Notes from the Under-class
September 25th, 2002
Stuyvesant can be overwhelming. The students here tend to lose their identities in the course of the long school year. Leisure is a forgotten word, and the only smiles on faces are those plotted on with coordinates.
I’m sure you’re wondering, as I was, what to do to prepare against sophomore year depression.
One method for remaining calm in tight spots is to “Know Thy Past.” If thou dost, thou shalt Control Thy Future. We learned it in history, so I thought it was worth a try. Seeing research as a potentially useful experience, I decided to look into that bygone era of old Stuyvesant.
As it happens, my grandfather Joseph Kalish attended Stuyvesant from 1937 to 1940. He was very enthusiastic when I asked about his experience. He lent me his yearbook and gave me a long interview. The yearbook, even then called The Indicator, contained clippings from a sixty-year-old Spectator. Seeing this, I instantly began to feel connected with my educational roots.
“The kids at Stuyvesant were the greatest,” my grandfather began. “They were the most fabulous graduating class that ever happened!” He was referring to the imagination and brilliance of his fellow 1940’s students. They were aspiring rocket engineers at a time when engineering was discouraged as a “closed field” and rockets more fiction than fact.
He remembers a host of fabulous teachers as well; some had even written the textbooks they used. One teacher, he recalled, told his class of nervous freshmen that the stains on the ceiling of the chemistry lab were the remains of students who had blown themselves up.
“What was it like to go to school without girls?” I asked. My grandfather furrowed his brow in thought. “Going to school without girls is like going to work,” he decided. I asked what students wore each day. “Nice clothes,” said my grandfather. “A tie, usually . . . what else? Nobody came in like now, with floppy stuff on.”
My grandfather clearly loved Stuyvesant, despite a crumbling building, long commute from the Bronx, and (he admitted) a below average football team. He attributed much of his success later in life to his prestigious high school.
After this guided tour down memory lane, full of locker room stories and eerie resemblances to the present, I returned to school with a greater sense of what attending Stuyvesant means. We have a school with a history here. Nearly one hundred years old, it has played host to tens of thousands of students. All struggled with the same problems we’ll face this year, and overcame them to become the mad scientists and poets we see in the papers today.
My inner turmoil is mostly soothed. I now see I am not a single entity drifting on a sea of stressing. I am part of a rich tradition of excellence and manic genius that students have loved and hated for years—and will go on loving and hating, ad nauseam.
– Sarah Outhwaite