Students should appreciate assembly speakers


Liliana Greyf

This Tuesday, the Upper Division (UD) watched Claudia Rankine present about her work and beliefs during the scheduled assembly period. It should not be shocking for Horace Mann students to learn that Rankine is regarded as one of the most talented and impactful writers of our time. Many have read her writing in their English classes, and most should at least know her name. Outside of this community, students given the chance to hear from someone as celebrated as Rankine would have been thrilled, elated. Somehow, we have allowed for this experience to become common and routine. 

The intellectual offerings of our assembly periods have been normalized, turned into something typical and boring. There was no excitement surrounding Rankine’s presentation. I did not hear any students’ discussion leading up to her visit. After the assembly, I felt inspired, energized, even changed — but I also felt dejected. I waited to engage in critical conversation in my classes, but most of my peers had nothing to say. I was under the impression that everyone had opened their screens to the webinar simply to be in attendance. I wondered how many students had really listened to the incredible things she had said.

Every other week, the school invites a speaker — a journalist, a lawyer, a poet, a photographer, or anyone else excited to present to the school — to speak to the UD for an hour. For most, these assemblies are not a compelling or exciting event. At 10 a.m., hundreds of us mope and meander our ways to Olshan Lobby, stopping to fling our backpacks in haphazard heaps and hide our silenced cell phones in our pockets. We sit through the announcements, mouth the alma mater, and clap when the period ends. We assume that what we are about to hear is in some way unimportant, unnecessary, or uninteresting. But this makes us ignorant and ungrateful. Few other schools have the opportunity to invite speakers such as the ones we hear from weekly. We take for granted one of the greatest privileges that this school has to offer.

I do not mean to say that the high school collectively zones out during each of these assemblies, nor do I believe that we as a whole are ungrateful for the speakers we hear from. Still, there exists a culture at this school to denounce anything that could be widely educational or beneficial if it comes in the form of a lecture. We have come to believe that if it is presented in this format, it is no longer of use to us.

Assemblies are one of the few parts of our student lives that are left ungraded; they do not exist as a form of evaluation. The nature of this experience leads us to believe that it is insignificant — since it does not affect our academic performance, it can be missed. I do not propose that we change the rules of our assembly periods — I don’t think that every part of our high school experience should be assessed. Yet, I cannot help but think that if we were to be tested on what we learned in assemblies, audience members would be much more engaged. We seem unable to appreciate what does not change our report cards.

In this school year alone, the high school has had the chance to hear from numerous presenters, all of whom have had their own lessons to bring to the community. Flo Ngala ‘13 displayed more than the beauty of her photography; she showed Horace Mann students that they can use their creativity throughout the rest of their lives. Wesley Caines not only discussed the impacts of criminal justice reform; he also worked to change current perceptions of the justice system. David Leonhardt ‘90 explained the fundamental statistics of the election, and Chidi Akusobi ‘08 spoke about the social determinants and impacts of health. Yet, the assemblies we experience are never mentioned after they are finished. Not enough of the student body appreciates what each guest speaker has to offer.

Now, in the midst of online learning, this problem has only worsened. Those who used to spend half of C-period sitting on the floor of the bathroom can now turn their cameras off and make breakfast. Those who would close their eyes until tapped on the shoulder by their advisor can sleep unperturbed in their beds. 

I do not want to sound accusatory. I know that we are all tired, and we all need breaks. But that rest should be found at a time that is not designated for education and activism. Assemblies may not affect our college applications, but they can have a profound impact on our educational experiences. We must learn to put this ingrained indifference aside. Assemblies could — and should — be a time for Horace Mann students to hear, process, learn, and grow.