In the spring of her senior year, Kieren van den Blink ’90 prepared to take the stage at the J. Walter Reeves Speaking Contest. She had lost her mother to cancer the previous October, just six days after her mother’s 50th birthday. “I signed up [for the contest] because I knew that I had something to say,” van den Blink remembered. “I knew that I had seen things that most kids hadn’t seen. And I wanted to share something of what I had seen. I wanted to, as Walt Whitman said, ‘sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.’”
But when it came time for van den Blink to write her speech, she got scared. Instead of writing about what she knew, she wrote about contentment. “That was defining for me because that moment is a reminder: Even when you’re afraid, tell your story.”
This summer, van den Blink returned to Hightstown to shoot “Fingernail Moon,” a short film that finally tells the story van den Blink intended to share on the Peddie stage 19 years ago. The film premiered at the William Mount-Burke Theatre on September 22.
“Fingernail Moon” is a moment caught in amber: that summer before van den Blink’s senior year, sitting with a friend on the grass in front of the First Baptist Church of Hightstown on Main Street, eating ice cream and talking through the impending loss of her mother. There’s a different ice cream shop across the street now, but it’s still the same bustling Main Street, the same Hightstown van den Blink loves.
Van den Blink grew up as a neighbor to the Peddie campus. “I always had a crush on Peddie. I grew up wanting to go there, and I had these ideas in my mind of what it would be. I loved the grass and Adirondack chairs and the Labrador retrievers and the little babies and the smartly-dressed faculty. I loved the kids that had this promising look in their eyes.” Soon, van den Blink would become one of those kids, discovering a passion for theater under the instruction of Harry Holcombe and attending English classes taught by her favorite teacher, Peter Quinn.
Returning to town — and to Peddie’s campus — to tell her story feels right to van den Blink. “I think that doing this now is just an indication of the peace that I’ve found in my life and the readiness that I feel to share my story,” she said.