A conversation between Board of Trustees Chair Emerita Elizabeth Silverman P'03 '10 and former student body co-president William Piepszak '21
Two Peddie leaders share how they met the moment and faced challenges during an extraordinary year - and what they learned along the way.
ES: Will, thinking back to the summer of 2020, or even before that, what piece of advice would you have given yourself knowing what was going to happen during your senior year?
WP: I had a lot of big-picture ideas for lasting change, like, ‘I want to get a late start on Saturday for students; I want Peddie to allow jeans on Saturdays.’ I think if I’d give myself one piece of advice, I’d need to be responsive, not totally looking ahead. But so many challenges popped up out of left field: ‘We want to do Saturday night activities, but we want to do them and have virtual students be a part of it. How do we keep students engaged? How do we bring boarders and day students together?’ I think co-president Clara (Choi ’21) and I and the rest of the student council did a great job. But I’d tell myself to live in the moment, be there for the student body and meet their immediate needs.
ES: If you had known what this year was going to be like, would you have run for student body co-president?
WP: That’s a great question. Definitely yes. I had to think twice because missing out on our traditional Blair Day was a bummer. But I think we totally made up for it, especially with this past spring term. Obviously, I’m biased, but the seniors had the best last week of our Peddie careers ever. I don’t know if you’ve heard about the Slip-n-Slide on center campus, or the senior prank when we Saran-wrapped Mr. Quinn’s car — I mean, maybe we —
ES: Some people Saran-wrapped the car!
WP: Exactly. But it was so rewarding to be able to work with people that I maybe never would have interacted with. It was 100% worth it. How about you? Did you find any silver linings last year?
ES: I think there were a lot of silver linings. One thing I noticed was — and you alluded to this — when you work toward a common goal, you really get to build relationships. Working for this goal really strengthened the relationships I had with many board members. You learn each other’s strengths, and you also laugh a lot.
Another silver lining: We have board members who live in China, in Africa, in Europe, and we have good attendance at board meetings. But on Zoom meetings, it was excellent! This allowed people all over to be just as engaged. Sometimes meetings actually go better on Zoom than in person.
It was so rewarding to be able to work with people that I maybe never would have interacted with. ” will Piepszak ’21
WP: I can totally relate there. When we have Zoom breakout rooms, we have an amazing flow of conversation.
ES: How do you think last year’s experience has changed you? Or has it?
WP: It definitely did. I learned to think a lot more on the fly, to work with different people and to take no as an answer. You have to be able to take no, and to take criticism and to work through reservations about an idea. It’s also taught me to trust and delegate to other students and the student council; I learned to be completely open with and trusting of the faculty on the student council and senate.
ES: If you had to grade Peddie on how it did for the past 15 months, how would you grade it?
WP: We really did a phenomenal job keeping everyone healthy and safe. In the winter, during our online weeks, I was feeling a bit disconnected. But coming back in the spring made up for it entirely. As soon as we were able to be together again, Peddie was very quick to have everyone together. They know how important that is. I’d say Peddie deserves a solid A from a health and safety perspective and keeping the community together.
That’s my student perspective; you and the board of trustees had your hands full at the beginning of last year. Besides assuring the safety of students and employees, what was front-of-mind as you planned the year?
ES: Absolutely safety, so that’s a given. But another huge concern was Peddie’s finances. We had no idea what to expect. We didn’t know if boarders would be able to come back, if the international students could come back. This isn’t something that students should be worried about, and it’s not really something the employees should be worried about.
Another big concern was everybody’s mental health. Not everybody reacts to stress in the same way. The executive committee usually meets four or five times a year, but in the spring of 2020, we met weekly, and probably bi-weekly over the summer. I don’t have a paid job, but the other members all have full-time jobs, and to give this much time to Peddie was phenomenal. In one of these meetings, we were talking about the stress on employees and how we make sure they know we’re behind them. Someone came up with the idea of gift bags. So when every employee got their second COVID vaccine, they also received a gift bag with a signed thank-you note from the board and gift certificates to restaurants in Hightstown, because we also wanted to support the local businesses. It was a little thing, but it was a token to show we were concerned about them.
WP: That’s incredible. I think a lot of students hear about the board and don’t really realize you’re behind the scenes and are working your tails off trying to support us and the employees. You brought up not having layoffs and that, too, is incredible. My advisor is Mr. Dubrule (Brian P’17 ’19), the library director, and I remember him telling me about the winter period when we were all online. He had some of the Peddie Food Service workers organizing books in the library. It’s definitely amazing, that versatility and willingness to say, “We’re not going to have layoffs; we’re going to do whatever it takes.”
ES: I didn’t know about the library, but last spring, the food service workers were the ones who packed up the rooms. That was something we could do to make sure they were justifiably employed.
WP: I can tell you firsthand, as a student, of the relentlessness of the teachers to provide the learning experience that Peddie’s known for. Even through a screen, it was completely there — class in and class out. We were still getting that Peddie experience.
ES: Talk about integrity and citizenship.
WP: As co-presidents, there are a few things you have to do: Plan Blair Day, plan prom, give a speech at Convocation. But outside of that, there’s not a lot of requirements. Clara and I and the rest of the student council made sure we were trying to do our best, to bring things up to the faculty and student senate, to be there for the student body.
How have integrity and citizenship shaped your experience, especially in the last year? How did your partners help?
ES: I think Peddie really showed its colors last year. There were very few cases of Covid at Peddie. That wasn’t by accident; part of it was because of Dr. Aimee Goodman’s procedures. But that can only go so far; everybody had to abide by them. I think the fact that we made it through with no significant outbreaks really speaks to the integrity here. People did what needed to be done — not just for themselves, but for the community.
In terms of partners, I spoke about the board and the executive committee, but again, I would say everybody was in this together. My father used to talk about going above and beyond the call of duty. And I think so many people at Peddie did this. Another thought that comes to mind is in the alma mater, “What e’er befalls, when Peddie calls/We all shall come to thee.” And that’s citizenship. That’s what people did this year.
You’re headed to college in the fall. What’s the most significant way that Peddie has guided you?
WP: The faculty sets such a great example — how to present yourself, how to be humble, how to be responsible, how to have accountability. It’s really inspiring. It makes you want to be a better person. Mr. Dubrule was one of my best supporters this year. I’d go sit in his office for an hour and we’d just chat.
And I’m not a great lacrosse player, but the lacrosse program and the tight-knit team atmosphere were so special. Coach D’Andrea (Rich ’01) and Mr. Harris (Jim P’16 ’19 ’19) run the show. We had about 20 players this year; that’s a very thin lacrosse team. We managed to win one game, and we still had such an amazing season and the camaraderie was unmatched. I was one of two seniors, and being able to be a leader on that team was really special. It taught me a lot about how to connect with people.
I know from my experience that Peddie is a worthwhile investment. How do the lessons and strengths we gained last year help build that argument?
ES: Giving to educational institutions is important or my husband, Steve, and me. It’s also important to us that when we give money, that we feel like it’s being used effectively. There are lots of charitable organizations that have great missions, but not great organization. We want to be sure that when we’re giving, it’s making a difference. I’ve always felt that way about Peddie. But being in the weeds this past year, and seeing all the attention that’s given to every detail on how money is spent, really reinforced that whatever gifts we give will be used in such a way to get the most bang for the buck.
WP: I think that’s exactly how I’m going to feel in a few years. Fresh off an emotional graduation, my love for Peddie has never been greater.
People did what needed to be done - not just for themselves, but for the community. ” Elizabeth Silverman P’03 ’10