Sunday, December 12, 2010

A week of inspiration from New York's youth

Monday I went to Hunter HS in Manhattan at the invitation of Dan SanGermano whom I met at a Prop 8 celebration with Broadway Impact a few months ago. After a small lunch with the members of the Gay/Straight Alliance over great conversation about media impact on society, depiction of the gay community and bullying, ok AND Glee, I spoke to three auditoriums full of respectful, interested and challenging students. In preparation for my visit, they had prepared some tough questions! It was so cool to see the kids ask such pertinent and thought-provoking questions, some just so that others may hear the answers. I was often that kid. Because of my love for discussion, I often play devil's advocate just to examine all sides of the issue at hand. That's what these kids really did.

Then Wednesday, I went to Long Island to Jericho Middle Schools where the school climate truly is changing, based on the guidance of their teachers, principal and superintendent, all of whom were present and in addition, parents from the PTA as well. It seems like every time I go to a school I say "This is the best experience I have had." I don't know if anything will top ACCION Academy from this spring, but wow Jericho is fighting for the top spot!! Their school motto is about reaching your personal best, and all leadership challenge the students to remember that your personal best is influenced and enriched by the acceptance of diversity in your surroundings. Without knowing what their missions or mottos were or their current focuses, I directly overlapped with the curriculum they are concentrating on in the school: be respectful and accepting, not just tolerant of others and their unique qualities; be the best you; be a leader; don't be a bystander - see something, say something. At this middle school, they have an elective for 7th and 8th graders entitled "Seedlings." It is a diversity elective themed in privilege - privilege of being born white, male, Christian, straight, and more. I just think it is fascinating to see a school with an elective like this; it shows the initiative of the teachers to create that kind of environment. You can read Principal Gately's blog HERE.

Friday rounded out the week again on Long Island, this time at the Holocaust Museum. I sat on a panel including assemblypersons, a judge, Holocaust survivors and a youth representative to talk about bullying. I was the eighth and final person to speak on the panel, and I found it very interesting and compelling that in discussing bullying as a broad topic, six of the speakers addresses bullying in the current state of our society as a direct result of sexual orientation and gender identity. They did not know my platform; I had not yet opened that subject. It just goes to show that this fight is not one for special group or minority only, but the message of respect, acceptance and equality is current and universal, and obviously necessary to spread in this environment.

And on top of all of these experiences, Hannah Kiefer set up a tough interview at UBS Financial, all of these videos were released - ItGetsBetter, Miss America voting, and ESPA acceptance speech all in other blogs - AND my evening gown arrived from Regalia!!! What a cool, cool week.

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