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Category: Fall 2023

A Teacher First

Alixe Callen ’88 can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be a teacher.

“Literally back to kindergarten, I knew that I would spend my life as an educator,” Callen said in an interview shortly after becoming Milton Academy’s 13th head of school. “As my life unfolded, I always knew deep inside that is what I would do.”

Callen arrived at Milton with a career portfolio that reflects a richness of experience and accomplishments. Among them, she helped start a high school in rural Arizona; led a highly ranked public high school of almost 2,000 students; and more recently, as head of school at St. George’s School, restructured academic departments into cross-disciplinary groupings that have resulted in more relevant, creative course design.

It was at Brown University where Callen began preparing for a career that would include leadership roles at public, charter, and independent schools across the country. While earning a b.a. (her major was in American civilization) and an m.a.t. (master of arts in teaching), Callen worked with the education reform advocate Theodore (Ted) Sizer. At Brown, Sizer had founded the Coalition of Essential Schools, a national school-reform organization formed in response to his landmark research, detailed in his book Horace’s Compromise. As a research and teaching assistant to Sizer, Callen worked on campus at Brown and with teachers around the country to further the principles of the coalition. This work continues to inform her vision and leadership.  

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How to Succeed in Hollywood (While Really Trying)

“It’s funny to say that a hashtag changed my life. But it’s true. A hashtag really did change my life,” says the Los Angeles-based screenwriter William Yu ’09.

Yu made some waves in the Twitter world in 2016 when he launched an awareness campaign using the hashtag #StarringJohnCho. “It was a time when a lot of fraught conversations were taking place about Asian representation [or the lack thereof] in the entertainment industry,” he says. The practice of “whitewashing” was still quite prevalent. For example, in the soon-to-be-released Ghost in the Shell, Scarlett Johansson was cast in the role of a Japanese character, Major Motoko Kusanagi. In the 2015 film Aloha, Emma Stone played a character supposedly of Hawaiian, Chinese, and Swedish descent, and in Dr. Strange (2016), Tilda Swinton portrayed a character who was originally supposed to be Tibetan. The director Aaron Sorkin reportedly claimed that there were no Asian stars in Hollywood. “That was a problem of perception,” Yu says. “It seemed that no one could picture it.”

But Yu, a Korean American who lived in Hong Kong from the age of five to twelve when his family moved to Massachusetts, could picture it quite clearly, and he wanted others to share his vision. To Yu, the Korean-born actor John Cho—who had already starred in both the Harold and Kumar and Star Trek series, along with many other films—was an entirely plausible leading man. In his initial Twitter thread, using the hashtag #StarringJohnCho—which was a side project Yu created (at a personal cost of $0) while holding a full-time job in advertising—he inserted Cho’s face into posters for Jurassic World and a range of other hit movies at that time. The campaign went viral: It was discussed in the New York Times, and on the BBC and CNN, among other media outlets. Yu became friends with John Cho as a result, and the director Jon M. Chu said that the hashtag inspired him to make the 2018 blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians.

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The Power of Storytelling

On a morning last spring in classrooms throughout Ware Hall, Milton’s sixth-graders fielded questions from their classmates about historical figures they had spent the past several months researching and writing about.

Sitting in groups of four before their classmates, teachers, and families, the students took turns delivering their findings, asserting that the people they had chosen to study possessed strong democratic ideals—from politician and businessman Robert Smalls to scientist and astronaut Sally Ride to mathematician and computer scientist Annie Easley.

A bevy of questions from their classmates followed: “How did your person demonstrate democratic citizenship?” “How did events going on at the time affect their views?” “How were they perceived?” “What goals did they wish to accomplish?”

Later, students read narratives about events in their own lives, sharing stories of reflection and discovery, from deep connections to their pets to the isolation they felt during the pandemic to moments that revealed unexpected personal courage. All the essays were on display and available by scanning a QR code linked to their stories.

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Alum Neha Wadekar ’07 Returns for Persky Awards

A lifelong love of writing and storytelling, stoked by English classes at Milton, propelled Neha Wadekar ’07 into a career in freelance journalism, she told students at the 44th Annual Laurence S. Persky Memorial Awards, which honors the best in student-published writing and artwork.

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