Jon Breen Assembly 6-6-2002

Opening Remarks at the Inaugural

Jon Breen Memorial Fund Assembly

June 6, 2002


Richard J. Garfunkel

Chairperson of the Jon Breen Fund


 Hello to all of you fellow Mount Vernon High School graduates and our distinguished panel. My name is Richard Garfunkel, and I am also a graduate from the first graduating class of the new Mount Vernon High School way back in 1963. This is not the first MVHS. The first Mount Vernon High School was created in the 19th Century and was split into two high schools, one academic AB Davis and one vocational Edison Tech in the 1930’s.


My class of 1963, we were only a three-year high school in those days, were educated in both campuses and were only unified only on the sports teams. We never attended a class in this complex and were only graduated from the unfinished gymnasium.


Meanwhile getting back to the purpose of our being here. In 1994 our class had decided to use some of the remaining funds from our 30th high school reunion to honor the memory of the late Jon Breen, who had passed away earlier that year. Jon Breen was an outstanding member of the class of 1963. He was president of our class; he was a scholar athlete, an excellent debater and an accomplished essayist. Jon went on to Dartmouth College where he graduated summa cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He was awarded a Fulbright scholarship for study in Australia, and after a year abroad he was admitted to the Harvard Law School. He went on to practice law with Hale and Dorr, a prestigious Boston Law firm.


With consultation of members of my class, the Superintendent of Schools William Pratella and the lead social studies teacher LE Smith, I decided to raise money and sponsor an essay contest on a timely public policy issue. Over the years approximately $20,000 has been raised for this purpose. Some of the past topics have been: E Pluribus Unum, its meaning, We the People, Celebrating one’s Freedom, Is the President Above the Law, Trial by Jury, Who Elects the President, the Electoral College and finally Freedom vs. Security.


Without the invaluable help of Mr. Paul Court, the lead social studies teacher and his predecessor Mr. John Alberga, this effort would not have succeeded. Their input and guidance has been outstanding. This continued effort has seen over 1500 essays submitted over the past eight years. The top essayists have all gone on to fine schools and hopefully this effort and many others of the like will continue to encourage scholarship and inquiry into the pressing issues of our day.


I would like to introduce our panel today, and I would also like to introduce our finalists. First of all, I would like to welcome, the Honorable Ernest Davis, the Mayor of Mount Vernon, the Honorable Clinton Young, a MVHS graduate and track star, your County Legislator and Ms. Brenda Smith, vice Superintendent of the MV School system. Our finalists are Marc Parris, Gifty Ampadu, Monique, Jones, and Monique Graham, would you please stand as I call your name again.


Since this our inaugural session, the format is one of experimentation. But as the moderator this morning I will use my discretionary power.


A.     First of all today’s topic is Freedom vs. National or Personal Security-

B.      I will invite the four finalists to read their essays.

C.     After each essay I would like our panel to take notes and I will ask each panelists to make a comment on a question from the audience and a possible question from myself. Please limit your responses to a few minutes

D.     The audience may make a statement or ask a question to one of the finalists or one of our panel members.

E.      I will ask the audience to hold their applause to the end of each speech.

F.      After all the speeches are spoken ,and all the questions are asked and hopefully answered, I will ask the panel to vote the best essay.