Empathy and Commonalities: Themes of the Week and of Middle School
On Wednesday, our nation witnessed both a centuries old tradition as President Joe Biden was sworn into office. Our nation also witnessed a historic moment in our country when Vice President Kamala Harris - the first ever African American, South Asian, and woman to be elected Vice President - was sworn into her office. The theme of this historic week that resonated in the Middle School? Empathy and commonalities; themes central to our Middle School curriculum.
We began each day of this week with a quote from Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to celebrate and commemorate his work. The quotes centered on choosing love over hate and serving others. To serve others we need to be able to listen to them so that we understand what they need. This requires empathy.
On Tuesday, Ms. Marra Gad, author of The Color of Love, shared her story and experiences with our students as a biracial Jew. Three of our students moderated the event, posing questions to Ms. Gad that resonated as much for them and their peers as it did for the adults. Ms. Gad’s message was one of inclusion, kindness, empathy, and most of all love. As Ms. Gad told her story she said, “No one gets to tell you who you have to be. You get to choose who you are. It's part of the gift of being human.”
When our student moderators asked Ms. Gad what actions a middle school student could take to make a positive change in the world, Ms. Gad responded, “You really are the future. You are the future of Judaism, future of our country, and the future of our world. If you can find the spaces where you can put more good into the world, that is a good place to start. You are the voice saying, ‘why don't we have [someone in our group, club, board who represents a particular gender, race, ethnicity, religion, etc.]” Ms. Gad charged our students to “Sit with new students and speak up. We all deserve to be at the same table with the same rights and same access” and concluded with “It boils down to respect and knowing there is room on both sides of you to pull up a chair for someone else who is there.”
Strikingly, President Biden’s inaugural address carried many of the themes that Ms. Gad shared. President Biden emphasized focusing on finding our commonalities as human beings to begin healing our country. President Biden’s speech echoed the call of our constitution to form a “more perfect union”. He firmly stated, “We are good people. we've come so far but we still have far to go. We have much to do, much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, and much to gain”. And his antidote to the “foes we face: anger, hatred, violence, etc.” begin with finding common ground. And his charge to us, “Do not let disagreement lead to disharmony.”
Finding commonalities, going back to all things humans need - love, safety, opportunity - were messages throughout the week from Dr. King, Ms. Gad, and President Biden. Empathy is a muscle that must be nurtured and practiced, which is why it has become central to our curriculum and features in every single discipline and interdisciplinary class we teach. Empathy allows us to serve and stand up for others. Empathy makes it possible to embrace differences in others so that we can celebrate our friends’ for their uniqueness instead of excluding them for it. Commonalities are what encourage us to engage in truly civil discourse with people with whom we disagree.
These are important components of our Portrait of A Graduate and why our 8th Grade Capstone experience - whether near or far, in person or virtual - culminates with students engaging in experiences with multiple voices and perspectives and asking “What is my role as a young Jewish American adolescent in local, national, and global conversations?” and “What does it look like for me to be a leader and take action in these conversations?”
Dr. Eliana Lipsky
Middle School Principal