Accomplished violinist and Syrian refugee Mariela Shaker brought her story of survival and message of peace and love through music to the final virtual Skeptics presentation of the 2019-2020 school year on April 28. “Life in Aleppo and as a Refugee” began at 5:30 p.m., and it was the annual James Youngelson '53 Lecture on Ethics and Responsibility. To watch her full presentation, please click below:
Ms. Shaker began her musical journey in 1999, when she joined the Arabic Institute of Music in Aleppo, Syria, at the age of 10. She graduated with distinction four years later and then earned postgraduate music and teaching certificates. A violin teacher at the Institute from 2008 to 2012, she risked death from bomb and mortar attacks every day as she commuted from her home—which had no electricity or running water—to the school.
In 2013, having completed her bachelor’s degree in business administration at the University of Aleppo and performed to accolades throughout Syria, Ms. Shaker earned a scholarship to continue her music studies at Monmouth College in Illinois. Once she was in the U.S., she fully realized the danger of returning to her homeland, and she applied for and was granted asylum. Ms. Shaker completed her bachelor’s degree in music performance in 2015 and her master’s degree in violin performance in 2017, having earned a full-tuition scholarship to DePaul University School of Music in Chicago. She is currently a violin professor at Monmouth College.
Described as a “violin virtuoso” in a 2015 BuzzFeed article, Ms. Shaker has used her musical gifts to promote peace and share the plight of refugees and the Syrian people with audiences in the U.S. and worldwide over the past several years. She has presented at some of the country’s most distinguished venues, including the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and Lincoln Center in New York City, and has performed and spoken at the White House, United Nations, Beyond Borders International Festival, Aspen Ideas Festival and Harvard University, among many other places.
Honored by President Obama in 2015 as a Champion of Change, she was recognized with a Points of Light Award and appointed as a High Profile Supporter for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in 2017. Ms. Shaker received the first-ever Anne Frank Promisekeeper Award in 2018, an award that recognizes a young person who is living the legacy of Anne Frank by dedicating her passion and creative talents to raising awareness of social injustice and fostering peace among all people. Through her refugee story and her musical accomplishments, she especially empowers young women to believe that anything is possible.
The James Youngelson '53 Lecture on Ethics and Responsibility was established in 2009 to honor alumnus James Youngelson ’53, an attorney and former president of the Morris County (New Jersey) Bar Association. Created by Mr. Youngelson’s sister and late brother-in-law, Joan and Jonah Sherman, the lecture series honors Mr. Youngelson for his service to others and desire to inspire in young people the ideals of justice, responsibility and service by featuring speakers whose lives embody those ideals.
The History of Skeptics
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.
The program was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon.’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.