Isaak Popkin


Q: What do you plan to do after high school? 

A: Isaak: So I’m going to college.. Um.. I am doing a dual-BA program between Columbia and Sciences Po which is a University in France. What that means is I’m going to spend my first two years in France, at this University and my second two years at Columbia in New York and I’m going to graduate with two degrees. It’s a super cool program. I’m very excited. It’s very heavily, like, political science oriented which is mostly the field that I’m interested in. 

Q: Where in France?

A: Reims. It’s a pretty small city in the Northeast. It’s about an hour by train from Paris… so not too bad. 

Q: What is your best memory from your senior year? 

A: Oh god, so I’ve thought about this, and I don’t know how to answer it. Um, I think the most [unclear] memory is probably our school’s Mock Election, um, which was crazy and intense and an incredible experience for me and for our entire Gov class… to put on this mock
and be the Bernie Sanders candidate… But, I also have a lot of negative memories associated with that so, I’d want to say, just sort of finding my niche at Masterman and finding my people -- my small circle of friends -- for, kind of the first time in high school, and really, like,
finding my place. It’s not really a moment, but a sort of concept that sort of happened to me this year that I’m really happy with. 

Q: Could you talk more about what Mock Election is? 

A: Yeah! So, every year the AP Gov (Government and Politics) classes at Masterman put on a mock election based on whatever real elections are going on that year -- anywhere from like the mayors to what we did this year which was the [Democratic] Presidential Primary. The two classes pick a candidate and they run this school-wide election with events and speeches and debates and all of those things and so… I played the role of Bernie Sanders which meant that I was leading events and talking to people and I had the opportunity to like be the candidate which was a really interesting perspective and one that I hadn’t really thought of -- something that I didn't really think of beforehand, is like being the candidate and what it takes to actually like, go to events, and have to like, talk to voters and answer questions… And it really, in my perspective, changed what it means to campaign. 

Q: What’s your best memory from all of high school? 

A: Huh. I think it might be connected to the first one. It might even be the same. Um, but, it’s hard for me to sort out all four years of high school and like point to a moment that I think was the best because there’s been tons and tons of ups and downs and, like, a lot of really great things and a lot of really not-so-great things. Yeah, I just have a difficult time choosing, like, what I would say is my best memory. 

Q: What’s your greatest achievement? 

A: Hm. Um, so, I made a short film about the Youth Climate Strike movement in Philadelphia. I observed what they -- about how they created an environmental movement in Philadelphia, about how they organized strikes and built huge political activism around the city about an issue that I personally think is super important. So I made this short film, it’s a seven minute documentary, um, and it was very successful. I submitted it to a bunch of film festivals and won some awards. So, that’s probably what I would say is my best, is my biggest achievement, especially because I’m probably considering a career in film.

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Q: What’s one thing that you’ll miss about Masterman? 

A: It’s hard to say. I’m not going to miss the place, I’m not going to miss the teachers, I’m not going to miss like, whatever, any specific locations in the building or anything like that, but I think I’m going to miss some of the people, especially my friends, and, like, the ability to see the same people everyday, and, like, develop a rapport… 

Q: Do you have a really formative experience, where you remember something changing about yourself? 

A: I do. I’ve actually thought about this, and I do. So, um, I’ve done debate for most of high school, and so sophomore year I was starting to get more good at it and I started really clicking with debate. And, so, I decided to go to this like, pretty big regional tournament with my partner, and… we, like, we didn’t really know any of the norms of debate -- like we didn’t have any tournament experience. We just showed up to this, like, big, suburban high school and we were just shocked by this world of people, in, like, super fancy suits and speaking really fast, and the vast resources.. And that is just so evident in like us showing up in like kind-of nice clothes, not really knowing what was going on and like the environment we were in which was just like heavy, heavy privilege and it was like, really kind of a culture-shock to me. To see, like, wow, this is what it’s like in a lot of the rest of the country. And I feel, like, compared to other schools in Philadelphia, Masterman has great resources and lots of privilege, but when you go outside of the city, it’s just absolutely shocking… The difference in, like, not just money, but, like, generally what it means to be a high school student. 

Q: Do you have any advice to give to incoming Freshmen? 

A: Don’t take yourself too seriously. Like, don’t quit and take the weight of what people think of you on your shoulders and experience the world as you want to experience it. Which means, really importantly, not just stressing about, like, your numerical evaluation, not stressing about your grades, not stressing about your AP scores. I mean, they are important and they go a long way, but it’s really important to have perspective, and not to worry too much about the next year and the year after. To live in the moment and you want to leave time for yourself to be creative and leave time for you to do things that aren’t academic. Leave time for your friends, for, like, reading… and things outside of school.

Q: What are you doing during the quarantine to keep yourself busy?

A: I’m trying. I don’t know if I’m succeeding. No, it’s hard. It’s hard because it was kind of shocking the first two weeks, to go from such a scheduled life, from waking up every morning at six and getting home at four, to not having any structure in my life because my teachers aren’t really doing online classes… um… one thing that is really helping me is having a college experience to look forward to that I’m really excited about. Like, knowing that when this is all over I have something that’s next that I can look forward to. I’m reading a little bit, I’m trying to get exercise, to go out on walks every day. I think it’s really important. I’ve started learning to drive… I got my permit about a month and a half ago, so the driving learning is something I do almost every day. It’s a good chance to learn, because the roads are pretty empty. I drove on the highway for the first time yesterday, so that was… It’s boring, the days are long, but, we’re heading into the fifth week of this so… 

Q: What books are you reading?

A: I’m reaching Catch-22 right now, for English class I’m reading Ms. Dalloway.

Q: How do you feel about your senior year being cut short?

A: It sucks. It’s unlikely that we’re gonna have a prom, or a graduation… I am a little sad about it so I’m trying my best to keep, to keep those things in context to remind myself that this is like the least bad thing that could happen to me during a global pandemic. To remind myself that, like, there are people who are losing loved ones, to remind myself that there are people who are losing their jobs, there are people who are really, really struggling during this time. It’s important to keep the context of, “it sucks that I’m not going to have the spring that I wanted to have, but it’s a global pandemic, and things are a lot worse for a lot of people. 


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