Monday, September 14, 2015

A conversation with author Hanna Pylvainen

Junior Natalie describes a visit from Hanna Pylvainien, author of We Sinners, a novel that Peddie juniors read over the summer.

The junior class summer reading for AP English this year was We Sinners, a novel by Hanna Pylvainen. We Sinners is broken up into a collection of stories about a family from the Laestadian church. Some of the children struggle to accept their strict religion and turn away from the faith, as Hanna herself did. Last Thursday the juniors had the privilege of meeting with Hanna during DMX, and some students were even able to spend some time with her during class. 

During my English class with Mr. Hedges, we were encouraged to ask Hanna questions not just about her book, but also about the writing process and her beginnings as a writer. She offered lots of advice on how to blur the lines between memoir and fiction, which will certainly come in handy when we juniors write our autobiographies this winter! She spoke about exploring the ways in which we sometimes fail to live up to our own high standards and thereby become the agents of our own destruction.

The DMX talk with Hanna was set up differently from most guest speaker presentations. Leading the conversation with Hanna were five students including Marissa Michaels, JT Piesco, Trevor Russo, Peter Le, and myself. We each took turns asking Hanna questions pertaining to We Sinners. Then we opened up the floor to audience questions, generating even more discussion.

Hanna told us that even the things that seem insignificant to us about our lives can be interesting to other people and can make good stories. She talked a lot about blurring the lines between memoir and fiction, as she did in We Sinners. One of the things that stuck with me was her story of how she started writing about the church. Basically, in college, her professor was sitting down with her and discussing her writing. The church was something that Hanna originally stayed away from writing about, but her professor essentially asked her, "Why aren't you writing about this?" And since then she has written several pieces about her experience and is working on her second novel which is centered around the same theme. I just thought that it was really interesting how the things that are hardest, and most personal, to write about can end up being the best stories.

 I also had the pleasure of joining Hanna at a student dinner at Fernando’s Grill where Hanna gave us more advice and some insight on her upcoming novel. I hope to see Hanna again at Peddie in the future.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Don't be nervous! A senior reflects on his arrival to Peddie

David , Class of 2016
Day student
Activities: Outdoor Club, Cross Country and Track, Pit Band, Environmental Club, Kayaking, Bird Watching, and hiking.  
Interests: Ecology, Environmental Science, and English.

As I think about the things I am looking forward to most with the start of my senior year, I am reminded that these were the very things that caused a lot of anxiety the summer before I started at Peddie. I was worried about a lot of things. For starters, I was not a very social person. I liked doing things by myself and didn't like expanding beyond my comfort zone. Secondly, I was never a very athletic person nor a theater person so I was worried about fulfilling Peddie's athletic requirement, which is to participate on a fall sports team and either a sports team, training program, or theater production every trimester following for all four years. Lastly, I was worried that wouldn't be able to do well in Peddie's challenging academics. These fears were normal, but my biggest fear was thinking I had made the wrong decision about coming to Peddie.  

Looking back on my anxiety the few weeks before the beginning of school, it seemed like I completely forgot the reason I chose Peddie: the community. Peddie prides itself on its strong community. Peddie isn't just a school or job for the students and teachers, it's a home. Teachers don't just leave at 3p.m. to return to their "home lives." They are coaches, directors, advisors, and dorm supervisors that work well into the night to help students succeed. They live on campus, eat with us, and their children grow up around us. As a result, the teachers here at Peddie have a great dedication to the school and to its students. It's not only the teachers though, the students meet them halfway. We aren't just their students, but their athletes, actors, musicians, and advises. The same effort we put into our academics we put into our athletics and arts. All of this work often leaves us with less free time, and for me that meant less time being outdoors explore nature. However, our teachers make sacrifices too. I can think of countless times when my teachers gave up their time after or before school to help me with essays, studying, and projects. The strong community that Peddie has was the main reason I wanted to come here. However, that idea started to fade as my anxiety grew.  

My first worry was about making friends. When I walked in Annenberg Hall the first day of POCO (Peddie On Campus Orientation) that was the sole thing in my mind. Out of the 120 students in my class I knew two of them. POCO is basically two days of class bonding activities that are designed to break kids out of their comfort zone and meet new people. The activities were silly games, like a giant game of Rock Paper Scissors Shoot, but their purpose was to make everyone laugh and have fun. When you are having fun you rarely become concerned about external things, and friendships kind of happen naturally. After a scavenger hunt, movie night, and dance barriers were broken down and I made new friends. Some of my best friends are the ones I met at POCO.

The second thing I was worried about was Peddie's athletic program. I got an email the first day of classes from the coaches for all students interested in being on the cross country team to meet at the gate after school. Since I was nervous I was going to let myself use the fact that I didn't know where the gate was as an excuse not to show up. However, at the last minute I decided to go, and I am very grateful I did. The cross country team is like a big family. Everyone is friends with everyone and supports everyone and we have extremely dedicated coaches. Even though Coach Bright was on a sabbatical fall term he still made the time to coach us. For the few races his missed, he had made youtube videos for us to watch before to help get us in the right mind set and excited for the race. The term "work hard play hard" couldn't be more fitting than to describe our season. We trained extremely hard, running in all weather conditions, but made time for team bonding. In the late season when the sun set before practice ended and it was very cold outside we would have hot chocolate parties after practice in one of the dorm lounges. There wasn't a day of practice that went by when I didn't feel a part of the team and glad to be there.

Next I worried about academics. Peddie's academics rank among some of the most rigorous. I was not used to heavy work load, and spent some nights nervous about what the next day would bring. However, once I figured out a good study schedule and routine, I no longer was stressed out and I could better enjoy my time at Peddie. For instance, with Algebra 2 Trigonometry I had passing grades, but they were not as high I wanted them to be. I never seemed to have studied enough for the tests and quizzes. I decided to attend the nightly math clinics from 7pm-9pm on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. Along with this I started a small study group with some classmates and we would meet in one of the study rooms in the History House a few days before a big test or exam and work out a bunch of problems together. These two things helped to improve by grade tremendously, and it taught me a very important lesson: you get what you put in. Peddie's academics are challenging, but if you work hard and have a positive attitude you will do well. 

Looking back I can see all the time I wasted complaining and being frustrated when I could have used that time for being proactive and seeking extra help. I also realize that my frustration was not necessary, because although my teachers gave a lot of work, that often seemed daunting, they also gave a lot of help and support along the way. I can't think of a single day when my humanities teacher, Ms. Jackson, didn't start class off by making sure everyone got enough sleep and weren't up late doing work. Periodically she would dedicate entire classes to discuss our study and work habits to make sure we weren't being overloaded, and if we were she would give us an entire period to just get work done. Teachers care about their student's academic success, which Peddie describes as personal growth, and made even the most daunting challenges possible.

The final thing I was worried about was whether or not I made the right decision to come to Peddie. Absolutely I did. I cannot think of a better place for me to be. The things that I was most worried about freshman year have become the things I am looking forward to the most when I return this fall. Peddie has transformed my from shy kid to an outgoing kid who takes advantage of the many opportunities Peddie offers. Peddie is a special place and has become my home away from home.