On Centre

Successful Year for Robotics Team

The robotics team started off the spring season with three robots qualifying for the U.S. Open Robotics Championship. Unfortunately, that tournament and two other spring championship tournaments were canceled because of COVID-19. But under the leadership of team captains Diego Domenig ’20, Avery Miller ’20, and Tony Tao ’20, the team had a solid year and was unwavering in the commitment and work it put into the robots.

Ryan Shue ‘23, who drives one of the robots, says, “It’s great
to work with people who have the same interests as you. And it’s a fun way to apply that interest in and knowledge of engineering.”

The team participates in VEX Robotics, an after-school program that challenges students to design and build robots that compete against others to complete certain tasks in a small arena.

Team members meet in the basement of the Art and Media Center. “They’re here all the time, until 6 p.m. on weekdays and later on Fridays,” says Chris Hales, chair of the Computer Science Department. “They
are so dedicated. They put in the time so they can improve and succeed.”

One of Shue’s and Tao’s favorite competitions this year was the Night at the Museum, held at the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia. Sixty of the best high school teams from around the world competed in a room holding the space shuttle Discovery.

Students’ Honors Biology Project Becomes Published Research

Emma Bradley ’20 and Kiran Biddinger ’20 wanted to perform a “complicated” lab experiment for the Honors Biology class they took as juniors. One year later, their findings were published in the Journal of Emerging Investigators, a monthly publication that features the work of middle school, high school, and college students.

“It was really difficult to figure out what we were going to do,” Bradley says. “We were in the lab all the time, for weeks straight.”

Their report, “Temperatures of 20°C produce increased net primary production in Chlorella sp.,” was accepted by the journal in October 2019. The work must be sponsored by a faculty member—the duo’s sponsor was Science Department Chair Julie Seplaki—and undergo an extensive editing process before it can be published.

The pair join Alaina Cherry ’20 and Allison Reilly ’20, whose paper “Longer Exposure to 2% India Ink Increases Average Number of Vacuoles in Tetrahymena pyriformis” was published in October 2019 by the journal.

In their experiment, Bradley and Biddinger found that chlorella—a kind of single-cell green algae—reached maximum efficiency around 20° Celsius (about 68° Fahrenheit). Chlorella is an autotroph, which means it can produce its own food and energy from its surroundings, including light, water, and carbon dioxide. Net primary production is the rate at which the organism photosynthesizes, minus its cellular respiration. In this process, chlorella can turn carbon dioxide into glucose.

The two began editing their assignment report to submit to the journal in the spring of 2019, with help from Seplaki and other members of the faculty, and the final report was published in February 2020. Milton science teachers place a strong emphasis on being able to communicate about scientific concepts, which is why Seplaki encouraged the class to consider pursuing journal submissions.

“You don’t realize how extensive the editing process is until you do it,” Biddinger says. “We got a lot of good feedback about the style of our writing and where we needed to explain the process in deeper detail.”

One of the implications for their experiment involves climate change, Bradley says. “The importance of finding its optimal temperature is that we found where it’s best at removing CO2 from the environment and turning it into a beneficial by-product. So we think it has potential as a sustainable food source.”

A link to the study is currently featured on
the Journal of Emerging Investigators’ homepage,
under “Latest Research.”

Poet Robert Pinsky 
on Translating Dante’s 

Three-term U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky discussed his translation of Dante’s Inferno last winter with students taking “Founding Voices: Literature from the Ancient World through the Renaissance.”

In a free-flowing conversation, an affable Pinsky answered students’ questions about his translation, which they were reading in class. He explained that his full translation came about after he was invited to translate one of the Inferno cantos for an anthology. He also helped another poet with his assigned canto and realized how much he enjoyed the work.

“I’m very interested in difficulty—a worthy difficulty—not trivial or canned,” Pinsky said. “I realized with this, I had a difficulty that I really loved.”

The full translation took a year of work and then another year of showing his work to colleagues and Italian friends. “You can’t translate Italian sounds into English; you have to find an equivalent,” Pinsky said. “So if a word sounds great in Italian, you have to find a word that sounds great in English.”

When asked by a student if he ever had to compromise, Pinsky laughed and said he had two answers: “Absolutely never. And every second.” He also discussed the challenge of translating poetry lines from a language that has many more syllables than English does. In order to run the two translations side-by-side in the book, the English translation was “padded” with white space.

Pinsky read aloud Canto 32 and then exclaimed, “Clearly, Dante knows how to tell a story, and it’s an outrageous story!” He talked about the act of reading: “Ideally, you want to read with your mouth and ears, feel it, and get to know it. It’s like listening to a song that you like for the first time. You are not really paying attention to the words but just listening and enjoying the music. Then, on the second or third listen, you might pay more attention to the words.”

Pinsky is a professor of English and creative writing in the graduate writing program at Boston University. His anthology The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. His work has earned him the PEN/Voelcker Award, the William Carlos Williams Prize, the Lenore Marshall Prize, Italy’s Premio Capri, the Korean Manhae Award, and the Harold Washington Award from the City of Chicago, among other accolades.

Student’s Weekly Crossword Was a Hit

The weekly crossword puzzle of Margot Becker ‘20 was a fun and challenging Friday must-do for many students and adults around campus. Individuals and teams of students rushed each week to complete the challenging 15×15 published on the inside back page of The Milton Paper. Becker gave out prizes in a variety of categories and emailed out the names of all those who completed the puzzle correctly. Even after remote learning from home began after March break, Becker continued to email the puzzle to the Milton Academy community and
run lists of the winners.

“I wanted it to be that if you send it in and it’s right, you get a reward of some kind, regardless of your speed,” Becker says.
“I started a ‘beautiful completion’ prize’ for the best-looking puzzles. My whole aim was to encourage everyone to do these, have a good time, and get something out of it.”

Becker says she began making crosswords her junior year on her own, first just sketching some and then making 5×5 puzzles, or “minis.” Using a software program called Phil, she progressed to the “midi” size and then to the more difficult 15×15 format, which is the size of the New York Times weekday crossword.

Becker’s love of crosswords started early. “I’m from a crossword family,” she says.  “My grandfather did two a day until the day he died.”  Becker partners with her dad to complete the daily puzzles on the New York Times app.

Massachusetts Scholastic Art and Writing Winners

A “remarkable” number of student writers and artists were recognized by the Massachusetts Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the nation’s longest-running competition to identify creative talent among students. Thirty-one students earned 43 writing honors and 19 students earned 34 art honors.

In writing, Anne Kwok ’21 received numerous awards in poetry and fiction including three Gold Keys, one Silver Key, and one Honorable Mention. For her poem “Aubade For My Sister,” she also received an American Voices and Visions Medal, the highest regional Scholastic honor.

“It is one of the more abstract poems I’ve written,” says Kwok, who was taking the creative writing course and the poetry half course. “I’m experimenting with new forms of writing and exploring different poetry forms.”

Last fall, her work was also recognized by the Foyles Young Poets competition, when she was awarded Commended Poet. Kwok says she has always loved writing, but at Milton she has more opportunities to write poetry. She has also enjoyed having visiting poets on campus,including Gregory Pardlo, who spent time in her class: “I’d been struggling a lot with appropriating someone else’s voice, and he told me it’s about finding the individual story and to focus on that.”

Erica Yip ’20, who earned a Gold Key and a Silver Key in poetry, was also a finalist in the 2020 Young Arts National Competition for a play script adapted from a piece of her fiction.

In the Scholastic Art Awards, Grace Li ’20 earned a Gold Key for her photograph “space and movement,” a Silver Key for “blue bedroom,” and four Honorable Mentions.

“One of the reasons I am drawn to photography is the ability to warp a viewer’s perception of reality through a medium that historically has been trusted to accurately capture it,” Li says. “With Polaroid film specifically, I enjoy experimenting with different ways to manipulate the film and chemicals used to develop the image. By changing the temperature or interfering with the development of the film, I can create new realities.”

Expanding the Narrative About Muslim Women

Using research conducted on three continents, Jana Amin ’21 has been working for nearly two years to deepen the understanding of a 20th-century Egyptian princess whose story was only partially told.

Princess Fawzia Fuad, at one point the queen of Iran, received worldwide attention for her beauty—she was often compared to Western movie stars—during the coverage of her 1939 political marriage to Iran’s crown prince, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

Amin’s research of Egyptian documents unveiled a more complex princess than the one portrayed in the British and American press—a nurse who was involved in Egypt’s health care system and a leader who galvanized Egyptian women to fight for their rights. Amin’s work was featured in an exhibit at the American University in Cairo (AUC), and she conducted research in Egypt, the U.K., and the United States.

“Cecil Beaton, who was one of the photographers for the British royal family, went to photograph her in Iran,” Amin says. “He described her as a ‘fair-skinned princess with sad eyes,’ and the photos show her near a gate. It almost looks like she’s in a cage.And so it was fascinating to get a different perspective on her and to see some of the different roles she played.”

Amin’s interest in Fuad began during the summer before her sophomore year, when she attended a history camp run by The Concord Review, a publication of research papers written by secondary school students. She is Egyptian and Muslim, so when she had to choose a historical subject to research in depth, she began learning about Fuad. International media described the princess as “one of the world’s most beautiful women”; coverage of her wedding focused on its opulence.

While visiting family and friends in England and Egypt, Amin was able to go to museums and archives to view original documents, including an album in the St. Antony’s College Middle East Archives at Oxford that documented the wedding between Fuad and the crown prince and the diplomatic visits that led up to it. Not until she went to the AUC did Amin find information about Fuad’s life that went beyond her beauty and her wedding.

“I went to its rare books library,” Amins says, “and found that she was featured in a lot of the local media, especially this one magazine called Al-Musawar, which basically translates as ‘the picture.’ Here, she was finally covered for her work. She was not a political pawn, no longer someone who was without a voice, no longer someone who was just getting married. She was a nurse who advocated for women and children’s health care. She encouraged women to get involved in Egyptian politics.”

The team at AUC’s rare books library was impressed with Amin’s research and invited her to present it. It also wanted to expand her research into an exhibit, so she worked with the team on curating one that opened last summer at AUC. The preservation team taught Amin about the care that goes into preserving historical artifacts and using them to tell a story. The exhibit received positive media coverage, and Amin is working to see if she can take it to other research centers or museums.

She has also been giving talks—including a TEDxYouth talk in Boston—about her research about changing the narrative around Muslim women, and about the importance of maintaining archives to preserve history. “We can use archives to bring some validity to the human experience and to connect people with the past,” she says.

Clowning Around in Improv Class

Even when they’re fully committed to a character, the best improvisers bring their own personalities to their performances, says improv performer Gemma Soldati ’09.

Soldati and her comedy partner, Amrita Dhaliwal, visited improv classes taught by Peter Parisi, a teacher in the Performing Arts Department, before spring break. The performers shared the joy and connection inherent in clowning. As students improvised chickens and horses, and took audience cues for their characters, they added telling flourishes: a Shakespearean flair, comic movement, and a confrontational “neigh.”

“These things are real; they’re part of who we are,” Soldati told the students. “You have to bring the truth of who you are to the stage. You’re not going
to be successful onstage if you’re trying to hide.”

Clowning allows performers to play with power dynamics, absurdity, poignancy, and hilarity. A good clown—in the commedia dell’arte tradition rather than the big-shoes, red-nose tradition—can be a conduit for all kinds of emotion. Soldati and Dhaliwal have toured with their two-woman show, The Living Room, in the United States and internationally, winning the Best Comedy award at the 2019 Melbourne Fringe Festival in Australia.

Playing off each other and creating a story doesn’t always result in humor, Soldati says. “It’s not a competition to see who’s the funniest. You need each other.”

Talbot Speaker: 
Wonderful and Worthy—Students Are 
Already There

“How would you engage in your life if you knew you were wonderful just as you are?” the clinical psychologist Adia Gooden asked Milton students. “I want you to think about what you would have the courage to do if you knew you were worthy.”

Gooden, the director of community programs and outcome measurement at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, visited campus in January as the Talbot Speaker. She spoke with students about the issues of imposter syndrome and low self-worth, the feelings that make even the highest achievers feel unworthy in their day-to-day lives.

Imposter syndrome makes a person feel they don’t belong in a place, even when they have been specifically chosen to be there. For students at a selective school like Milton, or for adults in their workplaces, that feeling can manifest in different ways: People may “make themselves small” and fly under the radar for fear that others will discover they don’t belong; they may procrastinate on tasks they feel unqualified to complete; or they may put unsustainable pressure on themselves to be perfect.

Low self-worth can affect anyone, Gooden said, and she believes it is at the root of many mental illnesses. People are constantly exposed to messages—internal and external—that tell them they’re not adequate for various reasons, and those in marginalized communities are especially vulnerable, she explained.

Struggle and discomfort are normal, even helpful, parts of growth. A person’s value is not in their possessions or achievements but in their individuality, Gooden reminded her audience. She offered four strategies to help students feel worthy and gain a sense of belonging: Practice self-acceptance; practice self-compassion, especially after mistakes, and allow yourself to feel your real emotions; connect to supportive people; and identify your unique strengths and what you can contribute to your community.

The Samuel S. Talbot ’65 Memorial Fund for Counseling and Community Issues, established in 1993, enhances
the School’s efforts to teach community members about behavioral issues.


The curiosity to ask why and the courage to speak out are qualities that lead to innovation and change. The individuals featured in this issue embody these qualities. Through their questioning, leadership, and willingness to share their views, they are making a difference–in their professions and in the world.