by George J Elbaum
Miramonte High School is a public high school serving the residential communities of Orinda, Moraga, and others, just over the hills east of UC Berkeley. With a student body of approximately 1200, it has a strong college preparatory program with 98% of its graduates going to college. The quality of its academics is reflected in its ratings which, in the past 5 years, included #21 in California and #126 in the US as ranked by US News and World Report, #89 and #173 in the US as ranked by Newsweek, and 1st in California’s Academic Performance Index (API). In addition to high academics, Miramonte has also produced many championship teams in football and water polo.
My presentation at Miramonte was part of a culminating set of activities at the end of their exploration of WWII and of the Holocaust for their approximately 300 freshman class. The timing was explicitly configured to help students connect their study of a subject that is “long ago and far away” from their own lives, and a speaker telling them about personal experiences always makes it more meaningful. The activities started the previous day when the students met a Pearl Harbor survivor. “Mickey,” as he told the students to call him, is 95 years young and enjoyed meeting the students as much as they enjoyed meeting him. Also, just prior to my talk Facing History Director Jack Weinstein met with and presented a session for the students on the concept of bystander vs. upstander behavior in history. Through interactive exchanges and discussion about a short film, students had the chance to confront questions about moral choice-making in the context of the study of the Holocaust. These activities show that the school’s leaders are committed to the idea that history matters, that its study should not be limited to books or films, and that personal testimony is of unique value. The level of attention paid to me by the students during and especially after my talk certainly indicated that these hopes are lived out in the culture of the school, and the appreciation displayed by the audience seemed authentic and sincere. The event was organized by Associate Principal Jan Carlson, my participation was arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves, and my “photographic support” was graciously provided by teacher Meredith Hawkins.