Stuyvesant Students Enter a New Millennium

Stuyvesant alumni from the 2000s reflect on their experiences at Stuyvesant amidst the tumultuous decade.

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Marking the start of a new millennium, the 2000s were characterized by a rapid expansion of innovation and significant challenges that shaped our nation into what it is today. The rise of new technological inventions, such as the iPhone, was mixed with traditional learning methods of the previous century. As handwritten notes and phone calls quickly evolved into text messages, an environment developed in which the past met the future. The economy was booming, but the housing market crisis in 2008 resulted in economic devastation that took America years to recover from. The entertainment scene was dominated by the rise of new pop sensations and blockbuster movies, from Eminem to The Notebook (2004). However, the dawn of the new millennium occurred in the shadow of the 9/11 terrorist attacks as the nation came together to rebuild what was lost. In a historically pivotal decade, Stuyvesant High School students learned to balance their heavy workloads with the nation’s struggle to preserve normalcy in the face of unprecedented circumstances. The bonds they formed with each other in these trying times have endured to this day—a testament to the unity and lasting friendships they forged within their school community.

Remembered as one of the most tragic events in U.S. history, the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001 left a mark on the lives of everyone in America. During the attack on the Twin Towers, students were evacuated from the Stuyvesant building and watched the colossal skyscrapers collapse right before their eyes. Stuyvesant alumnus Daniel Hong (‘05) vividly remembers how he found out the attack was occurring. “We heard a loud sound and we all wondered what was going on,” Hong recalled. “Someone looked out the window and said the World Trade Center was on fire, and from there, things started unfolding very quickly.” He recalled how students worked together to find a way back home safely. “I was with a group of other students, and as soon as the train started running, we got into the first open car that we could see,” Hong described. In a time of need, communities came together, opening their doors for those escaping the area. “We did eventually make our way back to Queens, and we huddled into one of those prep centers for some amount of time until we could get our parents on the phone and also wait for the buses to start running again.” 

The tragic day resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths, but it also served as a catalyst for new bonds to form. Realizing the world was more than Stuyvesant’s competitive environment, students embraced their commonalities, connecting over a shared trauma more meaningful than comparing test grades or bragging about staying up the latest studying. Hong reflected that his newfound mindset allowed him to create genuine relationships with his peers. “I wasn’t trying to outdo the other person or anything like that. My approach that I took was to academically do the best that I could in my studies,” Hong explained.  

Following the attacks, Stuyvesant students attended classes part-time at Brooklyn Technical High School. The Stuyvesant building was vacated to serve as a rehabilitation center for first responders while the attacks’ damages were being assessed. During their time at Brooklyn Tech, students made the most of the limited classroom time they had. “We would always get there around like 12:30 [p.m.],” Hong said. “Every student did have their regular classes, all nine or 10 periods [...], but each period was only 25 minutes long.”

Though it took nearly a month after 9/11 for students to return to Stuyvesant, Hong believes that looking back, they had a pretty typical Stuyvesant experience, including taking APs, volunteering to help the community, and partaking in extracurricular activities they enjoyed. “I guess I just had the more or less normal Stuyvesant student experience as far as taking classes that interested me,” Hong said.

For students who graduated from Stuyvesant prior to 9/11, their high school experiences were largely defined by the passions they pursued at Stuyvesant. Like Hong and Stuyvesant students of today, Stuyvesant alumnus Adam Dick (‘01) engaged in many activities throughout his high school career, forming a myriad of fond memories through these experiences: “I was president of the Table Tennis Club, [which I ran] on the second floor. Every day after school, I hung out at Stuy for a couple of hours and played,” Dick described. Dick was also a part of ARISTA, the Hispanic Honor Society, and the hip-hop dance group.

Though the early 2000s preceded the invention of the iPhone, sending e-mails was a popular communication method between students. Forgoing the written letters of the past, students became able to quickly type and send messages to their friends, no matter how far they were from each other. While past Stuyvesant students may have forgotten their text-chain dramas or late-night phone calls, they still fondly remember spending time with their friends. “We would hang out at the park or go to Terry’s. I don’t remember the academic experience as much as I remember the things that we did,” Dick recalled. 

Nevertheless, the invention of the iPhone in the late 2000s revolutionized students’ ability to keep in touch with friends post-high school. Notable for its small size and immediate messages, the iPhone facilitated reconnection between graduated Stuyvesant students attending different colleges, allowing them to maintain their Stuyvesant friendships to this day. “I definitely keep in touch with a handful of my Stuy friends. Actually, after this [interview], I’m going to hang out with a Stuy friend to watch some of the marathon,” Dick said.

Both Dick and Hong went to prestigious colleges: the University of Michigan and Williams College, respectively. Hong’s college application process involved completing the Common Application by hand and mailing it in to schools. “For the most part, I only had to fill out the Common Application and submit that to the various schools I was applying to,” Hong said. “It was the handwritten version of copy and paste [for most of the essays], along with some filling out the Common Application and just sending that in like five or six times.” 

As for Dick a few years earlier, the process was very similar: “I believe we could apply to 10 schools or universities if you [didn’t] count the SUNYs,” Dick explained. “I applied to all the SUNYs, and that was one application that I believe I sent out as a package.” While the college application of the ‘00s looked far different than it does today, Stuyvesant students still faced intense competition as they strived to get into the Ivy League and other competitive universities.

Similar to today, the Stuyvesant of the ‘00s was prestigious and challenging, and inspired students to become the best versions of themselves. “As I look back from college and beyond, Stuy definitely had some of the most talented people I have met,” Dick said. “It was a very competitive environment, and people were definitely very driven. It was—from an educational standpoint—a very collaborative experience.” Back then, despite Stuyvesant’s difficult coursework, students pushed each other to grow and improve, blossoming as both scholars and individuals in the process. Despite the transition into a new century and the large-scale historical events that followed, being able to attend high school at Stuyvesant marks an extremely rewarding experience for alumni from the ‘00s, both in terms of academics and the people they met along the way.