Tiffany Maziarz aspires to follow in Samuel Alito’s footsteps.
The Steinert High School senior, a student in teacher Tracy Quinn’s Government and Law Related Experiences, or GALRE, class, has her eye set on law school and plans to become a judge, hopefully on the highest court in the nation—like Alito, valedictorian of the Steinert Class of 1968, who was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President George W. Bush in 2006.
Alito, the son of public school teachers Rose and Samuel A. Alito Sr., continued his education at Princeton University and Yale Law School. After graduating from Yale in 1975, he became the Assistant United States Attorney for New Jersey, where he became well known for his prosecution of cases involving organized crime and drug trafficking.
Alito is arguably Steinert’s most famous alumnus. Yet there is no mention of him within the hallways of his Hamilton alma mater. So multiple student groups, including GALRE, National Honors Society, Student Government and Peer Leadership—are looking to change that. They have applied for and gained school board approval to renovate and dedicate the library in honor of Alito.
There’s no room in the school budget for the renovation or a ceremony, so the students are taking it upon themselves to raise both money for the library and overall awareness about the high ranking alumnus.
“It’s nice to know that someone with our high school’s educational background has a place in history, and it should definitely be commemorated,” Maziarz said.
Senior GALRE student Hunter Nolan echoed her sentiment. “It is nice to think that our high school has graduated one of nine people who sits on the Supreme Court,” Nolan said. While nine justices usually sit on the court, there are currently only eight due to the death of justice Antonin Scalia.
The township dedicated Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. Way, formerly Municipal Drive, shortly after he was appointed to the Supreme Court. The road is home to the police station and the public library. Other than that, there is little mention of him elsewhere in the township or school district.
All of the students interviewed for this story said they never knew a Supreme Court justice had graduated from their high school until their junior year, when they first heard about students fundraising efforts for the dedication ceremony. There’s just no room in the curriculum to fit his special ties to his hometown in.
Aside from government-driven electives, most history classes only have time throughout the year to discuss the major court cases from history, with little time spent discussing the court as it is today. Students hope the library dedication will shed more light on not just Alito’s career but also the overall importance of the Supreme Court.
‘Although it’s a Steinert pride thing, it’s really a Hamilton pride thing. All of Hamilton should be proud that he went to school here.’
Quinn said GALRE students first had the idea to dedicate a portion of the high school to the conservative judge two years ago after their annual trip to Washington. During the trip, students had the opportunity to meet Alito in the United States Supreme Court Building.
The students noticed the irony of Alito taking the time to meet with students from an alma mater that doesn’t recognize his accomplishments.
“We were just like, ‘Why do we have nothing in this building that says to everyone in America we have a Supreme Court justice that went to our school?’” Quinn said.
Over the past two years, students from each senior class have worked to move forward on the dedication. Students from the Class of 2015 sent a proposal to the board of education outlining their argument and plans for the dedication. It was approved over the summer, leaving the Class of 2016 to complete the biggest task—raise the money to renovate the library.
Librarian Renee Rogers said the library still sports its original carpet and furniture. Some of the chairs are unstable, and corners of tables are being held together by tape. The green carpet is covered in permanent stains from years of wear and tear.
“Most of my budget is for books and the electronic access to different databases and resources,” Rogers said. “I have a couple thousand dollars that I try to make the most out of every year. There’s no budget for updating furniture, replacing anything like that.”
Rogers has made cosmetic changes since joining the Steinert staff in 2010 in an effort to make the library a more comfortable workspace. The walls are repainted and the top of the bookshelves are decorated with student artwork. She teamed up with students to recatalog the fiction section, which Rogers said has helped increase circulation.
During Rogers’ time at Steinert, she’s worked to make the library the hub of the school. She said students go in during their lunch breaks to work on group projects or study, and the library is packed with students before and after school.
Rogers said she plans to use the money raised to buy furniture that better fits student needs. As more students use the library to collaborate on projects and hold their own study groups, the furniture should lend itself to group work rather than individual study stations.
To raise money, student groups, including GALRE, National Honor Society and Peer Leadership, have held various events over the past year—the Mr. SHS talent show and a battle of the bands between the three high schools. This year, the student groups launched an internal a “Buy a Square” campaign. A $10 donation buys a new carpet square. Members of the Steinert community—students, teachers, parents—have donated to the campaign, but Quinn wants to extend their fundraising efforts further into the Hamilton community. Rogers and Quinn are also working to set up a parent committee to help additional fundraisers.
There is no set fundraising goal. Instead, Quinn said, they hope to raise as much money as possible within the next few months and will work within that budget to get the best furniture and upgrades available. Quinn is hoping people and businesses from all over Hamilton donate either money or time toward the renovation and dedication.
“Although it’s a Steinert pride thing, it’s really a Hamilton pride thing,” she said. “All of Hamilton should be proud that he went to school here.”
Quinn said the school administration would like to invite Alito back to Steinert for the dedication ceremony—which will be held late spring or early fall 2017—and ideally they’d be inviting him to a building where furniture isn’t falling apart. Quinn, Rogers and the students want the library to positively reflect Steinert and Hamilton, and the stains and broken chairs just don’t do it justice.
Getting so many renovations done in such a short amount of time can be seen as a daunting task, but the Class of 2016 is up to the challenge.
“I think it’s important for us to show pride in our high school and show that people have left Steinert and went on to bigger and better things and have found success,” Maziarz said.
The atmosphere in Steinert has changed in recent years, with last year’s #SteinertPride movement encouraging students to have a sense of achievement. This year’s graduating class has a deep sense of pride when talking about what they’ve accomplished.
“This class, as far as I’ve seen, has definitely been the most outgoing class in terms of trying to make change to the Steinert community,” Maziarz said. “With the library renovations, with all of the fundraisers we have going on, I think we are definitely one of the biggest supporters for change in our school.”
To learn more about the “Buy A Square” fundraiser or to make a donation, email Tracy Quinn at email@example.com or Renee Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org.