Ari Wigder remembers the first time he strolled the campus at the High School for American Studies — A time before he was even a student there.
He was in eighth grade, and being led on a tour by principal Alessandro Weiss, who talked about how American Studies was the top school in the state, “and how I would never lose an argument again with my parents after taking their classes.”
And while there is no definitive scorecard on how Wigder fared in debates with his parents, he said one of the best decisions he ever made was to become part of the American Studies family.
“I feel I came out a much better person than I went in,” said Wigder, an ace pitcher and first baseman for four seasons with the Senators baseball team. “I made some good friends, formed a bunch of great connections with teachers, and I’m definitely thankful for the experience. It’s just kind of surreal how four years can just fly right by.”
Wigder officially spent his final day at American Studies on June 26 when he celebrated his graduation. But, in a way, he already had moved on from his beloved high school.
“I’m working at a research company in Manhattan,” Wigder said. “They do research mostly in technology, so I’m just going to be helping them out as an intern over the summer.”
As one might guess, Wigder had a plethora of fond memories of his days at American Studies — Some in the classroom, others on the baseball diamond. But they are all ones he’ll take with him to college and beyond.
“As far as favorite in-school memories, I would say two things,” he said. “One was how our school really encouraged open debate. I love debating and I love speaking, so for me, that really opened my eyes up to trying something that I hadn’t done in middle school.”
Those earlier years were at Kinneret — a school Wigder said offered him a great experience, but not exactly one where he felt he could openly debate.
“Everything felt kind of censored,” he said. “So having open dialogue in high school, especially in some very real subjects, was definitely a great experience for me.”
There was one class in particular that really made an impression on Wigder: “Europe Between the Wars.”
“It was about the destruction of Germany after World War I all the way until the rise of Hitler and how it all spiraled out of control,” he said. “That, to me, was very interesting because I had always learned about the Holocaust and how the Jews were affected. But it was really interesting to me to see how the Germans themselves kind of fell victim to their circumstances.”
Getting back to sports, as a four-year member of the Senators baseball program, Wigder points to a playoff game in his junior season as his — and the Senators’ — greatest moment. And it was one that involved teammate Casey Press.
“Closing out Port Richmond last year in the playoffs definitely ranks high on my list,” Wigder said. “That was a big one. I threw five innings and I reached my (pitch) limit and coach took me out. Then with a two-run lead Casey was able to close the door and give us that win. Earning a playoff win that me and Casey played an instrumental role in was a great moment.”
With American Studies now in his rearview mirror, Wigder will wing west in late August to attend Occidental College in Los Angeles where he plans to major in a very challenging area of study: Physics.
“A big part of that is due to my 11th grade teacher, Mr. Uzieo, who was probably the best teacher I ever had.” Wigder said. “He made physics very approachable, and that really opened up my eyes. So that’s the route I’m trying to go.”
And even though he will be 3,000 miles away from home, Wigder already has a built-in support system in California.
“My dad has a couple of friends in L.A., and they have been referring me to other friends in case I ever need a home-cooked meal,” Wigder said, laughing. “I’ve gotten offers of everything from home-cooked meals to, ‘If you need to be bailed out of jail, this is the number to call.’”
But as the west coast beckons, Wigder says he’ll miss his time at American Studies.
“I’m ready to go on to bigger and better things, but I’m going to miss a lot of my teachers and friends,” Wigder said. “I’m definitely going to miss Mr. Weiss for sure. But I’m ready to move on.”