A profile and history of StuyCubed, blocks that commemorate previous Stuyvesant graduating classes and historical landmarks.
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As you walk down the halls of Stuyvesant, you might notice small glass cubes: some empty and some filled. These cubes are part of the StuyCubed program, also called Stuyvesant Mnemonics, and include blocks that commemorate previous Stuyvesant graduating classes and historical landmarks, such as the Great Wall of China and the World Trade Center.
StuyCubed started as an effort to remember the building that housed Stuyvesant before the school’s move to its current location and the history of Stuyvesant. The two lead artists, Kristen Jones and Andrew Ginzel, were involved with the project from the planning stage of the new building’s construction. Parent Coordinator Dina Ingram, who plays a large part in the revamping of StuyCubed, described, “They [Jones and Ginzel] were here from the very start when they had the structure done and made actual blueprints of the location of every single block, every floor, where [the blocks are] on each floor and in the wall.”
The intention of StuyCubed was to memorialize the first 85 years of Stuyvesant and provide a means to continue the history of the school. In the 1992 document explaining the purpose of the cubes, Jones and Ginzel state that the ultimate goal of Stuyvesant Mnemonics was “to endow the new Stuyvesant High School, first of all with the essence of its own history, secondly with a distinct sense of the extraordinary riches, raw materials, and curiosities that establish the basis of knowledge, and finally, to give to successive generations so that they might reflect on the significance of their time and have the opportunity to make their own contributions to the visual history.”
When the cubes were first installed, it was decided that they would be divided into four categories: the history of Stuyvesant, artifacts from the old Stuyvesant building, artifacts from the world at large, and empty cubes to be filled by the next 88 years of Stuyvesant students.
In addition to memorializing previous Stuyvesant graduating classes, StuyCubed also teaches small, often forgotten, pieces of Stuyvesant history. Ingram explained, “I did not know that there was a fire in the original building [...] You learn a lot about the history of Stuyvesant, like how far back SING! goes.”
Recently, beginning in the early 2000s, many of the graduating classes stopped filling their cubes. After doing a sweep of the building, Ingram realized that “[The StuyCubed Administration] has 10 individual alum years to track down.” Some cubes have also been damaged after 9/11 and the wear and tear of the building. In order to begin revitalizing StuyCubed, Ingram put together a team: Matt Polazzo, Kerry Trainor, the Stuyvesant High School (SHS) Alumni Association, Casey Pedrick, and Leslie Bernstein.
When Polazzo, the Coordinator of Student Affairs, found out about the empty cubes, he knew that he wanted to play a part in revamping StuyCubed. He described, “It was always really frustrating to me that there were blocks that were going unfilled. At that same time, many of the artists found out, and they were also frustrated. I thought that our frustrations could join together, and get them filled for once.” Polazzo’s role along with the SHS Alumni Association’s will be to contact all alumni whose blocks have not been filled.
Polazzo’s first success came on Friday, May 25, when the class of 2006 came to fill their cube. YanJie Hou (‘06), the Chief of Operations of the Stuyvesant Alumni Association and an ‘06 graduate, explained in an e-mail interview that “it was a grade-wide effort [of the people in the 2006 Facebook group] but very much spearheaded by [their] senior class president, Mike Kimlat. Mike asked for ideas from [the] Facebook group of what were representative items or memorabilia from [their] times at Stuyvesant […] Mike was the one who gathered all of the items and brought [them] to Stuy to assemble.” Geometry teacher David Peng (‘06) added that there had been a previous, unsuccessful effort in 2012 to fill the cube and the initiative had only been continued in the 2017-2018 school year.
Their cube contains the 2006 senior t-shirt as the background, a Stuyvesant Advantage card (a card which offered discounts for Stuyvesant students to various restaurants and stores in the neighborhood), the back of an ID that showed a second semester senior schedule, a 2006 graduation tassel, a pin displaying Conan O'Brien, the graduation speaker for this class, shrunken copies of this class’s SING pamphlet, and a prom souvenir.
Ingram has taken steps to ensure that StuyCubed will not be forgotten in the future. She has made it a senior class activity to fill the cube. She said, “The senior class president will now be starting to find out what they want to put in the block. When the new freshmen come in at Camp Stuy they will be shown their place.” Ingram also hopes to work with the Big Sib program to incorporate a scavenger hunt designed by Biology teachers Marianne Prabhu. Prabhu’s scavenger hunt, which she did with her freshman classes earlier this year, uses the cubes. Prabhu explained why she created the scavenger hunt in an e-mail interview: “Last year, I realized that students didn't know a lot about the history of Stuyvesant, so we used the cubes as an icebreaker to find specific artifacts in different areas of the building.”
Polazzo, too, wants to institutionalize the filling of the cube. He explained, “I want it to become a large part of the senior activities. The artists proposed, and I agree, that it would be like a block party, and there would be an unveiling. I want people to start thinking about their blocks by the time they are freshmen.”
Next time you walk by a small, 6’’ by 6’’ glass cube, be sure to look inside and discover an old—or a new—part of Stuyvesant’s history!