On Monday, students and faculty stepped away from the usual class day schedule to explore issues of diversity and inclusion through a wide variety of programs and activities.
The morning began with an all-school meeting where student and faculty members shared original speeches on topics ranging from social justice and sustainability to current events and the Black Lives Matter movement. Positioned next to last year’s community-made portrait of Dr. King, the speakers (see a selection of the speeches below) set the tone for a day of thoughtful learning, engaging discussion, and participation from all.
The day continued with political discussion groups on the issue of race as it pertains to the upcoming political primaries and presidential election, an all-school singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” student and faculty-led workshops on our favorite “world changers,” including Sean Dorsey, Malala Yousafzai, Malcolm X, Harvey Milk, and Alaa Murabit, among others. The day concluded with the installation of a large-scale mural in the dining hall. The mural is composed of over 2,000 notes written by students after the World Changers session, and it outlines the following quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a quote that led our planning for the day: “The time is always right to do what is right.” King shared these words with students on October 22nd, 1964 at Oberlin College in his second appearance after having received the Nobel Peace Prize. His speech, “The Future of Integration,” spoke to the civil unrest in our country at the time and to the opportunity of the upcoming election. His words are so relevant to many of the things we’re talking about at WMS today.
“At a school where inclusion is more obvious and everyone is more welcome than any other place I’ve worked, it is fitting that we all set aside meaningful time to continue to build the community that we love,” said art teacher Linda D’Arco. “I’m very proud to be at a boarding school where Dr. King’s holiday means so much more than a half hour assembly, more than eating “soul food” in the dining hall on that day,” she continued.
“The Unique Influence of Martin Luther King, Jr.” Speech by Neil Haeems ’16
“Martin Luther King, Jr is one of the most influential world leaders. I admire his convictions and principles, his adherence to nonviolence, and his pursuit of the truth. Just these attributes alone guarantee a unique position for King in the pantheon of the great leaders.
However, the aspect of King that has shaped how I view the world most is the simplicity by which he lived his life. He embraced a life of honesty and poverty, irrevocably and un-regretfully forsaking wealth and the usual trappings of power. By contrast, most historical and contemporary world leaders – whether kings, despots, or democratically elected – are driven by the profit motive: the desire to accumulate wealth, live in style, and be seeped in public adulation. Whether legitimate or not, the business endeavors of leaders and their hoarding of fortunes stand out in direct contrast to Martin Luther King’s philosophy. This is a double standard of society, and an appalling waste of precious resources.
We participate in and perpetuate systems where leaders feel entitled to luxurious palaces, personal jets, and special status. At the same time, ordinary citizens live in poverty and despair, sometimes without even the most basic infrastructure and human rights – the very things MLK fought against. It is tragic that this dichotomy between the leader and the people is a coolly accepted fact of modern government and international relations, and not something that is passionately debated everyday.
King inspires me to hope for a world in which the custodians of power comprehend, as he so clearly did, that they exist as servants of the people and not as a new breed of privileged upper-caste super-royalty-celebrity. If our political systems could be designed so that positions of power are occupied by those with a King-like spirit of service, the world may yet become a peaceful and happy abode for all its inhabitants.”
MLK Day Speech by Bethany Pelotte ’17:
“The diversity in our community was, for me, something I noticed but didn’t really comprehend. I’m not sure exactly when, but I noticed the contrast between my life before WMS and my life now. Being able to see different cultures and ideas has opened the world up for me. Things are bigger than just Bethlehem, New Hampshire. I had the idea that things were different in other places, but the kind of idea you get from reading about something rather than actually having someone tell you about it or living it yourself. I know that it can be frightening, or at least difficult to actually see a culture different than your own for the first time, but if I have learned anything from my experiences, being open to people who come from different places with different stories and histories is important in bringing everyone a bit closer together.
All of my life I have lived here, in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. If you hadn’t noticed, there isn’t much diversity. To add to that, I have never been much of an outgoing person, so the types of people I interacted with as I grew up were very limited. I had the same thirty classmates for most of my life. Until last year I had never visited another country. For the majority of my life the only people I knew were people whose parent’s parents had grown up in New Hampshire. Everyone I knew was pretty much the same.
When I arrived, I knew that there would be more diversity than I had experienced before. There are so many types of people here with different ideas, beliefs, backgrounds, languages, and skin colors. Even though I knew this was going to be the case, I never really thought much about it. All new people made me nervous, it didn’t really matter who they were. The longer I have been here, the more aware I have become of the things that make us all unique. To me, this is important, but only if we are all willing to talk about these parts of ourselves that make our lives different from the lives of the people around us. By having conversations and learning about people’s experiences, we can learn more about each other and the world we live in.
Along with differences like skin color, clothing, and life experiences, there are differences in what people believe as well. I saw more of these last year when I took Jim’s class, The Blood of Abraham. When I first decided to take it, it was because I needed a religion and philosophy credit, so I decided to get it over with. I am very glad I took the course though. Religion has never been a big part of my life since neither of my parents practice any religion, so I was nervous before I started this class. I wanted to learn about these beliefs that can so deeply affect people’s lives, but I was also apprehensive because it was so different from what I had known. Different personal beliefs are some of the hardest things for me to understand. They were never things that we had talked about in my schools before. In The Blood of Abraham, we had many discussions where I was given the opportunity to try and understand these things. The willingness of people to communicate their ideas has helped me learn more about myself and other people. Simply going in with an open mind was the most important part.
The reason I’m saying all of this, telling you my point of view, is because I think that it is important to listen to each other so that we all take part in these types of conversations. I tend to listen more than I talk, so now I’m fully participating by telling my experiences too, since I’ve been lucky enough to have some of you share yours with me. MLK day at this school has been, for me, a way to better understand people who are different from myself. For different people, MLK day can be about many different things, but being open is important. Today, and every other day, try to be open. Share your culture and take opportunities to learn about the cultures of other people. Contribute your ideas to discussions and listen to other people’s perspectives. Even if you’re nervous, be willing to try.
To view a photo gallery from the day, click here.