Dr. Carol Valentin, mother of Elena Holmes ‘12 and Julian Holmes ‘07 and a practicing therapist, addressed the lifelong importance of role models. Dr. Valentin encouraged audience members to expand their thinking, explaining that from a human development perspective, role models can be critical for anyone at any time in their lives, not just for young people in their formative years.
Rutgers Prep graduate Ashley Murph ‘05, who is now practicing law, reflected on the ways in which her Rutgers Prep experience prepared her for the challenges that lay ahead. She spoke movingly of the importance of following your dreams, believing in yourself, and surrounding yourself with people who will support you when the going gets tough.
And Donna Williams, aunt of Bree Livingston ‘14, spoke about her unexpected journey towards her position as director of the Metropolitan Museum’s Multicultural Audience Development Initiative… a position that literally didn’t exist until she invented it! Now the Met’s Chief Audience Development Officer, Ms. Williams is the media spokesperson for the Museum on the topic of diversity in the arts and lectures at many organizations, universities, and conferences in Austria, New Zealand, England, Qatar, and Israel. Her passion for art and its ability to connect us all to each other was lively and completely contagious!
The members of the Rutgers Prep community who attended this year’s event all spoke highly of both the speakers’ messages and of the wonderful dinner that was provided thanks to the efforts of our SAGE team and generous potluck offerings by guests.
When asked for her perspective on this year’s event, Angela Gichinga ‘14 (UPenn ’18) was happy to share:
“My favorite thing about Rutgers Prep is our diverse community. As a student of color, it is unfortunately instinctual for me to always worry about whether I will be accepted or judged by my non-black peers. I find that I now only feel this fear, however, when I am off Prep grounds in what students call the “real world,” because we have created a sort of safe haven at Prep. In the Rutgers Prep community, I fortunately do not harbor such fears because I feel the inclusiveness, acceptance and embrace of people of all backgrounds, colors, religions and nations and that’s why events like the Black History Month Banquet are so important to me.
Although it required a lot of preparation and planning, seeing how committed students are to this one event reminds me of how and why we have created this safe place. We believe in diversity and inclusion and learning about people’s history and backgrounds. For one night we all listen, embracing people of all nationalities — black, white, and all races in between — to learn about the African American past as well as the paths to forging the future. We eat and laugh and share our stories, as our speakers share with us stories of their hardships as well as their successes. Although all of this year’s speakers were women of color, they each had unique experiences which highlighted the ways in which diversity can foster progress. We celebrate our diversity, and most of all events like these that contribute to our safe haven.”
We are all thankful to have opportunities like the Black History Month Banquet which both support and advance our community’s commitment to true inclusivity, and we hope that another group of engaged students are already thinking about their plans for next year’s event!
The dinner was held at the Waldorf Astoria on Tuesday, December 3rd; Rutgers Prep was fortunate enough to be able to send two teachers and eight interested students. JFR is dedicated to acknowledging gratitude to Christian rescuers who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. JFR uses an annual dinner to raise money to support over 650 remaining Christian rescuers in 21 countries, and seeks to preserve the memory and legacy of these brave men and women. Each year JFR invites up to ten New York and New Jersey high schools to be guests at this event, so that the students and teachers have a personal opportunity to connect with those honored by the program. One highlight of the evening is the reunion of a rescuer with those who directly benefited from their compassion and bravery during the Holocaust.
The members of the Rutgers Prep community who were able to attend were touched by the stories shared that night. One student said, “The Jewish Federation for the Righteous event caused me to really change my view of not only the past, but the future as well.” Another attendee wrote, “My experience at the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous was both enriching and humbling. I am proud to be more informed about the struggles during and specifically after the Holocaust that existed for Jewish families. Peter Lefkin was honored at this dinner for – in a nutshell – holding insurance companies to their agreements with their Jewish clients. A man in a suit and tie isn’t exactly the first image that comes to mind when one says the word “hero”, but he worked hard to bring justice to the families affected.”
At this year’s dinner, The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous reunited Czeslaw Polziec, a rescuer from Poland, with Leon Gersten, the Jewish boy he and his family saved. They had not seen each other since 1945. Bearing witness to the reunion of Leon Gersten, a Holocaust survivor, and Czeslaw Polziec, his rescuer, was profound, emotional, and deeply moving for the students, chaperones, and all those in attendance. In his speech, Gersten urged everyone in the room, but especially the high school students, to face hard decisions with courage and strength, and to always do what they know to be morally right. In their discussion on the way back to school after the event, students singled this out as the lesson they are most likely to take away from this powerful evening. We may not all be faced with the kind of life-or-death decisions that Polziec and his family faced, but we can all call upon our strength and courage to do what is morally right in making decisions that are difficult for us.
From Amharic to Yoruba, over 50 different languages are spoken in the homes of the students of Rutgers Prep. Our mathematically-minded Dr. Merges, with a little help from some friends, calculated that of the 7 billion people in the world, someone at Rutgers Prep could speak to over 4 billion of those people!
The Rutgers Prep experience has been described by some of our students and families as a life-changing one. The opportunities that our students have for exploring, discovering, and pursuing their passions are everywhere in evidence, and are heightened by the fact that our students are undertaking this journey alongside such an impressively diverse group of peers.
We are grateful to the families with whom we are partnering, and excited by the exchange of ideas that our inclusive and equitable community supports on a daily basis. Here’s wishing everyone in the Rutgers Prep community a restful and joyous holiday season.