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The Milton Measure

Students Awarded for Literary Excellence

Thirty-Second Annual Persky Awards

by on Friday, May 27th, 2011

On Monday, 23 May 2011, the literature elite of Milton gathered in Cox Library to attend the Persky S. Memorial Awards.  Several students, invited by Mr. Connolly, arrived unaware of why they received an invitation. Haeyeon Cho (Class II) wondered, “Some people told me that they invite juniors to diversify the group, or to posit the future leaders of the major publications at this school.” Yet, her face lit up as she won the award for best fiction piece for her untitled short story. Such expressions of humility and quiet respect were prevalent throughout the evening. Yet, the main theme of the night was visibility, “putting yourself out there,” so that novel ideas can be generated and prosper.

The Persky Awards were created in honor of Lawrence S. Persky, a Milton student who passed away shortly prior to his graduation. His mother, Eleanor helped introduce the award ceremony, promising a “most compelling evening of high energy.” Mr. Bland then opened the ceremony by expounding on his “honor to distribute these honors.” Mr. Bland then handed out the awards for the best selections of Creative Writing, Yearbook, Art, and Journalism.  Winners were determined by unbiased judges: writers Don Johnson, Gregory Mone, Christine Chinlund and Dan Wasserman from the Boston Globe.

Cynthia Needham ’95, the guest speaker for the evening, provided a unique lens to writing and compelled all writers to face their fears and publish.  Needham is now the State Political Editor of the Boston Globe, following numerous rendezvous with other avenues. Beginning with a description of own experiences at Milton, Needham mentioned how a friend told her that Needham would be unable “to recognize both the teachers and the environment.” Thankfully, Cynthia could remember both; Cox Library’s infamous metal floor entrance suggesting, “I need to think of a topic for my term paper!” Needham explained that being a writer was never a logical step. 

While she embarked on many literary adventures throughout her tenure at Milton, she never decided to publish, afraid of “setting herself up for failure.” But, throughout her years at Bowdoin, she decided to give writing a shot and “take in” the works of “Joyce and Coleridge.”  She naturally however, decided to try Law School-“the logical next step”- having a concentration in history. She then took a job in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, tracking down evidence and providing communication to the investigators of the world.
While working in the District Attorney’s Office, Needham continued to pursue her passion for writing by taking classes in journalism, of which a stipulation was publishing in some form. She published her stories in local magazines and newspapers and began to write frequently. She felt as if she was in a perpetual, vicious cycle of discomfort, juggling both, working during the day, writing at lunch, and taking her classes in journalism in the evening.

However, on September 11, 2001, she made a choice. As the twin towers collapsed near by her office, her boss informed her to only take what she could carry. Disregarding her bags from work, she took only her laptop and writing. She then enrolled in Columbia University for Graduate Studies. As a result, she became a full time journalist, interviewing Bloomberg and Howard Zinn.
As she finished her speech, she divulged that the biggest satisfaction for a journalist is the ability to affect change.  She demonstrated the value of the written word, sharing that New York City public schools constructed a new school as a result of her reporting.  Needham offered the audience pertinent advice: She told us to “take up literature, read old books, smell them,” and keep writing.  She inspired everyone to enjoy and love writing and to never be afraid of publishing one’s work.

In response to a question from the audience, Needham expressed her commitment to upholding objective journalism.  She explained that Twitter provides some of the most fascinating and personal news, but that objective news must continue.  She wishes our generation luck in combating the Internet as a form of news and journalism.

After the speech, Michaela Carey (Class II) explained that, as the Chief Art Editor of Magus/Mabus, she felt she was a “stranger amongst a crowd of celebrities.” With such winners, as James Wang (Class II) for “MA Football: Stangs Finish Strong”, Danielle Cahoon (Class III) for Best Work of Art for her, “Art Flowers”, and Charlotte Reed (Class I) as the winner for best poetry for her “Acupuncture”, the night recognized several different forms of writing.

The reception ended with a beautiful assortment of sweets and cheeses in which the finely dressed crowd celebrated their common love for writing, discussed senior projects, and their intellectual capabilities.  All who attended left inspired with a new found respect for writing.


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