Tuesday, December 22, 2015

YWAA: 2015 in Review

If it's November at YWAA, it's debate time. Yale's team defeated the Princeton duo in Armonk in 2015. (YWAA photos)

Happy holidays! Before bells are rung and songs are sung to ease ourselves out of 2015, let's review the year in a Yale Westchester way:

The year was again filled with events, speakers, days of service, admissions interviews, music, art, history, exploits on athletic fields, alumni engaged in communities, and students impressing elders with astounding levels of achievement.

Community Service

Susan Kaminsky '86, YWAA board member, again led Yale Westchester in the annual Yale Day of Service in May, when alumni, families and friends spent a weekend doing something beneficial in the community.  YWAA sponsored volunteer activities at Ward Pound Ridge in Cross River, William Holmes Elementary School in Mount Vernon, SPCA of Westchester in Briarcliff Manor, the Sustainable Garden Program in Scarsdale, and at Garrison Union Free School in Garrison.

Maggie Favretti '85 again coordinated in Scarsdale, where alumni and friends cleaned the garden at Scarsdale High School.  Regina Possavino '01 returned with her group to tidy up the entrance to the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, New York State's largest park. Kaminsky led volunteers at the SPCA of Westchester.

At the Holmes School in Mount Vernon in a return visit, Kaminsky arranged for alumni and community leaders to speak to students about careers. Speakers offered career advice about public safety, marketing, physical fitness, television production, architecture, law and even animation.

Eager students asked questions, waved their hands to ask more, and added amusing commentary. One made a special request to architect Garrett Omoto '08MArch. to redesign his school with swimming pools and tennis courts. Liz Massie '86, a Discovery Communications executive, recounted her many roles in television.

The year marked the 16th time the Cecil family awarded the "Jandon" college scholarships to Westchester students. The awards, named for Don Cecil '47 and his wife Jane (Jane + Don = "Jandon"), amount to about $10-12,000 per student and are based on academic achievement and financial need. Westchester County administers the program and selects the winners.

Students in Mount Vernon listened to Yale alumni and others talk about careers from architecture to television production. (YWAA photos)
A Capella Singing in Rye and Scarsdale

Ask Yale students and alumni what college boasts the best in a cappella singing, and unless they spent their four years hiding in the darkest corners of the Sterling stacks, they will say Yale--from the Whiffenpoofs to the Spizzwinks (?) and Red, Hot, and Blue.

The latter two groups performed in Westchester during the year.  The Spizzwinks (?) have made Westchester a favorite stopping point on the way to other exotic locales, having performed in at least three concerts in the area the past two years.

Bill Nightingale '53 organized a music event in December in Rye and invited Yale's oldest co-ed group Red, Hot and Blue.

B.K. Munguia '75 and Regina Possavino '01, YWAA board members, invited the Spizzwinks (?) to be the featured performers at a concert in Scarsdale in April. The group sang unique arrangements of "Let It Be" and "Heard It Through the Grapevine."

The Spizzwinks (?) returned to Westchester in December to celebrate Founding Father John Jay's 270th birthday at the Jay Heritage Center in Rye, where Suzanne Clary '83 is president.  Mason Rees '76, a former Spizz singer, joined them for "Blue Skies."

The Spizzwinks (?), like many Yale singing groups, are always coming and going.  They had just returned from South America when they sang in Scarsdale.  They are headed to Boston during Yale's holiday break.
In debate in 2015, Yale and Princeton squared off in Armonk, while Harvard opted to remain at home. (YWAA photos)

Debate in Armonk

Yale and Princeton sparred in the annual Westchester debate competition in November in Armonk. Teams from the two schools braced themselves to handle a challenging topic:

Should freed slaves (in the years after slavery) be awarded land grants from the federal government as reparation?

Yale and Princeton alumni, high-school students and teachers on hand, and parents waited to see how the debate squads would treat the subject.  Yale was asked to argue in favor of such grants and did so adroitly. After giving participants a few minutes of feedback, judges pronounced Yale the winner over Princeton.  Sam Feinburg '18 and Walker Mayer '18 competed for Yale.

The debate competition is funded in part by the Bill Nightingale '53 Fund. Richard Bradley '86 was the evening's emcee. Nightingale himself and Susan Kaminsky '86 helped organize the event. Six high-school teams competed after the Yale-Princeton match-up, debating other topics. A Byram Hills team won the high-school round.

Yale Professor Joanne Freeman amused the Jay Heritage Center audience in December with colorful anecdotes from the 1790's. (Jay Heritage Center photos)

Lectures in Rye

A YWAA tradition invites Yale professors to Westchester to speak on subjects for which they are world experts and share views on topics that cover just about anything taught within Yale's Gothic walls-- history, political science, medicine, music or physics.

In 2015, AYA sponsored two short courses in YWAA's backyard.  Yale professors taught alumni-college classes in Rye. Yale Medical School Professor Meir Kryger lectured on sleep problems in a series of lectures in March and April. Yale School of Music Professor of Opera  Judith Malafronte taught a class on Shakespeare, Verdi, and opera in October and November.

In December, Yale history Professor Joanne Freeman swept her audience back in time to the 1790's and early 1800's and told stories about a new U.S. government jostling to get it right, often resorting to "dirty politics." Early politicians were desperate to establish their reputations and proper places in Congress or in the Executive branch.

Freeman, a guest lecturer at the Jay Heritage Center in Rye, had audience members on seat edges and thrilled them with anecdotes that involved familiar names in American history:  Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, and Madison. The Founding Fathers in the early days, Freeman said, were sometimes "making it up as they went along."

Shakespeare at Boscobel

Bruce Jennings '71, past president of YWAA, kept alive a favorite YWAA summertime activity--the annual Yale outing at Boscobel, featuring updated performances of Shakespeare under the big, white tent and the pre-performance lecture from Yale Professor Murray Biggs. Biggs kicks off the afternoon with helpful explanations of what alumni and their guests are about to see.

Each year, once or twice during the summer, Yale alumni and friends join Jennings to enjoy the expansive, shoreline vista of the Hudson River before congregating for Shakespeare nearby. This year, Biggs lectured on The Winter's Tale before the Yale contingent, along with hundreds of others, saw the evening performance.

Unfortunate for YWAA, Jennings , after years of leading Boscobel and contributing to Yale Westchester in innumerable ways, relocated to Nashville in late 2015 (and assumed a post in bioethics at Vanderbilt). YWAA plans to keep the Boscobel tradition vibrant.

In April, Debra Johns from Yale's admissions office accompanied students to Bronxville for the annual Westchester reception for admitted students. YWAA and ASC Director Bill Primps '71 hosted. (YWAA photos)

Westchester Admissions

Dozens of Yale Westchester alumni are involved in admissions. They speak to students interested in Yale, conduct interviews in all parts of the county, and coax admitted students to choose Yale.

Application numbers at Yale now hover about the 30,000 mark.  About 300 or so are Westchester candidates, most of whom are interviewed under the Alumni Schools Committee program, directed in Westchester by Bill Primps '71.  About 10 percent of Westchester applicants are invited to join the freshman class on Old Campus.

YWAA sponsored its annual admitted-students reception in Bronxville in April.  Debra Johns, a Yale admissions official who oversees Westchester, led a panel discussion with three Yale students to persuade admitted applicants to become members of the Class of '19. The Yale panel explained what makes Yale special. They said that includes "shopping period," two beloved weeks at the beginning of each semester, a Yale practice that has been around as long as anyone can remember.

What makes Yale special included, yes, the residential colleges and students' loyalties to the colleges for which they were randomly selected. And it includes the special projects they do with professors, the summers abroad, playing the tuba in the zany Yale band, and eating farm-to-table cuisine in Berkeley College.

This year's Westchester class included new students from familiar Yale-bound high schools (Scarsdale, New Rochelle, Hackley, Rye, White Plains, e.g.) and some Yale-every-other-year schools (Hastings, Ardsley, Mamoroneck, Kennedy, e.g.).

History and Arts

Four Yale alumni in the arts were honored by ArtsWestchester in April when the local arts group celebrated its 50th anniversary, citing 50 artists who live or work in Westchester.  Each received a $1,000 prize for their contributions and works.

Sidra Bell '01 of Greenburgh was honored for her innovative choreographer in her New York professional dance company.  Derek Bamel '89 was cited for music composition and clarinet performance.  Andrew Young '88MPhil. was noted for his work in film production and photography.  Chester Bicardi '76 '80MMus., a music professor at Sarah Lawrence, was recognized for his music composition.

The Merse-Kunhardt family in Chappaqua has had an unusual, intriguing legacy.  The family, since the late 1800's, accumulated the largest collection anywhere of artifacts and photographs from the Civil War era (over 70,000 items) and the largest collection of original photographs of Abraham Lincoln.

In 2015, the family decided maintaining the collection among family members in multiple storage places in Westchester had become a burden.  Eve Hart Rice '73, aware of  the family's plans to search for a permanent home, arranged for the family to donate the collection to the Yale Art Gallery and Beinecke Museum.

Yale will now house the vast collection, which includes well-known Lincoln photographs, including images used for Lincoln on the five-dollar bill, on the penny or at the Lincoln Memorial.

Alumni Notes

Franklyn Richardson '90MAR has presided over the Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon for 40 years.  The church celebrated his 40th this past spring and his years of service as pastor, not only to the church, but to the broader community.

The church is booming, thriving, and extends its impact into all parts of Westchester. Its membership exceeds 4,000.  Richardson, a past recipient of the Yale Outstanding Service Award, still maintains ties to the Yale Divinity School in recruiting, seminars and coursework.

Eve Hart Rice '73, YWAA board member and 2009 recipient of the Yale Medal, was elected to the Yale Corporation in May.  Rice also helped found YaleWomen, the national shared-interest group, for which she has served as Vice Chair. In Westchester, she previously served as president of the board of education in the Byram Hills (Armonk) school district and is married to YWAA president Tim Mattison '73.

Edgemont native Claudia Rosenthal '08 '14MMus. was selected as a finalist in January in the Metropolitan Opera National Council East Region competition.  Rosenthal studied art history and opera at Yale, was a featured performer at many productions in New Haven, and sang at the inauguration concert for Yale President Peter Salovey '86 Ph.d. in October, 2013.

Yale and AYA lost one of its most dedicated alumni leaders in 2015, when My Luu '96 died of a rare blood disease September 25, just weeks after getting married.  A Westchester resident, she was the current president of the Yale Alumni Association of New York.  She escaped war-ravaged Viet Nam at age 6 and found her way with her family to Texas, where she learned English, grew up to graduate valedictorian in her high-school class and win admission to Yale.

Luu said often she wanted to return favors to Yale, which opened its arms to her a few years after she risked her life fleeing her country on a boat.  She was an IBM executive in Westchester who found time to immerse herself in Yale alumni activity.  She help organized Yale's national Asian-American alumni group, as well.

One of her Yale friends told the New York Times in 2015 that Luu was a non-stop "organizer and connector," who was passionate about meeting Yale alumni and connecting them in various ways.

At The Game 2015, the results were the same. Harvard beat Yale. But there was a first. The late-afternoon television schedule forced the Bowl to install lights--at least for the time being. (YWAA photos)

Westchester Athletes

Westchester is not known to be a hotbed for grooming athletic talent for big-time college sports, but it has begun to send more athletes to play for (and study at) Yale in many sports.  Local preparation, competition and experience in fencing, cross country, lacrosse, basketball, baseball, and soccer have resulted in roster spots at Yale for Westchester students.

Matt Townsend '15 of Chappaqua was Yale's power forward on the men's basketball team that came within seconds of vaulting into the NCAA tournament for the first time in 53 years.  A heart-breaking loss at Dartmouth meant Yale had tied Harvard for the Ivy League championship. With Townsend contributing rebounds and occasional 15-foot shots, Harvard and Yale scratched and struggled in a play-off game in Philadelphia.

Harvard won the game (and went to the tournament). A distraught Yale took solace from this being the most exciting basketball season in ages.  Meanwhile, Townsend, a Rhodes Scholar, graduated, postponed his plans to attend medical school and is studying at Oxford this school term.

As athletics-inclined alumni know, Yale plays its games at Payne Whitney in the John J. Lee, Jr. '58 '59MEng. Amphitheater.  Lee, who lived in Larchmont until his death in 2001, ranks among the best ever in Yale basketball. He led Yale to a tournament berth in 1957, made 21 of 21 free throws in a game, and scored over 40 points against Harvard twice.

In January, 1957, Lee appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  He was that good (20.3 ppg career average) and set a batch of team records, many of which were held until Scarsdale standout Butch Graves '84 arrived and broke them.

At Yale, Lee was known as "Johnny."  After Yale, Lee was "John," best known for his contributions to Yale in ways too numerous to count: Chair of Yale fund-raising campaigns, member of the Yale Corporation, Yale Medal recipient, and even an occasional ASC interviewer in the area.

In lacrosse in 2015, Yale won the Ivy League championship in May on the campus at Brown and with Bronxville's Owen Jones '18 as a member of the squad.

Westchester in 2015 proved a fertile ground for many high-school students venturing to Yale.  James Nicholas '19 of Scarsdale, arguably one of Westchester's best-all-around athletes in football, ice hockey and golf, decided to attend Yale to play football and golf.

Kumar Nambiar '19 of Mamaroneck, a lefty on the mound who was taught pitching mechanics by his mother, will play for Yale baseball this coming spring. Nambiar led Mamaroneck to a state championship, and many coaches and media members considered him the best pitcher in the area, if not state. Tim DeGraw '19, a highly regarded football receiver at Rye, will join Nambiar on the baseball team.

Many thought it would become a new, post-New Year, Harvard-Yale trend in Herald Square--The Game on Ice, Harvard vs. Yale in front of a huge crowd at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.  In January, Yale whipped Harvard in men's ice hockey, 4-1, with 13,000 Yale and Harvard fans screaming at each other as if it were a November game at the Bowl.  Yale, national champion in 2013, had beaten Harvard the year before in the Garden before 15,000.

Was a new tradition born? As soon as a tradition was birthed, it was expunged. Organizers and athletic officials decided not to return to the Garden for a frozen version of Yale-Harvard in January, 2016.

In a new book that chronicles the 100-year history of the Yale Bowl, A Bowl Full of Memories, Westchester's Bill Primps '71 recalls scoring the winning touchdown at the 1969 Harvard-Yale game.  Primps, who had been a star player at Ossining High School, plunged from the two-yard-line for the only score in a 7-0 victory at the Bowl.

In November, Yale teased its large following at the Bowl in football at the 132nd Game against Harvard. Just as students settled into their residential-college sections, Yale scored, the Bulldog crowd shrieked, and the Bowl was abuzz. Could the Elis could snap Harvard's eight-game winning streak?  Harvard quickly seized the Game and won it, 38-19.

This Game was special, nonetheless, because lights were turned in the big blue oval for the first time. The second half glowed and players' helmets glistened. The crowd (what remained of the 51,000-plus) observed this break from tradition wasn't a bad idea, after all.

Ardsley's Fallon Sheridan '19 and Hastings' Sofia Griff '19 grew up playing soccer together in youth leagues.  They were deemed to be so good that, by late high school, they had skipped playing for their respective schools and were assigned to New York development leagues.

Both were recruited and admitted to Yale and were teammates on the women's squad this fall.  Right away, both played and started most games, and made a difference on the turf. (Griff scored 6 goals this fall; Sheridan had 2 assists.) Yale soccer stumbled often this fall (4-10-2 record). The Westchester pair, however, proved they will be team leaders in the seasons to come.

Merrell Clark

Ask Yale alumni in Westchester or alumni around the country about YWAA or Yale Westchester, and many will say Yale Westchester is Merrell Clark '57 '70MAR.  Or Merrell Clark is Yale and Westchester, wrapped in one, dedicated, eager, concerned and involved.

Clark, a past president of YWAA, retired from the YWAA board this fall after decades of service. His contributions and value require pages and lists, and any effort to do so might still omit more pages and lists.

Clark's contributions list would encompass all facets of Yale Westchester, including the arts, community service, fund-raising, music, history, science, scholarships, alumni communications, non-profit organizing, alumni connections in the area and at Yale, and alumni celebrations for those who give back and for those who return to Yale.

The contributions list would include Clark's genuine passion for diversity and inclusion. Everybody should have a seat at the Yale Westchester table, he says. He cared deeply that Yale Westchester opened its arms to women, people of color, recent graduates, graduate-school alumni, and those interested in the sciences, as much as those interested in the arts and humanities.

That list would include Clark's detailed action plans and an abundance of strategies to push Yale in Westchester to greater heights.  It would include his old ideas he knew that worked. It would include fresh, new ideas he thought up over a weekend to spark activity and service at Yale Westchester.

And for those who know him well, it would include bold recommendations and names of Yale people who should meet each other. It would include projects, recognition dinners, and designated-purpose funds, all of which were accomplished, completed, and got set up.

Let's review a few list items. Just a few. "What can and should alumni do for Yale and Westchester?" was his theme.

He kicked off the Yale Outstanding Service awards in Westchester. He reactivated the Westchester scholarship program and hosted scholarship fund-raising dinners that featured notable Yale alumni speakers such as Calvin Trillin '57, David Gergen '63, and George Pataki '67. He helped set up scholarship trusts in the names of alumni donors.

He was a big booster of the Westchester debate competition, organized the Nightingale Fund to ensure its long-term existence, and expanded the Yale Westchester book awards to recipients in over 45 schools.  He led a year-long centennial program to celebrate 100 years of Yale Westchester.

Arts and music are a favorite Clark pastime. He organized music events to permit Yale performers to showcase talents in Westchester and allow Westchester students and alumni to perform for a hometown audience. He aggressively spread the word about Yale talent (opera singers, violinists, dancers and theater performers) who resided in our neighborhoods.

Clark has been Yale Westchester's cheerleader captain for events at Caramoor, Boscobel, a recital at his Scarsdale church or a violin performance in a Greenburgh library.

This list could go on indefinitely and is inconclusive.  This short list omits his presence and influence at Yale alumni events on campus and at Yale gatherings (formal and informal) around the country.

Fortunately Clark is not going away. He's retiring from attending boarding meetings and leading committees. Yet you can bet he'll share more ideas with all involved. He'll come up with meticulously outlined recommendations, appear and sit on the front row at Yale events, and applaud the efforts of alumni who tend to community needs.

And he'll push hard for Yale Westchester to be more inclusive, more active, more service-minded, better, and greater.

As Clark would endorse:  Let the bells that celebrate the holiday and signal a new year ring loudly.

Merrell Clark '57, past president, retired from the YWAA board in 2015, but promises to maintain his front-row seat at Yale Westchester events and share ideas to push Yale to greater heights. (YWAA photos)

YWAA:  2014 in Review
YWAA:  2013 in Review

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