Friday, May 30, 2008

Harvard must wait, this teen going to China

Hopkins senior wins prestigious award

By Mariana Stebbins
Special to the Register
— As a senior at Hopkins School, Julian Gewirtz has an impressive schedule: he is editor-in-chief of the high school newspaper, served as class president, as head of the peer tutoring program, captain of the squash team, and as actor in five plays, including two Shakespeare productions.
All that while keeping a 4.1 grade average.
“Julian already won seven school prizes,” said Barbara Riley, head of Hopkins, “and we didn’t even announce the senior year winners yet.”
At 18, Gewirtz is lively and unpretentious, even as he talks about his perfect SAT scores and his recent selection as one of the 139 Presidential Scholars nationwide, and the only one from New Haven county. Three other Connecticut students , from Fairfield, Hartford and New London counties, were selected.
This year, about 3,000 students who excelled on the test received invitations to the program, which was created in 1964 and is one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.
“I feel really honored to be selected,” Gerwitz said. “It was a really nice way to end high school.”
What really makes his eyes light up, however, is the U.S.-China Youth Forum, which he created in 2004, at 14, to build bridges between the two countries. Using the school paper as a platform, Gerwitz drummed up support to start a Chinese language program at Hopkins, an initiative followed by students in a few other counties.
Fascinated by Chinese mythology and history, Gewirtz was concerned with the future of the two countries, he said. “China will be very important for the U.S.,” said Gewirtz. “I realized my generation wasn’t prepared to deal with China, most of us didn’t know much about their culture.”
Since 2004, when he worked with an orphanage for children of HIV positive parents in the province of Henan, Gerwitz has been to China a few times. He studied Chinese, met with the country’s youths and the vice-minister of education, and was also interviewed, in Mandarin, on Chinese Central Television.
Gewirtz deferred his enrollment in Harvard to go back to China, where he will work and live on his own for six months before backpacking through Europe. Before that he will attend the medallion ceremony with President Bush, in Washington, on the week of June 21. Along with his parents, Paul Gewirtz and Zoe Baird, he will be accompanied by Gerard Casanova, his history teacher, whom he chose for recognition.
“What is exceptional about Julian,” Casanova said, “is his intellectual maturity and how he looks at what he learns and bring things together.”
Gewirtz is not sure about a career yet, but can’t imagine himself doing something without writing, he said. He used to say “never” law, just because it was everyone’s natural expectation, since both his parents are lawyers, Gewirtz said. A strong possibility, he said, is the social studies program, which will allow him to study his favorite subjects while focusing on a specific society.
For now, he is glad he can go out on a week night with friends and that the Washington ceremony won’t coincide with the prom night.

Mariana Stebbins is a New Haven Register Intern.

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