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Newman Prize: Sciortino '15 & Johnson '16

March 6, 2015

During assembly on Friday, March 6, Rosie Sciortino '15 described her recent visit with writer, magazine editor, actress and singer Tavi Gevinson which was arranged for Rosie as the 2013-2014 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 his/her choice. Its namesake is Eric Newman ’28. During assembly Andy Newman ’62 (Eric's son) announced that Madeleine Johnson '16 is the 2014-2015 prize winner.

All juniors are encouraged to submit a brief application, listing the five living Americans with whom they'd like to meet, and to be interviewed by a small panel of alumni, including Andy Newman, Lisa Greenman Kraner '71 and Liberty Vittert '06. (Again this year, Liberty participated in the interviews from Europe via SKYPE.)

Rosie's remarks and Madeleine's choices follow:

Rosie Sciortino

Good Morning.

I would like to begin by expressing my deepest and most sincere gratitude to the Newman Committee and family for selecting me for this award and making it happen. It was truly an honor. Even after having met my person, I’m still in shock that you chose me. I remember sitting in my seat in 7th grade, thinking of how cool this award was, and how there was not even the slightest possibility that it could be me accepting it. I was admittedly a little upset that I could not add J.K. Rowling to my list, as she is not an American citizen, but nevertheless, I began drafting my list that night.

Until the weeks leading up to my meeting, the Newman Prize had been such an abstract, intangible concept to me. Something that was often talked about, but not understood in its fullest sense. It wasn’t until late October that I heard anything about actually meeting my person. Mr. Front came up to me at lunch one day and said, "We got Tavi!"

For those of you who don’t know, Tavi Gevinson is the creator and editor-in-chief of Rookie Magazine, an online magazine for teenage girls. She started Rookie when she was 15 years old, after having a very successful fashion blog (that she started at age 11). She’s currently starring in a broadway show, This is Our Youth, which I had the pleasure to see, and working on many, many projects. And she’s 18 years old, my age. How could someone be so successful at age 18? Like, my biggest accomplishment to date is finishing an entire season Game of Thrones in one day.

As the weeks leading up to our meeting crept by, I learned more and more information about my trip. After receiving her phone number, I had to contact her to set up a time. After doing so, I casually mentioned that we were going to see her show, and she said: “Oh cool! do you want to come backstage after?” OF COURSE I WANT TO COME BACKSTAGE AFTER, THANK YOU FOR ASKING. She then sent me the thumbs up emoji, and the stars emoji. Stars: they’re just like us (in their emoji use).

On the morning of our departure to New York, my mom and I talked about the sixth Harry Potter book, and the potion Felix Felicis, liquid luck. Anyone who knows either of us knows that this is a completely normal topic of conversation, but it took a special meaning during this trip. For one, we somehow got discounted parking at the airport!!! And that was just the beginning. But more on that later.

My luck seemed to be dwindling when I learned that the wifi at the hotel was not free and I could not watch my beloved Gilmore Girls, but it came back once we made dinner reservations. Our dinner was delicious, and even my mother cleaned her plate and asked for dessert (a rare feat.) We made our way to the show, This is Our Youth, and got to see the beautiful lights of New York City in December. The show was incredible, more intimate than I had expected a Broadway show to be (this was my first broadway show, and second visit ever to New York). After the show, my anticipation was rising. What if they won’t let me in? Nevertheless, we walked to the stage door, and I awkwardly told the guard my name, and he let us in. We waited in her dressing room for a few minutes. She finally came in, beaming with excitement. “I’m so happy to finally meet you!” she said, hugging me, “Thank you so much for choosing me as your meeting-person!” I was taken aback by her genuine niceness. We chatted for a bit about the show, my mom asked her a few questions (as I had forbidden her from joining us at lunch) and she signed both our playbills. My mom took a few pictures (which were immediately posted to Facebook) and we left the dressing room. As we walked down the stairs, we saw one of her co-stars, Kieran Culkin. We were debating whether to say anything or not, and one of the guards encouraged us, so we got to meet him, too. To Mr. Front’s dismay, we did not get to meet her other co-star, Michael Cera (Mr. Front told me, “I don’t care about Tavi, but make sure you get an autograph from Michael Cera”), but all in all, I’d say the evening was a success. (Felix Felicis, anyone?)

The next day, we made our way to Lower Manhattan, our lunch spot and final destination for the trip. Tavi texted me saying that she was running late, so my mom was telling anyone who would listen about how we were meeting a celebrity here. She finally arrived, wearing an American Apparel skirt and oversized faux-fur coat. We sat down at our table, leaving my mom at the bar. We talked and ate for almost two hours. I couldn’t pinpoint an exact thing she said or I said, but that was okay. What I liked most about our conversation was that we were speaking as equals, friends almost, not a semi-famous person and one of her fans. She was as excited to talk to me as I was to talk to her. She asked me about Burroughs, about the Newman Prize, about my friends, about music. We talked about feminism, race, activism, privilege, bands we both liked, her magazine Rookie, TV shows and our mutual love of the word “rad.” As we were finishing our food, she said, “I feel like lunch isn’t enough. Do you want to go vintage shopping? There’s a great place down the street from here that I’ve been dying to try.” My obvious answer was “YES!” despite the fact that our flight was in three hours and traffic in New York was a nightmare. Because how can you say no to shopping with a former fashion blogger?! Before I even found out I was meeting Tavi, my friend said to me, “What if she takes you vintage clothes shopping?!” So, evidently, this friend is a psychic.

My mom was a little hesitant to let us go, because we were running low on time, but this was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Granted, so was the rest of this trip, but still. Shopping with Tavi Gevinson. Kind of a big deal for me. I watched, dumbfounded, as she found piles upon piles clothes to try on. Sadly, our time in the store was cut short due to the fact that it was almost 5 pm and our flight departed in two hours. She signed my Rookie Yearbook, a printed compilation of the previous year’s articles, and we hugged good-bye.

Thanks to what one might call the MacGyver of cab drivers, we were able to fight the New York City traffic and get to the airport almost an hour and a half before our flight took off, and I was finally able to watch Gilmore Girls. Thanks, felix felicis!

I would like to thank the Newman Committee once again for selecting me and Mr. Newman for leaving such a wonderful legacy upon this school. This experience was one of the most incredible and rewarding experiences of my life, and I encourage everyone in this room (grades 7-10) to apply for the Newman Prize. Even if you don’t win, the process of thinking of the five people whom you’d most like to meet is incredibly interesting. Don’t, as so many people often do, not apply just because you can’t think of anyone or have a lot of homework or don’t want to sit through an interview. You never know what could happen if you take a little time out of your day to think about who inspires you. I’m sure all of the juniors are at the edge of their seats right now, so I’m gonna go ahead and stop talking. Thank you.

Madeleine Johnson's Choices

  • Jessica Williams, actress, comedian and correspondent on The Daily Show
  • Hayley Atwell, actress, currently starring in Agent Carter
  • Nina Totenberg, legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio
  • Madeline Miller, novelist, The Song of Achilles
  • Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and First Lady of the United States