and ordering (affordable!) wine from their wine lists,” she reminisced. “A few years into my first job, I decided that wine was actually a big enough passion for me to pursue a career in it.”

Ms. Sciaretta earned certifications from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and, in 2012, joined the staff at Wine Spectator as an assistant tasting coordinator, a job that involved decidedly unglamorous tasks such as organizing bottles in the cold wine cellar, moving heavy boxes, cleaning glasses and spit buckets, and taking out the recycling. Over time, as she learned more and more about wine and the company, she started to work her way up the ranks.

“My biggest breakthrough role, I believe, was becoming manager of the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards Program in 2013,” Ms. Sciaretta said, referring to the annual program she has run since that time, which recognizes thousands of restaurants worldwide for their outstanding wine programs. “It was a great feeling to finally be in charge of something and also work directly with our executive editor and the owner of the magazine. It was a challenging role, but it allowed me to establish some credibility in the company.”

Ms. Sciaretta became a Wine Spectator associate editor in 2018, in which role she writes tasting reports for her assigned wine regions, as well as stories and articles for print and online publication. It’s a job, she says, that has its perks and challenges. Perks include interviews with wine, restaurant and hospitality industry leaders, dinners at the world’s best restaurants, visits to premier wine regions, and opportunities to meet “people whom I never would have met otherwise,” including rock stars, royalty and billionaires. “When I look back at my experiences, I feel eternally grateful and lucky,” she said.

As for challenges, Ms. Sciaretta noted that she had to quickly become confident in her writing ability and learn how to interview, research and write as a journalist. “I know I still have a way to go,” she said. “Writing articles for a magazine with such a big platform brings extra pressure and exposure. It can be very humbling when you make a mistake, but any setbacks or hurdles I have encountered and overcome have made me a stronger person. I am still amused by the fact that I work as an editor at a magazine, considering I was once terrified of writing.”

By sharing her experiences at Skeptics, Ms. Sciaretta hoped that participants realized that if they do not choose exactly the right career at first, they will be okay as long as they apply themselves and work hard. “The majority of people don't know what they want to be or do after college,” she reflected. “Figuring it out takes time, and sometimes you have to take risks. The journey to finding your career makes you unique and provides you with a distinct skillset that you can leverage down the road.”  

“I also wanted audience members to look at wine differently, even if they aren't old enough to legally drink,” she added. “Wine is a topic that permeates into so many other subjects, including history, culture, science, business, food and art. It's way more than just an alcoholic beverage.”


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.
 

2021 Bartow Series Concert Featured Kanneh-Mason Siblings
Braimah Kanneh-Mason
Kanneh Mason

School Meeting on March 15 brought the Blair community together for

a live, virtual performance by Braimah and Konya Kanneh-Mason, two of seven British siblings in the award-winning Kanneh-Mason musical family. The violin-and-piano concert was the School’s 2021 Bartow Series performance, and it included a mix of classical and crossover pieces that gave audience members the opportunity to enjoy different musical styles performed by young professional artists.

Raised in Nottingham, England, the Kanneh-Mason siblings range in age from 11 to 24 years old. Each of the five sisters and two brothers is classically trained on piano, violin and/or cello, and they often perform and record together. The Kanneh-Masons have released numerous solo and chamber recordings, including a recent album that features a new arrangement of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” in honor of the work’s 50th anniversary. Performances have taken the Kanneh-Masons to some of the world’s most impressive venues, including Carnegie Hall, and to major events, including the 2018 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards and 2019 Royal Variety Show.

Blair performing arts department chair and director of instrumental music Jennifer Pagotto noted that part of the Kanneh-Masons’ mission as musicians is to demystify classical music and, through their recordings and arrangements, show the connection between the classical and more contemporary styles of playing. “As Black musicians, they are also catalysts for bringing change and celebrating diversity in classical music,” she said. “Braimah and Konya are members of the Chineke! Orchestra, the first professional orchestra in Britain comprised solely of Black, Asian and ethnically diverse musicians, and Braimah has long been a mentor at Sistema England, part of the El Sistema movement in music education to share music with underprivileged youth.”

Throughout the Zoom concert, audience members had several opportunities to chat with the Kanneh-Masons in between musical numbers. Blair’s musicians then enjoyed a special post-concert question-and-answer session with Braimah and Konya, followed by a finale, Jules Massenet's "Meditation from Thais."

As students and faculty experienced the concert, Mrs. Pagotto hopes everyone enjoyed this musical interlude that was just for the Blair community. “Given all things COVID, it was a refreshing event!” she said. And, noting the Kanneh-Masons’ work to promote a more diverse and equal playing field in classical music, she added, “As a result of this performance, I hope that all of our students are able to see classical music in a new light.” 

The performance by Braimah and Konya Kanneh-Mason is part of the School’s Bartow Series, a program endowed with the mission to expand students’ artistic experiences by bringing professional performers 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.

Read more about the Kanneh-Mason family here.

Photos by Jake Turney.

Kevin Levin

Blair Academy was pleased to welcome Kevin Levin to the Society of Skeptics on March 16 at 7 p.m. His presentation, "The Controversy Around Black Confederates and Questions of How We Remember the Civil War,” was moderated by history department chair and Skeptics coordinator Jason Beck. To view his full presentation, please click below:

Mr. Levin is an award-winning educator and historian based in Boston, Massachusetts. Over the years he has worked extensively with schools across the country to help students better understand challenging subjects surrounding the Civil War. He has led history education workshops with a number of organizations including the National Park Service, Civil War Trust, Organization of American Historians, Ford’s Theatre, John Brown Lives!, the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, Georgia Historical Society and Massachusetts Historical Society.

Mr. Levin has written extensively about the American Civil War and spoken across the country, with features in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal and NPR, as well as numerous international newspapers. He has appeared on the Black News Channel, C-SPAN, NPR, Al-Jazeera, BackStory With the American History Guys and Vox. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Smithsonian, The Civil War Monitor and the Civil War Times.

The author of “Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth” and “Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War as Murder,” Mr. Levin is the editor of “Interpreting the Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites.” He is currently co-editing and filing the Civil War letters of Confederate States Army captain John Christopher Winsmith.

Over the past 20 years, Mr. Levin has taught a variety of courses in American history on both the high school and college levels. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history and philosophy from William Paterson University, as well as a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in history from the University of Richmond.

Mr. Levin’s Skeptics presentation gave attendees a better understanding of the Civil War myth that African Americans fought as soldiers in the Confederate States Army. He noted that this topic has become popular in recent years with the attention put on Confederate flags and monuments.

“This is a myth that grew out of the 1970s that has flourished recently with help from the Internet,” he said. “This question of so-called African American Confederate soldiers is a window into the controversy that exists over 150 years later, and it’s a chance to better understand the meaning and legacy of the Civil War.” 

Mr. Levin hoped his talk would help the audience understand why Americans still have difficulty coming to terms with the Civil War and the long history of racism 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, 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.

Christo Brand

The Society of Skeptics welcomed Christo Brand to a virtual Skeptics/Chapel collaboration on Wednesday, March 10, at 2:15 p.m. Mr. Brand served as Nelson Mandela’s prison guard for more than a decade, eventually becoming the former South African president’s confidant and close friend. At Skeptics, he shared how this unlikely relationship grew through his and Mr. Mandela’s mutual respect and trust for each other. 

Mr. Brand spent his early years on his family’s small farm—called Goedvertrouw, a Dutch word meaning “good trust”—in a multiethnic farming community outside of Stanford, South Africa. When he turned 18, he chose to enter the prison service rather than do two years of military service, which was compulsory for every white male. After completing his training in Kroonstad, he received his first assignment in 1978 at the age of 19: warder to the country’s most infamous inmate, Mr. Mandela, at the maximum-security facility on Robben Island.

Over the next 12 years, on Robben Island and later at Pollsmoor Prison, Mr. Brand guarded Mr. Mandela. Through their daily interactions, he learned many life lessons from Mr. Mandela, and he will share these “Lessons from a Warder and his Prisoner” at Skeptics to help audience members understand how it was possible for a young, white Afrikaans-speaking jail warder to befriend a 60-year-old, black Xhosa-speaking prisoner serving a life sentence. 

The men remained friends after Mr. Mandela’s 1990 release from prison until his death in 2013, and Mr. Brand wrote about their bond in Doing Life with Mandela—My Prisoner, My Friend, a memoir co-authored by Barbara Jones and published in 2014. In its foreword, the late anti-apartheid activist and South African politician Ahmed Kathrada calls the book “a valuable addition to the writings about imprisonment in the apartheid era,” noting that it is the most honest account he ever read by a warden relating his interaction with Mr. Mandela. “My lasting impression of Christo Brand is that he’s a very good human being,” Mr. Kathrada writes. “He’s not a politician; he’s just a very caring man who took chances for other people which could have brought him trouble.”

Read more about Mr. Brand here.

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.

campus aerial

Blair Academy is proud to recognize two of the School’s most iconic former coaches and two undefeated, untied teams in the Athletic Hall of Fame class of 2021. This year’s inductees include former field hockey, girls’ basketball and softball coach Jan Hutchinson and former wrestling coach Tom Hutchinson, as well as the 1954-1955 football team and the 1987-1988 softball team.

Established in 2016, the Blair Athletic Hall of Fame celebrates the athletic achievements of Buccaneer alumni, coaches and teams. Director of Athletics Paul Clavel ’88, Hall of Fame committee chair, is excited to recognize the Hall’s newest members. “During their Blair tenures, coach Jan Hutchinson and coach Tom Hutchinson were instrumental in building a tradition of excellence that has been carried through many years in our athletes and teams,” he said. “The 1954 football team and 1988 softball team exhibited grit and determination throughout their undefeated seasons. These inductees truly represent the excellence of the Blair Academy athletic program.” 

Congratulations to the exceptional Buccaneers in the Athletic Hall of Fame class of 2021!

Jan Hutchinson
The founding coach of girls’ athletics at Blair in the 1970s, Jan Hutchinson went on to achieve legendary status at the college level as the winningest field hockey coach in NCAA history and the winningest softball coach in NCAA Division II history. Ms. Hutchinson came to Blair in 1971, following her graduation from East Stroudsburg University, and taught a full schedule of physical education classes, served as housemaster in Locke Hall, and established the Buccaneer field hockey, girls’ basketball and softball programs. As head coach of each of these teams during her six-year tenure, she instituted a tradition of excellence in these sports and inspired students with her dedication. Ms. Hutchinson received the 2002 Citation of Merit, Blair’s highest honor, in recognition of her significant contributions as the School reestablished coeducation.

In 1978, Ms. Hutchinson joined the coaching staff at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, where, as head field hockey coach for 32 years and head softball coach for 33 years, she guided the Huskies to unparalleled success. Under her leadership, Bloomsburg’s field hockey team won 16 national championships—including four straight from 1996 to 1999 and an additional four straight from 2006 to 2009—and 16 conference titles. With an overall record of 591-75-20, Ms. Hutchinson became the winningest coach in NCAA field hockey history and the only coach with more than 500 victories. She was named national Division II field hockey coach of the year seven times, 105 of her players achieved All-American status and 12 Huskies were named national player of the year, the most of any Division II coach.

Ms. Hutchinson’s softball teams posted an overall record of 1,215-288-2 and set an NCAA record by competing in 28 consecutive NCAA championship tournaments. When she retired in 2010, Ms. Hutchinson had amassed the most softball wins of any NCAA Division II coach in history, and she was sixth on the all-time win list regardless of division. During her tenure, the Huskies won 16 NCAA Division II individual, team or championship records, one national championship and 16 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) titles, and 32 players won 53 All-American awards.

With over 1,500 wins in field hockey and softball combined, Ms. Hutchinson was the fourth NCAA coach and first woman to achieve this total number of victories in combined sports. She has been inducted into the athletic halls of fame for Newton (New Jersey) High School, Sussex County (New Jersey), Luzerne County (Pennsylvania), East Stroudsburg University and Bloomsburg University, in addition to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and National Field Hockey Coaches Association halls of fame. Ms. Hutchinson was also honored with the 2006 United States Sports Academy’s C. Vivian Stringer Award, presented annually to outstanding coaches in women’s sports, and the 2012 PSAC Award of Merit, the organization’s highest honor.

 

Tom Hutchinson
During his tenure at Blair from 1972 to 1982, Tom Hutchinson served as a math and science teacher and head varsity wrestling coach. He is credited with developing a college-level competition schedule for Blair, which provided opportunities for both non-postgraduate and postgraduate wrestlers to compete against area undergraduate wrestlers, most notably the Lehigh University and West Point junior varsity teams. Under his leadership, the Bucs won their first-ever national prep team championship in 1974 and subsequent national prep titles in 1981 and 1982. Mr. Hutchinson coached Blair wrestlers to 21 national prep championships, and many of them went on to win awards at the collegiate level and beyond, including 12 NCAA Division I All-American honors, four NCAA Division I titles and one Olympic gold.
 
Mr. Hutchinson’s success at Blair earned him national coach of the year accolades from Wrestling USA and the United States Wrestling Federation (now USA Wrestling). During time at Blair, he served as state chairman of the United States Wrestling Federation for five years and established the Blair wrestling clinic in the late 1970s, which drew more than 100 wrestlers each week.
 
In 1983, Mr. Hutchinson returned to Lehigh University, his alma mater, where he had been a two-time Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) champion and a 1971 All-American. He served as assistant wrestling coach under coaching legend Thad Turner for six years, and then as Lehigh’s head coach until 1994. He developed four NCAA Division 1 champions, five EIWA champions and seven All-Americans during his tenure, and served on the USA Wrestling Freestyle Committee, the NCAA Rules Committee and as president of the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Coaches Association.
 
Mr. Hutchinson returned to coaching and teaching at the high school level in 1994, and for a time, he served as director of the New Jersey Junior Freestyle training camps. He was inducted into the New Jersey Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2016 and received the organization’s Lifetime Service to Wrestling Award. At Blair Academy, the coaches’ locker rooms in Hardwick Hall are named for Mr. Hutchinson to honor and celebrate the profound impact he had in shaping the lives of each of the students he taught, coached and interacted with as a member of Blair’s faculty.

1954-55 Football Team
In the fall of 1954, Blair’s football team became the third in School history to go undefeated and untied. During their season, the Bucs won matchups against four heavily favored prep-school rivals, The Pennington School, The Lawrenceville School, The Hill School and The Peddie School, and two colleges, East Stroudsburg State Teachers College and Princeton University’s freshman “B” team. Blair posted four shutouts and allowed only two teams, Pennington and Peddie, to score one touchdown apiece.

Longtime football coach Steve Kuk, who taught history at Blair from 1942 to 1960, led the squad that included just two returning varsity players. According to the 1955 ACTA, Coach Kuk “formed his group of new boys into a highly specialized organization, highly specialized, that is, in winning.”

Among the standout players were team captains Richard A. (Dick) Fairchild ’55 and Phillip (Phil) Petrisky ’55. In addition, senior class members Col. Robert M. Novogratz, USA Ret. ’55, Anthony J. (Tony) Maltese Jr. ’55, Neil O. Reichard ’55, Max W. Rush ’55, Terry A. Michael ’55, Gustave R. (Gus) Fox Jr. ’55, David W. (Dave) Davis ’55 and Robert T. Canevari ’55 were instrumental to the team’s success.

1987-1988 Softball Team
Blair’s softball team achieved a perfect 15-0 record in the spring of 1988, ending the season with the New Jersey prep “B” title by crushing Villa Walsh in the championship game, 18-4. Although the team was “generally young and inexperienced,” according to an article in the April 1988 Blair Breeze by Ed Satkowski ’88, many players turned in outstanding performances during the season. Among them were Janine P. Clifford ’90, Rebecca L. (Becky) Selengut ’88, Sandra C. Tedeschi ’88, Maria Kurtz ’89, Amy S. Loder '90 and team captain Nicole Helmstetter ’89.
 
The team was led by now-Dean of Campus Life and Director of Leadership Programs Carolyn Conforti-Browse ’79, who was in her fourth year at the helm of Blair softball in 1988. She earned accolades as the 1988 New Jersey Herald Area Softball Coach of the Year in recognition of her team’s achievements. As noted in the spring 1988 Blair Bulletin, Mrs. Conforti-Browse was most proud of the sportsmanship shown by all her players, as well as their supportiveness of one another.


Learn more about the Athletic Hall of Fame selection process and view bios of Athletic Hall of Fame inductees here.

Suggest nominees for the Athletic Hall of Fame class of 2022 here by December 31, 2021.
 

Rob Smith

U.S. Army veteran and political activist Rob Smith joined the Society of Skeptics on March 9 to discuss the use of voice in the fight for freedom. The event, moderated by history department chair and Skeptics coordinator Jason Beck, began at 7 p.m. To watch the presentation, please click below:

Mr. Smith served for five years in the U.S. Army, including two tours in the Middle East. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge. An activist in the movement to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, which barred open service by lesbian, gay and bisexual soldiers, he was the subject of a 2018 Daily Mail profile in which he came out as a conservative.

Based in Florida, Mr. Smith is a contributor for the nonprofit Turning Point USA (TPUSA), and he promotes TPUSA’s values of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government. As a political commentator, he has appeared on Fox News, NBC News, CNN, HLN and more. He has spoken about politics and current events at Yale University, Google, Deutsche Bank, Vanderbilt University, and dozens of other colleges, universities and companies across the country. He is also the author of the 2020 book Always a Soldier: Service, Sacrifice, and Coming Out as America's Favorite Black, Gay Republican. Mr. Smith holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. 

Mr. Smith’s talk centered on the new conservative movement and expansion of the Republican party. He believes that regardless of one’s background, all Americans deserve to have their voices heard. “For the movement to survive and evolve, we need to attract different groups,” he said. “We need to let people of different ages, races and backgrounds know that conservatism is for everyone.”

He hoped the audience took away a better understanding of what it means to be conservative in 2021, and that although forging your own path can be difficult at times, it's always worth it in the end.

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.