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Vol. LXV, No. 23
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
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Gold Key Recipients Hear Richard Besser Talk About Meeting Life’s Challenges

Ellen Gilbert

ABC News Chief Health and Medical Director Richard Besser, who graduated from Princeton High School (PHS) in 1977, returned last week to deliver the keynote address at the Gold Key Award Ceremony.

The Gold Key is awarded to multi-talented juniors and seniors who have excelled in academics while also serving as leaders in community service, sports, music, theater, and other extra-curricular activities. They are, said Principal Gary Snyder, “consumers who have served the high school in a way that leaves it a better place.” He noted the difficult job the student-faculty selection committee had in choosing this year’s honorees.

Mr. Besser also looked back as he reminisced that “thirty-five years ago I was sitting in the old auditorium for this same ceremony” The Gold Key he received that day “still remains one of my proudest accomplishments.”

Interviewed just before the ceremonies, which included Student Council President Marcus Budline’s account of the history of the Gold Key, Assistant Superintendent Lew Goldstein explained that choosing Mr. Besser as this year’s speaker was in keeping with the tradition of selecting former graduates who exemplify “what a difference students can make.” Before coming to ABC, Mr. Besser served as the acting director of the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Describing the trajectory of his career, Mr. Besser said that his “best advice” to all students is to know that the “most rewarding experiences” are those that occur “when you’re helping others.” Warning them against becoming caught up in the push-and-pull of everyday life, he counseled students to “always make time for giving back to your community.”

A year off from school was a life-changer, according to Mr. Besser who learned, he said, that “the world is accessible” and that he could widen his horizons. “People can connect even if they don’t speak the same language.” After graduating from medical school, Mr. Besser spent five months in a remote Himalayan hospital. He described how covering for the head physician and performing an unexpected caesarian section (his first) gave him a big dose of confidence. He advised students to “look at each challenge as an opportunity,” and to choose jobs that are outside of their “comfort zone.”

The names of the 36 seniors and 17 juniors who won the award this year’s had not yet been announced when the Thursday morning assembly began. Last year’s winners had the pleasure of describing each of them, and calling them up to receive their Gold Keys, amid the cheers of the audience.

Seniors Gold Key winners included Katelyn Bechler, Jonathan Yao, Teresa Gebert, Talya Nakash, Amanda Phelan, Chaz Taylor, Henry Liu, Molly McMahan, Kelly O’Grady, Sean Andalcio, Alex Charwin, John Sturm, Ross Mazur, Rebecca Saltzman, Carles Boix, Ginny Rogers, Sara Sauer, Laura Vasquez, Yael Davidov, Samantha Ifkoff, Yasmine Swanson, Angela Glover, Rose Fowler Lapp, Zoe Crain, Alyssa Torske, Leah Reiss, Grace Klinges, Sara Wegman, Diana Gonzalez, Pauline Miller, Evan Paine, Kim Palagyi, Alankrita Raghavan,
Angela Ren, Owen Diver, and James Farrell.

The Junior winners this year were Jenna Cody, Sarah Cen, Lucy Fleming, Handy Pierre, Rebecca Tang, Milosh Popovic, Katie Reilly, Ofry Shatzky, Sadik Shahidain, Derek Colaizzo, Sam Dercon, Kristen Duncan,
Katherina Gebert, Lena Sun, Deanna Youssoufian, Chrislyn Choo, Halima Gikandi, Carly Kleinbart, and Melody Liu.

Mr. Besser’s time at PHS wasn’t over with the conclusion of the assembly. Talking to ninth and tenth grade students in the Black Box theater later
that morning, he spoke about the latest e. coli outbreak as well as his own early experience dealing with a similar outbreak in Massachusetts. Later, Mr. Besser returned to the reception being held for the Gold Key recipients and their parents.

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