|Generous Alumna Gift to HCHS, thanks to E. Mildred Speiser, HCHS '49|
When E. Mildred Speiser, HC ’53 and HCCS ’49, was chosen for the Hunter Hall of Fame in 1983, it wasn’t a surprise; she has always been someone who makes the word “overachiever” into an understatement. But with a recent – and remarkably generous – gift to the High School, she has crowned her previous body of contributions.
In 2011, after an experience with a Hunter high school student reporter, Speiser identified a gap in the journalism curriculum: there was no dedicated coursework teaching journalistic ethics. In today’s media-saturated, sound bite driven world, Speiser felt that fostering dedication to accuracy-based, rigorous journalistic techniques was crucial to students’ development. Speiser consulted with Lois Refkin, department chair for English, Communication, and Theatre, who agreed – and the Speiser Institute for Responsible Media was born.
Speiser has supported the program annually since its inception, but this new endowment gift represents a significant boon to the English department, guaranteeing future Hunter HS students the opportunity to learn and practice professional-standard, integrity-filled journalism. The Endowment Fund will enable the continuation and expansion of programs like a semester-long journalism practicum, advisorships for school newspapers, journalism conferences, and outreach efforts.
Lois Refkin says that these programs have already attracted many more students to the school newspapers and dramatically raised awareness of media and journalistic ethics. “In this world where journalism is anyone who wants to create a blog, it's important for our students to see that there’s actually a craft, and a set of ethical constraints to what we put online or in print.” She reports that student publications are already seeing the benefit of the raised bar; the aspiring journalists begin their newspaper positions already equipped with tools. They understand thorough fact-checking, they can frame questions and stories more creatively, and they can write with different types of voices.
English teacher Nicole Cusick, who spearheaded the creation of the Institute, continues to maintain many of its operations – like the popular Journalism Practicum, an elective for 9th and 10th graders, which has been full every semester since its inception. And the Institute is still expanding its programming; its newest endeavor, the first biannual Hunter College High School Journalism Conference, was held during the 2014/15 academic year. The inaugural conference focused on the topic of ethical journalism in a fast-paced world, and featured twenty speakers from publications like The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Wall Street Journal. Hunter students and ambassadors from six other schools heard from and interacted with eminent professionals working at the top of the field. The Conference represents an effort to forge connections between Hunter and the larger journalism community, to create a more wide-reaching dialogue.
Creating dialogue has always been Speiser’s forte. The first-generation American daughter of Hungarian immigrants, Speiser spent her high school years at Hunter as a passionate leader in all facets of extra-curricular life. She joined a myriad of clubs and started new ones, participating in everything from student government to the Cheering Squad to the History Club.
When Speiser graduated, her commitment to her high school only grew. She went on to receive an undergraduate degree in political science from Hunter College, and then her Master’s in Education. When she became a New York City public school teacher, she kept Hunter constantly in her professional and personal life, returning as an adjunct lecturer, founding the Hunter College High School Alumnae/i Association, and organizing reunions of her classmates. She remains active in alumni organizations, and has been a valued and devoted advisor to current Hunter students.
Speiser’s deep relationship with her alma mater is just one thread of the tapestry of connections to her community, and one facet of her multitude of interests and pursuits. She is a published poet and short story writer, an avid traveler and skier, a theater lover, and a ping-pong player. Throughout her long and varied career, she has been a salesperson, a travel consultant, and a wedding planner. She has worked with child actors for television and film, founded a gourmet pickle company, and runs a yearly poetry festival at Riverside Park.
Lois Refkin finds Speiser’s youthful energy and dedication to be inspirational. “For someone to retire from their job in one area, and to continue to discover new talents in themselves and take on new projects, to inspire other people – she’s an example to us all.” Speiser’s generosity too is an example and inspiration; she is a true embodiment of the Hunter motto, taking on the care of the future and the young people who will make and report history.
Thank you, E. Mildred Speiser!