At a certain point, one must accept one’s fate. When the rain clouds gathered in the days leading up to April 28, the first official date of Celebrate Pingry!, the School’s Development Office considered the monumental event before them, and all the work they had put in to make the party into THE PARTY, and the sheer scale of it all—8 food trucks; 600 Jersey Mike’s subs; 100 boxes of pizza; hundreds of pretzels, bags of chips, and cookies; 2,000 beverages; 1,600 glow sticks; 6 facepaint and airbrush tattoo artists; a memorable slideshow; 6 shuttle buses; the 1,151 parking spaces, including overflow parking; the 3,000 guests; one DJ spinning tunes all night; and, of course, 11 minutes of fireworks—and decided a soggy evening under the stars would not do.
The date was pushed back to a second official date to Celebrate Pingry!, June 8, surely a time when the sun would reliably be shining over clear skies in Basking Ridge. The nighttime on June 8 would be under a blanket of stars, but no one would see all those stars with the fireworks bursting and shimmering overhead. It was going to be a magical night, not just because of the trucks and treats, but because of the people. Spread out on campus would be those closely knit 3,000 people—families and children with their faces painted, students having some fun with glow sticks, seniors savoring those last fleeting, magical moments of high school; alums, faculty, staff—people gathered from near and far, to gather together to laugh, to connect, to eat too much from a food truck and run into old friends. To Celebrate Pingry!
And then, as so often happens these days, life had other plans.
An event from seemingly far away made its presence felt. Smoke descended on the Basking Ridge Campus from wildfires in Canada, where they raged out of control, and the stresses of climate change reminded people from far away that none of us are ever really that far away. Throughout the northeast, folks pulled out their masks once again, and squinted at what they were seeing. A foggy haze replaced the notion of a blanket of stars, and, as the day unfolded on June 7, the sky became an apocalyptic orange. There would be no Celebrate Pingry! this year. Mother Nature had made her presence felt, and, with quiet acceptance, and a touch of sadness, the community canceled the party.
And so, when June 8 rolled around—the smoky skies a little clearer, the stench of smoke a little less pronounced—students pulled up to school that morning to the following:
- Row after row of yard signs lining the long Pingry driveway, photos of smiling seniors on each sign, and the students driving slowly past each one, a line of familiar faces that stretched out like their memories of this place they called home, and would soon occupy no longer as seniors but as alumni.
- The Yearbook Dedication to Ms. Shelly Hartz, who dedicated 28 memorable years to Pingry, and, once she quieted down the standing ovation, thanked the community for “allowing me to be me.”
- An Athletics Assembly that saw row after row of extraordinary athletes come up to collect their awards, pose for a photo with the very proud Director of Athletics Carter Abbott, all the while their beaming parents in the seats, and murmurs and laughs and not a little bit of poignant quiet as the montage of stunning athletics photos by Bruce Morrison ’64—this one throwing a javelin, that one launching a ball into the lacrosse net, another making a diving stop across the goalie net, and yet another of a pitcher winding up—played out across the screen.
- Commons areas filled with groups of laughing friends poring over their yearbook, cracking the stiff, pretty Blue Books open and searching for their photos, finding their friends, exclaiming in joy and surprise until they finally settled into quiet contemplation, pens in hand, asking each other, “Would you sign my yearbook?”
- A lunchtime outside, where the already booked food trucks lined up in the back of the school, and lines of students and staff went from one to the other to enjoy pizza and tacos and ice cream—to eat too much and run into old friends, or good friends who would soon become old friends.
- The Middle School closing activities, pivoting from their traditional teacher dunk tank outside, to a teacher gamely jumping into the pool to the delight of raucous students.
- A “Senior Under the Stars” event, moved inside to Hauser, with seniors walking the runway to cheers, foregoing that blanket of stars and sparkling fireworks for bright bursts of camera flashes from the audience.
- A surprise fire drill that saw the school stream outside where many would take one last look at each other, and the school they called home.
- And, as the families, faculty, and staff, the alumni and the coaches, the athletes and artists, bid goodbye, it was left to those seniors to drive away once again, slowly (oh so slowly) down Pingry’s long driveway, past all those yard signs with their friends smiling faces on them, and their own face, too—somehow those pictures, taken only in the fall, seemed so long ago! Weren’t they so much more grown up now?—they drove past the line of faces from the Class of 2023, stretching, as it did, into an endless line of memories, reaching all the way to the end of the driveway and out into the great unknown.
You could have missed it, the way they celebrated Pingry this year, but it was all there, in each moment where they were reminded from the world at large—and from each other—that whether they are near or far, none of us is ever really that far away.
To Celebrate Pingry is to celebrate each other.
Contact: Sara Courtney, Communications Writer