Nicole Vanasse '20 leads Big Blue to another impressive showing.
Fittingly, Ms. Sullivan is co-director of the Green Group and Outing Club, and she teaches Pingry’s first Environmental Art class, one of the only K-12 schools in the country to offer such a course. Her task? Attuning students to the wonders of nature, and the ways in which their campus—and all its 200 rural acres of natural materials—can serve as their palette. Last year, Pingry supported her participation in a summer residency in Italy on “best practices” for environmental artists. Not long after, she spearheaded the construction of Pingry’s first outdoor classroom, and worked with other members of the faculty and students to create a multi-purpose campsite in the woods, complete with 5 tent platforms, which can sleep up to 20 people, and a hiking trail, four-tenths of a mile long.
This summer, she will travel with a group of Pingry faculty to Santa Fe for the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN) conference, exploring additional techniques for applying experiential teaching and and learning to the classroom. The conference will also advance her ability—and the school’s overall initiative—to incorporate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) initiatives into the classroom. (She already teaches technology—digital filmmaking, Adobe Design programs, and 3D printing—in many of her arts classes.) This support of professional growth, and the school’s flexibility in allowing for cross-disciplinary collaboration and experimentation with curriculum, fuels her passion as a teacher, and as an artist.
“Pingry is a ‘yes’ school,” she notes. “If you have a good idea that you’re passionate about, you are given the tools you need to realize it.”
He credits his coaches—and his father, who moved to the United States from Haiti when he was 4, and went on to captain his high school baseball team—for instilling in him the importance of a strong work ethic. His junior year, the first year he made the varsity team, he earned All-Conference honors. It also happened to be his strongest year academically. He doesn’t think it was a coincidence. “When something doesn’t work out, you have to work hard to make it work out,” he says.
Miles, who plans to attend Bucknell University, arrived at Pingry in Grade 5, and began playing Big Blue baseball as a seventh grader. Over the years, he has played baseball on many elite travel teams to hone his skills, all to be at his best for Big Blue. His pride at being a Pingry athlete, and his devotion to the team, are readily apparent.
He remembers one moment in particular, his junior year, when the team faced one of the toughest competitors in the state, Morristown Beard, in their annual Headmaster’s Trophy game. It was the best team they would face all season. Early in the first inning, one of their batters hit a single; Miles, ready in left field, caught the ball and threw to first. Out. The team would go on to a dramatic, 6-2 win. After the game, captain Bryce Weisholz ’16 congratulated Miles, telling him he had set the tone from the very beginning.
“The thing that excites me most about playing baseball for Pingry is the camaraderie with my teammates. These are people I might not usually be connected with off the field, but when we’re on the field together, we’re all one team, with one common goal to win and have fun and make each other proud.”
The following year, he landed the role of television-obsessed Mike Teavee in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (“I enjoy video games, so it was a natural part for me,” Ram jokes). Last year, as a sixth grader, he played Francis Flute in Midsummer Night’s Dream, a role that required him to also portray Thisbe, a female, in the play within the play that takes place. “At first I thought, ‘Oh, gosh, do I really have to do this? But everyone was very supportive, and it was really fun.”
Now, a seventh grader, he is transforming himself into The Tempest’s Caliban, “a misunderstood demon child,” as Ram characterizes him. Indeed, every year since his first show in the third grade, he has performed in a Pingry musical or play. Not a bad repertoire for a soon-to-be 13-year-old, whose self-drive and work ethic are evident. “You really have to work for something if you want to get it,” he says.
Ram also sings in the Middle School boys’ chorus and credits his teacher, Pingry’s Music Department Chair, Dr. Andrew Moore, with teaching him a lot—and with allowing him and his fellow choir members to have a good deal of fun. He hopes to become a Buttondown himself when he reaches the Upper School (he will be a freshman when his brother is a senior, making the prospect of performing together exciting).
For now, he is focused on his upcoming performance in The Tempest. What does he love most about acting? “The fact that you can do it with others. I love that you’re on stage with so many other people, combining your talents, and making friends along the way.”
Holly poured herself into an entirely new sport: crew. And she loved it. “To align boats is to equalize the teams on the starting line before a race. To row is to use your quads, back, shoulders, and hands, leaving the ACL untouched, and unscathed. It is one of the few sports that require no lateral movement. Alignment took on a whole new meaning for me,” she said.
With just two years of competitive club rowing under her belt, and with the support of Pingry’s college counseling department, Holly’s Vanderbilt lacrosse ambitions were seemingly effortlessly transferred to UPenn, where she attends the Wharton School (not surprising, given her role as Student Body President her senior year), and, of course, rows for their women’s crew team.
“Decommiting from Vanderbilt and rediscovering a new sport, one she had no prior experience with, is testament to Holly’s internal drive. That she was offered a spot on the Penn team with such limited experience is amazing, but she more than earned it,” said Pingry’s Director of College Counseling, Mr. Tim Lear.
“Reflecting back on my whole experience, I learned that hard work pays off,” said Holly. “I learned that I am capable of anything I put my mind to, no matter how difficult the situation may seem at first. I learned that I could not have survived the entire college application process without Mr. Lear. I would not trade a single day when I was in the leg brace for another, as I ended up exactly where I am supposed to be. And truthfully, I couldn’t be happier.”
And championship mentality is just what Mr. Murdock brought with him in 2007, when he joined the Pingry faculty. That same season he became Head Coach of the Boys’ Varsity Basketball Team (after serving as an Assistant Coach in 2005), and produced a team that reached the quarterfinals of the Somerset County tournament and qualified for the state tournament. Before arriving at Pingry, Mr. Murdock was the Head Coach of the Boys’ Varsity Basketball Team at New Brunswick High School.
He also serves as an Assistant Coach for the Boys’ Varsity Football Team. He teaches history in the Middle School, is a Peer Leadership Advisor, and serves as an Admission Counselor.
A graduate of Providence College with a degree in Social Sciences, Mr. Murdock was a four-year member of the Friars varsity basketball team, where he played at the pinnacle of Division I competition against future NBA stars Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Mike Bibby, and Jason Kidd. In 1994, during his freshman season, he helped his team win the Big East Championship, advancing to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. In subsequent collegiate seasons, he helped them reach the Sweet Sixteen. He was named Big East Player of the Week his sophomore season, and was named to the Athletic Director’s Academic Team in his senior year. (Not surprisingly, Mr. Murdock was also a four-year varsity letter winner at Bridgewater-Raritan High School, earning a McDonald’s All-American Honorable Mention and Central Jersey Player of the Year his senior year. He was named to the New Jersey All-State teams in both his junior and senior years.)
After graduating from Providence, Mr. Murdock fulfilled a lifelong dream of playing professional basketball. Over a period of several years, he played in Columbia (where he was a First-Team All-Star), Poland (where he was second in the league in scoring), China (where he matched up against future NBA All-Star Yao Ming), and Portugal (where he averaged 17 points and seven assists per game). Injury forced him to end his playing career, but he values his basketball experiences for all they taught him.
“Although I have been fortunate to play basketball at a high level, more importantly, I have appreciated the life lessons and relationships that developed by doing something that I loved,” says Mr. Murdock. “Through teaching and coaching, Pingry has provided me a similar opportunity to help students-athletes learn about self-awareness, social responsibility, and quality of character.”
The girl who never before thought of herself as a writer, suddenly did. “I felt the passion that Mrs. Singer had for English and it really inspired me,” she recalls. “She opened my eyes to writing, and now I’m gearing myself towards pursuing journalism. I completely flipped.”
Last summer she participated in the Pioneer Research Program, in which she was selected, along with two international students, to learn poetry through an online exchange with a professor from Washington & Lee University. At the end of it, she wrote a 20-page research paper linking Langston Hughes’s poetry with contemporary issues of racism. It—along with her own piece of poetry inspired from the class—earned her two regional writing awards. Her academic “flip,” it turns out, paid off.
What’s her favorite spot on Pingry’s campus? Mr. Keating’s “hallway desk,” which strategically positions him—front and center—among milling students. Yelena credits Mrs. Singer with opening her eyes to literature and writing, and English teacher Mr. Keating with helping her to find her voice. His hallway desk, and their regular exchanges, exemplify that discovery. “I can always stop by and talk to him, about everything and anything,” she says. “Pingry teachers really take the time to share their passions, and they make it hard not to feel inspired.”
“I’ve been teaching for 40 years and I’ve never seen a Kindergartner tackle a 1,500-piece puzzle,” said Mrs. Previti. “They begged us to let them do puzzles instead of go out for Recess. They were like ants!” (As a point of comparison, she adds, 100- to 200-piece puzzles are more the norm for this age.) Every day after lunch, during activity time, the boys worked, calmly, cooperatively. First they sorted the pieces into containers by color, each student took a color, and they got to work assembling the borders. The brain-bending interior soon followed. At one point, without uttering a word, Colton and Max switched places so they could better access their parts of the puzzle. Pieces were readily exchanged, as needed. Arguments never broke out. When a comrade expressed interest in joining the group, he was quickly absorbed, and made a “puzzlemaster-in-training.”
A longtime puzzler herself, Mrs. Previti related easily to her students’ passion. When her grandson received a holographic puzzle as a gift and found it too challenging, she spent days staying up past midnight to finish it, and surprise him.Each year brings a new crop of Kindergartners with new interests and infatuations. Mrs. Previti won’t soon forget her Puzzlemasters. “It all started with a single puzzle, but it evolved into an enrichment class,” she mused. “It was just an activity, and then it became so much more.”
In the spring of 2015, as a freshman, she finished second in the Tournament of Champions, a highly competitive contest in which the best-of-the-best across the state face off. In the spring of 2016, with her lowest score ever (66), she won the competitive Skyland Conference Championship, defeating a local competitor who had bested her the year before at the same tournament, and with whom she had been in friendly competition since the age of eight. Her freshman and sophomore years she was named to the all-state golf teams. She also happens to play squash, and has been a member of Big Blue’s varsity team since her freshman year.
Outside of Pingry, Ami competes on the American Junior Golf Association's tour, the highest level junior tour for ages 12-18. She also competes in USGA’s Girls’ U.S. Junior Championship series, the largest series of tournaments for girls under 18. But, in the eyes of this 16-year-old, success outside of Pingry doesn’t diminish the importance of being a part of her school team.
In 20 years, when she looks back on her athletics career at Pingry, what will she say about it? “They were some of my best years ever,” she answers, without hesitation. “Being part of a community that values athletics and academics, where you get to be a student and a team member, what could be better?”