Merrill Presidential Scholars program produces unexpected reunions

From left at the May 21 Merrill Presidential Scholars recognition program on campus are Louis Marchesano, an English and drama teacher from Fort Collins, Colo.; Jennifer J. Erdmann, a graduating senior in comparative literature and classical civilization; Jill A. Morgenstern, a National Scholar and graduating senior; and English teacher George R. Blouin from Plainview, N.Y. Blouin had been Marchesano's high school teacher, and both were chosen for recognition this year by Merrill Scholars Blouin by Morgenstern and Marchesano by Erdmann. Jon Reis/PHOTOLINK

By Linda Grace-Kobas

Among the happy reunions between students and their mentors at this year's recognition program for the Merrill Presidential Scholars were three serendipitous encounters among friends, teachers and students who hadn't seen each other for many years, until they met again at Cornell last month.

Held May 21, the event honored Cornell's 35 graduating Merrill Scholars and the teachers who most inspired them. Each scholar selected a high school teacher and Cornell faculty member. The high school teachers, who came from across the United States and from Australia and Hong Kong, were brought to campus as Cornell's guests; $4,000 scholarships are being established in their names for future Cornell students from their schools or regions.

The Merrill Presidential Scholars Program is made possible by funding from Philip Merrill, Class of 1955. The STAR (Special Teachers Are Recognized) Scholarship Program began in 1989 with support from Donald and Margi Berens, members of the Class of 1947, the William Knox Holt Foundation and the Cornell Alumni Association of Central New York.

President Hunter Rawlings told the gathering in the Memorial Room of Willard Straight Hall that the awards reflect "a remarkable story of intellectual descendence." Education is a continuum, he said, with each stage as important as every other. He emphasized the necessity to recognize the fine teaching and research that is being done in the nation's high schools.

Rawlings noted that Professor James A. Gross of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations was being honored by a student for the fourth time.

Much comment was made by attendees about three unplanned reunions that occurred that day.

Maryann Burden and Carolyn R. Bach both attended the same 8 a.m. math class at the Douglas College for Women (now part of the New Jersey State University system) back in -- well, they would say only that it was more than 30 years ago. Each went her separate way but both ended up teaching high school math, Burden in Clifton, N.J., and Bach in Granby, Conn. In spite of the years, they recognized each other right away, they said.

Bach was invited to Cornell by Sarah L. Shaw, a biological sciences major, and Burden by Julie N. Winarski, an agricultural, resource and managerial economics major.

Another unexpected reunion between former classmates occurred for Brian O. Earle, senior lecturer in the Department of Communication, and James G. Miller, a social studies teacher in Syracuse. Both attended Ithaca High School in the mid-1960s. Miller's daughter is currently a sophomore and a student of Earle's; his father was Gormly Miller, the ILR librarian for many years.

Earle was being honored by Julie Winarski, and Miller by Tanya J. Axenson, an Honors Scholar.

The most unusual -- and heartwarming -- reunion was between high school English teacher George R. Blouin of Plainview, N.Y., and his former student Louis Marchesano, who now teaches English and drama in Fort Collins, Colo. The two had not met since 1974, when Marchesano graduated from John F. Kennedy High School. They recognized each other on sight in the lobby of the Statler Hotel.

"George has a real respect for students," Marchesano said of his former teacher. "He knows that ideas are important and that students have valid ideas. I've tried to treat my students that way as well, as individuals, not as kids." Marchesano was invited to Cornell by Jennifer J. Erdmann, who has a double major in comparative literature and classical civilization.

Blouin was being honored by Jill A. Morgenstern, a National Scholar at Cornell who, ironically, never had him as a teacher in class. "He is truly a student advocate," she said. "Whenever I needed a teacher for support or advice, he's the one I would go to."

Blouin was pleased to see both his former students and was somewhat overwhelmed by all the accolades he was receiving.

"It's like being a grandfather," he commented.

Who knows what will result now that all these paths have crossed again?

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