National Honor Society hosts documentary screening and Q&A session


Nicole Chen

Speaker Kenneth Manaster stands at the podium to give a brief summary of the documentary he produced prior to its screening. While the event was open to all students, NHS members earned NHS points for attending.

by Rose Guan, Winged Post Copy Editor

The Upper School’s National Honor Society (NHS) chapter hosted a documentary screening and Q&A session with Kenneth Manaster, professor emeritus of law at Santa Clara University and executive producer of the documentary, in Nichols Auditorium today during long lunch.

The documentary, titled “Unexpected Justice: The Rise of John Paul Stevens,” is based on Manaster’s 2001 book “Illinois Justice: The Scandal of 1969 and the Rise of John Paul Stevens.” Both examine the 1969 investigation into corruption in the Illinois Supreme Court that helped start former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who assisted the investigation, on his path towards becoming a justice.

“I had the very good luck at a young age—I was 27 and a couple years out of law school—to work with then-lawyer Stevens in Chicago on this investigation of a bribery scandal in the Illinois Supreme Court,” Manaster said. “I have great admiration for what he did, and I was very honored and lucky to be part of his whole team of lawyers working on the Supreme Court investigations.”

While Manaster also worked on the investigation, the investigation’s shifting Stevens into the public eye and eventually to nomination for the Supreme Court was Manaster’s primary motivation to write his book.

“In about 1992, Justice Stevens gave a speech to about 1,000 people at the American Bar Association Convention in San Francisco, and I was there,” Manaster said. “He said, ‘Had I not worked on that case pro bono, I would not have the job I had today.’ And when I heard him say that, I thought, someone should write this story. Someone should tell this story.”

At the event, students watched the documentary and participated in a Q&A with Manaster afterward, in which he answered questions about topics from the changing political views of judges to advice for students aiming to pursue law.

“I hope that shortly, as you see the film, you will understand and appreciate this story as not just an interesting bit of history. Most importantly, I think this story, and it’s a true story, can have future significance for you,” Manaster said to students at the event. “My hope is that you will find it inspiring, and particularly here in this very difficult time for our country, I think sources of inspiration are very much needed.”

NHS members earned NHS points for attending, and some history teachers offered participants extra credit. Students did not have to be NHS members to attend.

“It was really interesting to see how both the press and the judicial system ultimately have checks in place that can hold the people in power accountable,” attendee and NHS member Neha Tallapragada (10) said. “The day that Mr. Manaster came to present, Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from congressional hearings because he had lied under oath, so I thought it was interesting that when we were talking about corruption in the courts, that was the same thing that was happening that day.”

NHS officers decided to invite Manaster to speak at the event as part of a program to increase outreach at the Upper School and the advancement of the NHS’s four pillars, scholarship, leadership, service and character. The chapter promoted the event with flyers around campus.

“This year it seemed especially meaningful to invite Mr. Manaster because NHS is trying to increase its outreach,” NHS president Soham Khan (12) said. “We thought this would be a good way of reinforcing the importance of what NHS stands for, and it would be a good way to continue our outreach program and be able to connect with students.”

Upper school Mandarin teacher Dr. Shaun Jahshan, a family friend of Manaster’s, recommended him to the NHS.

“For the notion of honor and our pillar of character, we wanted to bring a speaker on campus who could help to speak to that pillar, and we were connected through Ms. Jahshan to Mr. Manaster,” NHS adviser and biology teacher Mike Pistacchi said. “I want [participants] to see a very good example of someone having the courage to speak up when the people around him are doing unethical things.”

Manaster was also an NHS member when he was in high school and believes that his presentation will help inspire students to work together and realize the importance of integrity.

“It’s inspiring and I think a reminder that people of different political inclinations can work together,” Manaster said. “The other point of it is is that for each of us, whether we’re lawyers or doctors or engineers or scientists or journalists or just ordinary citizens, it’s important for us to realize that integrity, honesty, is of colossal importance for society to hold together and in each of our lives.”

Today’s event was one of the first speaker events in the upper school NHS chapter’s history, although the chapter has hosted other school-wide events, such as the service fair last September, and allows members to participate in NHS-specific volunteering opportunities.

“We really wanted to emphasize these pillars, and we want to increase the public image of NHS,” Soham said.  “We wanted to encourage students to understand that these values aren’t just platitudes inscribed on a piece of paper, but that honor and integrity are really meaningful concepts that can really transform the world.”

Manaster donated a copy of his book to the upper school library for students to borrow, and the documentary continues to broadcast on PBS channels.