When I was a little girl my mother would say, with some regularity, “You think the world revolves around you, Elizabeth Anne.” Yes, when she dragged out “Elizabeth Anne,” I knew she was serious. This was her way of expressing frustration when I was not paying attention to or caring about what other people might need. What I wanted to play, read, eat, watch, or listen to mattered most to me, and I was oblivious to others’ desires. It turns out that being absorbed in my own reality and assuming everyone saw the world as I did was a pretty typical developmental stage. As I got older and hit the preteen and teenage years very slowly I began to realize that, not only was I not the center of the universe, but that other people had very different wants, thoughts, ideas, and perspectives than I did. Over the last four and a half decades I have worked hard to better understand and come to treasure the beautiful way diverse opinions and experiences enrich our world.
The man we came to here to honor today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a fellow difference appreciator and he was a nationwide difference maker, who has helped shape my thinking about the importance of diversity. He inspired citizens with these famous words,
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
I take his words as a challenge, and I hope you will take on the challenge too, to look beyond ourselves to examine and care about the “broader concerns of all humanity.” Today, I’d like us to reflect on Dr. King’s words, celebrate how far we have come, and commit to embodying his ideals to move our community further. Today, I ask you to look to Dr. King for inspiration and consider the ways in which we might honor his legacy through appreciating the diverse gifts you and your classmates bring to the table each day.
Dr. King lived at a time when most people did not yet appreciate the diversity that now makes our Wayland Middle School community thrive. In fact King’s reality was quite the opposite. Dr. King’s time was one in which black men and women were denied the same Civil Rights as their white counterparts. In the 1950s and ‘60s, riding buses, lodging in hotels, using public restrooms, and voting were among the everyday activities that were not equally accessible to all citizens of our country. Schools too were segregated along racial lines, and attempts to integrate were often met with hatred, bigotry, and violence. Unable to accept the discriminatory societal conditions, Dr. King united Americans to demand the equality promised in our Constitution. King and like-minded activists risked their lives to challenge unjust laws and practices through peaceful protest. King’s life work was to promote love, hope, unity, and freedom in the face of hatred, and he was unwavering as he sought a peaceful means to realize the promise of these ideals to carry our country forward. He wanted us to learn together and celebrate diversity.
Looking back on King’s struggle makes me appreciate the privilege of working in a more diverse school than those that were the norm in King’s day. Research shows that by talking and listening to people different from ourselves we expand and broaden our understanding. Multicultural classrooms allow teachers to work with you to confront biases and prejudices and incorporate varied perspectives as we explore the world and develop critical thinking skills together. A respectful curiosity about beliefs, values, and the ideas of others can open the world for us. Integrated classroom environments are important to helping you learn to collaborate and communicate across your variety of cultures and backgrounds, finding powerful common ground on which to build your futures.
Together we seek to understand what King terms, “the broader concerns of all humanity.”
Each day I arrive at a school to which students have found their way from literally all over the world. A glance at the flags raised around our cafeteria shows a history and a present of students and teachers who were born in 55 countries outside of the United States. Over the past two years alone we raised four new flags to recognize WMS students born in Romania, Venezuela, Cape Verde and Trinidad. Last World Language week, during our bilingual lunch, we celebrated the fact that approximately 120 Wayland Middle School students speak a language other than English at home. Perhaps what draws such rich diversity to our school is that we are created from not one but two communities. We are a METCO district, fortunate to have students from Wayland and Boston, and this year we celebrate 50 years of partnership.
Our METCO program benefits
of Wayland Middle School, creating a richer, more racially diverse learning environment for everyone. In recognition of the 50
anniversary of METCO I will take a moment to share with you a bit of its history. METCO, which is short for The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, is the voluntary busing program that transports students of color from Boston and Springfield to suburban school systems. It is one of the oldest most successful programs of its kind. The program was first conceptualized in Boston during the Civil Rights movement of King’s time. In the 1960’s a concerned group of African American parents united, in hope of creating strong, integrated schools for all students and lay the foundation for a diverse and just world. These parent activists organized a voluntary desegregation program called Operation Exodus, bussing 400 African American students to an under-enrolled white neighborhood school in the Back Bay. The success of the experiment led to a meeting between the Massachusetts Federation for Fair Housing and Equal Rights group and leaders from twelve suburban districts who agreed to voluntarily enroll students of color from Boston in their schools, and thus METCO was born. Wayland has been a proud member of METCO since 1968 and this year we celebrate our 50
Anniversary as a METCO district.
Tonight at 6:00 pm, I look forward to our annual MLK Dinner sponsored by our Boston Parent Council that encourages our WMS families of Wayland and Boston to come together for a meal, conversation, music, and celebration. I hope you will consider joining me.
Alongside the well-researched benefits I’ve discussed this morning, in diverse learning environments there are healthy challenges and struggles as well. Sometimes misunderstandings arise that grow out of cultural or racial differences. People say things that are hurtful, based on a lack of cultural awareness. We have begun to scratch the surface in addressing some of these challenges through our school-wide work around microaggressions – those “brief, everyday exchanges that send hurtful messages to certain individuals because of their group membership." The assumptions and stereotypes at the heart of microaggressions that underlie comments can be upsetting. Together we seek to understand microaggressions so we can prevent them and build strong, caring connections in their place.
One important key to this work is to know one another as individuals and recognize the various facets of our identities. To create a community of learners students must understand and appreciate how we are similar and how we are different. It is right out of our school mission statement. Each one of us is a member of a race, an ethnicity, a religion, a gender, a sexual orientation, and a socio-economic group. Even if some of our group memberships are the same, our connection to each of these identities is unique. We all have different interests and preferences. We are complex. For example, I am a white, hetero-sexual, college-educated, Christian woman of Irish, English and French descent. I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a wife. I am a principal and a math teacher. I am a musician, a soccer player, and a yoga enthusiast. I am a reader, a puzzler, and a laugher. I am a Patriot’s fan who loves to sing along to the car radio and binge watch Grey’s Anatomy. I delight in playing cards and board games with my family, and Lake Winnipesaukee is my happy place.
You and I have things in common and we have distinct differences that make each of us one of a kind. The fun part of getting to know one another and learning alongside each other is finding these things out. We develop camaraderie in how we are alike, and we expand our world by seeking to understand our differences and how they impact our world. We have the privilege to accept Dr.King’s challenge and explore the “broader concerns of all humanity” together. It turns out my mother was right – she always is. The world does not revolve around me, and it is a much more interesting place because of that