Kagan's UES Alma Mater Watches Nomination with Pride

Hunter College High School students root for one of their own

If Elena Kagan is confirmed as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, she will not only be the third woman on the current court, but also the third woman who was born, raised and attended high school in New York City.

The local angle was not lost on Hunter College High School students who watched Monday as President Barack Obama nominated Kagan to the high court.

"We're all very proud," senior Gillie Collins said after watching the nomination with about 30 other students on C-SPAN via the Internet.

"It's like astounding because i think i could be doing that some day," Martine Bertoni said "I could be in the White House right now."

Kagan graduated from Hunter in 1977, and her brother Irving teaches constitutional law there. If Elena Kagan is confirmed, Irving Kagan will be teaching his students about cases his sister rules on.

"We're going to be analyzing decisions made by his sister," junior Jamie Bogyo said. "I think that's a pretty unique opportunity."

Kagan, if confirmed, will join Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor to form a New York City triumvirate. Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn and attended James Madison High School, a public school there. Sotomayor was born in the Bronx and attended Cardinal Spellman High School, an academically rigorous Roman Catholic school. 

Justice Antonin Scalia also has New York City roots.  He was raised in Elmhurst and attended Xavier High School, the Jesuit all-boys college prep on 16th Street, where he graduated as valedictorian.

A New York Mets fan, Kagan will serve as a counterweight to Sotomayor's pro-Yankees sentiments. Obama joked in his nomination speech that Sotomayor has ordered a pinstriped robe for her prospective colleague.

Kagan attended Hunter, a publicly funded school affiliated with Hunter College that admits only the brightest students from New York City's five boroughs. Hunter was an all-girls school when Kagan went there but is now co-ed.

"We're very proud," said Principal Eileen Coppola. "It just adds to the school's sense of history."

She called Kagan "a wonderful role model for our students to look up to and see what it's possible for them to accomplish."

The students cheered when Obama noted that Kagan's mother was a teacher, as are her two brothers. Marc, the third sibling, teaches at the Bronx High School of Science.

Collins said Irving Kagan is a terrific teacher.

"He embodies a commitment to public service that definitely seems to be reflected in his sister," she said. "Every class is really interesting. He's always sort of jovial. He's fun-loving."

Notable Hunter alums include poet Audre Lorde, actress Cynthia Nixon and novelist Cynthia Ozick. And then there is Kagan, a former Harvard Law School dean and current U.S. solicitor general.

"Elena stood out as being very brilliant," said retired history teacher Susan Meeker. "Her personality was low-key with an even temperament, certainly self-confident and thoughtful."

Meeker said Hunter "really built a tremendous sense of self-image and future. These girls all knew they had a future."

Today, teachers who work alongside Kagan's brother say Kagan's achievement will only serve to further inspire the hard-working students.

"They aim high," said teacher Gregory Boyle. "They're ambitious in the best way. They're thinking about how they can make a mark on the world in a positive way."  


Copyright AP - Associated Press
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