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Happy New Year! 2018 howled in with the gift of two extra days of winter break, due to the major New England storm we experienced throughout the area. I am convinced that every member of our community enjoyed the slow entry back into our winter session and, as such, the pace has picked up once again. We are only a few days away from the Winter Visual Art Show and January projects in our music and WFMA programs. Our theater department is in rehearsal for the annual children’s show: “Ivy & Bean the Musical”. We were also fortunate to have two dance alums join us early in January, Zoe Schofield and Riley Watts, for an extended master class project.
The junior class at Walnut Hill recently shared some great group projects, the purpose of each is to improve our community and to do so without needing a large budget. Students in Jason Stumpf's advisory (Head of Humanities) shared their thank-you writing project and in Naomi Bailis's advisory (Theater Faculty) students partnered to bake cookies and deliver them to the local fire station.
On a personal note, this is my first year as a class advisor at Walnut Hill, and it’s a key part of the curriculum that I have enjoyed elsewhere since I first began teaching in 1995. This month, my advisory devised their own idea to help spread goodwill at the start of school, thanks in large part to Rachel, a junior theater major. The plan: to spread good energy and positive vibes across our campus by providing brief positive words on tear-off flyers. The slips of paper on these flyers were filled with inspirational and kind messages. The hope is that both kids and adults in our community would rip off a positive message, and then pass it on to their friends and colleagues.
Without question, the benefit of spending time as an advisor over the past few months has been extraordinarily fun. I have four new juniors: two music majors, one dancer, and a theater major. Our group conversations often wander, and the one leading up to getting this project completed involved the order in which you should watch the Star Wars anthology. (You will need to stay tuned for my personal review of the movie. I can, however, most certainly recommend going to see it if you haven’t.)
Most recently, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday in the United States dedicated to the legacy and work of Dr. King. During my time at Walnut Hill, we have taken advantage of this opportunity to pause and collectively reflect on the work of Dr. King and, more importantly, reflect on how we can continue to make our communities, both small and large, better for all people. This year, we were fortunate to welcome Rev. Mariama White-Hammond as a guest speaker. Rev. White-Hammond serves as the Minister for Ecological Justice at Bethel AME Church in Boston and as a fellow with the Green Justice Coalition. She is the former Executive Director of Project HIP-HOP, an organization that helps young artists use their craft for social change. Her message was powerful and simple: in order to effect change, of any kind, at any level, we must address the ideological foundation that roots our individual worldview. By being true to yourself, it becomes possible to take the first step towards an understanding of others.
Bias exists in all of us, whether it is conscious or unconscious, and she argues that what you believe and what you think shapes how you function, both in your inner circle and out in the world. This is true for all of us, and it extends to include systems of government, institutions of learning, and places of business. “If we can’t be honest about the ideas and values that we have, then we are not going to see change in our social norms, our economics, or our politics,” she says. I agree with Rev. White-Hammond that everyone, including communities like ours, need to make the space to be honest with ourselves about our own views. One big takeaway was the comforting fact that having consistency in my views is a positive thing. And, given the amount of travel I have been fortunate to do around the globe, I have also gotten to meet people who have very different ideologies than I do and, in fact, who might have ideologies in direct contrast to my own. By engaging with diverse groups and individuals, I feel privileged to have learned and deepened my understanding of the world around me, and even more inspired to open the lines of honest communication across campus. At the close of her talk, Rev. White-Hammond challenged our own community of artists and creative thinkers to fully engage in shaping the minds and hearts of others, which is something we take very seriously here at School.