Reflection #2: Continuing to enrich the EFZ/Peddie bond

This is the second in a series of three reflections written by Jian Wang, one of two faculty members from EFZ who visited Peddie for three weeks in January. The visit was part of the EFZ/Peddie sister school partnership program, which is approaching it's 10 year anniversary. Wang and his colleague Jing Jin met with faculty and department chairs, attended classes, meals and community events, and made comparisons between the ideals and practices of both schools.  

As the snow swept over the campus, wrapping everything with a thick coat of flakes in Hightstown, Shanghai was also suffering from probably the heaviest snow since 2008, marking the coldest winter in the past three decades. Yet this synchronization of severe weather could do nothing but hold us together more tightly: it is the time for both the Falcons and the EFZ-ers to be strong.

The last event before storm Jonas was a double clash against rival Lawrenceville at home, which served as a perfect prelude to the battle against the blizzard. Due to conflict of scheduling, I missed the boys’ fourth quarter rally that almost led to a great comeback, yet the performance of the girls was impressive enough to demonstrate the courage and determination of the Falcons. It might sound harsh, but honestly, the first three quarters of the game were miserable. They could hardly score from open play and their defense was ineffective. It seemed that the girls stood no chance. “Time to call it a day,” I said to myself. But I was wrong. The girls never gave up. Down and worn, they were never torn. Entering the fourth quarter with a huge gap of 19 points to fill up, they showed teamwork and began a counter attack. Playing with a speed that made it seem like the twenty-fifth second of the game, rather than the twenty-fifth minute, the Girls stunned the Big Red with rebounds and baskets. It was only after an emergent time out by the opponents’ coach that the game went into a deadlock which was in favor of the visitors. The 21 points scored in the last quarter exceeded the sum of the first three, although the Falcons lost the game 34-42. But they are no losers! It was not the strong performance in the last 8 minutes that won them applause, but the strong characters they showed when trailing in almost hopeless status. Although being strong under such circumstances did not help them to win this game, the experience gained will surely strengthen their quality as future winners.

Speaking the spirit of competition, we have a totally different story on the other side. Dubbed as the “high school of gold medals,” EFZ has grown a reputation of producing gold medal winners in the International Olympiad for various science disciplines during the past quarter of a century. Yet the full story behind the shining statistics is not always that straightforward. As an alumnus of the school, I might be the right person to tell a bit history. The first gold medal of EFZ in the International Mathematics Olympiads was won in 1995. However, this is not the first chapter of a sweet story of consecutive victories. From then on, the curse of missing out places from the national team of mathematics haunted us for seven years. Probably the most bitter experience was season 2001-02, when seven of our students broke into the national Olympiad with five entering the final list of 30 of which 6 would be selected as representative of the country. Waiting for them was a lengthy and hard procedure of selection consisting of eight preliminary rounds and a final round that weighed the same as the previous eight. Two of our seniors managed to rank fourth and fifth before the final. Yet the promising situation did not last long: neither of them survived to take a place in the final six. Suffering from this vital blow, the next year was even tougher for math competitors of EFZ. With several of us knocked out en route (including myself), only one managed to the finalist of 25, repeating an achievement he did the year before. Fighting alone in the freezing early spring at an election camp in north China, he succeeded in ending our seven-year waiting for another Chinese international in math from EFZ. People do get hurt from failure in the past, nevertheless, the winners always come back strong.

It appears to me there is something other than coincidence playing behind the tradition that students from both Peddie and EFZ act tough against drawbacks. The spirit roots in the culture of both campuses and gets passed on by faculty and alumni from generation to generation. In both schools, the fighting spirit is always present. You don’t always have to be strong to win, but a winning mindset surely makes you strong.