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Arts Academy academic instructors Jean Gaede and Taoufik Nadji to retire after decades of dedicated service
Gaede, an instructor of liberal arts, and Nadji, the Academy’s instructor of physics, astronomy, and forensic science, inspired thousands of students to strive for academic excellence.
If you ask recent Interlochen Arts Academy graduates which of their Academy instructors had the greatest impact on their lives, two names are particularly popular responses: Jean Gaede and Taoufik Nadji.
Gaede and Nadji have been pillars of the Academy’s academic faculty for more than three decades. The duo have exemplified the Academy’s ideal of arts-focused academics, helping their students discover the connections between the arts and their subject areas while challenging them to attain a high level of academic achievement.
This spring, both Gaede and Nadji will retire after more than 30 years of dedicated service. Below, we share a look back at Gaede and Nadji’s storied careers as educators, mentors, colleagues, and friends.
A zest for life and literature
Jean Gaede’s history with Interlochen began long before she applied to become a faculty member: As a Michigan native, musician, and daughter of a classical music lover, Gaede has always known about the institution.
“When I was a child, we always had on the Detroit radio station,” Gaede said in a 2020 interview with Interlochen’s Crescendo magazine. “There was a program called Adventures in Good Music. The program was hosted by Karl Haas, who was the first president of Interlochen after Dr. Maddy. I was a piano student in my younger years; my parents asked if I wanted to attend the Academy when it opened, but I decided I was not serious enough about the piano to come.”
Gaede joined the Academy faculty as an Instructor of English in 1986 after over a decade as a teacher in the Michigan Public Schools. Gaede’s experience immediately made her a valuable addition to the school: within two years, she was appointed chair of the Liberal Arts Division, a position she held from 1988 to 1998.
Gaede was also “an instant hit” with students, in the words of former Arts Academy Director Bruce Galbraith. Her passion for literature—and for life—resonated with many of her pupils.
“The things that I learned from [Gaede] really piqued my interest in Russian literature, and I'm still interested in it today,” said Interlochen Arts Academy graduate Benjamin DeBoer (IAC 95-97, IAA 98-02) in a 2012 interview about the Academy’s 50th anniversary. “But more importantly, [Gaede] is someone who has real zest and verve. She has a real fun presence and a real passion for teaching. I felt so drawn to her because of her big personality, her love and her care for her students, and the individual way she went about teaching.”
Paola Prestini (IAC 90-91, IAA 91-93), an acclaimed composer and co-founder of National Sawdust, agrees. “I was profoundly impacted by the brilliant Jean Gaede,” she said. “My love of literature stems from her, and I am the artist I am today because of her. She was fun and electrifying, and I loved her.”
Throughout her tenure, Gaede was a symbol of the excellence of an Academy education, maintaining high standards of scholarly vigor for both herself and her students.
“I took two courses with Ms. Gaede my first year at the Academy—Russian Literature in the fall and Modern American Literature in the spring,” said Tevan Goldberg (IAC 11, IAA 12-14). “In hindsight, these courses were just as good as anything I took later in college and graduate school at Harvard, and miles ahead of my previous school's English classes. Every single reading assignment made a very significant mark on my young mind and continues to resonate powerfully.”
Gaede’s high standards were particularly evident in her emphasis on clear, well-structured writing. She often held extra tutorial sessions to help students master the art of academic writing.
“Ms. Gaede taught me how to write and study well as a teenager,” said Heather Kendrick (IAA 08-11), Dean of Education and Community at Aspen Music Festival and School. “These skills have served me personally, academically, and professionally. When I think back to the teachers who really changed my life and taught me lessons that I still use today, I think of Ms. Gaede.”
Los Angeles Philharmonic bassoonist Evan Kuhlmann (IAA 00-02) also recalls Gaede’s commitment to honing her students’ writing capabilities.
“I’ll never forget the time [Gaede] took on our tutorial sessions to help us refine our essays, challenging and often strengthening our ideas one-on-one,” Kuhlmann said. “In these sessions, she also generously imparted so many words of wisdom about life–perhaps without even trying.”
Despite the countless lessons about literature and writing that she instilled, Gaede is most proud of the relationships she built with her students.
“My greatest sense of fulfillment comes from the lasting connections I enjoy with former students and their families,” she said. “I have carried many of them in my heart for decades, so it's especially uplifting to be remembered.”
And Gaede’s students do remember—not just her lessons, but her compassion, wit, and wisdom. From comforting homesick students to hosting movie nights at her home, from offering college advice to ensuring a student’s MORP date had a tie of the correct color, Gaede consistently demonstrated a level of genuine care that went well beyond her job description.
In 2019, Gaede received the President’s Distinguished Service Award in recognition of her dedication to the students of Interlochen Arts Academy. In his remarks, President Trey Devey praised Gaede as an “invaluable asset to Interlochen” and an “amazing colleague” with “a finely tuned sense of what is just, right, and proper.”
As Gaede prepares to enter her next chapter, the people of Interlochen remain close to her heart.
“I've had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful individuals during my 36 years at the Academy,” she said. “The students, their parents, trustees, my colleagues, and the dozens who have staffed the various departments on campus are all a very meaningful part of my Interlochen experience. Our community's greatest asset has always been the people who've chosen to commit themselves to the excellence for which we are known. I am so proud to have been a part of this tradition.”
But if Gaede has her way, her retirement is less of a “farewell” than it is a “see you later.”
“I have no firm agenda items for retirement,” she said. “With six grandchildren spread across the country, I expect I'll be doing some traveling. But I'd love to come back to work with the students in some capacity, health permitting. This old geezer isn't quite ready for abdication.”
Making physics fun
Taoufik Nadji joined the Academy faculty in 1992 after seeing a posting on a bulletin board at Central Michigan University.
“I had just finished student teaching, and I was working part-time, adjunct faculty positions at three universities—Saginaw Valley State University, Lake Michigan College, and Central Michigan University,” he said in a 2020 interview with Crescendo. “I decided to look for a full-time job, and saw the opening here. I came for an interview and was offered the job. That was  years ago.”
Nadji began his career at the Academy as an instructor of physics and mathematics, eventually pivoting to a full-time focus on physics, astronomy, and forensic science in response to demand for more course offerings in the sciences. His kindness, infectious passion for science, and sense of humor made Nadji—known affectionately as Monsieur le ¡Nadj!—a student favorite.
“Monsieur le ¡Nadj! is one of the most unique teachers I've ever met,” said 2022 graduate Lucy Chugh (IO 20, IAA 20-22). “Every day, he brought genuine enthusiasm and generosity towards his students. My favorite memories are about his catchphrases, such as calling people 'silly bananas' or saying 'the people of Nepal love you,' or just his use of emojis in emails.”
Nadji tapped his students’ interests as an educational tool in a variety of ways over the years—from asking students to create arts-based responses to scientific concepts to providing personally relevant examples. The integration of art into the classroom was particularly noticeable in Nadji’s physics classes.
“I decided to change from teaching traditional physics to emphasizing modern physics, such as optics and the physics of sound, because these subjects are more interesting to artists,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that I gave up on traditional physics, but it became something that I would get my students through so I could get to these more interesting subjects.”
Even in his traditional physics modules, Nadji incorporated hands-on activities to make challenging topics easier to understand—and even fun.
“I will never forget the time [Nadji] took our class into the elevator with a bathroom scale, so that we could see our weight change when the elevator started and stopped,” said 2002 graduate and Chicago Symphony Chorus soprano Megan Bell (IAA 00-02). “I'm so thankful for the well-rounded education [Nadji] helped provide at Interlochen.”
“Mr. Nadji truly changed my life,” said 2022 graduate Denver Edwards (IAA 18-22). “He reawakened my love for learning. With Nadji, you always knew what you were learning and why. He made everything fun and exciting, and I never wanted to miss his class.”
One particularly memorable activity for both Nadji and his students was the catapult project, an annual event in which students competed to toss a raw egg as far as possible beyond a 1.5-meter wooden wall. An incident from the inaugural competition remains one of Nadji’s favorite memories.
“I thought the catapults students would build would not be that powerful, so we held the first catapult competition in the Jessie V. Stone building,” Nadji recalls. “I set up tarps and thought I was all prepared.”
“The first few tosses went exactly as I predicted. Then, it was Zerrin (Veldman-Preble’s) turn. She approached me and whispered, ‘Mr. Nadji, I need to move my catapult further back because it will launch the egg quite far.’ I said, ‘OK, let’s move your catapult to the edge of the gym.’ Zerrin launched the egg, and it hit the wall adjacent to the scoreboard way up high. That was the first—and last—time I used an indoor venue for the catapult project.”
Nadji also encouraged his students to participate in physics activities beyond Interlochen’s campus. In 2005, the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics observed World Year of Physics in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s “Miracle Year.” As part of the celebration, three of Nadji’s advanced physics students—Ethan Engle (IAC 01, IAA 01-05), Michelle Rolph (IAC 03, IAA 03-05), and Schuyler Cohen (IAC 03, IAA 04-05)—shared presentations about Einstein’s contributions to physics at the Traverse Area District Library.
Outside of his own classroom, Nadji collaborated with colleagues to showcase how physics concepts apply to the arts and to conduct cross-disciplinary research.
“The late maestro Matthew Hazelwood asked me to share the physics of music with the Arts Academy Orchestra,” Nadji said. “He wanted students to see the comparison between their take on the fourth movement of Beethoven’s fifth symphony and that of three major European orchestras. I recorded their performance and generated a waveform of the piece. Then, I generated similar waveforms for the professional orchestras and displayed the spectra comparisons. It was a fantastic learning moment, and a great display of how arts and science can create magic.”
Pianist Bahar Annadurdyyeva (IAC 06, IAA 06-08) recalls participating in one of Nadji’s physics demonstrations.
“While I did not get a chance to take a class with Mr. Nadji, I remember Dr. [Michael] Coonrod taking us to his amazing classroom,” Annadurdyyeva said. “[Nadji] showed us how string vibration works. I remember the passion with which he delivered the message and the sparkle in his eyes when he was teaching.”
Nadji also partnered with Instructor of Flute Nancy Stagnitta and former Director of Comparative Arts (now known as Interdisciplinary Arts) Nicola Conraths-Lange to examine the effects of physical tension and posture on a flutist’s sound quality. The resulting research, "Pilates, Physics, and the Healthy, Resonant Flutist," was presented at the 2012 National Flute Association Convention and the University of Michigan.
Nadji’s other professional accomplishments include publishing articles in The Physics Teacher and The Mathematics Teacher magazines; leading workshops and presentations at national physics, mathematics, and education conferences; and serving as the president of the Michigan section of the American Association of Physics Teachers (MIAAPT). His participation in MIAAPT brought educators from across the state to the Academy for three section meetings—a particular highlight of his professional career.
“[Hosting the meetings] allowed me to demonstrate that Interlochen Arts Academy is not just an arts institution, but also as a mecca for academics,” Nadji said. “The icing on the cake was the fact that two Academy alumni were featured keynote speakers—which is proof that Interlochen does churn out scholars in the academic fields.”
Nadji himself played an instrumental role in preparing the young scholars of Interlochen Arts Academy for careers in the math and science sectors. In 2018, President Devey awarded Nadji the President’s Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his ingenuity in teaching and dedication to his students.
“Nadji has inspired and motivated a new generation of creative learners, and he has built deep and lifelong connections with Interlochen,” Devey said during the award presentation. “I have heard time and again from our alumni about the important role Nadji had in their lives; about his deep commitment to their learning while they were students here; and how his kindness and thoughtfulness resonated with them in the years to follow.”
Beyond sharing his passion for physics, Nadji helped uphold the Academy’s ideals of intercultural understanding by sharing his experiences as a follower of the Muslim faith with students.
“Right after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, I was asked to speak about Islam at the community meeting,” he said. “It allowed me to share what Islam is truly all about with the Interlochen Arts Academy community. Thanks to liberal arts instructors Tim Johnson, Karen Libby, Jean Gaede, and Brian McCall, presentations about Islam have continued to be offered on almost a yearly basis as part of their respective curricula.”
Nadji’s Muslim faith is the basis for his passion for both teaching and learning—a passion he plans to explore further in his retirement.
“As a Muslim, I am going to always be a learner, a teacher, or both,” he said. “Initially, I am going to be doing some education-related work until I reach the official retirement age—I am still a baby according to Uncle Sam. But since the workload will be lighter, I am hoping to catch up with religious studies, creative writing, and physics and math education research.”
“The educator in me is never going to cease teaching and learning.”