Peter Stuyvesant Station
New York, NY 10009
610 West 115th Street
New York, NY 10025-7771
Written by Paul Levitz '73,
President & Publisher, DC Comics & MAD magazine (Time Warner)
There is no satisfactory explanation in stereotype of the diverse extracurricular successes of Stuyvesant students over the decades. The image of the bookworm explains the shelf in the library marked “Stuyvesant authors” plausibly enough, but shatters under the weight of a shelf of football trophies. The triumphs of the math team were no stretch for a school of nerds, but basketball championships ought to have been beyond their reach. Westinghouse/Intel prizes are a logical consequence of selection and education, but fencing victories in a building of working-class immigrant kids?
There is little rationale available in genetics…at least not in the fragmented knowledge we possess while waiting for the genome code to be fully revealed. The school’s very first club, the Chess Club of 1907, could be hypothesized to succeed based on DNA for skill sets that we would expect to coordinate with the fundamental DNA of intelligence. So, too, the more recent addition that designs robots to battle those of other schools. But the voices and performing gifts that have powered SING! and led so many graduates into stage, film, and television careers? Connect that, latter-day Cricks and Watsons!
Maybe then search in psychology, a branch of the sciences which had, at best, a wary existence around the periphery of Stuyvesant life. Maybe, if you create an atmosphere with the intention of inspiring people to fulfill their potential, populate it with young people whose full potential is unimagined and unimaginable, yet ripe, they will provide the unpredictable result of collectively trying everything, and succeeding.
In any case, as the brief histories, recollections of epic moments, and highlights of this chapter will demonstrate, Stuyvesant students have tried everything over their years in the school buildings, from the Forge Club to the Tree Huggers (and there are some less celebrated moments of forgery and odd activities in trees, as well). Filled with the limitless energy of youth, enough of them found the endless hours of class, commute, and homework insufficient distraction, and put enough energy into these extracurricular activities to give Stuyvesant imposing track records at many challenges, including track itself (despite the inherent handicap of the suspended indoor track at East 15th Street, which taught the useless skill of running on a constant incline).
Ultimately, it is the sheer diversity of accomplishment that was the greatest accomplishment of all. Subtly, silently, Stuyvesant taught the lesson that it is not what you choose to be accomplished in that matters most (no primacy for football team and their cheerleaders here), but that accomplishment itself was what counted. Choose your own madness—an academic offshoot, an athletic activity, an anarchic effort to topple the administration or the world—and do it well. That was the message sent by example, and it is a truly inspirational one. It breaks loose the bonds of expectation, whether of family, peers, or teachers, and offers instead the passion of finding your muse in life.
There is, I posit, a very direct connection between the ridiculous array of activities we became involved in and our successes later in life. We discovered the freedom to choose paths in our Stuyvesant years, and the pleasure of pursing them furiously. Only some had a role in our careers or adult lives, but all gave us a taste of the joy of working to win. And we came back for more.