I spoke to the boys in assembly last week. The text of my address appears below.
Thanks for reading,
“Upon reflecting further on the Special Olympics event we held here last week, and all that I learned from those very special athletes, I was reminded of one of my favourite poems. It was written some time ago by Canadian poet Alden Nowlan. I need to provide a note of caution here. The poem, including its title, contains some insensitive language that reflects the time in which it was written – language that we thankfully do not, or at least should not, use today. Its called He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded. It is a fairly lengthy poem, so I won’t read it in its entirely, but I will share a few relevant lines with you.
The narrative in the piece tells the story of a journalist, presumably Alden Nowlan himself, who goes to report on a concert with local musicians that is being held at a school for people with intellectual disabilities. Throughout the first part of the poem, the reporter focuses on how different the students are, and how those differences make him feel extremely uncomfortable. His observations are mixed with a subtle tone of condescension, speaking of their child-like mannerisms and juvenile behaviour. However, about half-way through the poem, the narrator finds himself in a very awkward situation when a young woman with an intellectual disability sits beside him and as a simple gesture of friendship, asks him for a hug. It is here that the poem takes a turn and the journalist has a revelation, realizing that despite the notable differences between him and others there, as humans we are all connected through our desire for companionship. Describing this revelation, he writes:
I look around me
for a teacher to whom to smile out my distress.
They’re all busy elsewhere, “Hold me,” she whispers. “Hold me.”
I put my arm around her.
“Hold me,” she says again.
It’s what we all want, in the end,
to be held, merely to be held…
not to be worshipped, not to be admired,
not to be famous, not to be feared,
not even to be loved, but simply to be held.
Through this simple, innocent scene, the narrator drives home a significant profound truth for humanity: we’re all different in some way, but fundamentally, all we want in life is simply to “belong”.
The contrasting ideas of difference and unity also shine through in another one of my favourite poems: Human Family by Maya Angelou. I’ll ask the AV guys to show today’s first clip, one that you may have seen before, in which Angelou’s poem is featured:
Some of you may be thinking, “I don’t have English until period 4 today, so why am I sitting through a poetry lesson here in Laidlaw Hall?” Well, I think these two poems by Nowlan and Angelou relate very well to our experience here at UCC. You see, to some degree, we are a diverse school. I would say that we have room to continue to grow with respect to the actual number of students we have here from diverse cultures, but when we look at both our day and boarding populations, we have 44 different countries represented at this school and I think we are a fairly united community.
I’m not saying we’re perfect in this regard. In a school as large as ours is, there are bound to be times when misunderstandings might occur and unintended, insensitive comments or actions might cause offense or hurt. In those times, as a caring community, we need to work hard to understand one another, assume good will, and be willing to forgive. This is how diverse communities thrive and flourish.
But you guys have figured this out. You know that there are many differences among our student body: students from different cultures; students with different perspectives; students with different strengths; and students who make different contributions in different ways to our collective community. You’ve realized that those differences are worth celebrating, and ultimately are what make you a stronger, more unified student body. You use the term brotherhood as a way to describe the bond that unites all of you, and that should be a source of great comfort and much pride – knowing that every one of you belongs to that brotherhood.
We watched an iPhone ad earlier that spoke to the idea of celebrating diversity through our common humanity. In continuing on this theme, and in the spirit of fair play, I’d like to show a second cell phone ad – this one from Apple’s rival, Samsung. It too speaks to the value of pluralism. AV guys, if you will, please show the clip .
For most of us, the upcoming holiday presents an opportunity to spend time with friends and family, and in so doing, fulfills that fundamental need we all have – the need to “belong.” Indeed, “we are more alike my friends than we are unalike.”
I wish all the Senior Division boys the best on their exams, and to all of you, whatever your faith or cultural tradition, I hope you have a restful, enjoyable holiday.
Thanks for listening…”