By Juma M. Sei
WANT Original Content
At 7:30 A.M. on Friday February 13, while teachers at Catlin Gabel School were participating in professional development, a group of three faculty members and eight students (myself included) convened at Union Station for the annual Northwest Association of Independent School’s diversity conference. Taking place at Lakeside independent school in northern Seattle, our group, as well as others from across the northwest, gathered to discuss issues surrounding diversity, what we could do to help, and this year’s chosen theme of stories.
In our two days there, we engaged in activities as a whole as well as in smaller family groups that pushed each one of us to critically analyze our community and the world we live in. While time was spent in guided discussion at the conference, when us Catlin students gathered in conclusion, there was universal agreement in the trip’s significance. We believed that no new information was obtained through the activities participated in. Instead, we learned most through organic discussion with other students there. Sure, we talked about what it means to be privileged and what it means to have your own story, but none of that had any context without speaking to people beyond our bubble.
When asked, Ameya Okamoto, a fellow freshmen that attended the conference, said her biggest take away were personal connections. When interviewed on the conference, she states it opened up many (before stigmatized) conversations for her with teens her own age. She continues, “I made many connections with people, listened, learned, opened up to individuals and shared my own story.” Like the rest of us, Okamoto’s eyes were opened to the sheer amount of diversity, privilege, and support around us. For the group, this realization came as a byproduct of meeting new people.
I completely agree with the notion that the trip’s major takeaway was meeting new people, seeing as I myself made connections that simply would not have formed if not for the conference. We were pushed to focus on people’s stories beyond their first layer (or what you see when walking idly by) and it just so happens that the best way to do this is actually talking to them and listening to what they have to say. As earlier mentioned, the conference theme was stories. I believe that you can tell people what it means to have a “story” all you want, however, if you don’t experience learning another’s what’s the point?
One of the most memorable moments, for me, came in free time believe it or not. There were different options for what we could do with ourselves in this period and although I automatically thought, “Go wherever the balls are,” I found myself at an open mic night.
I’m sure many of you reading this today know of Catlin’s fierce rivalry with neighboring Oregon Episcopal School. You may also know that when a Catlin student is first admitted, the sports activists in our community teach them to loath the OES Aardvark’s with a white hot passion. Well, it just so happens that OES students also attended the diversity conference and while I sat in my chair at open mic night mustering the courage to present something, a rival freshman got up and walked to the front of the room. She informed us that she was part of a slam poetry group back in Portland and began to do her thing – lets pause. You’re a fifteen-year-old boy and someone from your rival school basically shows you up because while you were fighting with yourself over sharing, they do everything you wanted to. What do you think of them? The answer’s simple: you try your best not to.
What came out of her mouth next was liquid gold. The words flowed eloquently with a rhythmic beat that left me enthralled by her poetry. When she finished, a little part of me wished she would never stop. It was in that moment that I truly understood the whole theme of, “stories.” There is much more to a person then what we see on the outside, by peeling through the strata and actually getting to know them, we diversify our lives by meeting multifaceted being within. This is a truth I learned from an OES freshman, and without a doubt it was a truth we all learned somewhere along the way in our two days at Lakeside.
Over a month has passed since our group convened for the conference weekend and as I sit here writing, nothing I learned that weekend has wavered in legitimacy. In the passed month, Catlin has had our own Diversity Conference, and the same group that ventured to Seattle plans on attending our rival’s “Culture Shock” event.
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