Above: Yusuf Haque '20 (left) and Izabella Lizarazo '20 (right), from A Love Letter to the Senior Class, a senior thesis by Grace Warner-Haakmat '20.
Director of Alumni, David Minder, had a Zoom call in early June with Student Class President Izabella Lizarazo '20 and Vice President Yusuf Haque '20 to discuss their Packer experience, Packer memories, thoughts about current events, and what they think of the future.
David Minder: I want to hear about your Packer experience, and what makes it different to you, from all the other Brooklyn Independent Schools. What defines this experience?
Yusuf Haque: As we graduate, I have really been reflecting back on my Packer experience. I really believe that it’s a unique place and a feeling of community that I may never truly experience again. I have seen how Packer comes together as a community, even outside of academics, and with everything that’s happening in the world outside. The teachers go above and beyond, not just to help their students learn within the classroom, but outside the classroom. Just in terms of student activism and other areas, I think that Packer is such an open place that welcomes and empowers students. It’s just a really unique thing for a high school, and something that I appreciate.
Izabella Lizarazo: I would say that the socially conscious aspect of Packer is especially unique. I have friends at other independent schools, and when we talk we talk about different experiences. Packer does a really good job at providing the spaces we need in order to have vital conversations. For example, Packer In Action Day is a special opportunity to just reflect on who we are, and how we think about different social issues. It’s definitely allowed me to be aware of everything that’s happening, not only within my community, not only in the country, but the world at large. I’m hoping to continue an education like that in college, yet I’m so grateful I was able to get that here at Packer.
I also know that a lot of schools pride themselves on having a strong community, but the Packer community is truly special. I remember touring high schools, and when I came to Packer I saw how everyone seemed to click with one another. The entire environment was friendly, lively, and active. I was in love with that feeling ever since I stepped into Packer. This feeling is what has encouraged me and my other friends to involve themselves in the community, get to know different people, and try different activities. I’ve loved that.
David: As you’re both reflecting on your time at Packer, what would be a single memory that could stand out. It could be moments like a trip to Harry’s or a distinct feeling or moment.
Izabella: For me, I think of a group of memories. I think about the musical every year, that moment right before opening night. Everything just feels so magical. There’s a feeling of togetherness that’s really, really special. We’re all nervous, excited, scared, and overjoyed all at the same time, but feeling it together. It’s moments like that where you see how people come together to accomplish something — like put on a show, play a soccer game, or even a class project. These memories make me fall in love with art and with Packer.
Yusuf: I think of all those moments when the entire school is there together. Those moments feel special, when the entire student body is sitting in the chapel supporting everyone on stage with such enthusiasm. Specifically, that last day before winter break, Winter Carnival in the Upper School, is especially a fun day. Just with all the activity we do, starting with the “Secret Snowflake” with our advisory group in the morning. Then you just feel the enthusiasm from the students, and how everyone cares so much for one another, because when people are on stage singing or presenting, you can feel the love from the crowd. It’s just a fun moment, especially at the end when we sing together before leaving on break.
Izabella: I love that moment too.
David: Let’s move into the present. This has been an extraordinary year, and I would love to hear about your perspectives as a senior about to be graduating during the pandemic, and the recent protests.
Yusuf: It’s difficult when people can’t be together, although it’s interesting to see how we still feel connected with our class. We weren’t expecting to say goodbye so early in the year, and so we immediately started reminiscing over our memories and the people we were missing. I’ve been so appreciative as everyone has shared their good and special moments from their time at Packer together, and it’s been so important while we can’t be together.
Izabella: On one hand, everything feels incomplete and unfinished. We didn’t really have a second semester. As everyone comes together and bonds over memories, we’re also bonding over this shared experience of what we’re all going through. There are a lot of people helping us find a sense of normalcy. For example, for the musical we had our seniors' speeches online, which was really nice. The school is organizing the graduation ceremony virtually, which is really sweet. Knowing that so many people at Packer are coming together to replicate the end of our Senior year is really touching and it’s that kindness which I enjoy about Packer and everyone here.
David: So COVID-19 impacted your Senior year, and we have made that transition to distance learning. In the midst of all that, we also saw protests, inspired by the tragic death of George Floyd, spring up across the country. Some students have been active in these protests, others have opted to not finish the year because of the emotional impact of these moments. As Packer Seniors, what is going through your mind about Packer and about the protests?
Yusuf: Just like a week or two ago, we had a great Senior grade room discussion. We had some young alumni join us as well, and we just had a conversation about the protests, how we approach race as a school, and how we approach race within our community. I remember someone saying that it was the most honest and open conversation that we’ve ever had together about race. I could really feel that. I felt that everyone was being honest and open with one another. And it’s such a difficult topic, yet we could see that everyone cared. They cared about each other and supported fellow members of the community even though there were difficult things that had to be said about how support wasn’t given in the past. It was a very honest and connecting moment. Even though we are physically disconnected from one another, that moment felt like a moment to reconnect even though it was a difficult conversation.
Izabella: I’m really proud of the way students are coming together and figuring out the next steps. As all the conversations on race and police brutality come up, the different grades and groups have come together to figure out what we should do, who we should talk to, what do we want our curriculum to look like. I’m happy that these conversations are happening right now, and I’m sad that it’s the year that I’m leaving. But it’s inspiring and gives me hope that now that the students are getting together and speaking to the administration. I know these conversations may be difficult, but they’re long overdue and I’m really glad that they’re happening right now. My hope is that the administration, the teachers, department heads, will listen and adjust accordingly.
David: Both of you attended our Alumni Board meetings and interacted with alumni. What did you take away from those interactions?
Yusuf: It was a good experience to be able to share what’s happening with the student body. It can be a great tool for the future, especially as our students are dealing with important issues that they may not feel are being addressed by the administration. It’s important to be able to relate these experiences to the Alumni Board. Being able to relay this information to the Alumni Board is impactful and meaningful.
Izabella: For me it was really cool to see everyone come together from different years, and for everyone to bond just over what they’re doing right now and their memories of Packer. I thought it was cool to think that maybe one day I could be part of the Alumni Board and talk with those who graduated from other years. I was so happy to be a part of that and to get to know a lot of the members of the Alumni Board.
David: What are your thoughts about leaving Packer and the future? I know that may not be a fair question, as everything kind of feels like it’s in flux right now.
Yusuf: It doesn’t feel like a definite ending, because we’re not having the final ceremonies yet. They’ve been postponed either to this year or next year. I think because of that, there’s a feeling that this is not the end. It’s only been slowly where I’ve started to realize that things are coming to an end, and looking back at the last couple of weeks, I’ve just been appreciative for being a part of this community over the last four years.
It’s bittersweet, because we won’t be experiencing a lot of these moments again. Just walking into the student center in the morning, or seeing everyone together in the Chapel. I just appreciate that we have had these moments, but then feeling sad that we won’t be able to experience those things together again as students. We didn’t realize that it would be the last time together.
Izabella: At first I felt conflicted with the idea of moving on, especially with the fact that we are in quarantine. I felt like I wasn’t ready to move on, but now I’m settling with the idea that we’re starting a new chapter of our lives. It might be difficult, but I think it’ll be okay for all of us. I know that we’re a very resourceful class and every one of us will move on, whether it be virtually or on a campus, and we’ll find our community, and support systems. I have faith that the other grades, and those at Packer right now, are going to change Packer for the better. So my trust falls on the younger classes right now, and I know that Packer will continue to grow in positive ways and continue to have these conversations to become a more welcoming community for everyone.