“What if it is our duty, as citizens, to listen?”
This was the question posed by Andrew Forsthoefel to an audience of 400 people at The Gunston School, who listened intently as he recounted his 11-month journey over 4,000 miles and 13 states from his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, to Half Moon Bay in California.
On February 28, Gunston continued its annual tradition of a school-wide, student-led Global Awareness Day featuring a diverse array of interactive workshops and presentations designed to encourage students to challenge their perspectives, reflect upon their values and identity, and examine their relationship with the world around them, with the ultimate goal of helping them to prepare for the unique demands of a globalized economy.
Prospective students and parents were also invited to campus to take part in the day’s events as part of Visit Back Day, an event in which accepted students are paired with a Gunston student ambassador for the day and have an opportunity to enjoy the “Gunston Experience” before orientation in August.
This year’s theme, “What’s Your Story?” featured a keynote presentation by Forsthoefel, author of the book Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time, which chronicled his epic journey backpacking across America with a large sign that said “WALKING TO LISTEN.” He set off with the goal of seeking a “graduate program in the human experience. […] I wanted to learn what it actually means to come of age, to transform into the adult who would carry me through the rest of my life.”
Forsthoefel recalled several instances in which he came across people with whom he forged a connection, only to find out they had beliefs that he found to be abhorrent. “I had connected with them and they were very nice to me, and then I found out we don’t share the same beliefs, and it was hard for me.”
Head of School John Lewis explains why Global Awareness Day is so vitally important. “There are two main reasons — first, we have a diverse and global student population here at Gunston, and this event is dedicated to exploring and celebrating this. The second important reason is that, quite simply, we believe that is has never been more important to understand the forces that are shaping our world — economic, cultural, political, environmental, and recently, epidemiological and financial — and we believe that the more you, as a future citizens and leaders, understand these forces, the better off you (and our world) will be.”
After the keynote, students broke into groups and attended workshops focusing on such issues as self-expression and self-care, history and culture, and equity and justice.
The workshop “Making Zines,” fell under the category of self-expression and was spearheaded by a team of senior students, Daphne Provance, Grace Holmes, Erica Reece, Hunter Mansfield and Zaria Dalton. A zine, (pronounced “zeen,” like the end of the word “magazine”) is a homemade publication, usually the work of a single person or a very small group.
“We thought zines would be a fun and quick way to get students to express themselves where they could reflect on what they learned that day,” says Provance ’20. “I printed out a photo of everyone in the workshop ahead of time to make their zines more personal. Everyone really enjoyed learning a new craft. I know the workshop leaders had a great time, myself included. I think I speak for all of us by saying this was the best Global Awareness Day we have attended!”
Another workshop, “Developing a Self-Care Plan,” led by Sage Liu ’20 focused on activities that help students stay healthy and deal with pressure. “Self-care is not selfish,” says Liu, “A self-care plan allows you to experience your full range of emotions in a safe and healthy way.”
“Today’s youth are under a tremendous amount of stress and pressure,” explains Gunston’s Director of College Guidance Kellee Webb. “As important as it is to study and work really hard to get into a good school or internship, it is equally as important to learn the skill of taking care of yourself and developing healthy coping strategies.”
Many other Gunston students led workshops on subjects ranging from Korean Food Culture, Mythology, Environmental Justice, Civil Rights, Gender and Society, and Power, Privilege and Positionality, to name a few. During lunch, students hosted a talent show where several students and faculty performed musical classics such as “Hotel California,” as the crowd sang along.
“What I love about Global Awareness Day is it gives students a chance to learn and teach each other in a really authentic way. Beginning with the workshops, our students have the opportunity to share their passions and interests. In the afternoon, they take a deeper dive into exploring their own values and identities. The theme this year’s students selected was intended to encourage us all to practice listening to one another’s experiences and, through this, to expand our understanding of the world,” explains David Miller, Gunston’s Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
“Student leadership is central to the success of Global Awareness Day. The day is almost entirely student-planned, organized, and run. I am so proud of our students for diving into this immense undertaking with enthusiasm, courage, and care. Since January, Gunston’s diversity leaders have dedicated over five hours a week to developing this year’s program and curriculum. The time they put into the day was essential to this year’s success,” adds Miller.
“I ran the Civil Rights Jeopardy workshop as well as the 10th-grade afternoon session,” says Rion McClusky ’21. “People were often really surprised by the Jeopardy answers and I was glad to know I taught at least a few people some things. I helped plan and organize many of the workshops and afternoon sessions. I think that Global Awareness Day is always important to students because it really is the one day that is dedicated to the community coming together talking about what makes us us. The theme every year is picked with guidance from the Student Diversity Leadership Council and that is what makes it more relatable to students.”
The Gunston School is an independent, co-educational college preparatory high school located in Centreville, Maryland serving grades 9-12. For more information about Global Awareness Day, or any other Gunston programming, visit gunston.org.
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