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Sunday Reading: School Drama | The New Yorker

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In 1970, Roger Angell wrote an essay for The New Yorker on the courage and resolve of young students in the aftermath of the Kent State University shootings. “Only the very young are capable of such a quick and deep swing of emotions,” he wrote. Angell recognized that campus life, even absent tragedy, often unfolds as a period of heightened intensity and insight—a time when young people are allowed to reveal themselves in surprising and intriguing ways. This week, as commencement ceremonies take place across the country, we’re bringing you a selection of pieces about the dynamic lives of students and the highs and lows of the campus experience. In “An Education in Georgia,” Calvin Trillin recounts how Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes became the first black students to attend the University of Georgia, in 1961. Muriel Spark recalls her early years at James Gillespie’s High School for Girls, in Edinburgh, and writes about the teacher who inspired “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.” In “The Shit-Kickers of Madison Avenue,” Lillian Ross observes the rituals of a group of young private-school students on the Upper East Side. In “Diary of a Murder,” Melanie Thernstrom examines a friendship between two Harvard roommates that ended in tragedy. David Samuels chronicles the story of a twenty-nine-year-old con artist who transformed himself into a Princeton track star. Dana Goodyear visits with students at an experimental all-male college, in Death Valley, California, and Jonathan Blitzer traces the journey of two sisters as they attend an underground college for undocumented immigrants. In “Class Notes,” Jelani Cobb explores the history of his alma mater, Jamaica High School, in Queens, and contemplates what’s really at stake when a public school closes. Finally, in the short story “Midnight in Dostoevsky,” Don DeLillo tells the tale of two students who muse on a series of strange encounters during one winter at their small liberal-arts college. As we head into summer, we hope that you enjoy this look back at campus life.


The Shit-Kickers of Madison Avenue

“During the week, tenth graders arrive, by bus or on foot, singly or in pairs or in clusters, and they make their way up the west side of Madison toward their schools.”


Diary of a Murder

“Everything about Harvard depends on its reputation, and it is orchestrated with great care.”


The School on the Links

“I fell into Miss Kay’s hands at the age of eleven. It might well be said that she fell into my hands. Little did she know, little did I know, that she bore within her the seeds of the future Miss Jean Brodie.”


The Runner

“James Hogue, petty thief, was now Alexi Santana, a self-educated ranch hand, a gifted runner, and easily the most interesting member of the Princeton Class of 1993.”


An Education in Georgia

“In the states of the Deep South, the first assault on segregation came in higher education, and came after the battle lines were drawn.”


Midnight in Dostoevsky

“The college was at the edge of a small town way upstate, barely a town, maybe a hamlet, we said, or just a whistle stop, and we took walks all the time, getting out, going nowhere, hardly a soul to be seen.”


The Searchers

“Deep Springs College’s form of repression—its all-male self-enclosure—allows its students to feel wildly, hedonically free.”


The Aftermath of the Kent State Shootings

“The young, in the week of Kent State, asked more—insisted on more—and in so doing restored breath to a country that had seemed in many ways close to extinction.”


American Studies

“Each year, about three thousand undocumented students graduate from high school in Georgia, but their opportunities for college are severely limited.”


Class Notes

“The history of Jamaica High School, in Queens, roughly correlates with the evolving demands placed on public education in New York City.”



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