The Greek philosopher Aristotle had a theory about happiness which he developed over many years while a student at the famous Academy in Athens. To be happy, he thought, was the proper goal of life; and one key to happiness, he believed, was friendship. More than 2,000 years later, alumni of another academy – Newark Academy – say much the same thing. The best part of NA, they say, is the people: the friends they made and the connections they’ve maintained. One is struck by the joy that NA alumni exude when they talk about how they still keep in touch with their friends – how they still hang out, have dinner together, go on trips, and even work together.
NA is a great and important institution in many ways. It prepares young men and women for college; it helps to instill civic virtue in its graduates; it provides the life skills, above and beyond academic content, necessary for professional success. But perhaps its most important – and most successful – function is to bring people together in friendships that last a lifetime.
October 19, 2019, will be a special day for the Class of 1969: close to 30 members of the class will once again walk the halls of Newark Academy for their 50th Reunion. But while the event will bring together these classmates for a weekend ﬁlled with reminiscing, the group’s continual efforts has kept them closely connected throughout the years.
Since attending NA Leo Gordon ’69 has organized many events and worked to keep his classmates in touch. An NA lifer, Leo took part in a variety of activities at NA that brought him into contact with just about everyone in his grade – including participating in the Drama Club, working on the school newspaper, and playing on the varsity basketball team.
“Newark Academy is very important to me and helped provide the foundation for me to be successful in life,” Leo says. Since leaving NA, he has always looked for ways to “pay it forward – to bring some joy to my friends from the Academy, to help the school out now.”
About 20 years ago, some members of the Class of 1969 began attending the NYC Networking Night alumni event and would gather for dinner afterward. When they changed the venue to a steak restaurant in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, even more members of the class attended and the group began to meet every few months for their “Steakfest” get-togethers, often coordinating with out-of-staters’ travel plans. Turnout at the dinners today averages between ten and twenty alumni, with some occasional alumni from other years joining the festivities as well.
Leo, the driving force behind the “Steakfests,” says the events allow “different cohorts in the class to mingle and trade stories. We have so many memories together.” As in any large group of people, the Class of 1969 included different sub-groups of friends. “Life has a way of changing you, though,” Leo says, “and over time it’s amazing how much common ground you find with guys who were just acquaintances in high school.”
Tommy Seminera ’69 reconnected with his classmates at the Steakfest after having been out of touch for more than 40 years (he moved to the West Coast as a young man), which had always been a source of sadness for him. After recently moving back to the East Coast – to New Hope, Pennsylvania, with his partner – he reconnected with Leo and began attending the Steakfest dinner events. “It was beautiful to come back into the fold,” Tommy says.
Tommy exudes joy as he relates the story of his first Steakfest: “The experience of walking into the restaurant and seeing all the guys with so many smiles and hugs – it was just wonderful. Through my eyes, nothing really changed. Yes, a few more wrinkles and a few more pounds, but for me, I was back with my friends at NA.” He remembered how he and his classmates spent a lot of time together at NA and were involved in each other’s lives – on the football field, in the theater, in the pool, and at weekend gatherings. He looks back at his NA experience and says, “There was nothing better than those formative years, growing from boys to men ready for college.”
Paul Kasoff ’69, like Tommy, makes the trip from Pennsylvania to New Jersey for the Steakfests. Paul attends almost all of the dinners and many of the other social gatherings held by his NA friends. Like Leo, he notes that, although he and his classmates were not all equally close friends back then, “we all get along really so well today; it’s just about having fun and trading stories. Though we all have various levels of professional and ﬁnancial success, there is no pressure to talk about any of that.” The guys, he says, much prefer talking about the NA days, like the time when some of his football buddies at a poolside post-game gathering hurled him into the water – clothes, shoes, wallet and all.
Jeff Gerhold ’69 has a signiﬁcantly greater distance to travel to the Steakfests than many of his classmates. He drives up from Maryland and has attended four of the events. (He points out that others have traveled much farther than he has – from California, Colorado and Florida.) He, too, appreciates the opportunity to reconnect with guys he was not particularly close with while at NA, including faculty. Jeff recalls a Steakfest when Former Football Coach Robert Hendrickson ﬂew in from Arizona to attend, and the other attendees surprised the coach by making him an honorary member of the Class of 1969. Jeff prepared a song about Hendrickson that he sang for the group.
Jeff Heller ’81 and some of his Newark Academy classmates go on a golfing trip every year. Founded and organized three decades ago by Joe McGrath ’81, the golf weekend is at Colgate University’s golf course in Hamilton, New York. The group follows the same routine every year: they golf on the same course, stay in the same hotel, eat at the same places. “From its humble beginnings, the trip is now a legacy gathering, as our sons attend,” Jeff says.
The date is set year after year, he says, so “we all plan our lives around that date – just about everything else in life is open, but not that weekend!” Attendees include NA Class of 1981 alumni Peter Gruenberg, Steve Ochs, Jeff Wachenfeld, Glen Anastasio and John Cranley, along with some fellow alumni from Colgate (Joe’s alma mater). What Jeff likes most about the trip is the “family gathering atmosphere” of the guys. They all get along so well and revel in talking about the old NA days – like when he and his friends used to pile into a car during free periods and lap the center circle.
Newark Academy Class of 2006 alumni Matt Brodie, Megan Shand, Sam Berlin and Tracy Jacobson have a “Skooking” tradition: they pick a recipe, cook it and eat it together – but they do it all over Skype video chat. Since graduating from NA, their educational and professional pursuits have spread them across the country. Skooking emerged as a way for the group to keep enjoying shared experiences despite the physical distances among them.
Matt (who lives in New Jersey), Megan and Sam (who live in Massachusetts) and Tracey (who lives in Washington) Skook together about once a month. The Skook leader of the month sends out a list of ingredients and acts as a cooking-show chef, leading the others through the cooking process. When the food is ready, they all sit down with their computers, enjoy a meal together, and share stories from their NA days.
Jackson Boyar ’08, George Boyar ’11 and Emma Baumgartner ’11 all work together in an educational startup in Boston called Mentor Collective. The company, which gets lots of media attention and has won numerous awards – including a spot on the Forbes “30 Under 30” lists – helps students adapt to change by providing personalized mentorship. Jackson started Mentor Collective in 2014; he was joined by George in 2015 and by Emma in 2018. Newark Academy provided Jackson and George with the opportunity to study in China through School Year Abroad, which challenged them significantly. As a result of this experience, they saw a potential need for specialized mentors to help students adapt to change. When the company needed a head of finances and operations, Jackson and George thought to bring in Emma. Succeeding in the startup world is difficult, according to George, and “having friends you can rely on makes a big difference.” Sharing a laugh with friends at work is a great way to keep stress levels down and to overcome challenges, he says. George’s NA friend group in Boston now includes Jackson, Emma, Nate Schwalb ’08, Brenna Gormally ’11 and (until recently) Rachel Charow ’11.
Laura Schottland Giske ’06 and her NA friends have all attended each other’s weddings as both guests and bridesmaids, and they continue to enjoy regular dinners, workouts and book club meetings with one other. “We keep in contact through an NA group text chat,” Laura says. “Whenever we’re all in the city, we try to get group dinners together.”
Laura and Lani Mandelbaum Sterling ’06 were each other’s bridesmaids, signed each other’s ketubahs at their weddings, and are now sharing the next chapter of their lives together: raising children. “We feel lucky that NA has brought us together to be with each other through life’s milestones,” says Laura.
Rasheea Williams Hall ’95 has lived in Los Angeles for 13 years and uses social media to keep in touch with Newark Academyfriends near and far. “I especially adore watching my friends’ kids grow up through apps like Facebook and Instagram,” says Rasheea. “I also encourage my NA pals to reach out when they are visiting Los Angeles. Last summer, I was able to catch up with Scheherazade Tillet ’96 as well as Seema Patel ’95 and her family.”
Every year, Sarah McGrath ’11 and fellow Class of 2011 members Emily Heller, Callie Marx, Christina Kovar, Hannah Davidson, Sydney Hershman, Jodi Feinberg, Leigh Wolfson, Allie Hyans, Jack Bloom, TJ Redmond, Neil Sethi, Adam Hyatt, Steven Wilf, Jason Diamond and Jake Gillman attendthe annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where they ski, hang out, laugh, share old memories and create new ones. “Our group of friends at Newark Academy remains incredibly close,” Sarah says. “Eight years out of high school and the calls, texts, dinners and celebrations continue as much as they did in the halls of NA.” Sarah particularly values the continuity of these relationships over years in which so much else has changed. “While our lives are much different than they were at Newark Academy, the new milestones, memories and celebrations are something that keep us together now and in the future,” she says.