During assembly on Friday, March 8, Nandini Jain described her visits with Teach for America's Wendy Kopp and PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff, which were arranged for Nandini as the Class of 2019 recipient of the Newman Prize.
Established in 1992 by Mark Vittert ’65, the award annually gives a member of the junior class the opportunity to meet with a famous American of choice. Its namesake is the late Eric Newman ’28, who was a student at JBS on opening day in 1923. Interested juniors submit a brief application, listing the five living Americans with whom they'd like to meet, and are then interviewed by a small panel of alums, including Andy Newman '62 (Eric's son), Lisa Greenman Kraner '71 and Liberty Vittert '06 (Mark Vittert's daughter).
During assembly, Andy Newman announced that Jordon Ryan is the Class of 2020 prize recipient.
Nandini's prepared remarks and Jordon's choices follow.
NANDINI JAIN'S VISITS:
Good morning, Mr. Abbott, faculty, staff and students. Firstly, I would like to thank the Newman Prize Committee for giving me this opportunity to meet individuals who inspire me. I am so excited to be sharing my adventures with all of you, and I hope you are able to take away how important and memorable these experiences were for me. This year, I had the privilege of meeting not one, but two of the people on my list: Ms. Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America and Teach for All, and Ms. Judy Woodruff, host of the PBS NewsHour.
Ms. Kopp’s organizations, Teach for America, founded in 1990, and Teach for All are helping millions of students reach educational standards that will help them thrive. She has won dozens of awards and honorary doctorates, and has published two books.
The Teach for America organization itself finds leaders who commit to expanding educational opportunity, beginning with at least two years teaching in an under-resourced public school. Corps members go beyond traditional expectations to support the academic and personal growth of their students. Prospective teachers go through an application process and are sent to one of 51 regions where a Teach for America school exists. Teach for All follows the same framework, but exists in countries all around the world. I was able to visit the headquarters for these organizations in Manhattan, New York, where all of the “behind the scenes” work occurs.
As soon as I reached the headquarters, I was welcomed by Ms. Hannah Shepard, the Institutional Partnerships Manager at Teach for All and head of fundraising.
Hannah gave me a tour of the building, showing off the large event room for fundraisers and a huge sign filled with signatures of hundreds of teachers with notes supporting the organization.
The halls were lined with conference rooms to foster collaboration, and each room was named after a region where Teach for America existed. For example, there is a room called “St. Louis.”
It was an absolute joy to meet with Ms. Kopp. We started by talking about how her idea came to be in the first place, and for such a fast-paced go-getter, it was ironically from procrastination. At the end of her senior year at Princeton University, Ms. Kopp realized that she was in a rut while writing her thesis. All of her friends, during this period, were being recruited by big corporations to work for two years after college in order to gain leadership skills before they went on to their other careers. Realizing she did not want to follow this path, she started to question the system. She noticed that you get the same or better leadership skills while teaching, and wondered why schools weren’t recruiting graduates to work for two years to gain these same skills.
Thus, Teach for America was born. The plan for the organization was her whole thesis, and though her advisor thought it was simply an “intellectual exercise” rather than a viable idea, Ms. Kopp thought differently. As soon as she graduated, she started fundraising. When I asked her what the biggest challenges are for the organization, she said it was, is, and will always be funding. Some thought she was unrealistic and foolish, but once she had established her cause, things became more smooth.
I asked her about how the organization tries to keep teachers in the field and she said most of them stay on their own. Teach for America has an 85% retention rate, and the remaining 15% of teachers go into professions like business, public policy and law. Interestingly, she said that she wishes more people would go into other professions. She explained that having former teachers in other fields inherently led them to make decisions that helped Teach for America. For example, business people donated money, and those in public policy and law were more likely to tackle education reform. It was amazing to meet Ms. Kopp to learn more about her experiences creating such successful organizations.
When I got back to school after winter break, Ms. Salrin came up to me after assembly with good news. Ms. Judy Woodruff’s team had e-mailed saying that they wanted to meet. Thus, I was able to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet her on February 15th.
From 9 to 10 every evening, my family settles down in the living room to watch the PBS NewsHour. Every night, Ms. Woodruff transports me to different parts of the country and the world as she relays the stories of each day. I admire her for her strength as a female news anchor as well as her knowledge, poise and composure, and was so excited to meet someone who I watch through the screen every day.
The day I met with Ms. Woodruff was the day President Trump declared a national emergency over border security. For this reason, Ms. Woodruff was a little late for lunch because she had to meet with some of her colleagues to discuss what clips of President Trump would be included in the NewsHour that night.
We met at a restaurant called Carlyle, a neighborhood classic right next to the WETA-TV studio. Our conversation started with an explanation of the hectic morning. President Trump’s announcement kept getting pushed back later and later and PBS reporters were waiting at the White House to relay the information to the studio as soon as he spoke.
I asked Ms. Woodruff how her job has changed through the Trump presidency. She pointed out that she has covered presidential elections and terms since Jimmy Carter and explained that this was the first time that she had such a large responsibility to check facts, as she had been this morning. She emphasized that all presidents will embellish facts and bolster their appearance to make the best impact, but it has never been so prevalent as it is now.
While talking about the President’s constant critique of the media, Ms. Woodruff voiced her concerns for the state of media and journalism. She said that journalists big and small love their country, and it is their job to ask the tough questions. Citizens are then forced to decide whether to believe the President, who calls the media fake, or the journalists, whose job it is to relay the truth.
Much of what is covered in the news is negative and I asked her about how she deals with her emotions. She said it is necessary to compartmentalize and not get emotional about everything, even though it is difficult. This also allows her to keep out bias, which is often so overbearing in our normal news feeds. She gets especially excited when covering more positive topics, like interviewing Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay presidential nominee for a major political party, which coincidentally happened right after our lunch.
Through years of working for many news networks before coming to PBS, Ms. Woodruff learned that the best way to be unbiased is to listen. She believes partisan news is not journalism at all; rather, offering centrist news and letting the public decide their opinions leads to more wholesome debate, which is so important in a democracy. At the end of our talk, I asked her if she had a message for our generation. She said that we would have to choose what kind of journalism and government we wanted. With partisan news popularity on the rise, we as a nation have to decide whether we even want unbiased news. We elect officials on both sides that are unrelenting about their beliefs, yet we expect there to be constant compromise. This double standard, she believes, is something that our generation will need to learn to navigate.
After lunch, we drove to the WETA-TV Studio and Ms. Woodruff pointed out the Weenie Beenie, which is a fast food place that has been there for decades where employees can run down to get coffee.
I then met with Enoch Chan, the person who controls all the lights during the broadcasts. We spent an hour with him in the actual studio where the NewsHour and Washington Week broadcasts are filmed as he explained the intricacies of making sure everyone looks natural on set and people are placed in perfect positions so light falls on them in exactly the right place.
Abby, Ms. Woodruff’s assistant, took us on a tour through the building and showed us the many rooms and technology that controlled lights and sounds. I met the producer of the show and some of the staff who run the broadcast room.
My family and I came back to the studio at 5:45 in the evening to watch the live filming of the broadcast. Dozens of clocks and monitors lining the room flashed and whirred as we followed second-by-second schedules outlining each segment. If certain segments went over time, it was up to quick-thinking digital staff to cut other segments. During filming, the studio received news about the deadly Aurora, IL shooting, and incorporated news about this tragic event into the closing moments of the show. I was later told by Ms. Woodruff that it is so unfortunate, but we have reached a time where shootings are graded on a scale for their worthiness to be reported. Even though there are shooting deaths every day, most are not large enough in scope to reach the news. It was in these moments that I saw Ms. Woodruff speaking of news more practically, still handling it with poise, but balancing her emotion with the reality in which we live today. This, to me, was truly incredible.
I still am in awe that I had the opportunity to meet both Ms. Kopp and Ms. Woodruff. Both these women are so strong, hard-working, resilient, and kind, and truly illustrate the meaning of making change to help others in society. I am even more inspired by them after meeting them, and I hope you were able to feel some of that inspiration too.
I would like to thank the Newman Prize Committee for making it all possible, Ms. Salrin and Mrs. Swicord for coordinating the details of these remarkable experiences for me, and my parents for making the effort to travel with me and expose me to so many inspirational people throughout my life.
I would like to conclude by encouraging all of the younger classes to apply for the Newman Prize when they are juniors. It is not only a way to think about people who embody the values that you respect, but gives you the ability to make special memories that I assure you, you will cherish for a lifetime. Thank you.
JORDON RYAN'S CHOICES:
- Mark Cuban, Shark Tank investor, owner of the Mavericks
- Kobe Bryant, professional basketball player (Lakers)
- Stephen Anthony Smith, TV and radio sports journalist
- Joel Osteen, pastor, televangelist, and author
- Michael Jordan, professional basketball player (Bulls, Wizards)