Isaac Karp chosen as BHS valedictorian by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

People might not expect Isaac Karp, the 2020 Binghamton High School valedictorian, to be modest, but the son of Jonathan Karp (associate professor and undergraduate director of Judaic studies at Binghamton University) and Gina Glasman (a lecturer in the same department), doesn’t believe class rankings are a true measure of a person’s worth or intelligence.

“Of course, I am honored to have seen my efforts throughout my four years at Binghamton High School pay off, but I have never been fond of the idea of class rankings and the culture of ultra-competitiveness it builds,” he said in an e-mail interview. “What really matters is the relationships I built with my teachers and the community within Binghamton High School.”

In fact, he never thought about class rankings when he started at the school. “I certainly did not think I would be the valedictorian when I first came to the school, and I didn’t even learn of my chances until the end of my sophomore year,” he noted. “I think that the achievement should be awarded to more than one student. There are many high achieving students who had success in specific subjects, but not every single one. It’s important to be well rounded, and it does give me a feeling of self-confidence, but it is not an accurate representation of intelligence or character.”
Well-rounded certainly does describe the number of activities in which Karp’s taken part. “I founded my high school’s newspaper in 11th grade and basically made it my priority,” he said. “I have been fascinated by journalism ever since reading ‘Moneyball’ by Michael Lewis. I was the student government president, which gave me the opportunity to sit on the Board of Education as the student representative and also organize major school projects like the pep rally. I also became the vice president of the National Honor Society and the editing manager of the yearbook. I played varsity tennis and soccer, too. It’s hard to think of another large high school that could have given me so many opportunities to learn, have fun and grow.”

Karp attended Hillel Academy of Broome County for grade school and credits it with nurturing his natural abilities. “Hillel Academy shaped me into the kind of student I am today,” he said. “The culture and the tradition of a Jewish day school taught me how to communicate, think critically and converse with people who will not hesitate to interrupt you if they think you are wrong.” 

His experience in his final year of Hillel was a very different one from middle school and high school: he was the only student in his Hillel class that year. “My fifth grade class included me, myself and I, and yet I never felt alone,” he noted. “Everyone looked out for each other and the teachers instilled a diligence in me that has never left. Hillel and Binghamton High School are hardly similar, but I tried to bring what I learned growing up into the secular atmosphere of BHS. Did it work? Probably not. But as [Coreen] Sines, my English teacher at Hillel, used to say, if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.”

He also appreciated his teachers at Binghamton High School. “I loved my time at Binghamton High School,” he added. ‘My teachers, for the most part, gave me an unbelievable education while also helping me to tone down my perfectionism and learn how to make and recover from mistakes. My relaxation came with my extracurricular activities such as the newspaper and student government. I wish people could have experienced Binghamton High School like I did; I truly believe there is no other place I would rather have gotten my education from.”

Karp manages to keep busy even in what little free time he has. “Most of my time was spent working on either schoolwork or my extracurricular activities, but I had the opportunity to volunteer for a local food pantry,” he said. “I also had the opportunity to write articles for THE REPORTER, which taught me a great deal about journalism. I really love to work out, so the rest of my free time was mostly spent running and listening to podcasts about politics and sports.” 

His plans for the future include attending Tufts University starting this fall. “I would like to double major in history and another subject – maybe international relations or political science,” he said, “I’m still thinking about the many possibilities.”

He also wants to continue his journalistic endeavors. “I would also love to find newspaper internship opportunities in Boston and write for the college newspaper,” Karp said. “My interests range from the politics of social media to the economics of sports. I want to follow in the footsteps of Michael Lewis. Eventually, I want to create an organization that promotes civic engagement with young people within schools so that their voices and perspectives can help bring about social change.”

He also sees his generation as having the opportunity to change the state of race relations in the U.S. “It is the role of my generation to take the next step toward progress,” he added. “The revolution in the streets has to be accompanied by a revolution in the mind and that begins with education. I encourage [upcoming students to consider] that the focus of school should be about establishing relationships and seeking knowledge in search of a common horizon. Trust me, grades really are not fulfilling, and I honestly wish I had spent less time on schoolwork and more on pursuing the possibilities of change.”