George Stevens Academy Wednesday Assembly Talk
December 17, 2012
We are about to go on a two-week break…a time to be with family, a time to reflect, rest, remember, reconnect, and reconsider. There is a luxury about winter break that I want you to lean into and savor.
But before you go, I thought it important to pause and take some time to share some thoughts about the tragic shooting from last Friday. It is important because that is what it means to be a community…and to take the act of being a community seriously; we sometimes have to talk about very difficult things like the profoundly disturbing and inexplicably tragic loss of 27 lives in a small, quiet town in the corner of CT.
Tragedy brings out from us so many emotions…fear, insecurity, anger, sympathy, powerlessness, hatred, hope, retribution, and forgiveness. Give room in your life to better understand whatever you are feeling. Take the time to really feel it. That is when you will begin to understand it. You can do that by simply thinking about it or talking to another person. You do not have to have complete thoughts or decisive opinions…just talk and see where it takes you.
Your faculty set aside time yesterday to talk about how our school is doing in light of this shooting. It was a wide-ranging, open conversation that showed the variety of responses….just like faculties across the nation. And like those teachers, some of us are quietly shattered and incredulous and some of us are sad but accepting. Some of us are interested in the details of the shooting and some of us are too sickened to read more about it. There is no right way or wrong way to feel or respond.
A college classmate of mine is a cartoonist for the New Yorker. She always used to say that she was an illustrator not a writer. But she wrote beautifully yesterday and I wanted to share her short piece with you. “The tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut is the kind of thing that shuts me down as a cartoonist for a bit. I have trouble working and I imagine I am not alone. But I can try to say something with pictures. Imagery can often express feelings better than words, yet it still is difficult to find words and pictures to express emotions about such a horrible thing. I heard on the radio today that young children are often asked to draw instead of speak with learning how to cope with trauma. Our culture has elements that are too violent, and it is seeping down to our children in ways we don’t understand. It’s time to reflect on what we are doing. In the meantime, everyone should go and find a pencil or crayons and a piece of paper.”
Liza is suggesting that we each find our own way through tragedy. Drawing works for her and that you might try it.
For me, it is important that we not step away from the challenges that this tragedy presents. It is so very important that we not feel powerless or daunted or overwhelmed or emotionally dulled.
We can do something that demonstrates care for another. We can do something that, however small or insignificant, is still something and thus be reminded that the greatest mistake is to do nothing because we can only do a little.
From a moral and an emotional standpoint, this is uncharted territory for all of us. That is why most of us do not have helpful, confident advice for this tragedy. We rely instead on something of a wish-and some might call it a prayer-that we respond with all that is good in all of us….all of our boundless empathy, all of our extended care, all of the hope and love we hold for those around us. And that is my wish for you. To extend yourself to others be they family, friends, or distant strangers. Know that you are cared for here at school and at home. As adults in your life, we want to do our very best to keep you safe.
Unfortunately, there will be more tragedy in our lives. But, know that a tragedy does not define us as much as our response to that tragedy defines and profoundly affects who we are becoming. So let us become who we want to be…who we aspire to be both as individuals and as a community.
Lastly, take the time to look around you. Now….later today, in class or at lunch…when you get on the bus or are driving home with a parent or when you are in a team huddle or when you are home tonight….Pause and take the time to look around and appreciate those who care for you and those for whom you care, and savor that moment. It is a small thing…but it is something we can all do and we will be better in this simple act of connection.
I would like to settle into some silence in honor, in reflection, and in memory of the school children and the school teachers we have lost.
In the next 48 hours we will be going our different ways…..so be safe, be smart, and be good.
Students and teachers, have a good break. I will see you in January 2013.
Paul B. Perkinson