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In a yellow room filled with the scent of old paperbacks and the sound of whirring computers, a group of bustling teenagers crowded around a podium on Friday, December 20 after school in the library. As the fidgeting died down and the dust settled, the thirtieth installment of the Phoenix readings commenced.
Phoenix advisor, Rafał Olechowski launched the event with a subtle yet ear-catching opening: “Teachers can’t help but agree that Townsend Harris is a test factory. Let us all take the time here today to exist beyond GPAs and OSIS numbers, and instead exist as individuals joining together to share chapters of our lives and most importantly our passion.” A fitting introduction to the bittersweet reading.
There was then a gamut of presentations. Following the road laid out by Mr. O, both returning and current students fluently recited their work, in ways both innocently nervous and awkwardly humble. Drawings were shown, songs were sung, poems were delivered, and excerpts were said (but no dances were danced, disappointingly).
Not surprisingly, many students dedicated their poems to the hardships that come with the title “Harrisite.” Junior Mehr Kaur relieves stress retelling her THHS experiences. The students couldn’t help but to nod in compliance at the familiarity of it all, reliving his or her own unique experiences.
These remarkable students showcased a colorful range of categories: Senior Asia Acevedo wrote a romantic account of a meal with her significant other at a cafe on Canal Street, ending with a cutting-edge line “are you going to pay for that.” Junior Catherine Ng drew a fiery representation of a phoenix emphasizing the paradox of our universe along with a description of how it rises from fire. Phoenix literary editor, senior Anthony Budwah told a short and sweet story of walking home. Humanities teacher Robert Babstock recited a folded-up poem that was taken straight out of the back pocket of his worn jeans, junior Mary Ji exhibited her dashingly bold grey sketch of an oriental eye, and chic Sarah Iqbal expounded on her dynamic speech concerning trial and error.
“Whether about bitter romance, life lessons, happiness, or the human anatomy, the product of creativity derives from the connection between the mind and soul of the thinker. I understood this,” says freshman Alvin Hsu.
“The stronger the connection, the easier it would be for the listener to receive the speaker’s emotions. And I was really glad to see this speaker-listener relationship unfold before my eyes,” junior Lilia Lozada pressed on.
Some performances interacted with the audience more than others. Sophomore Adrienne Cabral sang a smooth, syrupy cover of Maroon 5’s rather popular “Sunday Morning”. The students swayed to the familiar slur of notes, as they entered a state of musical indulgence. Surprisingly, Adrienne’s talent did not make its way to the big stages, such as Sing! or the talent show.
“For reasons, I didn’t have a chance to participate in them this year. I’m glad the Phoenix reading exists as a stage and a refuge for hidden talent,” she said.
Interesting performances almost always come with interesting back stories. Junior Hilary Lee looked rather glum and somber fashioned in all black, speaking in a shadowy tone, and only occasionally glancing up as she read her poem.
“I have my own personal reasons as to why I attended this meeting,” she later revealed, “This was my first time writing a poem about something so personal. I was going through a very tough time in my life. Two people had betrayed me and did me wrong. The pain they caused me allowed me to write such a strong poem.” And so she did, constructing a very solemn atmosphere, one that evoked a strong yet silent reaction from the audience.
It is thought every year that the Phoenix Reading lacks variety and neglects art’s more theatrical cousin, only quietly focusing on printed literature and canvas paintings. Phoenix editor-in- chief, junior Yelena Dzhanova, elucidated this common misconception of the Phoenix Reading, saying “It’s natural for most people to think the PR only consists of reading words off pages due to its name, when in fact dancing, acting, and singing are also very much accepted.”
Many attended the reading for English teacher Peter Wamsteker’s extra credit. The prodigious selection of students created a long wait-list of individuals who volunteered to present. In the end, not more than a quarter of the arranged performers spoke before the sun slid behind the buildings and ended the session.
However, the unprecedented amount of attendees did not stifle the bubbling cauldron of creativity.
“Even though it’s extra credit, people will create and bring something worthwhile,” comments Phoenix member Anna Kim, “My reason for coming is one percent obligation. For the other ninety-nine percent, I wanted to see a different side to Townsend Harris kids. I always see them stressed about school work.” Indeed, within a few minutes, the PR became an outlet for newfound emotions and dazzling inspiration.
The obvious goal of the Phoenix Reading was to instill creativity into the rigid test centered Harris community. But there are other worthy perspectives to take into account.
“Students see the PR as a safe haven, which relaxes and reveals never before seen talent,” said Yelena.
“I’m proud to see us fighting against the rather boring expectations and normalities of a magnet school,” said a random student passing by.
Junior Parina Kaewkrajang ultimately states, “Everyone has their own story, you know?”