Morning Meeting Reflection on NYC Attack

The following thoughts were shared with Upper School students on 11/1/17.

Yesterday afternoon, while our school was ending the academic day and students were transitioning to sports, play rehearsal, and after-school activities, people’s lives were upended in New York City when a man drove a pick-up truck down a bike lane in Lower Manhattan, killing eight people and physically injuring at least twelve others—forever changing the lives of the victims, their family and friends, those that witnessed the attack, and causing those who have faced trauma to revisit their past experiences.

We have seen these types of tragedies in London, Paris, and throughout the world, but seeing it in New York feels closer to home. Many of us have strong connections to N.Y.C. through families, visits, and alumni who have moved there. Our empathy is even stronger having experienced the Boston Marathon bombing not too long ago.

Each of you are going to have your own personal feelings, responses, and emotions around these events. I want to share a few thoughts with you and ask you to think about them.

First, it is important during the times after terrorist attacks, while facts are still being collected, that we not jump to conclusions. As Ms. Christian shared, we should not make assumptions about the suspect or all people that look like the suspect. It is important to remember that when people choose to perform acts of terror, they are making individual choices and are not representative of all the people with similar identities.

The other idea I want to leave you with is how you respond to these seemingly random acts of violence. A natural response would be avoidance—taking extra precautions to stay away from “high risk” areas. By doing this, you will feel like you are helping yourself remain safe.

At the same time, though, it can feel counter-intuitive and is difficult to carry on with your normal day while keeping the events in mind. In many ways, continuing with your day can be a way to fight against acts of terror. By choosing to still visit N.Y.C. you are not allowing fear to rule your life. This does not mean you should not be cautious. Instead, it symbolizes something stronger and defeats the ideals of a terrorist. We still run the Boston Marathon each year for these reasons, and the N.Y.C. Marathon will still be run three days from today, for these reasons.

As we move into our moment of silence, I ask that you think about those that have been impacted by yesterday’s attack in New York City, the terrorist attacks that we may not hear about as easily, and all those that have been victims of terror.

From Sparks to Flames of Action

At graduation this past June, I ended my remarks to the Class of 2017 by quoting Golda Meir. She said, “Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” These words are a perfect bridge from last year’s theme of Building the Future to this year’s theme: Inspiring Thinkers and Doers. What are those inner sparks of possibility? How do they become flames of achievement? 

To help us understand, I want to share two stories with you today: 

A number of years ago, I had an advisee named Wyatt who was also in my Chemistry class. As his advisor, I had known that Wyatt suffered from debilitating migraines—the kind of migraines that can make it difficult for you to get out of bed. At the end of the semester, as part of his final project, Wyatt chose to research the brain chemistry of migraines, why they occur, and how they are treated. Over the course of a couple of months, Wyatt learned from texts and journals, met with his doctor, and spoke with other people that suffered migraines. He finished his Chemistry project and turned it in at the end of the year. For many students that would mark the end; not for Wyatt. The next fall, Wyatt returned and petitioned to do an independent study. He wanted to learn how to create apps in iOS in order to put what he had learned into use. He went on to learn how to code for iOS and created an app to help people track the potential triggers of their migraines. Wyatt released the app just a few years ago. His doctor now regularly recommends patients to use it, and he has already made a difference for people suffering from migraines. 

The second story is about two students that helped raise the consciousness of the Brimmer community just a couple of years ago. While the story does not begin then, it was spurred forward when Alexis Ifill, Class of 2017, and Katheryn Maynard, Class of 2018, went to the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference. At the PoCC they listened, shared, and learned with other high school students from around the country. They listened to the struggles and successes around diversity at other schools and shared the work that has been done at Brimmer. What they learned and brought back has had a profound impact on our School and will help shape the experiences of everyone in this room and future students.  

After the conference, they wanted to share what they learned with the Brimmer community. They were eventually invited to present at a Board of Trustees meeting. Their message was that, at Brimmer, we are grateful to have such a diverse and accepting community. AND, at Brimmer, we should be proud of the work that has been done to raise awareness of issues of equality and inclusion. Katheryn then explained, however, we cannot just give ourselves a pat on the back and be content with where we stand and the success we achieved. Being a diverse community is hard work and you cannot rest on your laurels. You need to continue to think about what our community is capable of accomplishing and then work towards those new goals. Seeing the need, theyall gender focused improving in areas of gender and identity. The message from Katheryn and Alexis left a lasting impact on the School leadership and has helped lead to an updated dress code that strives to be inclusive and does not talk about bodies as a distraction, the removal of gender specific pronouns in the Student/Family Handbook, the formation of affinity groups for our students of color, and the reassignment of single-use bathrooms in the school as all-gender restrooms. 

What does being a Thinker and Doer mean to you? Perhaps it is building something new to help people. Maybe it is creating a new club for the school or designing a way to help limit food waste. It could be organizing a fundraiser for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Or it might be simply performing a small act of kindness or finding a way to make the experiences of your classmates more positive. No matter what the idea is, or how big or small it may be, we are all capable of being thinkers and doers.  

Each one of you has the potential to transform the sparks of your ideas into actions; Actions that will lead to the flames of achievement that emanate from our community this year.