Category Archives: Staples HS

Ken Burns’ Vietnam: The Westport Connections

Ken Burns’ epic, 10-part PBS series “The Vietnam War” shines a spotlight on one of the most consequential, divisive and controversial events in American history.

Like all of Burns’ masterful works it combines visual images, music and 1st-person accounts, plus the insights of experts with a wide array of perspectives.

One of those contributors has Westport roots.

Marc Selverstone

Marc Selverstone adds his wisdom, as chair of the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. The project produces scholarly transcripts of secret White House tapes, from Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Nixon.

The 1980 Staples High School graduate — who earned a master’s in international affairs from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in history from Ohio University — also serves as an associate professor at UVa.

His contribution began 6 years ago, with a call from co-producer Sarah Botstein. Selverstone sorted through “countless” Vietnam-related transcripts, and forwarded them on. It was an arduous — but crucial — process.

The next phase of collaboration began in the fall of 2015. Selverstone and Ken Hughes — the Miller Center’s Nixon expert — spent 4 days watching the entire series at WNET in New York, with Burns and the full Florentine Films team.

Also in attendance were key figures who appear in the film: Tim O’Brien, Les Gelb, Hal Kushner and many more.

“To hear their stories on film, then speak to them — because they’re sitting right next to you — was a profound and immersive experience,” Selverstone says. “It offered access to the war, and its era, that’s hard to come by.”

Born in 1962, he remembers the assassinations 6 years later of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. He recalls too the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium protest — he was there with his father, then-Staples guidance counselor Bob Selverstone — but as an adult he’s studied Vietnam as a scholar.

“I did not have a lot of contact with people who shared so much of themselves, and the way they’d been affected by the war,” he notes.

Though the film was nearly finished, Selverstone offered feedback. He was impressed that Burns’ team was “really concerned about getting it ‘right.'”

Selverstone then worked closely with co-producer Lynn Novick on post-production, and on an Atlantic story she and Burns published last week called “How Americans Lost Faith in the Presidency.”

Now, Selverstone is writing a chapter on President Kennedy, for the upcoming “Cambridge History of the Vietnam War.” He met with Burns, Novick and the 15 other scholars involved in that book, prior to a public presentation for 1,000 people at Dartmouth College.

Selverstone has been involved in a few recent events surrounding the film too. Last week he was at the Kennedy Center with John McCain, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel.

He’ll be at a special screening of the final episode in Washington on September 28. The next day he’s a panelist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In November he’ll join Novick for a Q-and-A at the Virginia Film Festival.

Meanwhile, Selverstone is busy building the Miller Center’s pages to provide more content to visitors to the PBS “Vietnam” website.

Selverstone is glad for the buzz around the film. “I hope it provides an opportunity for the country to think about its past, about those who suffered and sacrificed, and about us as a collective,” he says.

“Ken talks about how frequently we focus on the ‘pluribus’ at the expense of the ‘unum.’ If these 2 weeks and their extension into the fall allow us to take comfort through a moment of national uplift — to watch this film together, as a people, and celebrate those who endured — then it might have a tonic effect on a country sorely in need of one.”

Burns’ film has another Westport connection. Christian Appy — who graduated from Staples 8 years before Selverstone, and is now a University of Massachusetts history professor and Vietnam expert — is writing 7 articles about the film for the Organization of American Historians.

Christian Appy, and his book.

Appy — the author of “American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity” — says that Burns’ film will reach more people than any book ever written about the war. It could rival audiences for films like “Apocalypse Now” and “Platoon.”

Thus, Appy says, it is critical that “history teachers of all kinds — not just Vietnam War specialists — give this documentary serious attention.”

Of course, he and Marc Selverstone already have.

Fashion Show Stomps Out Bullying

In elementary school, Emerson Kobak was the target of bullies.

“I was really short. I wore glasses. People just weren’t nice,” Emerson recalls.

The result, she says, was that “for so long I didn’t feel like I had a voice. I was always nervous about speaking. I worried that whatever I said was wrong.”

Emerson Kobak, in elementary school.

Middle school — with its intense social pressure — was even worse.

Looking back, she says, if she saw someone sitting alone during lunch, she’d go over and join them.

“One act of kindness can change a whole life,” she says.

When Emerson entered Staples 3 years ago, she looked around for kindred spirits. She founded the Fashion For a Cause Club with like-minded designers. On weekends she studied drawing and sewing at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

As a sophomore, Emerson joined Kool To Be Kind. Last year she discovered the Anti-Defamation League. Emerson co-wrote the introduction to a schoolwide “Truth About Hate” assembly, then spoke at it. She also addressed Staples’ school climate assembly.

The girl who was once afraid to speak up had found her voice.

That voice — and Emerson’s drive to fight bullying — has found an important outlet, thanks to her passion for fashion. Her 2nd annual “Fashion For a Cause” show is set for this Sunday (September 24, 5 p.m., Toquet Hall).

Emerson Kobak, before the junior prom. She made her dress herself.

Emerson will show one collection. Fellow senior Alessandra Nagar will show another. Students will model all outfits — all of which were created by club members. There’s also live music by a Staples band, and food from local restaurants.

Proceeds benefit Stomp Out Bullying, a national non-profit.

This is Emerson’s 2nd “Fashion for a Cause.” Last year’s event raised over $8,000 for Dress for Success.

Bully for Emerson Kobak!

(For tickets to “Fashion for a Cause,” and more information, click here.)

Designers at last year’s “Fashion for a Cause” show.

Players Learn From A Real-Life Newsie

Most high school theater groups prepare for a show by listening to the cast album. They watch a video. The director adds whatever insights he or she can.

Staples Players is not most high school theater groups.

For one thing, this fall’s main stage production is “Newsies.” Players scored a coup last spring, when Disney asked directors David Roth and Kerry Long to pilot the production. They’ll provide executives with feedback. A year from now, other amateur companies across the nation can produce the show too.

For another thing, Players’ cast and crew learned about “Newsies” from an actual newsboy.

Actual, as in one who was on Broadway.

Adam Kaplan — the former Players star who graduated in 2008 — played a newsboy (and Morris Delancey) in the New York production. He also understudied for lead Jack Kelly.

Last week, Kaplan returned to the Staples auditorium. He shared stories about his time with “Newsies,” including how he got the role and how he trained for it.

Adam Kaplan (center) with Nick Rossi and Charlie Zuckerman. The Staples students are double cast as Jack Kelly –the role Kaplan understudied on Broadway. (Photo/Kerry Long)

He also offered advice on how the young actors can take care of themselves, while doing such a physical show.

The students seemed awed when Kaplan walked in. But they quickly responded to his enthusiasm and charisma.

They loved when he joined them in “Zip, Zap Zup” — a popular theater game he played, when he was at Staples.

And when he himself dreamed about making it to Broadway.

The cast and crew of Staples Players’ “Newsies”pose with Adam Kaplan. (Photo/Kerry Long)

(Click here to join Staples Players’ email list, for ticket information on upcoming shows.)

Michael Moritz: Young Westporters Must Be Active World Citizens

Michael Moritz is a 2014 graduate of Staples High School. Now a senior at Ithaca College, he’s a member of its Futures Club. Many Westporters will automatically assume that means money and markets.

Nope. Ithaca’s Futures Club members are social activists who focus on the ideals of empathy, perspective-taking, and mindfulness. Members believe young people have the power to challenge and change the future.

This turbulent summer, Michael reflected on his home town, his college community, and the broader, outside-the-bubble world. He writes:

Growing up here, Staples High School put me and my peers in a position that we never second guessed. It is not until we reach out of our Westport world that we see human life through a new lens.

That is when we notice serious differences in the quality of life across our country. Most families in Westport can afford health care. Yet our new health care system proposed leaving more than 20 million Americans without basic health care plans.

In Westport we have the choice of Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market or nice restaurants on the river. Yet food deserts exist all over our country — places where fresh food and groceries cannot be found.

Some local supermarkets’ food looks too good to eat. Not far from Westport are food deserts.

Staples High School is amazing. But most American public education is not like ours. We should acknowledge American society is wrestling with these institutional imbalances, along with racism, hatred, violent acts and climate destruction — among many other deep-rooted issues we are working through.

I love Westport. Peace and beauty are two words that help me describe my home place.

I acknowledge it represents a very small part of American life. It may hurt to have this conversation, and we might be tempted to turn away from it. But we are privileged — at the expense of most people of our country, who can’t have what we have.

At Staples High School, we did not talk about this elephant in the room. Our facilities are extremely nice. But what about in inner city Bridgeport? And do we care?

Staples does not look like many high schools.

I see 2 divides. One is economic. The other is racial. But they work together to create a violent monster of America that privileges a very small percentage of citizens, and leaves the rest in the dust.

The median income for white people in our country is $60,250; for black people it is $35,400. The same study found that 26% of black people live in poverty. The percentage for whites is 10%. In other categories — including household wealth, home ownership and unemployment — whites are also favored.

Then there is human-induced climate destruction to our planet. If we continue using fossil fuels as we do now, all major cities in our country that are anywhere close to water will be under water by 2050. The world is dying way, way faster than any climate change model ever predicted.

Are solar panels just too expensive? As it turns out, we now see a potential plan for panels to be installed at the high school.

Michael Moritz

If you are struck by this, know that parents and students of Westport can — and in some ways are expected to — change our country, so that all people of all skin colors are included and valued in the quality of life that we enjoy in our privileged bubble.

The way we do that is by being socially active. That is the route through which we can bring justice, equality and inclusion to all parts of our country.

Where does this leave us kids from Westport? Right in the middle of it. Those in the most privileged situations have an amazing amount of influence over how our world will look in the coming years. I’m talking about myself, my friends and you or your children in the Westport public schools.

Here’s what you can do, as a young citizen of Westport and the world: Practice and live empathy, perspective taking and mindfulness. Spend less time on your phone.

The next step: Decide to have a gentle inquiry on what your school and town is doing to make the world a better place. That means asking your school. Call Town Hall. Talk to people until you get to the person you can talk to about whatever issue may be on your mind.

Whether it is “what is Westport doing to cut carbon emissions and become more renewable and sustainable?” or any other issue: Ask. Keep asking.

I will do my part, alongside you.

Skip Lane: From Scab To ESPN Star

Two games into the 1987 NFL season, the Players Association struck. The issue was free agency.

To break the union, team owners hired replacements. For 3 weeks, they played.

One of those substitute athletes — derisively called “scabs” — was Skip Lane.

He was well known in Westport. Lane was a 1979 graduate of Staples High School — where he starred at quarterback for his father, legendary coach Paul Lane — and then at the University of Mississippi.

Yet with only 5 Canadian Football League games behind him – and brief stints with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, after college — he was unknown to much of the football-loving American public.

In 1987 Lane was out of the game, working in commercial real estate in Fairfield County — a job he still holds.

But he excelled as a safety with the replacement Washington Redskins. They went 3-0 during the strike, culminating with a Monday Night Football win over a Dallas Cowboys team filled with veterans who had crossed the picket line.

Some fans wanted familiar players back.

When the 3-game strike was over, the Redskins released Lane. They went on to win the Super Bowl — but neither Lane nor his fellow replacements received a championship ring.

That story is part of an ESPN “30 For 30” documentary that aired Tuesday night. “Year of the Scab” explores the lives of the 1500 replacement players. They were “caught in the crosshairs of media fueled controversy between owners, players and fans alike,” the network says.

Lane is featured frequently in the video. He mentions his “buddies from Westport” who attended the game against the Giants. There were only 9,000 fans that day.

When the documentary premiered at a DC film festival in June, the Washington Post revisited that strange, controversial season.

Skip Lane today.

“I Always Hated Being Called a Scab” got its headline from a quote by Lane.

“I was just trying to get one more year, show people what I could do and even join the union,” he told the paper.

“Over the years, I’ve had no contact with the Redskins. Absolutely nothing.”

But, he says in the film, he has no regrets about playing.

Being a scab was “the easiest decision of my life.”

(Hat tips: Carl Swanson and Fred Cantor. Click here for the full Washington Post story. Click below for the full video.)

The Girl Bands Of Westport

I’m not sure how I missed this story. Maybe I was listening to music, instead of reading.

But last week the New York Times featured 25 female bands “making some of the most acclaimed, urgent, politically relevant music around.”

Three of them — fully 12% — include Staples High School grads.

Charly Bliss is an all-Staples group. Three are guys — Sam Hendricks, Spencer Fox and Dan Shure — but the Times singles out lead singer Eva Hendricks.

Her “gooey croon tops ’90s-style power-pop songs that slide from major to minor, sweet to sour,” the paper says. Click here to listen.

Palehound features Ellen Kemper. The singer-songwriter “builds songs out of everyday details, with music that can whisper or roar,” writes the Times. Click here to listen.

The quartet Mannequin Pussy, meanwhile — with Marisa Dabice — “captures all flavors of emotional torment in short bursts that range from ferociously thrashy to delicately melodic.” Click here to listen.

(Photos/New York Times)

And you thought the fact that the Doors, Cream and Sly & the Family Stone played at Staples was cool!

(Hat tip: Katherine Ross)

Fran Taylor’s Bourbon Silver

Fran Taylor is a 1971 Staples High School graduate. She returned to her native Kentucky, and spent decades in the horse racing industry. Now she’s embarked on a new career. Here’s her story:

My family moved to Westport from western Kentucky just 2 weeks before I started kindergarten at Green’s Farms Elementary.

I was the youngest of 4. My father chose Westport because he wanted his kids to get the best education possible. In 1958, Fairfield County was ranked #1 in the country. My family was very Southern. In those early years I was mocked unmercifully in the classroom for my thick Kentucky accent.

Fran Taylor

By the time I graduated from Staples, the accent had been tamed — and my parents mocked my “Connecticut Yankee” accent! We moved back down south the week I graduated from Staples. The southern accent has gradually reclaimed me.

But this is a brief story about bourbon. It’s timely, because September is Bourbon Heritage Month. My 2-year-old company, Lexington Silver, is Kentucky-based. But the products are all made in New England — mostly in Connecticut.

We manufacture a variety of bourbon-themed products, based on the timeless designs of silversmiths from bygone eras. Bourbon — the amber elixir originated and perfected in Kentucky — is now celebrated around the world.

We started with the resurrection of one of Kentucky most noted silversmiths. Asa Blanchard’s designs were made in downtown Lexington from 1806-1838.

As I researched and learned more about Asa Blanchard, I was hooked. Known as “the Paul Revere of the South,” his original designs made from coin silver are highly sought after by serious silver collectors.

Mirror-finished pewter Asa Blanchard barrel beakers (3″ originals), on a vintage tray.

The barrel beaker was an instant classic. It is shaped like the barrels in which Kentucky’s favorite distilled spirits were aged.

These fist-sized coin silver barrel beakers and julep cups were the perfect complement to the bourbon that flowed freely, as the first Kentuckians established a culture built on hospitality and horses. Early settlers rode to Blanchard’s shop from their farms on the edge of the wilderness, carrying bags of coins ready to be transformed into fine beakers, cups and tea services.

Despite my Westport upbringing, I am a Kentuckian. Back in the 1950s, my grandfather had a shot of whiskey every morning before his feet hit the ground. He then stood at the bathroom sink in a long white nightshirt, honing his straight razor on one of two long leather strops, and shaved without a nick, cut or curse word.

He lived to be 91. He was a kind and happy man. I think the eye-opening drink of bourbon had something to do with it.

Fran Taylor would love to find a Westport outlet or two for her silver designs. To learn more — or to buy directly — click here.)

A 4″ slim barrel beaker does double duty as a koozie — and is engraved very handsomely.

Jacob Meisel, Hurricane Irma And Bloomberg News

When Bloomberg wants accurate information they go to the best.

For the latest info on Hurricane Irma, that means Jacob Meisel.

The 2013 Staples High School grad — now chief meteorologist at Bespoke Investment Group — combined technical talk with layman’s terms, for this morning’s national audience.

He says Irma has “the perfect conditions to maintain incredible intensity.”

For the full video, click here.

(Hat tip: Jim Goodrich)

Unsung Hero #14

As a new school year begins, it’s appropriate that this week’s Unsung Hero is a former teacher.

Generations of Staples High School students revered Gerry Kuroghlian. For nearly 40 years, “Dr. K” — his doctorate was from the University of Illinois, with an undergrad degree from the University of Virginia — taught Westport teenagers how to write, how to think, and how to act.

Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian

His challenging classes like “Myth and Bible” were as demanding as college-level courses. But he never forgot that he was working with still-unformed boys and girls. His greatest delight came from helping mold them into active, concerned citizens of the world.

Kuroghlian was totally invested in the life of Staples. If there was a play, concert or athletic event, he was there.

He never missed an Eagle Scout ceremony, celebratory dinner or parent’s funeral either.

When Kuroghlian retired in 2008, some people wondered how he’d fill his days.

They needn’t have worried.

Kuroghlian quickly became one of Mercy Learning Center‘s most active volunteers.

He taught ESL at the heralded Bridgeport women’s literacy and life-skills center. His new students — women from Mexico, Bangladesh and all points in between — loved him.

He returned the admiration.

“These are heroic people,” Kuroghlian says admiringly. “They’re moms, housekeepers, breadwinners — they do it all. They’ve got multi-tasking down to a science.

Kuroghlian calls these women “the best students I’ve ever had. They get up, get their kids ready for school, catch a city bus, and arrive promptly by 9 a.m.

“No one is ever late. No one ever has not done the homework,” he says admiringly. “They’re motivated to learn, and they’re completely unafraid to ask questions if they don’t understand something. They’re amazing.”

After class, the women work on computers. They also go on field trips. When Kuroghlian took them to a library, they learned how to get library cards for their kids.

Kuroghlian is equally involved at Kolbe Cathedral High School. He spends most afternoons at the Bridgeport private school, as a tutor, SAT and ACT advisor, and college application essay guide. Thanks in part to his help, virtually every graduate for nearly a decade has gone on to college.

Gerry Kuroghlian works with a Kolbe Cathedral senior on his college essay.

At Kolbe, Kuroghlian organizes cultural field trips to Fairfield University and New York City. Just as he did at Staples, he attends sports events, chaperones the prom, and continually shares his philosophy that it is the responsibility of each individual to make a difference.

He also arranged for over 1,000 books to be donated to the library.

In his spare time (!), Kuroghlian works with national education organizations, cancer and diabetes groups, the Westport Library and United Church of Christ.

Nearly 10 years after “retiring,” Dr. K. shows no signs of slowing down.

Why should he? He’s continuing the work he loves: Showing teenagers how to make their mark on the world, by doing it himself.

(To nominate an unsung hero, email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Lynn U. Miller)

Sam Gold: Apple’s Archive Savior

When Sam Gold was 13, his parents gave him a bar mitzvah choice: a party, or a trip.

He went to San Francisco. But he wasn’t interested in the Golden Gate Bridge, or curvy Lombard Street. He wanted to visit the headquarters of Apple and Google.

Sam is now a Staples High School sophomore. He hasn’t lost his fascination with some of the most innovative companies on the planet. If anything, he’s teaching them some lessons.

Sam Gold recently, at Google’s pop-up shop in SoHo.

Sam has already made a name for himself on YouTube. Posting as Sam Henri, he’s a content creator and social influencer. Sam’s 5,800 subscribers love his unique take on all things techs.

He’s high enough on the food chain that Google sent a web router, and Philips shipped WiFi-enabled light bulbs, for him to review. Check out his channel — he’s going places.

Sam is also a very talented graphic designer.

Sam Gold had fun editing this photo. Yes, that’s him on the wall.

But it’s as an Apple fan that he may be most impressive.

From age 3, when he got his first iPod Nano (from his Nana), he has loved all things Apple.

So last April — when the man running the biggest Apple archive on the internet suddenly terminated his channel — Sam took notice.

And instantly flew into action.

He’d already spent years using tools like the Wayback machine to archive over 800 Apple-related videos. They included ads, keynote speeches, even weird internal training tapes.

The earliest video was from 1979 — decades before Sam was born.

In 2001, Steve Jobs introduced the iPod. Sam Gold has that video — and many others.

Within 24 hours he’d uploaded them all to his own, new unofficial Apple archive YouTube channel.

As you’ve figured out by now, Sam knows his way around the internet. Before posting his 80 gigabytes of videos, he checked YouTube’s Terms of Service. He was sure his archives were legit.

But a week later YouTube flagged Sam, for violating their TOS. They called his Apple channel “spam” — although he was not charging anyone, or making any money off it.

Repeated requests for clarification from YouTube went unheeded.

So Sam turned to the tech-savvy Reddit community. Suggestions poured in.

His archives were not gone, of course. He kept them on a disk. That was perfect for one Reddit user, who had a petabyte worth of storage on his server. (A petabyte is a million gigabytes. Or, in layman’s terms, “a shitload.”)

He offered it to Sam. The teenager quickly transferred his archives from a disk to the server. That’s where — right here — they are now, available free to the world.

Apple’s amazing video archives — all in one place, courtesy of Sam Gold.

But that’s not the end of Sam’s story.

A reporter for Vice heard what happened, and contacted Sam. That led to a front-page story on Motherboard, Vice’s tech platform.

Which, in turn, led to the possibility of Sam freelancing for that well-read, edgy and influential site.

Which leads to this “06880” request.

Later this month, Apple makes a big announcement. They’re expected to announce the next generation iPhone.

Sam has tried to get on the press list. So far, he’s been unsuccessful.

So: If any “06880” reader has Apple connections, please help Sam travel (once again) to California.

It’s the least Apple can do for the kid who saved their entire video archives.

BONUS FUN FACT 1: In addition to Google and Philips, Apple sent Sam some products. Unfortunately, it’s not an iPhone or other device. The largest information technology company in the world gave him a hat, pen and water bottle.

BONUS FUN FACT 2: This summer, Sam decided to see how many certifications he could get online. He is now an official Universal Life minister, ordained to perform weddings, funerals and (I am not making this up) exorcisms. Sam declined to get certified as a lactation consultation, however. He saved that $35 fee — perhaps for his upcoming trip to California.