Tag Archives: community

A Special Community

by David Mark ’18

My favorite part of George School is our community. I remember coming here freshman year inexperienced and scared for what would come. As soon as I walked into Campbell I felt welcomed and knew that I would be successful here. I was used to being away from home already as I went to a boarding school before, but George school is a place unlike any I’ve ever known.

The community and people are the part that makes up George School and sets it apart from the rest. The feeling you get when you walk into a room full of strangers is usually anxiety and fear, but here when you walk into a room you can’t wait to meet everyone and share your story. Everyone here makes you feel very welcome and wants to get to know the real you. I was shocked about this because I was used to walking down the streets at home staring straight down or ahead. Now, whenever I’m walking I look up and am greeted with a smile from everyone.

I really appreciate everything about the school because it invites you to be yourself in your truest form. No one judges or criticizes you. If you are sitting by yourself simply reflecting, people will recognize that and acknowledge it. I think that anyone who steps foot on this campus will instantaneously fall in love with everyone and everything here.

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My Year with Four Female African Presidents

by Liz Grossman ’05

As I struggle to come to terms with the current state of gender politics in my own country, I am looking to Africa for inspiration, where many countries are actually making steps to bring women into positions of public leadership. Seven African countries make the top twenty of Inter-Parliamentary Union’s statistical rankings on the percentage of women in parliament, Rwanda being first globally. Not only this, but four different women from four different African countries have served in the highest office of the land.

This past year, I have had the honor to listen to, shake hands with, meet with, and grow professionally with all four of these women:  Her Excellency Ellen Sirleaf Johnson President of Liberia and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Her Excellency Joyce Banda Former President of Malawi, Her Excellency Catherine Samba Panza President of the Transitional Government of Central African Republic, and Her Excellency Ameenah Gurib President of Mauritius.

My first exposure to these female African heads of state was with Gwen Young, a role model and inspirational leader who runs the Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center.  Gwen moderated a panel entitled “Women’s Political Participation: Leadership and the Global Agenda” at the Concordia Summit in New York City, featuring Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the first African woman president, and Dr. Joyce Banda, the second. Fortunately, I had the chance to sit down with Gwen and Dr. Banda during a break, and my first impression was how down to earth Dr. Banda was. I noticed several young African women come over to her, nervously make small talk and ask for pictures, to which she graciously obliged. I noticed how much she cared about people, especially those with a passion for making change in Africa.

Next in the presidential circuit was Ameenah Gurib, the sitting President of Mauritius. She was a keynote speaker at the MIT Sloan Innovate Africa Conference this past April. President Gurib inspired the audience with her vision for Africa, supporting entrepreneurship, improving access to education, and getting more women into political leadership.

The journey continued in May, when I applied for a consultancy at the Wilson Center, specifically to support Dr. Banda on the research and writing of her policy toolkit entitled “Advancing Women’s Leaders in Africa.”  Alongside Dr. Banda, I attended the launch of the African Women Leaders Network at the United Nations, where some of the continent’s most prominent leaders in government, business, and civil society gathered to figure out how to promote one another and address the issue of gender parity in public service.  Another important attendee was Catherine Samba Panza, former President of the Central African Republic.

Rounding out this year in Accra, Ghana, at the Harvard Africa Alumni Action Forum, came a second opportunity to listen to President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, a Harvard alumna, deliver a keynote speech alongside President Nana Akufo Addo of Ghana. Several weeks later, I was flying back to Accra on a plane with my now client Dr. Joyce Banda, honored to accompany her to the UNDP Africa’s High-Level Policy Dialogue on Governance in Africa and support her while she spoke to policymakers about how promoting women’s leadership can end corruption and promote peace.

It has been an inspiring and humbling year, to say the very least. What has encouraged me the most was that four of these women all shared traits of relatability, kindness, and openness. All were receptive to questions, comments, often quite long-winded project partnership pitches, and even seem to genuinely welcomed them. Dr. Joyce Banda was sharing personal life anecdotes and taking selfies.  Catherine Samba Panza was handing out her personal business cards.  Ameenah Gurib was attending a conference dinner to chat with more participants, and Ellen Sirleaf Johnson was delivering an extra session about women’s leadership as a way to engage more with the audience in Accra.  These women all know how to relate to other people, and they all have a knack for making the average Joe and Jane feel like they were worthy of a President’s time.

Politics, particularly in Africa, can be dirty, but these women all showed no outward sign being bothered or upset by it. Each one of them, and most female leaders globally, have been dealing with harassment, reputation tarnishing scandals, and lies. They hold their heads up with poise and grace, remembering the real reason for their existence is for the people they serve, and the future young leaders who need their coaching and example to break the glass ceiling.

Being in proximity to these women leaders, and now counting Dr. Joyce Banda as a role model and mentor, I am energetic as ever to find ways not only to empower young women in Africa to access education and develop as leaders, but also to push my own compatriots to challenge the way we view women’s leadership. Women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves, fight harassment and overcome sexism in the workplace, and these four women in particular are showing that anything really is possible.

Engaging with four African female presidents renewed my certitude about the immense potential of girls and young women across the continent to become leaders of the next generation. Thinking of the students I spent three years teaching in Senegal and the countless entrepreneurs and community leaders I’ve met across the continent and here in the United States, I am confident that I already know many other future presidents.

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Civil Discourse

by Tina Oddleifson ’82

I’m related to the first person executed for murder in the U.S. You may not have heard of him, but his name was John Billington and he came over on the Mayflower.  He was a troublemaker who killed a fellow colonist and was hanged in 1630.  My grandmother bravely fought for access to birth control in the 1930’s, despite the social stigma. But she also once told me that she thought Apartheid wasn’t so bad.  My hometown of Boston is often the first to stand up for higher American ideals like equality.  But it also has a long and complicated history of racism. I could tell you that I’m a Mayflower descendant, that my grandmother crusaded for progressive causes, and that Boston is a leader for enlightened thought in America.  But that wouldn’t be the whole truth, would it?

As humans, we tend to hold onto certain parts of our story and ignore or gloss over the messy parts because they don’t support our idealized version of reality.  This has become an alarming practice in today’s political environment where partial truths and absolutes are ubiquitous, often in the form of memes and sensational headlines addressing the outrage of the day.  “Liberals want to take down the flag – share if you don’t give a damn” or “Conservatives are literally pining for a dictatorship” are two that came through my feed recently.  One of these is bound to irritate you, maybe even both.

Our obsession with sound bites, memes and partial truths may serve our need for self-justification and help us commiserate with our political team, but they not only promote divisiveness, they miss the chance for exploring a much more fascinating and complex story.  The recent cultural conflicts over civil war memorials and kneeling during the national anthem are just two more examples of how our social media obsession is drowning out civil discourse and the opportunity to explore those gray areas, where the truth actually lives.

So where does one go to have an honest and respectful conversation these days?  How do we move forward as a country teetering on the edge of a democracy and something altogether different?  Admitting that your life story or point of view is filled with a certain degree of hypocrisy is a good place to start.  Having a murderous Pilgrim, a feminist but prejudiced grannie, and a hypocritical hometown forces you to admit that maybe things are a little more complicated than they appear. Recognizing your own inconsistencies can help others admit theirs as well. The next step is to find someone who thinks differently than you and actively listen to them.  This is not the kind of listening where you spend your time figuring out your next counterpoint while someone else is talking.  It’s about being curious and asking questions.  It’s about making the other person feel “heard,” even if you don’t agree with what they are saying.  Civil discourse is not about trying to change someone’s mind.  And it’s not about giving up your own values, or trying to avoid conflict altogether. It’s about disagreeing without being disagreeable.  It’s about being open and respectful enough to consider a different viewpoint, so that we can engage in the healthy deliberation of ideas that a successful democracy requires.

If you’re wondering how someone you have always liked can have such a different worldview, maybe it’s time to reach out and ask them how they got there.  And maybe it’s time for all of us to admit that not all conservatives are racist, not all liberals believe in unlimited government handouts, and we all love our country.  It would open up a desperately needed conversation for addressing urgent policy issues from sensible gun laws, to health care and immigration.

If you are interested in learning more about ways to advance civil discourse, the National Institute for Civil Discourse has launched the Revive Civility project in Maine, Ohio, Iowa and Arizona with plans to go nationwide.  They offer resources for talking to friends and family about issues that divide us, including a new program called “Setting the Table for Civility” with tools for families and friends to have civil conversations over the Thanksgiving holiday.  You can find them at ReviveCivility.org.  Additional resources to explore include Allsides.com  and Livingroomconversations.org.  If we begin to model civil discourse, maybe our politicians will too.

Note: This op-ed was originally published by Portland Press Herald on October 16, 2017.

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Redefining Racism: MLK Day at George School

by Chloe ’16 

All white people are racist.

That was the trending topic on campus during the eventful 2016 MLK Day. As part of the day the entire student body came together to watch a radical documentary called I’m Not Racist… Am I?” Continue reading

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A Conversation with Kathy Coyle

An interview with Kathy Coyle conducted by Chloe ’16. Check out some of Chloe’s other posts on the blog including: Pumpkin Spice Oreos, Filling Your Empty Canvases (Making a Dorm Room Feel Like a Home, Not a Box), and Speaking of Squirrels.

Hey Kathy!

Hey Chloe

You excited? You look super excited.

I’m so pumped! Continue reading

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A Conversation with Stephen Moyer

An interview with Stephen Moyer ’82 conducted by Chloe ’16. Check out some of Chloe’s other posts on the blog including: Pumpkin Spice Oreos, Filling Your Empty Canvases (Making a Dorm Room Feel Like a Home, Not a Box), and Speaking of Squirrels.

Hi Stephen!

Hi Chloe.

Whats your position here at George School?

I am a member of the Religion Department teaching Essentials of a Friends Community and Holistic Health. I have taught Spiritual Practices and Quakerism as well. I’m also the faculty sponsor to the Model United Nations club. I coach all of the running sports–boys and girls cross-country and boys and girls indoor and outdoor track so I’m coaching all three seasons and I’m the head of Drayton Dormitory with my beloved wife, Laurie. Continue reading

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Speech to Parents: Parents Visiting Day 2014

Adapted from a speech delivered by Head of School Nancy Starmer during Parents Visiting Day 2014.

Welcome, it’s wonderful to see you all here today and thanks for taking the time to come to hear me; I know the day is busy!

The school year is off to an excellent start.  I hope the same is true from your perspective! The opening of our new fitness and athletics center was an early highlight.  We were thrilled that it opened on time and under budget, with none of the all-too-typical delays and punch-list problems that new buildings often exhibit.

Our students have been using the Center constantly, in their free time for pick-up games or lap swimming or to work out in the fitness center; the volleyball team is of course thrilled to have this new space; PE classes have taken over the movement studio and the pool and gyms; and teams are using the spaces in inventive ways as well (field hockey practiced in the multipurpose gym before their first game on the turf field, for example, to get a feel for the faster ball, and several teams have scheduled times to do strength training in the mornings before school.) We’ve had pool parties almost every weekend, open either to all students or scheduled as dorm events, and two weekends ago George School hosted a Health Fair in the new building, where community businesses and health services came to advertise and raise people’s consciousness about everything from stress to back problems to heart-healthy menus. Continue reading

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Harvest Weekend

teenage boy sitting on brick bench. a tree and brick building are in the background

Michael Silver ’16

by Michael Silver ’16, Admission Office ambassador

At George School, we have many weekends dedicated to certain topics. Recently, George School hosted Harvest Weekend, one of the most exciting seasonal weekends of the year. Highlights from the weekend included pumpkin carving, hayrides, a haunted house, a costume dance, and apple butter making. Needless to say, much of the campus spent the weekend enthralled in the fun activities. Personally, I particularly enjoyed pumpkin carving, and found it to be a new, intriguing, and joyously laborious event. Continue reading

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June 24: Cuba

At 6:00 a.m. this morning, twelve sleepy-eyed teenagers stumbled towards our daily promise of delicious, sweet mangoes with an underlying fear of our upcoming adventure.  As we enjoyed the fresh fruit and coffee for one of the last few times, we also mentally geared up for what was rumored to be one of the most physically demanding and challenging things that we would tackle on this trip: a hike through a valley that would lead us to the base of a waterfall and back up again.  With bellies full of whatever magic Carlos produced from the kitchen and eyelids still heavy, we boarded our air-conditioned bus to begin the two-hour drive towards what, at the time, seemed like a death trap.

As soon as I woke up from my cushioned, air-conditioned nap, I was met with a view of gorgeous green mountain scenery and pure untouched wilderness.  It was the same lush landscape I’d experienced, but never quite grown accustomed to, for so many of the days I’ve spent here.  It was something too beautiful and too breathtaking to ever lose its luster; the thousands of shades of green never ceased to amaze me.  I quickly snapped out of my dreamy-eyed state when I realized that the rather large bus we were riding in was driving up a winding dirt road next to the edge of a cliff that seemed to whisper of imminent death.  Fortunately, we safely reached the peak of the mountain without any headline-worthy incidents.  We savored the last few seconds of air conditioning and luxury and climbed out of the bus with bated breath.

We were fed pineapple and mango and treated to coffee that was grown on-site as soon as we arrived.  I took three cups of the delicious coffee in the hope that it would give me a boost of energy; in reality, I was just left with what seemed to be a mild form of epilepsy as the caffeine coursed through my veins and made my limbs shake.  Afterwards, we were able to climb to the “Mirador,” which was a balcony from which we could see the entire valley we would soon be trekking down.  The view was incredible.  From our vista point, we could see the gorgeous waterfall and the green tropical paradise that surrounded us.  The moment of silence that followed was a combination of awe and horror as the realization that we would be scaling up and down the seemingly vertical incline crept up on us.  Nonetheless, being the big, brave adventurers that we are, we all put on brave faces and prepared ourselves for the experience of a lifetime.

In single file, we followed our guide down a narrow, almost completely untouched path.  The first few minutes consisted of laughter and a few startled yelps as our feet learned to fit into muddy hiking boots as opposed to Sperrys and stilettos.  As we continued to follow our amazingly nimble guide, Alex pointed out what he claimed to be a fifteen-foot-long yellow snake in our path, which turned out to be entirely harmless but still caused my adrenal glands to go into overdrive.  Eventually, everyone began calling out some helpful nuggets of wisdom that would ensure a safe journey down the valley (helpful tree is helpful, slippery rock is slippery, deceptive rock is unstable, etc.)  We also came across a number of animals and creatures during the hike, including the fifteen-foot long snake, numerous lizards and geckos, far too many biting ants, and two river crabs (yes, they exist) whom we named Jeremy and Jerome.  We kept spirits high as we continued to hike lower, largely due to the chorus of laughter that lasted for the entire hike down.  Our first glimpse of the base of the waterfall was nothing short of miraculous.  With that carrot dangling so closely in front of our faces, we found a new spring in our steps as we quickly rushed towards the pool at the bottom of the waterfall.

With red faces and sweaty bodies, not a single person hesitated to get into the water.  The refreshing water cooled us off, and the beautiful waterfall made every ant bite worth it.  We were even able to sit on a ledge under the waterfall, which was probably the best and cheapest massage I’ve ever gotten.  Even those who were wary of doing the hike expressed how glad they were that they’d chosen to go.  As the orange mud stained our skin (and gave us some artificial bronze glow) we sat in the water, listened to the crashing of the waterfall, and admired the hidden paradise that we were lucky enough to find ourselves in.  The high walls of the valley surrounded us with untamed green plants and rocky ledges – the same ledges we’d just hiked on. Nothing I’d ever seen before could possibly compare to this amazing microcosm of nature at its finest.

We were forced to reluctantly climb out of the pool and begin the harder part of our hike: the climb back up the valley.  Faces were stuffed with prepackaged artificial protein and wet hair was flung in a frenzy.  We picked up our walking sticks and followed our trusted guide back onto the ‘trail’ (Cubans use the word ‘trail’ much more loosely than Americans do.)  I pretended that my thighs didn’t hurt and attempted to hide my shortness of breath as we hiked on and on.  On our way down, we walked with the fear of falling, but on our way up, we hiked with the fear of sudden cardiac arrest.  The same rocks we were sliding down on became helpful footholds that anchored us upwards.  We came across a few more lizards and exotic birds and learned to gracefully avoid the anthills as well.  I continued on with the best lower body workout I’ve ever experienced as I began to breathe harder and blamed it on the thinner air and higher altitude.

By this time, we’d all gotten used to being drenched in sweat and caked in mud, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who considered applying for some sort of Man vs. Wild reality show.  Eventually, we saw the top of the mountain, which came as the biggest relief, as I wasn’t sure how much longer I could pretend that I wasn’t tired.  After the last few steps, a couple of Tarzan yells and cries of joy were shared as we basked in the glory of our latest accomplishment.  Additionally, when we learned that we’d spent a mere 30 minutes scaling that valley, as opposed to the suggested 90 minutes it would take us, the glory intensified even more.  Parents: you’ll be happy to know that we survived the journey without any broken bones or venomous snake bites.

Luckily, there existed a natural pool in which we could cool off that was only a short hike away from the top of the mountain.  There, we met up with Fran and a couple of students who had decided to stay behind and enjoy the waterfall and scenic nature from above.  This pool was no less beautiful than the one we’d just seen, and we were all grateful to be able to spend a few more minutes in the cool water with our entire group.  After I was able to cool my body temperature back down to a normal level, we walked back towards our much awaited lunches.  Although the rice and beans, roasted pork, and plantain chips were nothing short of delicious, they paled in comparison to what Carlos whipped up every day.

As our bodies continually produced lactic acid, we boarded the bus to head back home.  Although we say ‘home’ loosely, this church and this community have made a much appreciated effort to ensure that we felt like we had a home with them.  As I dozed off into a much deserved nap, I couldn’t help but feel regret that we’d have to leave this beautiful country and its incredible people in just a few days.

-Natasja

 

PS. To my family: I may or may not choose to defect from the United States and stay here in Cuba (only kidding.)  I miss you all very much and I pray you haven’t converted my room into a home gym just yet.

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