Appreciating the Diverse Perspectives of the St. John’s Community
Since joining the community in sixth grade, I have always enjoyed the diverse environment that defines St. John’s. The "storied cloisters," a traditional reference to the campus’ iconic architecture, are home to all walks of life. From students to faculty, it does not take long for newcomers to discover that Mavericks are multi-faceted individuals. I appreciate the variety of perspectives I am exposed to on a daily basis, and I strive to take advantage of this opportunity by learning from the unique experiences of my peers.
Coming from a small, religious elementary school, I was initially unaccustomed to such contrasting viewpoints and backgrounds. Aside from my pre-teen immaturity, I had previously been living and learning within a bubble of students who mostly shared very similar cultures and lifestyles. My adjustment to middle school was deeper than learning to maneuver the crowded hallways or remembering my locker combination; my familiar bubble was suddenly popped and I was immediately surrounded by a throng of new identities, some of whom offered little to which I could relate.
As a senior in high school (how did this happen so quickly?), I now know that what may seem like a barrier between myself and a peer can actually serve as the strongest bridge. SJS implements an advisory system; much like a traditional homeroom, advisories are groups of students that meet consistently with their respective, assigned faculty members over the course of four years. My advisory is a mixed bag of personalities, backgrounds, interests, and perspectives, and with our modified daily schedule due to the pandemic, the group meets every day for a facilitated discussion, virtual assembly, or just a study hall. My advisory (the Kehs Baes, as we call it) has steadily grown closer each year as we’ve learned more about each other, and although we each have our differences, the bond we have formed is unwavering despite the occasional discomfort spurred by our discourse.
Recently, with the election, the SJS administration, along with student organizations such as the Political Education Club, made an effort to promote civil dialogue among students. The goal of this is not to suppress opinions, but the contrary; the atmosphere at SJS is one that highlights the importance of listening to and learning from others.
On Monday, Nov. 2, Upper School students gathered in their advisories to watch a video created by US Government and Politics teacher Russel Hardin. The video showcased two SJS seniors whose political views land on opposite ends of the spectrum. Despite their differing values and perspectives, however, these two students happen to be best friends. Their pre-recorded Zoom discussion stressed the importance of patience, compassion, and understanding when having a divisive conversation with a friend, and conveyed how a disagreement over public policy shouldn’t have the power to terminate a relationship.
I am unfortunately not yet 18, and therefore was not eligible to vote alongside many of my friends. While missing out on the opportunity to participate in such a historic election was disappointing (especially since I missed the age benchmark by a few short weeks), I have enjoyed engaging in civil discourse with members of my school community who hold viewpoints all across the political spectrum.
In my Justice and Equity class, a simultaneously heated yet respectful discussion is the daily norm. Reverend Ned Mulligan, my teacher and the Director of Spiritual Life at SJS, poses ethical dilemmas for us students to contemplate and then offer our pinions. These often include hot-button issues, such as abortion rights or the death penalty, but my class’s shared understanding of our differences allows us to suggest solutions in as gentle of a manner as possible. We maintain dialogue rather than debates, and the atmosphere of vulnerability that engulfs the classroom is powerfully refreshing.
While our community (both local and larger) may seem painfully partisan at times, it is important to remember the power of our words. We have the ability to choose how we convey our thoughts, and I hope that in light of the polarizing presidential election, civil discourse will be perpetuated amongst the diverse perspectives that I have come to love over the past seven years.
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