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New Rochelle High School Literary Festival Celebrated Thoreau

New Rochelle High School students celebrated the life and works of Henry David Thoreau.

Scholars and students joined together Friday morning to celebrate the 13th annual “Rubie Saunders Fall Literary Festival.” The event, which was sponsored by the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence, was open to students in English honors courses. 

The event celebrates literature and the life of former fund board member Rubie Saunders, who was a dedicated woman with a great passion for literature. Since its inception, the event has grown in size each year, according to organizers.

Every year the festival highlights a different literary theme or author. This year the event focused on Henry Thoreau and his accomplishments as an abolitionist and environmentalist and his blending of science and poetry.

Three college professors, who have a well-versed knowledge and passion for Henry Thoreau, were featured at this event.  

Laura Dassow Walls, professor of English at Notre Dame University, was the first of the guests to speak. She spoke about Thoreau’s blending of poetry and science, two subjects which she holds very dear to her heart. 

“Poetry and science can have a mutual intelligence,” said Walls. “Poetry helps science to remember how to think big [and] science reminds poetry how to keep grounded.”

Sandra Petrulionis, English and American Studies professor at Penn State, Altoona, highlighted Thoreau’s accomplishments as an abolitionist. She spoke at the festival in 2008 and said she was thrilled to have returned.  

“Thoreau speaks as much to us today on ... political injustice as he did in the 19th century,” said Petrulionis. 

The final speaker was Wesley T. Mott, professor of humanities and art at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Mott emphasized the importance of preserving the environment. 

“It is important to know [our personal Walden],” Mott said, "Because it could soon be gone.”

After the presentations, students were broken up into three groups and participated in a “game show” entitled “Henry David Thoreau: What Do You Know?” in which they answered questions about Thoreau and the professors who spoke at the event. 

Mary Jane Reddington, school board trustee and former English teacher, attends the event each year. She came this year to support her former student Richard Kopley, a 1967 New Rochelle High School graduate, who originated the event back in 2000 and was there Friday to introduce some of the speakers.

“Anything with literature is my passion!” Reddington said.

Students who attended the event were happy with this year’s outcome.

Kaelan Andrade, a junior, thought the event was very beneficial, saying it allowed her to really get to know the author.

Sue Weisman, of the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence, said that the event is key to the enrichment of students.  

“It was a great event…to bring visiting college professors to our high school students,” said Weisman. “It was a unique experience.” 

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