Writing fiction cannot replace activism, but it can shine a light on problems that demand action, author Lauren Groff told students Wednesday.
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.”
In this year’s winter play, She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms, sisters Agnes and Tilly couldn’t be more different. Agnes delights in fitting in and being an “average” high school girl, while Tilly, a Dungeons and Dragons aficionado with a wild imagination, can’t help but stand out.
When Tilly, played by Talia Sherman ’22, suddenly dies, Agnes, played by Lucy Hirschfeld ’21, finds herself on a quest through the D&D world, following a module Tilly created and hoping to connect with her sister. As Agnes meets her sister and a band of interesting adventurers in the fantasy world, a series of funny and dramatic events unfolds.
“I came into the show knowing very little about D&D, and throughout my time filming, I followed Agnes’ journey by gradually learning more about the game, and then becoming part of the D&D world,” Hirschfeld said. “Throughout the game, she finds herself and builds friendships she would never have expected.”
Three students casually singing together their freshman year have turned into an established trio with more than 43,000 subscribers on their YouTube channel. Henry Wilde ’21 and Conner Hartman ’21 became friends in freshman math class and they often discussed their common interest in music. Although Wilde and Hartman did not consider themselves singers, both knew Dash Evett ’21 was one, and the three decided to perform together at that spring’s Beatnik, an open mic event run by students.
At the beginning, they focused on singing covers. “After our first Beatnik, we basically would meet during all our free periods, singing in a room in Kellner,” said Wilde. “Over time, we developed a style. We would spend about two months arranging a song, improvising on it.”
When the pandemic forced everyone to quarantine in their homes, the trio decided to start a YouTube channel as a way for friends and family to hear their music. Hartman says when he loaded up the first video, a cover of “The Misty Mountains Cold” from The Hobbit movie, he typed in their group name as misty., all lowercase with a period at the end, and their official name was born. The video was recorded in a tunnel, which amplified their acoustic voices. Viewership took off after that.
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.”
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.
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.
Our stories connect us and make us unique, students performing Walk Through This World demonstrated this week. Telling the personal stories of Milton community members, the Project Story performers made connections among the School’s students, faculty, and staff.
Storytelling is especially important right now as people remain distant during the COVID-19 pandemic, said English faculty member Hannah Pulit ’07, who with Performing Arts faculty member Peter Parisi teaches the Project Story: Narrative Journalism and Performance course.
“At a time when many of us are feeling isolated and disconnected, we particularly appreciate the affirmation that stories matter, that they remind us of our shared humanity, and that, though we may feel lonely in our struggles, we are never truly alone,” Pulit said to close the performance.
Senior projects are a Milton tradition providing graduating Class I students with an opportunity to take a deep dive into a topic that interests them, whether they’re serving the community, exploring a favorite class subject further, learning a new skill, shadowing a professional, or creating art.
Planning for the project period—the month of May through the first days of June—has encountered some obstacles during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, leading to an expansion of project offerings, said Academic Dean Heather Sugrue.
“We wanted to provide some more options and build something that would assume our current pandemic restrictions remain in place,” she said. “So that means that we can’t plan for students having internships or working off-campus. We needed to give some more options.”
The new offerings this year include the choice of more than a dozen seminars coordinated by adults in the Milton community. Topics include creative writing, animation, designing educational games, the historical archeology of Milton, justice and law in the movies, geology, cooking, Latin epigraphy, prize fiction of 2020, race and the war on drugs, military history, the future of schools, and more.
Three Milton students, Jana Amin ’21, Will Bourell ’23, and Elliot Smith ’22, joined 12 of their peers across the country in creating and producing UnTextbooked, a podcast exploring the real effects of history now and in the future.
“We created UnTextbooked to help address the incomplete narrative found in many history textbooks and to find answers to big questions,” Smith said. “Each of the 15 episodes features one teen podcaster, one book, and one famous historian.”
Smith’s episode, “How a Black teenager and his young lawyer changed the criminal justice system,” features an interview with the historian Matthew Van Meter, author of Deep Delta Justice: A Black Teen, His Lawyer, and Their Groundbreaking Battle for Civil Rights in the South. Van Meter’s book chronicles the wrongful 1966 arrest of Gary Duncan in Plaquemines, Louisiana and the era’s Civil Rights battles; Duncan’s case, argued by attorney Richard Sobol, reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that states must honor requests for jury trials by defendants in criminal cases.
From the violent attack on the United States Capitol to this week’s Inauguration Day, historical moments are unfolding in real time, giving history teachers and their students opportunities to examine current events through a historical lens.
“It’s essential we address January 6th. Our U.S. History classes are a place where one can grapple with the nuance of the Constitution and the ethics of a democracy,” says Matt Blanton, history faculty member. “The challenge is the events unfolding are a moving target—what was previously understood could be different—it requires being nimble. This is a good time to reiterate the best practices of critical thinking.”
In response to the events at the U.S. Capitol, the student History Club held a virtual panel last Thursday evening. Five teachers answered questions submitted by students and Jonathan Cao ’21 and Alex Wang ’21 moderated. Questions included whether the U.S. has ever been culturally unified and if there ever was a time in history where America was “great.” One student was curious about what connections police institutions have to white nationalist organizations and the origins of those connections. Another student asked whether there are similarities between today’s American society and periods in the past such as pre-WWII Germany.