A Speaker Series for Change
Thanks to the generosity of the Class of 2023 Parents and an original endowment, the Clifford S. Heinz Speaker Series took on new life during the 2022–2023 academic year under the leadership of Upper School Director José Melgoza.
At the start of the last school year, Upper School Director José Melgoza asked department chairs to think about which notable speakers they would like to bring to campus to enrich our students’ learning. Our colleagues dreamed big. The Science Department, in collaboration with Manager of Environmental Sustainability Laura Fleming, invited Dr. Sonja Klinsky, Associate Professor at the School of Sustainability from Arizona State University; Performing Arts invited DJ Kurs, Artistic Director of Deaf West Theatre; and History invited Dr. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of Berkeley Law School.
“We've been able to highlight our different departments in a new way and shed light into the different sorts of conversations, and the depth of inquiry that I think all of our departments are doing but were not always visible to the public,” said José. “Our teachers or faculty are known for their excellent teaching, but a lot of that comes from the fact that they really know their material, and they're really involved and active in the different types of conversations out there. The Speaker Series gave us an opportunity to bring that to the forefront.”
Welcoming a diverse ensemble of scholars, professionals, creatives, and critical thinkers to Poly’s campus, the Speaker Series is a living testament to the vision of the philanthropist who founded it, Clifford S. Heinz, Jr. ’34. Initially established through the Clifford S. Heinz ’34 Character Education Fund in 1997, the Speaker Series reflects the principles of Clifford’s life, characterized by his unwavering honesty, belief in the transformative power of education, and deep well of compassion for others.
By promoting unique voices and lively debates through the Speaker Series, Poly is able to carry forward Clifford’s legacy, fostering open-mindedness, intellectual curiosity, and the relentless pursuit of knowledge. This wholly aligns with Poly’s current initiative to bring a range of viewpoints to our community, spearheaded by Head of School John Bracker, who invited Professors Robert George and Cornel West to campus in 2022. “Our interest lies in helping make sure our students and our community understand that there's actually beauty and complexity in multiple perspectives. The end game isn't to create this binary world of you're right, and you're wrong,” John said.
Sonia Singla P '23, '23, '28
Sonia Singla P ’23, ’23, ’28 was one of the dedicated parents who helped support the Speaker Series by hosting a dinner for senior parents in hopes that they would have an opportunity to hear more about the series and help expand it to future classes beyond the Class of 2023.
“When I hosted the dinner, I had many parents talk about how they loved the opportunity to come to campus in the evenings. When you have high school students, you just don't come around that much because the kids are independent. So, that was part of that coming together—seeing old, friendly faces,” she shared. “As parents, we want to continue to learn and expand where we're at. Learning together with these students who have these incredible opportunities was really special for the parents.”
Upper School History Teacher Kristen Osborne-Bartucca was tapped as the History Department Chair to arrange one of the speakers, eventually bringing Dr. Chemerinsky to campus. His total recall of Supreme Court cases, personalities, and laws without the use of notes absolutely astonished the crowd at his event. But as Kristen notes, equally impressive was his quiet philanthropy.
“What is remarkable about Dr. Chemerinsky is that he did not want an honorarium and instead requested that those funds be directed towards students with a financial need,” Kristen said. “Clifford Heinz’s gift and Dr. Chemerinsky’s spirit immeasurably enriched students, parents, alums, and community members, and what is better than that?”
Through the Speaker Series, Poly is committed to bringing diverse voices to campus as part of our broader mission. We proudly foster community leaders who have the compassion to advocate their positions and debate respectfully with others, even those with whom they have very different viewpoints.
“I'm really proud of Mr. Bracker and Mr. Melgoza for making sure that we bring together all types of voices and experts in our country and our world,” said Sonia. “I love that we bring balance to this community. We bring various thought leaders and people who might not think exactly the same way we do because that's what makes our students expand and soar when they can hear from other people that they might not necessarily know or might not agree with.”
In the future, it is the hope of the Upper School to secure more funds to expand the Speaker Series based on the success of the last year. Though the events are highly impactful on campus, the leadership hopes for even more immersive opportunities with speakers, including full-day visits to campus, classrooms, and off-site events.
“The big idea behind an endowment is that you've institutionalized something; you've made it possible that there will forever be a student at Poly who knows your name because of your gift,” said John. “And I think the idea of endowing a speaker series like this means Poly will forever have the resources to have these fascinating, provocative conversations.”