Students took a break from classes Tuesday, January 29, to participate in our fourth annual Why Not Speak Day, a day devoted to exploring identity, diversity, and inclusion. During the day, the student body attends two of their choice of 60+ faculty- and student-led workshops to speak about the differences and similarities among people through the lens of varying perspectives, lifestyles, races, ethnicities, familial backgrounds, religions, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, cultures, and gender identities. The theme of this year’s WNS Day was VOICE: Valuing Others’ Ideas Changes Everything.
According to Director of Inclusion Erin Davey, “It is a day to speak truthfully, listen intently, and engage respectfully.”
Kicking off the morning was a presentation by Phil Kaye, a Japanese-American poet, writer, and filmmaker. The author of two collections of poetry and the co-director of ProjectVOICE, an organization that partners with schools to bring poetry to the classroom, Kaye performed several poems (Before the Internet, My Grandmother’s Ballroom). He told stories about growing up learning Japanese from his mother and father until, at an unremembered time, for no reason that he was aware of—but perhaps the scolding eye of a woman in a parking lot, he conjectured—they stopped, and thereafter only spoke English. His sister, born four years after Kaye, never learned the language, making visits to family in Japan a different experience for her. As a person of mixed race, he said he often felt like an outsider. “As a child, I knew I was different, but I was not sure how.”
Kaye also talked about his creative process. When asked what was the best advice he ever got, he shared this, which he learned from his ninth grade English teacher. As he types, he imagines two extra heads flanking his own, one on each shoulder. “One head tells you that you are God’s gift to writing. It says yes to everything.” The other is the critical feedback head. After you’ve got your draft written, it tells you to cut back here, or expand this. Ultimately, he said, the key to being a writer is, “Just start. It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be something.”
During an afternoon Assembly, David Jevotovsky, a traumatic brain injury survivor and activist, who spoke about a biking accident in 2017. He writes about how his family rallied around him while he was unconscious for months, how he slowly awoke, and how he went from only being able to walk three steps to running the New York City Marathon. His advice: “Love your brain and wear a helmet.”
“What a gift to be able to take a break from our routines to hear from one another on a broad range of topics tied together by a common strand—the sharing of perspectives and talents in a respectful environment,” wrote Head of School Robert W. Hill III in a note to the Williston community at the end of the day. He continued “Finally, if you were inspired by an idea from Why Not Speak day 2019, keep talking with one another and make a difference where you can.”
See a preview photo gallery here. More photos will be uploaded shortly.