Monday, February 23, 2015

Never lose heart

Robin '17 played on the J.V. Girls basketball team this season, and learned much more than court skills. The team finished with a 5-6 season.

Dribble dribble stop. 
Fast break down the court. 

As we watched the progression of the flawless threes being put up by Blair during our first game ever, I will never forget the feeling of our team never losing heart.

"Robin, go in for Gena!" 
"Yes sir!" 

Without hesitation, I got on the court and I didn’t let the fact that we were losing by 20 at this point stop me from playing like I was defending LeBron James. 

This season of basketball was absolutely phenomenal. The group of girls that gathered on the court every day after classes were there not to fill a sports requirement, but to play basketball. No matter the score, the lead, the threes or the fouls, you never saw a solemn face on the court or the bench. This basketball season turned out to be record-breaking, but more impressive was that each player on the team showed she wanted to be there and that we all wanted to win - every time. 

As the season progressed we did begin to win! This was unexpected for our JV team, but we were not going to die quietly. Our skills improved, and so did our record. The games became interesting, and more importantly we shocked everyone by telling them we won our games. If nothing else, I know that the reason we won is that every girl on our team had loyalty and dedication to the sport, and to each other. As a JV team, we showed more growth than Shaquille O’Neal in his first growth spurt. We took the raw materials we all had on the court and with the wise guidance from Cojack and Mr. Park became a team full of Michael Jordans and Lisa Leslies. All in all, this season was quite possibly the most amazing time for me and I get to leave this season with a group of girls I not only call teammates, but best friends. Until next season…

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Oh what a beautiful morning... to celebrate Jeffrey "Harry" Holcombe

Below follows the text of the eulogy given by Headmaster Peter Quinn in honor of longtime drama teacher Jeffrey "Harry" Holcombe

Detail of a denim quilt displayed at
the memorial service for Mr. Holcombe

(photo: Andrea Kane)
Oh what a beautiful morning to remember when you were a tender and callow fellow who, whenever he felt afraid, held his head erect, whistled a happy tune and helped us day by day to learn that on a clear day we could see forever and ever  to know that we all need help to feel fine.

I carry with me the love, sympathy, and good wishes of hundreds of people who have sent condolences to Frank and to Jeff’s sisters Deb and Gretchen.  Along with his parents, you three were the most important people in his life, and the thousands of us who knew his friendship, knew that.

I cannot think of Jeff without thinking of how much he loved people, loved to know what his friends were doing and what their current “story” was.  Every time we would see each other after a period of absence it would be “PQ, how the heck are ya?  What are you doing? Come sit down and give me the scoop!”  As full of friends as his life was, and as full of interesting things, he always started with wanting to know what YOU were doing.  And then he would wrap in whoever else was with you, and then he would recall some wonderful time you had enjoyed with him, and how much it meant, and then he was ready for another story…

And so started each adventure with Jeff, whether to a movie, a meal, or one of his legendary ski trips.  Even rehearsals often started with individual check-ins by Jeff with his cast and assistant directors, or the inimitable John Lucs, who first made himself indispensable when still a student of Jeff’s and was his backstage alter-ego.  These greetings were more lengthy and animated when Jeff was in the cast rather than the director, a situation I happily found myself in a few times.  The clearest memory I have is of Jeff playing Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins many years ago, and there was a young-er Chuck Worthington admonishing him for not paying attention.  

Jeff was a very good storyteller, and you’d hear a lot of that in his classes.  Stories of shows, actors, actresses and strategies that worked, and stories of shows, actors, actresses and strategies that flopped.  But his favorite stories always had a lesson, and it was usually both a reminder of something that had been important for him to learn, and a lesson for his present audience. And often he would tell stories for a group that were in his mind evidence of some quality of yours that he appreciated and wanted to celebrate.  “Let me tell you a story about what Frank did that was just amazing!”  And off he went.  He did not like stories told at someone’s expense, and he would put a quick end to such stories.  Only people who had been purposefully cruel to others were permitted to be objects of stories about how not to behave.

His story-telling made him a natural teacher.  And as an acting and public speaking teacher he was in the business of teaching people how to tell a story well.  As a bit actor who had the privilege of being directed by Jeff a few times, I would say he was a very forgiving director who relied heavily on casting a number of people in roles that did not require a lot of acting – and then a few in roles that required a lot of work.  I think his theory was that if the role were close, the person was likely to succeed, and if the person put unusual effort into it, he or she would soar.  While Harry wanted everyone to soar, he was intent on making it hard for anyone to fail.

To be directed by Jeff was to work through your own character development with his occasional exemplary redirections.  So, if he wanted more “gravitas” you would get a dose of Jeff the President of the United States.  If he wanted more playfulness you’d be greeted with Jeff as Dick Van Dyke. If you needed to cry, he’d perform some great Biblical wailing and gnashing of teeth scene.  He’d pick the exaggeration and perform it for you. He was not a subtle director, but neither was he ever unclear.
Jeff was also proud of the change he encouraged at Peddie outside of theater and outside of each student's own journey to develop him or herself.  His support of the Gay-Straight Alliance in its early stages was strong and instrumental.  He was not alone in this effort, but because he was known to be a fair-minded and selfless person, and because his example was the appeal rather than any pressured recruiting campaign, Jeff’s presence throughout the last 20 years of his Peddie career helped give GSA the broad-based support it enjoys now.  He proudly remembers getting students and some faculty to make annual participation on the AIDS Walk a priority.

The most consistent lesson Peddie students and faculty learned from Jeff over 45 years was to be honest and to be happy in our own skin.  How could you not learn to be comfortable being yourself from a man who was comfortable in the most colorful and over-the-top assortment of clothing and accessories outside of a bolo tie, boots, and belt-buckle convention?  In fact, as he was giving me directions for the length and nature of this eulogy, he mentioned that he was proudest of the way he had helped his students develop their skills so “they shined like highly polished silver.”  As I have thought about that simile over the past few weeks, I think what is most characteristic is the pride he took in his students rather than in his own influence on them.

And his students knew that and appreciated it. Among the many, many tributes I have read on Facebook or which have come directly, the common theme of love and gratitude for believing in each author was overwhelming.  People remember that Jeff was perpetually in their corner as long as they were making a sincere effort.  At times when they doubted themselves, he took the energy of doubt and helped make it fuel each student’s triumph.  One alumnus summed his feelings up this way:
I rejoice in the fact that I was fortunate to have been touched by him.  
I rejoice in the fact that he took time to spread his 'fairy dust' all over me – and I’m a better man because of that.

So many stories. Jeff the movie-goer who often fell asleep during the movie, but did not hesitate to rave about how much he liked it!  Jeff the maker of nick-names with the most sonorous quality – at least to his ears. Jeff the collector of so much stuff, and always able to tell you where and when he found each item!

We share so many vivid and happy memories of Jeff Holcombe that we need not fear we will run out of them, or that he will be forgotten. The work of a great teacher is among the most enduring monuments on earth, for each student carries the lessons for a lifetime, along the way passing them on to yet another generation.  We each carry Jeff with us in happiness and gratitude!  Jeff’s wish for this day was that we “leave sadness and tears behind; laughter and good times are here.”

I will end my remarks with this excerpt from the well-known poem “Death Is Nothing at All,” by Henry Scott-Holland.
Laugh as we always laughed 
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together. 
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me; 
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. 
Let it be spoken without effort, 
Without the ghost of a shadow in it. 
Life means all that it ever meant.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A class with visiting author Michael Kardos

Kat '16 shares her impressions of a recent visit by Michael Kardos, author of the recently-released novel, "Before He Finds Her" (February 2015), to her class with English teacher Tim Hedges.

Twice a term, Mr. Hedges brings a visiting writer to teach our creative writing elective. Michael Kardos, a delightfully quirky fiction writer, visited Peddie on Wednesday afternoon. In the week leading up to his arrival, my class analyzed his short stories, taking note of specific strategies he used to craft an array of intriguing characters and scenes. When Kardos addressed our class, he honed in on a specific—but vital—lesson of writing.
There are five types of sentences a writer can use to tell a story: dialogue, narration, description, exposition, and interior monologue.

Kardos passionately explained that all five are essential to engage a reader, yet the formula in how they are utilized is up to the writer. Different writers choose to rely on different amounts of each: Hemingway writes succinctly, with emphasis on dialogue and narration, while Virginia Woolf’s writing exudes lavish description and interiority.

Author Michael Kardos visits Mr. Hedges' English class.

After the lecture, we each wrote a scene about a boy named Stan who was dealing with a specific problem. The catch, Kardos explained, was that we were only allotted two of the above sentence types to tell the story. I was challenged to use an abundance of dialogue and narration, letting word choice and movements keep the scene intriguing. After hearing my classmates share their scenes aloud, I discovered how unique an identical character’s tale could be, depending on the type of sentences used.

What I love most about visiting writers is that they instantly bring a fresh perspective to our classroom, and leave us with a renewed sense of vigor and eagerness to write. The opportunity to work with Kardos was incredible. During our question and answer session, he discussed how he overcame writer’s block, how he handled the challenge of writing from a teenage girl’s point of view, and how he frequently uses New Jersey to frame his stories. Mr. Hedges continues to bring intriguing writers to campus, and I cannot wait for the next seminar!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A bit of dorm dodgeball warms up a cold winter's night

From faculty member and dorm supe Mrs. Kittle: "Last night Caspersen, Roberson and Mariboe dorms got together for our dorm bonding night down at the gym. We braved the chilly night air for a night of competitive dodgeball and pizza. CJ, a post-graduate from Mariboe Dorm said, 'It was nice to have dorm bonding with other people while doing something fun.' It was a great way to burn off steam and play!" 

Roberson Dormitory's dorm dodgeball team photo!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Chapel Talk: Appreciate cultural diversity

In a recent chapel talk, Jada '15 and Senyte '15 shared an excerpt from an article by Jeremy Dowsett titled, "What my bike taught me about white privilege," and then shared their reflection on the relevance of Dowsett's thoughts to the Peddie community.

Jada: While that was an amazing article by Jeremy Dosett using the analogy of biking to explain privilege in America, we think this topic is relevant and important to consider in our Peddie community. Peddie is a diverse place full of people from all backgrounds. I love how interesting and different the people I’ve met here are. I also think that people's individuality can get lost. Senyte and I hope from this speech we can all become stronger and wiser.

Senyte: At this school we have many resources that allow us to learn about different cultures. Peddie is a tolerant and accepting school. The only problem is that sometimes it seems that our student body falls too deeply into stereotypes of cultures rather than looking at the truth of them. For the students at this school, it can lead to people feeling isolated and unappreciated,... like the other.

Jada: When I arrived at Peddie my freshman year, my world was flipped upside down. I was categorized as just a minority whereas in my previous environment, I didn't have such labels, I was Jada. None of my teachers, dorm supervisors, or coaches were black here, and I was intimidated and hesitant. So I created a bubble for myself, I shut my mouth, and decided I would stay under the radar as best I could until graduation day. It’s worked for the most part, but I don’t like how I’ve changed. I don’t like being reluctant to talk or act like how I do around my friends and family. I want to be genuine with people.

Senyte: Coming from diverse Houston, I wasn't aware of many of the terrible stereotypes that would enclose me in my time here, as I was a very distinct individual at home and that was recognized by my peers. At Peddie, suddenly I had to share my identity with my three closest friends - even though we have incredibly different personalities, our individuality is sometimes ignored by our peers. Can you imagine how frustrating it is to get called a name in class or the dorm that isn't yours by people that you've known for years? It felt like relationships that had been built for years weren’t what I perceived them to be, because that person never really saw me for me, but was instead blinded by one similarity that all three of us shared.

Jada: I became very bitter very fast because of the assumptions individuals made about me. I would not touch someone's hair without asking because it's different than mine. I would not assume to say when I met a white person, “Hey, you must be very good at skiing!" I realized soon, though, that to blame individuals isn’t fair or productive. It is our society as a whole that has to change, and here at Peddie, it is important that we acknowledge the inequalities that still trouble our own community. I love being in a community of people with dreams and the motivation to make them a reality and I thank you all for making me a better person. At Peddie, I have met people of all different backgrounds. But witnessing some of the assumptions and generalizations that are made based on race or ethnicity are tiring to people of color here at Peddie - no matter what culture we come from! 

We are not trying to lecture you like we are so enlightened and perfect - I’m far from it! But all of us are leaders. If we take charge and learn to really care about each other as individuals, I know that we can impact society and, in turn, things will eventually get better. 

Senyte: Think about what you do when you pigeon-hole someone based on their culture. You ignore their personality, discredit their culture’s history, oppression or particular challenges, and ignore their experience as an individual. To assume who someone is based on what he or she looks like is to completely ignore that person.

We have wonderful opportunities with the various cultural clubs that are present on campus. If you feel that you do not know very much about a particular culture or racial group, consider joining a club that focuses on that culture. Pestering that one person you know of a certain culture puts that individual in charge of representing their whole race, which is never how you should go about educating yourself about race. Clubs like the Jewish Heritage Club, the African Heritage Club and the Multi-Cultural Alliance (MCA) are at this school to educate us on how to respect and enjoy other cultures, not to be exclusively for minorities! 

Jada: In life we will constantly encounter people of other cultures. Peddie has given us a great foundation from which to build, but we must understand how our actions and words can impact our peers. Being black is a beautiful thing to me and to simplify my culture through stereotypes is to completely negate its value.

Maybe people stereotype because they are afraid of not being able to control, assume, or understand why people are different. Diversity is a beautiful part of life - to be able to encounter things that we didn’t expect and love them all the same, who would want to change that?

Senyte: Despite our ideas of how awesome and perfect Peddie is as a school we have to recognize that outside problems that seem not to exist here actually do. Oppression exists within our community, luckily only in small doses, like the bumps and piles of gravel Dosett mentioned in his story. Lets try to get rid of those, and stop using stereotypes to define students of color and instead appreciate who they are.

Jada and Senyte: Ala Viva Peddie!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Just Roomie Things

Chrissy talks about the highs and lows of sharing a room. Don't worry, her roommate didn't kill her for this post - they're still best friends!

School’s back in business, and everyone seems to be experiencing a sort of jetlag whether they’re international or not. Two weeks feels like two months and now our brains are playing catch up trying to relearn everything the holidays bumped out of our brains.

Coming back from break, it takes time to get used to moving back in. It’s not those beds or the view… I’m talking about living with that special someone. Occupying Peddie’s campus are 600 students and almost 2/3 of them are boarders. Each of these kids knows just what I’m talking about when it comes to your roommate.

Besides freshmen, we get to choose who to spend the majority of our time with throughout the school year. Coming back from winter break, I missed my roomie a lot. With our reunion I remembered all the things I didn’t sign up for: like her bags dumped out all over the floor, pizza boxes piling up, and of course, the constant camera flash when I’m trying to sleep. But all of this is worth it when you room with your best friend. After all, no one’s perfect (I just found out this morning I talk in my sleep) but these are just roomie things that we learn to adjust to.

Think about it: your roommate at Peddie sees the worst side of you more than anyone else; Just woke up, bedhead, One Direction t-shirt and sweatpants… They have the power to send that snapchat and they don’t! When you decide to start going to the gym more, your roommate is there to make that resolution with you, and quit a week later. Moving back in may be moving into the mess and mayhem, but it also means continuing a crazy adventure side-by-side with your partner in crime.

So when you wake up tomorrow at 5:30 from your roommate clopping around, and go to get a go-go-squeeze and find that they’re all gone, go back to sleep and find another snack, because this is who you chose to live with. And I really hope my roomie doesn’t kill me when she reads this...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Go back to good old peddie and take 100 selfies in a day

Brabeeba '14 returned to Peddie for a visit and with a personal challenge: to take 100 selfies with his old Falcon friends. Success!

Good to see you all! Ala Viva!