Retiring after 13 years on the Pingry faculty, Mr. Pearlstein is honored by the Class of 2020.
On my last Rufus Gunther Day, otherwise known as Community and Civic Engagement Day, I woke up after about two hours of sleep with a pounding headache, voice so hoarse I couldn't speak. After spiking a fever Monday night and lying in bed for what was essentially three days straight, it would be my second day of school that week. All the same, I couldn't wait to get to school.
Rufus Gunther Day—the last Friday of October—is always one of my favorite days of the year. There's something incredibly special about us all sitting down in Hauser, listening for our group assignments. Maybe it's knowing I'm going to listen to Ms. Hartz, our Director of Community & Civic Engagement, play Man in the Mirror for the 100th time, or maybe it's knowing that all of my peers and I are dedicating the day to the service of others, but I always have a certain quiet excitement about me on those mornings.
Rufus Gunther Day to me has always been going somewhere and doing something great. From clearing gardens to building bicycles, it was going somewhere unique to try to do something I otherwise wouldn't be able to or wouldn't have the opportunity to do. This year, however, I was confronted with how accessible helping others really is.
This October, with the help of Pingry's Technology Specialist Mr. Frantz, I helped assemble 3D-printed prosthetic hands for the e-NABLE Project. While I first got involved as a member of STC, I was elated to also be able to invite some of my teammates on the Robotics Team—where we design and build systems with components that mirror some of aspects of the prosthetic hands—to join us in the assembly that day. Rather than an organization, the Enable Project is a global community dedicated to creating basic, low-cost, 3D-printed prosthetic hands for anyone who may need one. Individuals are given access to the necessary files and instructions to make the hands through the Enable Project website, but all physical production, assembly, and distribution of the hands are done independently. We were partnering with Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, a K-8 school that already had experience working with the hands and getting them to those in need.
The entire structure of the hands was 3D-printed. A few screws and some string allowed the fingers to open and close with the flex of the wrist. I was struck by how simple it all was. Anyone with a 3D printer can make a hand. Some of the hands were printed by Princeton Academy middle schoolers in their own homes, others at school with Pingry's own 3D printers. The hands are given out completely free of charge all over the world, and are intended to help those in need with simple daily tasks; typically, any task that benefits from having two grips rather than just one. The Enable Project lists tasks like holding a baseball bat or playing on a swing set as examples, daily parts of my childhood that I never thought twice about and always took for granted.
Some parts of the assembly were frustrating. Because of the nature of 3D printing, some pieces of the prosthetic hand were lopsided, or a little too big, or otherwise didn't fit together quite right. A few pieces had to be reprinted from scratch, but most of us were simply equipped with a few files and told to do our best. Each part of the hand was connected through small, 3D-printed pins that locked into place with rectangular heads; these pins had to fit snugly into position to keep the hand from falling apart, but all the same, they had to actually fit. Constantly sanding and testing and sanding and testing made the process slow-going, but when I thought about how frustrating something as simple as not being able to open a water bottle with both hands might be, it was nothing.
My favorite part of Rufus Gunther Day might be the sense of accomplishment it gives. As high schoolers, most everything we do is related to working towards our future. Finish Algebra to take Geometry. Place in Districts to play in States. Graduate high school to go to college. Life is always changing, always moving; that's what makes it interesting. At the same time, it is hard to find sources of validation or completion when nothing is ever really complete. Rufus Gunther Day gives us the opportunity to put aside our constant race for success and consider what we do it all for. When I finished assembling a hand, I noted how proud I was to have real, tangible proof of how I can use my skills from robotics, my focus as a student, and even just my compassion as a person to improve someone else's life. It reminds me that, in the end, everything and everyone is connected. We are nothing if not a community. No one can exist in the void. Rufus Gunther Day represents what I hope everyone in the Pingry community can stand for: helping others. It is the integrity and the spirit that I hope to live by every day. It reminds us that we are part of something bigger, that we as individuals have the power to change the world, one prosthetic hand, one garden plot, one bicycle at a time. And, of course, it reminds us to have some fun while doing it.
Photos: Jamie Wang '20 at work designing prosthetic hands during Pingry's annual Community and Civic Engagement Day; the finished products (below).
Contact: Andrea Dawson, Senior Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org