Academic News

Milton Students Recognized for Excellence in Writing and Visual Art

Fifty-six Milton students received recognition in the 2021 Massachusetts Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. The students earned 124 Gold Key, Silver Key, or Honorable Mention accolades in the competition. The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards began in 1923 and are considered the most prestigious awards for teenagers in the country. Milton’s 31 Gold Key pieces are submitted to the national Scholastic competition, and results for the national contest will be announced in March.

Anne Kwok ‘21 earned six Gold Keys, one Silver Key, and two Honorable Mentions for her poetry. One of her poems that earned a Gold Key is entitled “After Warfare.”

“In my work, I’m captivated by the role of aestheticism in healing,” says Kwok. “I love using fantastical myths for my poems to find truths even in the ancient and the uncanny. Poetry is a mirror I hold against the alien-ness present within us, to both surrender my fears and to empathize with the vulnerabilities of those around me. I especially love diving into the Chinese myths that were my grandma’s bedtime stories for me when I was younger. For example, I set my poem “After Warfare” in the Legend of Hou Yi, wrestling with how vulnerable groups of people are forced to bear the consequences of war after the glory and victory are over.”

“Breathe” by Jiawei Sun ’21

Jiawei Sun ’21 earned two Gold Keys, five Silver Keys, and eight Honorable Mentions in various art categories. Sun says his favorite mediums to work in are micron ink pens and copic markers for drawing and illustration pieces, although he also works in acrylic and watercolor painting, mixed media, and sculpture. One of his Gold Keys was earned for a sculpture titled “Breathe.”

To me, art is freedom,” says Sun. “I see landscapes or objects and I add my own touch, blending concept and reality. Therefore, many of my pieces are introspective and philosophical. My never-ending pursuit of creation motivates me to take up my pen and brush each day, and to breathe life into the ideas floating around in my head.”

“Under Wraps” by Blake Anker

Blake Ankner ‘23 earned three Silver Keys and an Honorable Mention for his photography. Ankner said two of the photos submitted to Scholastic “involved a blanket, one with the blanket ‘strangling’ myself and the other hovering above myself. To me, the two individually showed how confining isolation has been and how ominous Covid seems to be.”

Anker said he uses the camera as a tool to connect. “During times where it is hard to connect, including even before the pandemic, photography can be used to share environment, emotions, and moments in time, which is what has always drawn my attention. My art in the past year was especially molded through the pandemic: the confinements of my house, how ‘isolation’ has affected my emotions, and what the story is that I want to tell.”

Max Seelig ‘22 earned a Gold Key in Dramatic Script, two Silver Keys in Critical Essay, and an Honorable Mention in Poetry. Seelig says his script “was about a family going through divorce that is told from the perspectives of both partners. I played with timelines to make the piece intricate and interesting. One partner told the first half of the story linearly (from their first meeting to their wedding) and the other partner told the second half of the story in reverse (from signing the divorce papers to their wedding). The play ends when their timelines converge at their wedding, that way you know how they end and begin while you are seeing this climactic moment.” 

“On Dysphoria,” By Lynn Yuan, July 2020; oil on canvas and decorative plaster. 13.8 x 35.2 in

Yidan Yuan ‘21 earned a Gold Key and three Honorable Mentions for her art. She says she likes to work digitally with a drawing tablet, but also likes using oils. Her Gold Key piece “On Dysphoria,” is “a self portrait exploring my gender identity; my experimental use of the decorative plaster helps show the dysphoric nature of my perspective on my assigned sex.”

Yuan says her interest in art started at at young age, when she shadowed her older sister’s private lessons that accompanied university assignments. “I began taking art seriously in middle school when I went to a studio in Hong Kong every Sunday. For the past few summers, I’ve been attending an art center in New Jersey for two to three weeks in which we spend six hours doing portfolio work and then spend the night also doing sketchbook work. I enjoy those summer camp days very much. In the future, I hope to become a museum curator.”

Community Engagement

Students on the Community Engagement Board are urging members of the community to take a “polar plunge” in support of athletes with intellectual and physical disabilities between now and spring break, said Andrea Geyling-Moore, director of Community Engagement Programs and Partnerships (CEPP).

The Special Olympics Polar Plunge is an opportunity to raise money and awareness for the Special Olympics by pledging to take a “plunge” if donors commit to giving. Milton’s plunge is open to interpretation, Geyling-Moore said: Between now and spring break, participants can jump into cold water, do an ice bucket-style challenge, or complete another icy stunt as a pledge for fundraising. 

“When the weather is better, our students have been practicing with the Special Olympians on Sunday mornings,” she said. “We don’t know yet whether we’ll be able to have an event of any kind in the spring, but the Special Olympics of Massachusetts is running their annual polar plunge to keep awareness and fundraising going.”

Although CEPP has had to modify some of its engagement projects due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 125 students continue to make weekly commitments to serving at different sites, whether through outreach to the elderly, helping Boston-area public school students and the after-school program through the Immigrant Family Services Institute, or helping with English language learners, among other programs. Students from as far away as Korea and Hong Kong have been connecting with local seniors via Zoom and phone calls. For the spring, Geyling-Moore hopes to connect some CEPP students with the Lower School to support gardening efforts.

Students also continue to serve through the Music Inclusion Program, founded by Milton Music Department Chair Adrian Anantawan, which provides instruments and instructions to students with disabilities at the Henderson Inclusion School in Boston, Geyling-Moore said. “Adrian has set up a ukulele class for the elementary school kids. So our students are helping to teach the ukulele—as some of them are learning it themselves—via Zoom.”

Recently, students in the Goodwin, Hathaway, and Robbins houses—as well as the kids from the on-campus daycare center—made hundreds of Valentines to send to seniors in the Milton Residences for the Elderly. Other students participated in the Winter Walk, a program that raised money to support unhoused people in Boston. 

Lauren Groff is a Bingham Visiting Writer

Writing fiction cannot replace activism, but it can shine a light on problems that demand action, author Lauren Groff told students during her talk on February 17.

Paraphrasing the poet William Carlos Williams, Groff noted that although literature cannot save lives, it is still crucial to humanity: “Poetry has never saved a life, but men die every day for lack of it,” she said.

“I do believe that fiction can make one slowly turn one’s eyes to the things that matter,” Groff told students during a virtual reading and Q&A. “And it has, since the inception of fiction as an art form. There is a lot of social progress that has happened because fiction writers have written about what’s important.”

Groff, one of this year’s Bingham Visiting Writers, often features the effects of climate change and the danger and beauty of the natural world in her books, which include the novel Fates and Furies and the short story collection Florida. The environment in a given story is a source of internal and external influence on its characters, and serves as a powerful image. Groff said she avoids “apocalyptic” writing about climate—stories where one hero emerges to solve a major problem—because the issue requires collective action.

“Talking and writing about climate is not going to keep the glaciers from melting, but the constant awareness is what keeps you focused and moving in the right direction with other people,” she said.

Groff read a passage from her forthcoming novel, Matrix, which explores the interactions of power and environment in the life of a young French woman assigned to lead an impoverished English abbey and its nuns.

Groff spent time with students in English classes during the day. The reading and Q&A was open to students and faculty involved in the Humanities Workshop, a consortium of Boston-area public and private schools. Founded by Milton English teachers Alisa Braithwaite and Lisa Baker, the Humanities Workshop studies major social issues through the lens of the humanities. This year, the workshop is focused on climate change and climate justice. The Bingham Endowment Fund for Creative Writing was established in 1987 to benefit the Creative Writing Program. The fund brings prominent authors to campus.

Robotics Team Members Hone Skills for the Future

In a typical year for the Robotics Team, members spend long hours in the robotics lab together, building and rebuilding their robots to get ready for tournaments. This school year, much of that work has gone virtual.

Although the pandemic restrictions on in-person building and competition have been challenging, the season—filled with virtual skills events and international tournaments—has demonstrated what makes robotics special: thinking creatively, developing solutions, and working together.

“At the beginning of the season, we were not sure that we would even be able to build robots,” said Puck Doboe ’22. “However, several students have been able to find space in their homes to work on their robots remotely, which has been fantastic. Even with the distance from Milton, a new student joined a returning student to build a fully functional robot together while doing Zoom classes from their homes in China.”

Nancy Jiang ’22 and Julia Wang ’23 have competed in China, where they have been able to enter in-person tournaments. In December, they qualified for the VEX Robotics China Championship and placed 53rd out of more than 100 teams from China, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Even though in-person competition is limited, Jiang said, “the skills our members cultivate during this tournament season will definitely come in handy when we can finally all compete in person. This unusual year has provided us with a perfect opportunity to learn from the past and improve.”

It’s been more than a year since the team’s last live tournament in the U.S., but the team has recently returned to the lab, where they work together while social distancing. They have four robots ready for competition. Members are currently preparing for a remote event this month and hope to qualify for the regional tournament.

“We haven’t had any wins yet this year, as we’re just getting started with the season, but we have a really talented team and are looking forward to showing it in future competitions,” said Ryan Shue ’23. Being able to see one another and resume in-person collaboration has been a highlight of the year for Shue, who noted that the Robotics Team’s time commitment and dedication are equal to that of any sports team. Four new Class IV members have shown a lot of promise for the future of the team, said Doboe.

Faculty mentors Chris Hales and Khizar Hussain have gone above and beyond in supporting the team this year, said Jiang. They sent the necessary parts to international students so they could work remotely, “and they have tried their best to accommodate the needs of every team member regardless of their geographical location or time zones. Mr. Hales and Mr. Hussain continued to guide, support, and encourage us, and we’re all very, very grateful for everything they’ve done for the team.”

Speech and Debate Team Shines Online

It’s been an unusual but successful year so far for the Speech and Debate Team. They kicked off 2021 competing at the Massachusetts Speech and Debate League’s Happy New Year Tournament, earning several first-place honors in all three divisions of debate as well as numerous speech categories. With all the tournaments held online, students have had to adapt and shift their approach leading to both opportunities and challenges.

Jack Burton’s ’22 primary event is Humorous Interpretation (HI), but he also competes in Duo Interpretation and Dramatic Interpretation. He says the virtual format, especially for interpretive pieces, changes the way the competitor interacts with the audience.

“Bridging a connection with your audience is an essential part of speech,” says Burton. “Without the ability to make eye contact with and elicit live laughter from judges and competitors in the room, speech pieces definitely lose a sense of magic, and it is harder for us performers to engage the audience.”

But Burton, who earned third place at the Yale Invitational, second place at the Duke Invitational, and first place at the Princeton Invitational, says competing online also offers an opportunity to get creative with the camera.

“Many of the best performers strategically use the camera to add creative flourishes to their pieces,” says Burton. “I have a few methods. For example, I pretend the camera is someone’s forward-looking eye in my Duo. I was able to keep my traditional, blocking-based HI techniques alive, including a cartwheel and a dance sequence, even with the virtual format. Working the camera angle to keep in all the blocking was a big, but manageable, challenge.”

Nika Farokhzad ’23 competes in Congressional Debate and qualified for the National Speech and Debate National Tournament in June by earning first-place honors in Student Congress. She will be one of six students representing Massachusetts at Nationals. Farokhzad said debate does not involve as much movement as some of the speech categories, so the only big difference for her competing online is that she can sit down when she speaks in competition instead of standing up. She says for her, the biggest opportunity was in the interactions with her teammates.

“I’ve been surprised by how close I’ve become with the team, despite the fact that we are all communicating virtually,” says Farokhzad. “This digital experience has brought me closer to my friends. We go through topics together, help each other prep, and call all the time. It’s been a really amazing season despite all of the challenges. Dr. Brandstetter has done a phenomenal job maintaining as normal of a season as possible. I am so grateful for his help with prepping for all of the tournaments. He is always available to us, and willing to meet in the evenings, over the weekend, and outside of school hours. He is a fantastic coach!”

And Burton said, “Our amazing captains have also been instrumental during tournament days, leading warm-ups to wake everybody up. And we have continued our chaotic but fun weekly speech and debate meetings.”

Upcoming competitions include Emory, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, MSDA State, Tournament of Champions as well as National Catholic Forensic League and National Speech and Debate Association national tournament events.

Dr. Brenna Wynn Greer is MLK Jr. Day Speaker

Historian Brenna Wynn Greer spoke about “the perils of symbolic Blackness” and how popular Civil Rights history focuses simplistically on the nonviolent version of Martin Luther King, Jr., rather than the complexities of who he was as a person and an activist. Greer, an associate professor of history at Wellesley College, was this year’s MLK Jr. Day speaker.

Greer said the symbolic King is seen as a kind and gentle Black activist and that, “as a nation, we remain heavily invested in this symbolic King. This is a problem because symbolic King encourages simple and sanitized histories of the Black freedom struggle.”

During the few years before he was assassinated, “King’s criticism of capitalism and his opposition to the Vietnam War made him unpopular not only among U.S. officials but also among Civil Rights activists. This King was a troublemaker, so he was sidelined increasingly as an activist and he was pushed into the shadows as a historical figure,” said Greer.

When King began his Civil Rights work during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955/56 he was just 26 years old, Greer said. He was “inexperienced, overburdened, and unsuspecting at the time he was pushed to the front of the Civil Rights movement. My purpose is to bust through notions that King was born an activist. He developed as an activist and as he did so, his thinking, his objectives, his tactics, and his standing all changed. He was a complex figure with a complex life.”

As he got older, King increasingly viewed “racism in structural terms and pointed to how race and class intercepted to disadvantage black people in America by keeping them poor, less educated, unemployed, incarcerated, and disenfranchised,” said Greer.

Greer said that today, many historians, teachers, and activists are working towards “bringing troublemaker King back into the light—not to replace symbolic King but to integrate those two figures.”

Greer is a historian of race, gender, and culture in the twentieth century United States, who explores historical connections between capitalism, social movements, and visual culture. Her first book, Represented: The Black Imagemakers Who Reimagined African American Citizenship, examines the historical circumstances that made the media representation of black citizenship good business in the post-World War II era. A recipient of several teaching awards and major fellowships from the ACLS, Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Greer’s work has been featured in The New York TimesThe Nation, the Daily Mail, and the Columbia Journalism Review.

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