MLK Celebration

Here at PEA (Phillips Exeter Academy) we don’t do the usual Martin Luther King Jr. Day traditions. As Principal Hassan said during his welcoming today, “Instead of having a day off, we have a day on.” We celebrate MLK Day the Friday before the nationally recognized holiday and instead of getting a day off from school, we participate in discussions, lectures, performances, and more throughout the day. So here was my day:

My alarm rang at 7:50 prompting me to climb over my desk, dragging the blankets like a cape behind me, to snooze my alarm. This happened three times until I carried my cape over to the desk to turn it off for good. It was 8:30 and I had to be at an event that started at 9:00am. The rush began to find an outfit, brush my teeth, pack a bag, and zip over to Love Gym where the Key Note would take place.

The Key Note Speaker was John Forté. He is an Exeter Alum and spoke to us about his life after New Hampshire Boarding school life. He went from valedictorian to NYU student to Grammy Nominated to Mug Shot. He played us some of his music which blew the audience away with the rhythm and profound lyrics.

After the Key Note, Exonians’ had 30 minutes until they had to get to their first workshop of the day. The first thing I had the privilege of going to was Bryan Stevenson’s talk “American Injustice: Mercy, Humanity, and Making a Difference. I didn’t expect a whole lot going into it. He was a lawyer so I thought it was just going to be statistics and examinations. I was happily wrong. He told us stories about his career defending people who were on death row. During his talk I saw tears, I had tears, I felt my jaw still open ten minutes after I opened it in shock. The thing that hit me the closest was when he was talking about getting out of your comfort zone because that is something that I struggle with. He said that we have to get out of our comfort zone in order to make that change in the world. He gave us the motivation to try to.

My favorite part of the day came next (I am a bit biased though), because I had the pleasure to help host the “If You Really Knew Me” Event that Exonian Encounter hosts. The mission of the ExEn Committee is to establish and sustain community events that encourage us to embrace our differences, challenge our preconceptions, and foster connections with others in a respectful environment. We spent hours upon hours planning this event and it was so important to me because this is the exact event last year made me want to join the committee.

During this event, we hold our Walk the Line activity. This activity has line with tape in the room that people and a statement that one person reads out loud. If you feel that the statement applies to you then you cross the line. You also have the opportunity to share something about why you crossed the line, ‘your own truth’ as we called it. I had the honor to say my two cents and hear others stories. To show respect we all hold up the universal sign for love, peace. We all showed our respect. People spoke who I thought never would, with stories that I couldn’t believe. They shared parts of themselves that friends and family didn’t know. They were open and it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

After we finished that exercise, we read stories submitted by Exonians about events that had occurred on campus. These events were controversial ones. We like to believe that where we live is a paradise and that the prejudice can’t get to us here. We are wrong in that belief. After the stories were read aloud, everyone separated into designated groups to talk about what they had heard. Everyone was so engaged that when time ran out, people were still talking. No one checked their phone, no one rolled their eyes. They were all present and engaged. We then concluded our event by asking them to write their own ‘truth’ that they might not want to share aloud. When the people filed out to continue the rest of their day, I was as giddy as Cinderella attending the ball.

The day concluded by watching performances by on campus a capella groups, slam poets, dancers, West African drumming ensemble, bands, and more. It was a beautiful way to end the day with performances for the spirit of MLK day. People say a painting is worth a thousand words; these performances were worth two thousand.

And now I am here. In awe of the day I just experienced, sharing the fresh memories with you.

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