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Alumni Stories

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Read where their paths have led and how York prepared them for the journey.

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UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE/UNIVERSITY: Bachelor of Music /Manhattan School of Music

GRADUATE DEGREE/UNIVERSITY: Master of Music /Peabody Conservatory

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Winner of the Washington Award from the S&R Foundation, to be honored at a Gala in June 2017 and will receive a $5,000 award.

"Something extra cool about this award is that last year, Lembit Beecher, also a York graduate, won this award!  I sang two pieces of his at the Gala and that's how I got introduced to the S&R Foundation and eventually applied for their competition! Go Team York! Lembit's wife, Karen Ouzounian, cellist, is also a Washington Award winner this year."

Hailed by Opera News for her 'strong voice and noteworthy acting prowess,” Maggie Finnegan is a versatile singer, performing repertoire spanning from medieval to contemporary. This year Maggie was awarded the Washington Award by the S&R Foundation and last season she made her Kennedy Center debut as the winner of the Washington International Competition for Voice. Her opera performances this year include premieres with The American Chamber Opera Company,Vital Opera and the Center for Contemporary Opera in Louis Andriessen's Odysseus' Women. Past seasons include performances with Paper Mill Playhouse (Fraulein Schweiger/Ensemble in The Sound of Music), the Metropolitan Opera Guild's School Touring Program (Second Lady, The Magic Flute), The Juventas New Music Ensemble (as Arrangiarsia in the world premiere of The Little Blue One) and The Metropolitan Opera Chorus (Boris Godunov)Maggie is a core member of the early and new music ensemble The Broken Consort. This season she will solo with The City Choir of Washington, The Camerata Singers of Monterey County, Calliope's Call, The New Dominion Chorale and the PyeongChang Winter Music Festival in South Korea. She currently splits her time between New York City and Boston, where she shares a home with her partner and three step-kids. Please visit her at www.maggiefinnegansoprano.com.  
The S&R Foundation wrote, "The selection committee were impressed with her artistic achievements, as well as her high aspirations and potential to make great contributions to the field of musical performance."  The S&R Washington Award recognizes talented emerging artists in all disciplines. The award is especially intended for emerging artists of great ability and potential who are looking towards the next stages in their creative development. 

UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE/UNIVERSITY:  B.A. History/Near Eastern Studies, UCLA

GRADUATE DEGREE/UNIVERSITY: M.A. Arab Studies, Georgetown University and

 Ph.D, Modern History, University of Oxford

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Professor in Istanbul, Turkey (3 years), Professor in Madrid, Spain (3 years)

CURRENTLY: Assistant Professor of Middle East History, California State University San Marcos

I am writing from an apartment in Rome on a humid August day in 2014, where I have just finished teaching summer school at an American university here. I spent this morning walking the Appian Way, the Roman version of Highway 68 that we all had to take to get to York. In 10th grade, I would have never thought that Mr. Sturch Latin’s lessons would have any relevance in my adult life. The Latin I studied not only helps me to navigate through time and space in Rome, but it helped me pick up Italian and Spanish with relative ease, proving a dead language can help one to learn live languages. 

I am a history professor today because I was inspired by my instructors in York. It was Dr. Henry Littlefield, the former Head of School, who encouraged me to major in history, and as a professor I imitate Mr. Borrowman’s teaching style to this day in my auditorium of close to 100 university students. My inspiration to become a history professor was not just from my history courses at York. The critical history scholar inside of me was born in Thomas Murray’s senior year English class, inspired by his interpretations of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, A Clockwork Orange, to the various poems he assigned us from the 20th century.

Ms. Aronowitz, my European history teacher, told us York prepared its students to be Renaissance men.  (That was back in 1987.  I’m sure today York prepares its students to be Renaissance “people.”) Had I gone to any other high school, I would have not had the opportunity to develop into a Renaissance person.  Ironically, I now have the opportunity to directly experience the Renaissance in places like Rome and Florence, but also try to inculcate a strong appreciation for the humanities in all my university courses to a 21st century generation of students who are more and more seeing an education as just a means for employment.    

This summer, I have been commenting on the recent crisis in Iraq to the media. The most often invoked narrative in U.S. media as this crisis unfolds is how painful it has been for American veterans, who fought to keep Iraq together after 2003, see it fall apart in 2014. Every time I hear this comment I think of one veteran in particular who was also studied at York. I wanted to include the words I wrote for my York alumni update back in 2007. They are even more poignant to the events in Iraq in 2014:

The strongest memory I now have from York is of one of my high school friends, Kylan Jones Huffman who was killed in Iraq. Kylan and I  shared several similar interests. We both ran track and field and were members of the Junior Statesmen of America. He was the only member of his graduating class to get an acceptance into the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. During his time there, he studied Arabic and Persian, just as I had done at UCLA.  He went on to serve as a naval officer with a Marine unit patrolling post-war Iraq.  He was in the passenger seat of a vehicle caught in traffic in the town of Al-Hilla, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, when a gunman approached and opened fire on him. I was in Kuwait, about to travel to Iraq when I learned of his news. I searched for his obituary in the online version of a local California newspaper. It wrote that he was a budding haiku poet.  The last haiku he ever wrote was:

uncomfortable —

body armor shifting

on the car seat.

More poignant words, I could not imagine. Art reflecting reality. I pictured Kylan, my friend, sitting uncomfortably in his car seat, sweating under his body armor in the last moments of his life. It left me with the unsettling feeling that my friend died cleaning up a mess that he did nothing to create. I felt an odd sense of responsibility and even a tinge of shame. If someone had asked the students at York which one of us would be the first to go to Iraq, I would have named myself. If someone had told me that it was going to be Kylan, I might have even been a little bit jealous. Imagine that.

After his military service, Kylan wanted to become a teacher. His life paralleled mine on so many levels.  We went to the same high school, we taught ourselves Middle Eastern languages, and we both wanted to be teachers. Something I read in my high school friend Kylan’s obituary came back to me. His father Jim had said, “It’s a terrible waste. As a teacher he could have impacted thousands of lives.” Kylan would never have the chance to become a teacher, and I try to continue his legacy today.

One of my most popular university courses is called “War on Modern Society,” where we analyze how American society creates the image of all-testosterone, gung-ho soldier in popular media such as videogames and films.  In my course, I invoke Kylan to demonstrate the anti-thesis of that image. York gave him the environment to develop into a true Renaissance man. The town of Al-Hilla, where Kylan passed away, is situated in ancient Babylon, a fact that I was reminded of by an Iraqi student from there who I taught this summer. Al-Hilla is now in one of the more stable parts in Iraq, and the stability there allowed this student to travel and take my course and learn from me about Kylan and his sacrifice for her town. That is York’s legacy. It allows me to spread the humanistic education that Kylan and I benefitted from for students, both in the U.S. and around the world, for generations to come. 

GRADUATE SCHOOL/DEGREE: M.B.A./Thunderbird School of Global Management

CURRENTLY: Chief Operating Officer and Head of Marketing for the EMEA region of AllianceBernstein

"York offers a world-class education and breadth of experience; the various alumni stories speak volumes about the world of opportunity the school created for us." 

"When I think back on my time at York, my memories are punctuated by the great teachers we had and how they cultivated our intellectual curiosity preparing us for the brightest possible future. From Frau Vasvary and her whacky laugh, to Mme Oger's utterly French coolness, and Mr. Sturch's playful condescension (who else remembers being called a 'blockhead' in Latin?), each managed their classroom so uniquely while achieving a common goal - creating an environment where we were both challenged and energized.

It's probably not coincidence that my first thoughts gravitate toward three language teachers as I enjoyed those classes the most (and they have served me well in my current role managing the European distribution arm of an American asset management company, especially at our annual Oktoberfest gatherings in Munich!). But the magic of York is there was relevance in nearly every experience. In a work meeting recently, I drew upon something I learned while co-captain of our field hockey team, and I hope to be even half as influential in working with my team of direct reports as Sue Linder was in her understated coaching style. And did anyone else watch The Devil Wears Prada and think back on color study with Mrs. Manchester during the scene where Meryl Streep tells her assistant that the color blue she was wearing was chosen for her?

UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE/UNIVERSITY:  B.S. History/U.S. Air Force Academy

GRADUATE DEGREE/UNIVERSITY: Educational Administration/Cal State Northridge

CURRENTLY: Math Teacher at Rosemont High School

"Had I gone to another school, I might not have excelled because of the pressure to fit in."

While at York, I felt safe and empowered to participate in lots of sports and activities. I also took a variety of fascinating classes, like Latin classes with Mr. Sturch, a Shakespeare class with Mr. Rainer, and a whole suite of classes from Mr. and Mrs. Arnold.  York has an amazing culture of achievement and risk-taking; my classmates and I supported each other academically and socially. Had I gone to another school, I might not have excelled because of the pressure to fit in.  As a teacher I can tell you that social pressures trump all others in many cases, so a positive school climate like York's is invaluable. 

After graduating, I went to the Air Force Academy which has a similar culture of high achievement, but with more yelling and push-ups. My York experience prepared me for the academic overload at the Academy and also provided me with the social skills to deal with the variety of  people I encountered. Remembering the emergency procedures for parachuting out of an airplane is nothing compared to listing the Roman emperors in order for Mr. Hall or the stages of mitosis for Mr. Arnold. 

While at the Academy I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was able to graduate, but I couldn't serve in the Air Force because of the rule stating all officers must be "worldwide-deployable," which is difficult for diabetics (it's challenging to keep insulin cool in the desert). I shifted my course and became a math teacher, which has been my career since 1997. I constantly use the math I learned from Mrs. Arnold and Sue Linder. In 1999 my classmate from York, Sharon Lu, introduced me to my wife.  As you can see, York prepared me for life at the Air Force Academy, a career completely unrelated to my training at the academy, and also helped me personally to meet my wonderful wife with whom I have two beautiful kids.

UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE/UNIVERSITY: B.A. International Management, Franklin College Switzerland

GRADUATE DEGREE/UNIVERSITY:  M.P.A., Monterey Institute of International Studies

CURRENTLY: U.S. Department of State

York had a fundamental impact on the trajectory of my life, personally and professionally. At York, I realized how much I enjoyed world languages, and this piqued my interest in traveling and in foreign cultures. I am grateful for the opportunity York gave me to study a number of languages, especially Latin and Classical Greek with Mr. Sturch. His passion for teaching those subjects was inspiring.

Thanks to York I decided to go overseas for college and ended up in Switzerland, where I was part of a very multicultural student body. I eventually came back home to Monterey for graduate school at the Institute and began to pursue a career in international affairs.

I joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 2009 and my current assignment is in Havana, Cuba with the U.S. Interests Section. I'm joined by my nine-month old daughter and my lovely wife, who I met while stationed in Indonesia. My career path allows me to immerse myself in new cultures, to travel, and to use a foreign language at work every day.

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