Humans of East
April 10, 2023
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows defines sonder as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
Walking in the halls of Cherry Hill High School East, it is easy to forget that every person that you walk past as you switch classes, every person you see running out of school at the end of the day, every face you witness just for a glimpse, has a story. Every person has the same complex depth of emotions—fear, sadness, happiness, regret, wonder, hope, passion, and love—as you do.
To truly understand sonder, Eastside randomly picked seven East students using a random number generator. Whether it’s a passion for anatomy, a ski trip tradition, or a love for journaling, we set off in search of the stories, experiences, and interests that make East students unique. Here they are.
Erin Kang (’23)
When life was put on hold and the pandemic struck the entire world, people searched for any way to maintain a hold on normalcy. Spring of 2020 was a time of great stress and worry, yet it also opened the door for self-discovery and self-care. For Erin Kang (‘23), quarantine was a period where she was truly able to unleash her creativity.
To provide more insight on Kang, she is a senior at Cherry Hill High School East with big aspirations for the future. When she was in fourth grade, Kang moved from Deptford and attended Cooper Elementary School, followed by Rosa Middle School.
Kang spent her middle school career immersing herself in the arts. She enjoyed taking part in the Rosa art club, and outside of school she took art and flute classes. However, this all changed beginning the period of quarantine that accompanied COVID-19.
With newly found free time, Kang sought to find ways to unleash her inner creativity. Prior to the pandemic, she loved art; however, school and other responsibilities held her back. With extra time on her hands, Kang discovered the concept of “upcycling clothes” on social media. This is the process of taking older clothes and reconstructing them into something new and unique. Kang immediately took a keen interest in this type of art and began by using older clothes that she and her family already owned. She explained how she “would steal [her] dad’s jeans and bleach them and turn them into shorts.”
After sharpening her skills, Kang began to “thrift flip.” This involves the same process as “upcycling,” but it involves using thrifted clothes. Kang expressed how “[she] [goes] to the thrift store and pick[s] up any clothes [she] can upcycle. It’s challenging because you have boundaries you have to work with, and you have to be really creative with it.” From the start, Kang was a natural. She has been able to thrift flip various items such as a pair of jeans which she upcycled into a corset.
What makes Kang’s talent and interest in thrift flipping so unique is that she is completely self-taught. Before she began thrift flipping, she had never taken a sewing class or watched “how-to” videos on the Internet. She simply found inspiration, and it was all by instinct from there.
Aside from thrift-flipping in her free-time, Kang is involved in a variety of clubs at East. In 2020, prior to the pandemic, Kang started the Hospital Support Club with a friend. She is the co-president of the club and is dedicated to supporting local hospitals through community service. Kang is also a member of the Chinese Student Association and the Korean Culture Club, and she plans to participate in Multicultural Day events for both. Additionally, Kang plays the flute for East’s ensemble, and she is a member of the All South Jersey Symphonic Band.
Although these clubs help to shape Kang’s identity, she said her “creativity truly defines her.” She is interested in pursuing a degree in architecture in college which will serve as an additional creative outlet. Kang is looking forward to what the rest of senior year has to hold, and she plans to thrift flip whenever she has the opportunity.
Kevin Garvin (’25)
Sophomore, soccer player, drummer, skier. These adjectives describe Kevin Garvin (‘25) in the most basic terms. In reality, however, Garvin’s life cannot be summed up into a few words.
Garvin is a member of the Class of 2025 at Cherry Hill High School East. He has lived in Cherry Hill his whole life, and has attended Cherry Hill schools since kindergarten. Garvin went to J.F. Cooper Elementary School and Rosa International Middle School prior to attending East.
One of Garvin’s strong passions is soccer. He has been playing for most of his life. He started playing when he was five years old and played on the Rosa boys’ soccer team. As for his position, Garvin plays as an outside midfielder. He plays for the East boys’ soccer team in the fall each season. Along with school soccer, Garvin plays on the Liverpool FC club team throughout the year.
As a freshman, Garvin played on the junior varsity boys’ soccer team. This prior fall, he made it to varsity as only a sophomore. While being on varsity was a huge accomplishment for Garvin, it also came with some challenges.
“I was competing for [playing] time this year as a sophomore because there were eight seniors on the starting squad, so it was hard to get minutes. That was just something I had to overcome and try to work hard at,” Garvin said.
Garvin has two completely separate teams between club soccer and school soccer. None of his teammates overlap, so he plays with different people depending on which team he is playing for at the moment.
“They are just two different teams but I enjoy both,” Garvin said.
Garvin experiences different environments between the two teams. He feels closer with his East teammates than with his club teammates.
“I think club soccer probably feels a little less like a team. East [soccer] feels like a team because I know other kids from my classes, and I bond with them every day in the locker room,” Garvin said. “Club is more just practices and games, and I’m still friends with them, it’s just not the same.”
Garvin’s passion for soccer keeps him motivated, especially because it is difficult to balance East soccer with club soccer. In the fall, Garvin will typically have practice for East soccer after school, and then practice for club soccer at night.
Overall, Garvin has gained so much from soccer. He has experienced the joy of the sport, created new friendships that will last a lifetime and learned that hard work pays off.
While soccer is a big part of Garvin’s life, it certainly is not his only interest. Garvin also enjoys skiing with his friends and family. He often goes skiing in New York and Vermont with his family.
“Every year, my dad and I get together with a bunch of other dads and sons and we go on a father-son ski trip,” Garvin said.
Soccer and skiing trips are just two ways that Garvin likes to connect with his friends and family.
Garvin also greatly enjoys listening to music. Some of his favorite artists include Kendrick Lamar, Rex Orange County, The Weeknd and Backseat Lovers. Garvin also plays drums with his friends.
Garvin looks forward to attending various East events this year. For example, the basketball games, Sophomore Cotillion, and any pep rallies.
To conclude, yes, Garvin is a sophomore, soccer player, drummer and skier. But, his existence cannot be summed up into a few words — or even 500.
Liz Ludman (’24)
Displayed above her bed in big black letters is “Elizabeth”, interspersed with a roller coaster track. She is a fervent lover of roller coasters, fittingly symbolic of her larger journey through life. She may be afraid, but she goes on, experiencing the adrenaline, the ups, the downs, the loopty loops, the thrill, and the fear.
Elizabeth Ludman (‘24) may not know what life will entail, but she jumps in her seat, eyes open, hands up, knowing that she is ready to experience the ride.
In middle school, Elizabeth, more popularly known as Liz, did not care what anyone else was wearing. She adorned herself in dresses and sparkles, adamant in her refusal to not wear sneakers. Even though she now says she dresses like everyone else, her rebellious attitude has remained intact in other areas of her life.
Ever since she was six years old, Liz has been swimming. Entering Cherry Hill High School East, she accordingly joined the swim team. But she quickly became bored of the usual, conventionality, the same old routine. So in freshman year, itching for novelty and challenge, she grew intrigued with the idea of trying a sport she hated.
“I took it as a challenge, and I signed up for running because I hated nothing more than running… I went for it… I think I cried consecutively the first two weeks of practice. I ran six miles my second day of ever running in my life. I don’t know if I’ve cried that hard since then. [But] I just fell in love with it, and I couldn’t believe I fell in love with it. My friends still didn’t believe me a month into track that I was doing it; I hated running so much… and I loved it. And then I decided to do cross country which I loved even more and since then it’s been running” she said.
Something once completely out of her comfort zone had turned into a passion. And this year as a junior, she made the decision to do winter track instead of continuing swimming for the high school team.
Breaking expectations is natural to Liz. Growing up, she would get lightheaded around her own blood, and her parents would get embarrassed that she couldn’t cut her own food. Yet, after loving 9th grade Biology, she found herself enrolling in classes to put her on the path to becoming a doctor (something she somewhat credits to her mom’s watching of Grey’s Anatomy while she was pregnant with her).
“It almost just seemed interesting… When I first walked into the cadaver lab at Rowan Medicine… I felt so comforted there. I just felt disconnected from reality in such a good way. I could have stayed there for hours that first time.”
She doesn’t hide from hard things, rather, they seem to find her and attract her. They are challenging, but challenging things are interesting. And when something seems interesting, she goes in full force.
“I just find it interesting. My mom for Christmas, she got me this 310 flashcard for Human Anatomy. And it’s by far one of my favorite presents. I just love learning. I could learn forever… I just want to keep enlightening myself with knowledge.”
Her love for learning is put on display in her classes, specifically her anatomy classes, where she can become completely focused on a task, becoming so immersed she loses track of time.
“I feel like I get an adrenaline rush from a lot of things like running or hard things when I complete them. I am just so addicted to it. In Human Anatomy or even Vertebrae Anatomy when I took that, we did these things called practicals and you only had so much time to identify all of the muscles and it went by so fast. Even if I didn’t know something, I just got such a rush from it. I could do a practical for hours and not know a thing on it and still have fun. I just love it.”
Liz has always loved to ask questions, to know why, but also has learned how to express her opinion and self unapologetically, an idea she finds fundamental to love.
“I feel like you can’t fall in love with someone without showing them your whole self. Because then you feel like there is a divide and you still can’t be yourself. And that doesn’t allow you to love them. You can still like them a lot. But you are not going to be able to love someone until you show them yourself.”
Who Liz is, is a rule breaker. When she needed a #20 for her track uniform, she is the person who takes a 2 and a 9 and rips off the bottom of the 9 and sticks them together. She is a speedwalker, coffee lover, adrenaline junkie, Marvel lover (with the same birthday as Robert John Downey Jr.) and an over analyzer.
But she is also a dreamer. She has dreams—places to go, things to do, people to love, and dreams to prove. But they don’t stay dreams, they are plans, and she takes the necessary steps towards them. She isn’t afraid to try new things, to step out of boxes, and to love with passion. She is stubborn, outspoken, determined, and passionate. But underneath it all, she has a mission.
“I live by something. No one is a waste of space, everyone was put on this Earth for a reason. I just want to do my duty of bringing something better.”
Eyes open, hands up, she lives for the ride.
Miranda Dworkin (’24)
It’s still dark and early in the morning when Miranda Dworkin (‘24) takes out her journal, putting pencil onto paper and her thoughts into words. Each day, before school, she takes time to jot down ten things she’s grateful for and ten things she’s excited about, to set the tone for the day ahead.
“When I’m excited for something I’m more motivated to get up and go for [my goals],” says Dworkin. For Dworkin, journaling is a way to become more present and more grounded, to live her life to the fullest and do the things that bring her joy.
One such thing is basketball, which Dworkin has been playing since she was four years old. When she was seven or eight years old, Dworkin participated in a Little League basketball program, then progressed to playing for the Beck Middle School team and East’s team in her freshman and sophomore year. Although she has taken a break from high school basketball this year, Dworkin continues to get on the court by playing in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), a local recreational basketball league.
“I love how [basketball] just takes my mind off things, like when I play I’m kind of in the state of mind where I’m not worried about anything else besides [the game],” said Dworkin.
If she’s not on the basketball court, Dworkin can be found curled up with a good book. When asked what her favorite book was, the avid reader had to take a minute to think, before settling on Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones and the Six as one of her top picks. A self-proclaimed hopeless romantic, Dworkin especially adores reading romance books. Currently, she’s reading Defy Me, the third novel in the Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi. Like with basketball, Dworkin finds that reading provides an escape from the stress of daily life, allowing her to become immersed in a whole new world.
Though she’s been a reader ever since she was young, Dworkin says it wasn’t until recently that she truly and fully fell in love with reading. Last year, she started going to Barnes and Nobles to study and found herself gravitating towards books again.
“I would just look around at the books a little bit and I kind of just fell back in love with reading again,” said Dworkin. “I just had this moment where I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so much fun. This is so underrated.’”
Inspired by her love for reading, Dworkin and two friends, Grace Ewing (‘24) and Holly Cowan (‘24), started a Book Club at East, where students collectively select a book to read and discuss at meetings. The club is in the middle of The Song of Achilles, the popular Greek mythology novel by Madeline Miller.
With her busy life in and out of school, Dworkin has found that journaling is what allows her to destress.
“I’ve done a lot of reflecting and what I’ve learned from journaling is that I’m good at putting things into perspective, once they’re down on paper,” said Dworkin. “It’s so much less chaotic in my mind. And it really helps me and I think I’ve noticed that recently. And so, whenever my friends open up to me, I always find that I’m good at putting their feelings into words, putting things into perspective and untangling the thoughts.”
On a deeper level, journaling is a way for Dworkin to become more comfortable with her feelings. Like many other students, Dworkin has experienced the stigma on mental health and the idea that it’s not normal to feel stressed or overwhelmed or upset at times.
“I feel like all my life I’ve just had this inner thought that’s telling me it’s not okay to be insecure about your appearance or your personality,” said Dworkin. “That it’s not okay to be upset. It’s not okay to be stressed. But at the end of the day, it’s okay to feel those types of things. It’s just a matter of what you do with those feelings.”
By putting her thoughts into words, she is able to fully acknowledge those feelings, instead of keeping it bottled up. Furthermore, Dworkin also has gotten into the habit of making a gratitude list each morning, as well as a list of things she is looking forward to, which she says has made a world of difference in improving her outlook on each day.
As teenagers, we often find ourselves looking outwards, from worrying about what others think of us to comparing ourselves to unattainable standards and letting others dictate who we are. Yet, as Dworkin has found, there is so much fulfillment to be found by simply taking a look around and being grateful for the little joys in life, whether it’s making early morning runs to Dunkin Donuts, coloring with her younger sisters, exploring Philadelphia’s Old City, or jamming out on her ukelele. With a pen in hand and a journal at her desk, she’s writing her own life story, step by step.
Alessandra Illiano (’23)
One would never know that fellow Cherry Hill High School East student Alessandra Illiano (‘23) has been learning to speak English only since last December of 2022. As a member of the senior class, Alessandra Illiano has worked really hard to make lasting friendships and learn how to navigate the American school system while impressively increasing her English mastery.
With more detail into Alessandra’s fascinating past, she was born in the U.S. while her parents were on vacation here, she then moved back to her home country of Italy at nine months old.
“One day me and my sister decided we wanted to see America, the place we were born, so we came here for Christmas in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Then we eventually moved here for my dad’s job.”
After those few trips to the U.S., the rest was history. Illiano moved here last December and has immersed herself in American culture while preserving the traditions and holidays that highlight her strong Italian heritage. While most of Alessandra’s family remain in Italy, she has Sunday dinner with her uncle and parents every week in order to share quality time and cook her favorite dish: lasagna.
Some of the American school culture shocked Alessandra deeply when moving here.
“I started to come to school with fancy clothes, and then I saw everyone with pajamas. The style in Italy is just so different.”
After seeing East students in sweatshirts and sweatpants, Alessandra had to quickly re-evaluate her wardrobe, adamant to keep wearing her excellently matched outfits with her hair done superbly every morning. Fortunately, she quickly realized she really did enjoy wearing comfortable clothes to school and loved her shift from jeans to sweatpants. However, Illiano is not incredibly fond of some other aspects of highschool.
“If you want to know someone you start to talk in person, here everyone is on their phone, I prefer to be with my friends and talk in person.”
Alessandra deeply values face to face interactions and she believes that it is key to building meaningful relationships during her time at East.
“You just have to be friendly alot, no one is going to make the first move and come up to you and say ‘want to be my friend?’ [Being] outgoing helped me to make friends and learn English.”
These notable qualities allow Alessandra to have a passionate and assertive personality.
What makes Alessandra’s outlook so unique is that she has lived two very different lives, both of which have taught her to be her own person.
“Because I travel a lot from Italy to the U.S., I learned how to be alone and independent.”
Navigating the airport and endless vacationing around Spain and streets of Paris alone with her sister has taught her valuable lessons of responsibility that she incorporates into her daily life. Despite the gruesomely mundane high school days in the U.S., Alessandra has adopted a useful routine in order to ensure her homework is always complete and she is prepared for the work day.
Alessandra takes great pride in introducing her best friends to her favorite Italian habits.
“I was surprised that people here eat eggs or bacon and bagels for breakfast, I don’t. I eat bread and nutella or cookies and coffee.”
Her friends sure do love indulging in kinder chocolates dipped in Nescafé at her house on Sunday mornings.
Alessandra’s interests range greatly from shopping and fashion to sports. She is especially an avid fan of the Napoli Italian professional football team. Football is incredibly important to Italian culture and is a staple in the Illiano household because the games are so easy to watch.
“The Napoli team played right by my house in Italy, I always watched the games and met the players. It was always so easy.”
If she is not cheering Napoli’s Alessio Zerbin, she is at the mall shopping. Her dream is to study at the Italian Fashion Institute of Rome.
“I want to study the world of fashion, since I was young I have always wanted to learn how to become a model.”
She plans to finish her high school studies in the U.S. and return to Italy for a six month break. Alessandra is excited to spend time with her friends, sister, and grandma in her beloved home country of Italy.
Alessandra has proven to be accomplished in all her endeavors. Despite the language barrier when it comes to taking her driving test or even getting a job, she continues to improve every day in the U.S. She loves to learn and has exciting plans for her future. Coming to high school in the U.S. from another country poses endless challenges but none of which prevented Alessandra from making best friends, having close relationships with her teachers, and keeping in touch with her family that she misses gravely.
Juliet Kaplan (’24)
Baseball manager, Italian-American club member, and camp counselor. Junior, Juliet Kaplan, is an avid member of not only the Cherry Hill High School East community, but the South Jersey community as a whole.
Having lived in Cherry Hill her whole life, Kaplan has always attended schools in the Cherry Hill Public Schools district. She went to Horace Mann Elementary School, and Rosa International Middle School.
In school, Kaplan’s favorite subject is English. Among the required core classes, she takes neuroscience, financial literacy, and SAT prep as her electives.
“English has been my favorite subject since elementary school. I love reading and writing, and am always interested in class,” she said.
One of Kaplan’s genuine passions is being one of the baseball team managers. Alongside Fiona Yampell (‘24), she helps, motivates, and organizes the East team. This unique position requires Kaplan to attend every game, and travel with the team. She also has to understand the rules of the game, and keep track of every play.
In addition to learning the basics and “lingo” of baseball, she also has made strong connections with the players and coaches.
“I love being one of the baseball managers. It is so fun to get to watch everyone play and bond as a team. It’s a cool way for me to take part in and watch baseball without playing on the actual field,” she said.
Mr. Burnham was able to get her this position, and being a manager is one of the highlights of Kaplan’s East experience so far. This year, she is looking forward to traveling to Florida for games, and making new memories with everyone. She hopes for a great baseball season and encourages everyone to “keep track of baseball updates and come out to support!”
Kaplan also takes part in the Italian American Club and Habitat for Humanity. In both clubs, she has “met so many great people and learned so many new things.”
The Italian American Club was started at East last February, its goal being to celebrate and educate members on Italian culture. Kaplan enjoys the frequent meetings and activities, and connecting with other Italian students at East. Recently, planning and organizing their booth for multicultural day has been one of her top priorities.
Kaplan is a part of Habitat for Humanity for similar reasons. More specifically, her favorite part of the club is “knowing that [she] is helping other people and making a difference in their lives.”
In the greater South Jersey area, Kaplan works as a camp counselor at JCC Camps at Medford over the summer. Over the past three summers, she has found a love for working with younger kids. They motivate her and always encourage her to have fun. The best part of her job is “hanging out with all the other counselors, and entertaining the campers.”
Kaplan is looking forward to Junior Prom amongst many other East events this year. Overall, Kaplan’s dedication to East and the Cherry Hill community is very admired and her infectious spirit and energy can be felt on the impact she has made in her contributions to the school.
Cemal Bayrak (’23)
He may seem like your average high school senior – sleepy, tired, and anxiously waiting for college commitments. But Cemal Bayrak* (‘23) is anything but average.
Cemal was born in Kayseri, Turkey, in 2003. His birth year holds significance, for just a year before, in 2002, the political regime that would eventually cause him to immigrate to the United States would take power in the country.
Cemal’s father was a civil architect in Turkey’s southern Cappadocia region, designing homes and hotels in the Nevsehir area. Cemal recalls moving into an apartment designed by his own father when he was 14. Among the members of Cemal’s family are his mother, 21 year old older sister and 17 year old younger brother. At age 15, Cemal and his family moved to the western Turkish city of Bursa.
“Bursa was a beautiful city,” said Bayrak regarding his place of residence. “The views were something else.”
As a student, most of Cemal’s time in his home country was spent completing schoolwork (traditionally very heavy in Turkey), and studying for Turkey’s standardized high school entrance exam. In an interview with Eastside, Cemal pointed out his old school classroom from the outside of his school on Google Maps.
“That classroom was good for napping,” he said with a wry smile.
In his rare free time, Cemal enjoyed biking up the mountains surrounding Bursa with friends.
“As we biked back downhill from the mountains, we would be going so fast that we would pass by cars and eighteen wheelers on the road to the city…I guess we were a little crazy back then,” said Bayrak.
But in 2016, Cemal’s routine life would meet a shattering end. In July of that year, Turkey was rocked by a failed coup attempt by the country’s military against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Erdogan regime, which had been in power since 2002. Certain political analysts have flaunted theories that the coup was a staged “false flag” event in order to justify government suspension of civil rights and the declaration of martial law.
Regardless of the origins of the coup, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s President did indeed initiate martial law in the country and the suspension of certain civil liberties in response to the event. Hundreds of thousands of journalists, lawyers, judiciary officials, police officers, military members, professors and academics were fired from their jobs, blacklisted, and arrested. The vaguest of ties to suspected coup-sympathizers were punishable by arbitrary prison sentences and judicial condemnation. The Erdogan regime’s handling of Turkey’s response to the July 2016 coup has been widely criticized by many human rights agencies and democratic governments worldwide. But to Cemal, this event would strike too close to home. His father, a mere architect, was arrested and held in jail for over a month on the grounds of being a sympathizer of Fetullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric and preacher currently residing in the United States, whom the Turkish government has accused of terrorism and being the mastermind behind the failed coup attempt. The movement has not been found to have any such designation by the United States government. In any case, before Cemal and his family could celebrate the release of his father, his mother, a housewife, was imprisoned for a year and a half, on the same grounds as his father. Cemal, his brother, and his father suffered through those hard times with the hope that someday they might find reprieve and escape.
In October of 2019, the chance came. Cemal and his brother boarded a United States bound plane and flew to Chicago, far across the Atlantic Ocean. Their parents could not accompany them, for Cemal’s father’s passport had been suspended by the Turkish government. While their children flew, Cemal’s parents boated unauthorized across the Evros River, Turkey’s land border with Greece. Their desperate bid consisted of avoiding Turkish border security patrols and seeking refugee status in Greece. They were successful, but yet more hurdles lay ahead. Though Cemal’s mother could fly from Greece to the United States, her husband, with a canceled passport, could not. A difficult decision was made, and Cemal’s mother decided to fly to the United States while her husband remained in Greece.
In the meantime, Cemal and his brother found help in the United States from resident Turkish communities. Crucially, their older sister, who was of legal age at the time, had flown to the United States for an overseas college program before them. She proved to be a steadfast guardian.
“My sister looked after us very well,” said Bayrak. “I am grateful.”
Via communication between the children and their parents, the decision was made for the boys to move to New Jersey, with their sister in pursuit. It was in a suburb in New Jersey — Voorhees — that the boys first reunited with their mother, who too had flown across the sea like her sons.
Cemal and his family, now missing only their father, decided to move to Cherry Hill. They reside currently in a downstairs flat in the split-level of a Turkish resident of the township. Both Cemal and his brother took up afterschool jobs to uphold the family’s economy, and for over two years, the going was rough without their father. But there were bright spots as well. Cemal’s older sister was accepted into Boston University, where she currently studies. And, this fall, Cemal and his brother were both accepted into numerous colleges, including Rowan University, although neither have committed as of yet.
In January of 2023, Cemal and his family received blissful news – their father had been visa-approved to fly to the United States. Now, only a handful of bureaucratic procedures stand in the way of their reunion. In light of this revelation, the family has bought a new home in Cherry Hill. The boys are currently busy renovating said house on days after school. Awaiting their father in the next couple of weeks, a new chapter seems to have unfolded in Cemal’s life.
“For now, things are looking alright,” he said. “The future is bright.”
*Name changed to protect identity