Throughout the course of the 2018-2019 school year, Blair Academy, its students and its faculty have appeared in a wide range of news stories spotlighting their work inside and outside of the classroom, their successes on the athletic front, and their impact on a host of industries well beyond graduation. Below, we’ve highlighted just a few of the Blair Buccaneers whose achievements have garnered national and international news coverage this year.
Jenna Park ’21 Selected as Runner-up in NYT Contest
The Blair sophomore submitted an entry to The New York Times’ contest calling on students to “connect what you are learning in school with the world today.”
“‘Whether the connections these teenagers made were obvious, or whether they were so oblique it’s likely no one else has ever made them, what delighted us most was seeing the thinking in action,’” read the March 2019 article announcing the contest’s winners and runners-up. “‘Many described aha moments, when a work of literature or an event in history was illuminated by something in The Times.’”
Selected from a pool of more than 2,000 students from across the United States, Jenna’s essay connected The Veldt by Ray Bradbury and a December 2018 Times opinion piece on how technology has destroyed reality.
“‘Bradbury paints a world where technology is so advanced that it creates confusion between reality and fantasy,’” reads an excerpt of Jenna’s essay that appears on The Times’ website. “‘Although the short story was published way back in 1950, almost 70 years from today, it astonished me how Bradbury foresaw the implications of technology on people’s lives. The New York Times article, ‘Technology Has Destroyed Reality’ by Hito Steyerl, correlates closely with Bradbury’s work. Steyerl shares with her audience that technology ‘divides and fragments’ people, just as Bradbury’s nursery ultimately separates and destroys the family’s relationship.’”
She went on to write: “‘Although there is no roaring lion in Steyerl’s piece, she describes how contemporary technology provides a ‘custom-made’ reality for ‘your preferences’ if you ‘don’t like the reality you’re facing.’ As Bradbury highlights the dangers and fears of relying on technology too much, Steyerl underscores how our very real technology promotes fake news, false reports and rumors, as well as technology’s effects on the workforce.’”
Read The Times article in full at www.blair.edu/jenna-park.
ESPN Profiles NBA Star’s Efforts to Help South Sudanese Athletes
In December 2018, ESPN published an article about the work the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Luol Deng ’03 is doing to support South Sudanese basketball players. Having connected with Mayor Chagai, a youth basketball coach in Sydney, Australia, via social media in 2013, Mr. Deng traveled to Australia to “see firsthand the basketball program Chagai had started.”
“‘It was really interesting. That's the first time I really got an idea that there's a lot of South Sudanese in Australia,’ says Deng…’I reached back out and told Mayor I was going to take a trip to come down. When I got there, I was amazed by the program that they're running and the job that they were doing.’”
Calling his trip Down Under “‘a fact-finding mission,’” the NBA veteran was “wowed. The kids had game.” Seeing how good they were, Mr. Deng wanted to be more involved in helping such students get scholarships, so he told Mayor to contact his Blair basketball coach, Joe Mantegna. As a result, “elite South Sudanese players have landed scholarships to play for powerhouse high school programs such as the one at Blair,” and “this season alone, Mantegna has two players—6-foot-6 senior shooting guard Henry Makeny [’19] and 6-foot-10 sophomore forward Akoldah Gak [’21]—on his Buccaneers roster. Both boys grew up in Sydney's South Sudanese community and honed their hoops skills under Chagai's watch.”
“Makeny and Gak both gush[ed] about their good fortune during a break from classes in the autumn of 2018,” the article continued. “They know the story of Luol Deng—a South Sudanese son who helped raise Blair's profile when he played for Mantegna and who later starred for Duke before becoming a first-round pick in the 2004 NBA draft. ‘That's the dream,’ says Gak, 16.”
Reporter Christian Red concludes his article with a description of the boys at practice in 2018: “Makeny breaks from the pack of players at center court during warmups, sprints to the basket and makes a two-handed dunk. Right on Makeny's heels follows Akoldah Gak, whose finger-roll layup barely rims out and falls to the hardwood. The scene is a long, long way from the suburbs of Sydney. Makeny and Gak are in the beginning stages of a basketball path, one for which the final destination is yet to be determined.”
Read the article in full at www.blair.edu/espn.
A Rising Design Star on Her Authentic Style & Family Legacy
Brittany Haines ’05 was one of 10 designers selected from around the country by the magazine Traditional Home as “Rising Stars of Design” in 2018. Calling the recognition “a complete surprise and honor,” she had the opportunity to share inspiration and ideas with the other nine designers at an autumn New York City gathering that included roundtable discussions and panel speakers. “These designers were all so talented, fun and are taking their businesses in their own authentic directions,” said Ms. Haines, who launched ABD Studio in 2013, a San Francisco-based firm that specializes in high-end residential and boutique hospitality interior design. “I walked away from these couple of days with a huge wave of excitement for all the possibilities my career has before me, as well as feeling very supported by and grateful for the design community.”
Raised in New Jersey, where her father, Jeffrey B. Haines, still owns and operates Butler’s of Far Hills—the interior design firm that decorated the Blair Room and Blair’s Head of School’s office in 2007—Ms. Haines admits that growing up in and around beautifully designed spaces certainly impacted her career choice. In 2001, three years before she became a freshman at Blair, her longtime historic family home was destroyed by fire, and she recalls closely observing her parents carefully renovating the house where they moved next. “I began thinking that, one day, I would pursue interior design,” she said.
But she wouldn't take her first formal design class until she was a student at Lehigh University, where she majored in art, architecture and design and studied textile design while studying abroad in Sydney, Australia. After graduating college in 2009, she relocated to San Francisco and began working for some of the city’s top interior designers. “I was learning a lot very quickly, but I realized that my true passion for design continually comes back to the connection to the client, which I felt was not being prioritized in the design process,” Ms. Haines explained. “Shiny magazine pages, antique shopping trips and beautiful chandeliers can lose their allure to me if the end result doesn’t feel authentic to the personalities and lifestyles of those who dwell within the home.”
That’s why, as principal of ABD Studio, her goal goes far beyond just recreating the same design style over and over again for each client. “Ideally, our clients hire us for our knowledge of the industry, ability to gracefully maneuver the sometimes tricky construction process, and our enthusiasm for getting to know their family and creatively enhancing life’s moments through design,” she continued. “In the end, our projects have a consistent level of quality and elegance that is customized for each individual client and speaks to the style that makes them feel the most at home.”
As she works on projects from San Francisco and the Bay Area Peninsula to Napa and Tahoe, tackling everything from ground-up builds to large-scale remodels, she continues to find her own authentic style while always tapping into the inspiration of her father’s designs. “I am continually amazed by my father’s eye for detail and ability to create a complete ambiance within a space that is more than a visual experience,” she said. “He also has a way of making the process seem effortless and not overthinking it all, which I admire!”
Ms. Haines loves that her dad created warm and welcoming spaces at Blair and appreciates their thoughtful nods to school culture and history and classic elements that speak to the architecture of the original campus buildings. “The Blair Room in particular is such an important part of many people’s first impression of the School,” she said. “When waiting in this space for their first interview or to meet a tour guide, the hope is that all visitors feel at ease, welcome and simply at home.”