I had just four words of advice to give to the award winning graduates of the West Windsor-Plainsboro high schools this year, and they were not “it’s a small world.”
Maybe they should have been. It was a small world indeed last week as photographer Craig Terry and I made our way over to the first of the award ceremonies at high schools North and South. Enroute we hop scotched through downtown Princeton, grabbing some serendipitous photos of outdoor diners for a feature story coming up in our July 4 issue.
First stop: Witherspoon Grill on the plaza at the Princeton Public Library, where we photographed a family from Texas, in town to celebrate the graduation of son from Princeton. What department, I asked. Economics, they replied. Amazing, I said. I had just read an account of Glen Weyl, an economics major who was valedictorian of the class that graduated earlier that day. He earned Princeton’s top undergraduate honors while simultaneously working on his Ph.D. He will return to Princeton in the fall to finish it up.
So this family’s son had to be a second banana in the econ department this year. What’s next for him, I asked. London School of Economics, they replied. Not bad.
Before we put away our notebook and camera a familiar voice called out. Lanny Jones, former managing editor of People magazine, and his wife, Sarah, were also eating at the grill. They were glad to see me doing some reporting for a change.
Next stop: Blue Point Grill on Nassau Street. Terry’s camera caught the sidewalk scene with a pair of women in the foreground. I introduced myself to get the names. The first lady introduced herself as being from Rumson. But her companion, she said, was a celebrity, an Olympic gold medal winner. I beat her to the punch line. It was obviously Lesley Bush, the gold medal winner in diving at the 1964 Olympics, who now teaches in the West Windsor-Plainsboro School District.
From Blue Point we skipped down to the Ivy Garden. The diners all turned out to have familiar names: Lois Young, retired from the Newgrange School, attorneys Julia Bowers Coales and Albert Barclay, and Princeton Borough councilman David Goldfarb. A small world indeed.
From there we were off to WW-P High School North for the first of two awards ceremonies. The other would be the next night at High School South. I had to help Terry photograph all of the award winners and I also had to offer a few words of greeting on behalf of the West Windsor-Plainsboro News, our sister publication, which annually bestows a scholarship to one student at each school.
I’ve been doing this for about five years now and it seems to get tougher each year. What do you tell a group of students who are among the most motivated and highest achieving students in the entire state?
Some years I have ignored the students and spoken to the parents, an easier audience if not a smarter audience. Other years I have stooped to the lowest common denominator, sports, by comparing the outcomes of the North-South crosstown rivalries. But this year I came up with just four words.
They were not “it’s a small world,” but they could have been. At High School South this year one name kept getting called over and over again: The AXA Achievement Community Scholarship, the United Moms’ Charity Association Award, the Central Jersey Chinese American Association scholarship — seven separate awards in all, plus another call to the stage as one of the top 20 high honor graduates.
That was Michael Perl, and that name rang a bell. Was it his childhood role as Tiny Tim in McCarter’s “Christmas Carol?” His Eagle Scout rank at age 15. His term as president of the High School South marching band? Or his participation as the coxswain on the Mercer Junior Rowing Club’s heavyweight crew that was heading off to compete in the nationals in Cincinnati, Ohio, this past weekend? (Perl will head over to Princeton University in the fall, where his older sister, Stephanie, is already a student, and expects to try out for the cox position on the lightweight crew.)
But all those illustrious credentials notwithstanding, the Michael Perl I recall is the 11 or 12-year-old who used to show up on Friday mornings during the summer at the West Windsor-Plainsboro News, to help us fold and stuff 12,000 papers into clear plastic bags. Given that connection I figured I didn’t have to tell him or any of his classmates that it’s a small world.
So I stuck with my original four words of advice. Aware that the greatest cause of death among kids in the Class of 2007 will probably be from motor vehicle accidents, and given that the greatest killer among my people in my age range is coronary heart disease (and the first thing the doctors ask when it’s detected is whether or not you smoke), I offered these words to the Class of 2007 to stay safe in a small world:
Drive safely. Don’t smoke.