Notes From the Under-class
May 15th, 2002
The first time I saw Stuyvesant was during my sister's open house. The school was immaculate, well-lit and, to the na•ve eyes of a sixth grader, cavernous: a grand departure from the bleak, labyrinthine confines of my middle school. I was enchanted then, and three years later, when I attended my own open house, that allure was just as strong.
But now, having spent nearly two years at the school, the honeymoon is over and cracks have begun to form in my impression of Stuyvesant's perfection.
It is a gradual progression that many Stuy students go through; the transition from a blind faith in the school to a more embittered state. This change in perspective does not necessarily concern the quality of the academics at our school. Rather, it usually results from highly individualized, frivolous and largely irrelevant gripes.
My personal journey to disillusionment began with an innocuous stroll down to Terry's Gourmet. On my way back to school, bagel in tow, I caught sight of Stuyvesant's crest for the first time. Nestled among the walls of the main entrance, it sat opposite the Board of Education logo, taunting me with its perplexing symbols.
The crest depicts a headless eagle, flanked by a Native American and what I assume to be a sailor. I approached, cautiously at first, but with growing speed as my outrage swelled. The eagle, which was in fact not headless by design, had been cruelly decapitated by some impetuous vandal! The first blow to perfection had been dealt.
The second blow followed quickly thereafter. After the odious mystery of the eagle had been solved via my expert sleuthing, my mind wandered to its companions. What is it in Stuyvesant High School that could possibly be represented by either a Native American or a sailor?
Perhaps the sailor is there to immortalize the proud, Dutch seafaring tradition that brought Peter Stuyvesant to our city while the Native American reminds us of the wiliness of the Dutch traders whose crafty negotiations earned them Manhattan Island for the pittance of 24 dollars in beads.
Even if that were the case, I still couldn't find the relation to our school.
Distraught and more than a little bewildered by the torrent of irrelevance my analysis had precipitated, I began a frantic search for meaning. Unfortunately, this search brought me to Peter Stuyvesant's portrait on the second floor. By far the most inappropriate icon Stuyvesant High School can boast of, this painting is the definitive rendering of our school's namesake.
Decked out in full-plate armor, sword in one hand and walking stick in the other, Pete is ready for battle. Yet Stuyvesant was more than a soldier; his white cape, suggestive of a Roman senator's toga, and dignified collar hint at his governing responsibilities.
At this point, my glaring ignorance of the life and times of Peter Stuyvesant had become burdensome. Through some clever navigation of stuy.edu, I found the answers I sought. As I read through the summary of Stuyvesant's life, my bemusement peaked. Phrases such as, "despotic methods" and "Stuyvesant never ceased to dominate the government" seemed especially distressing.
After some additional searching, I discovered Stuyvesant High School was founded as a "manual trade school for boys." Why our manual trade school was named after a despotic Dutchman was beyond my meager comprehension.
By the end of the day, despite all the befuddlement, I felt I'd learned an important, fundamental lesson. Never mull over headless eagles.