In the recent past, John Bapst begins each semester with a convocation speech presented by a faculty or staff member, on the theme of their own choosing.
This year students were addressed by Head of School Mel MacKay and student Moritz Finkbeiner, who is from Germany.
Let’s Talk – Mel MacKay and Moritz Finkbeiner
(Moritz’ comments are in italics.)
Happy New Year, everyone.
Our tradition here at John Bapst since 2008 is to begin each assembly with a performance – usually a student performance, but faculty are welcome to share their talents, too – and to begin each semester with a convocation. Over the years I suppose I have attended hundreds of school assemblies. I remember when I was in fourth grade, we had an assembly at school in which a sixth-grade girl sang a song about bubble gum. In junior high school, I remember an anti-war assembly because I was one of the two student speakers. I remember in high school going to an assembly with a speaker about science who showed us that when you combine primary colors, you get white. I thought that was pretty interesting and I became a volunteer at the local science center.
I’m speaking to you at the beginning of this year with a very particular message in mind. The title of this convocation address is “Let’s Talk.”
But first a little history. You are part of a school that opened its doors on September 10, 1928. When it opened, John Bapst was a Catholic school, and it stayed that way until 1980. In those days, the building was divided in half. The south side of the building – the side with odd-numbered classrooms – was all girls. The north or even side was all boys. Classes were either all girls or all boys. School ended at different times for girls and boys so they wouldn’t spend too much time together.
That changed in 1980. The church closed the school, it reopened as a non-religious private school approved to take public students, and a new chapter began that continues to this day, the first day of John Bapst’s 87th year.
Another major change occurred in 2011 when John Bapst’s international program began. Our school has been a diverse and interesting place in these early days of the program, but my purpose is not to pat ourselves on the back and say, “Good job.” Instead, my purpose is to start the year by challenging all of us to take the next important step in bringing all students together under one roof.
Last year many people said to me that we could do a better job of bringing Maine students and international students together. Day students said it. Parents said it. Teachers and staff and administrators said it. Everyone wanted it to happen, and everyone was asking, “How can we do a better job?”
“How do other schools do it?” Actually, many, many schools deal with the issue of separate student groups. I asked one of our John Bapst graduates how she likes college life in East Lansing, Michigan, and she said, “You mean Chinatown? That’s what we call it.” There are so many students from her country at her university that class is one of the only places in which she has to speak English.
It’s 100% natural for us to gather with people who speak our language and share our culture, so in order to be a school in which people of different backgrounds blend well and interact comfortably, we actually have to create something intentionally.
We have to talk.
So how do we do it? Let’s say you’re a student from Holden, Maine, and you sit down in class half an hour from now and someone you don’t know sits down next to you. Better yet, you sit down next to someone you don’t know. What do you say? What are you prepared to talk about?
I thought a good way to answer this question might be to make a t-shirt together. To help me, I asked a student who has a talent for what we call “breaking the ice” – in this case, starting a conversation – to help me.
This is Moritz. He and I met on Skype about two weeks ago, and he’s from a small town in southern Germany called …
So Moritz, let’s make a t-shirt. This year you and I are going to meet a lot of new people – people from Maine, China, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Albania; people who were born in Maine, people who grew up in Canada and then moved here, people who have family members in Florida and West Virginia and Massachusetts but live here….As I meet these people, what am I supposed to say? I don’t want to be like my grandmother and say, “You’re so tall now!”
“No. There are definitely better ways to break the ice.”
“Like anneonyang haseoh?”
“Isn’t that the standard, formal way of greeting people in Korean?”
“I don’t know – ask Nari. Actually, I suggest ‘Hi.’ Americans have the shortest, simplest greeting in the world.”
“ ‘Hi’ sounds good.”
“Let’s put it on the shirt.”
“Hi, I’m Mr. MacKay. Ich bin der Direktor.”
“Ja, das ist richtig. But only Luise, Arvin, and I understand you. Let’s switch to English.”
“Okay, and let’s put that on the shirt. English isn’t the best language or the right language or the easiest language, it’s the language where we meet. It’s the only language that everybody in this room speaks.”
“On the shirt it goes. ‘English is the place we all meet.’ ”
“What’s next? Something creative like, ‘How was your summer?’ Something deep like ‘What is the meaning of life?’ ”
“Okay, I know you’re kidding. We need to show an interest in someone we’re meeting for the first time. We don’t have to be deep – in fact, that could be a little weird, right?”
“Better to notice something about the person. I look at you and say, ‘Nice shoes!’”
“Or we could talk about sports. You and I both like sports, and so I’ll teach you to say, ‘Go, Patriots!’ ”
“Have you seen Transformers?”
“Good idea – we could talk about movies. I haven’t seen Transformers, but I watched all four seasons of Breaking Bad. Have you ever seen that television show about an American chemistry teacher?”
“Is it okay for kids my age?”
“Then I really want to see it.”
“So Moritz, another issue is when to talk to somebody. We need time to get to know each other. What lunch do you have?”
“What do you mean?”
“Early or late lunch – can I see your schedule?”
“Let’s eat together. I’ll save you a seat.”
“I’ll introduce you to my friends.”
“What did you bring for lunch?”
“It’s a frozen burrito that I microwaved. Want to try it?”
“Thanks. I’ll get my mom to cook a special Schwabian meal, send it to America, and we can try it together sometime.”
“Let’s meet after school and talk about which club meeting to go to.”
“Sure. Where’s your locker?”
“I don’t have one, but I have an office. I’ll give you my cell phone number.”
“Awesome … seriously …whatever … ohmygod … dude!”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m practicing my American English.”
“By the way, what are you doing next Purple Day?”
“I guess not much.”
“My friends and I are meeting before school at Bagel Central. Join us!”
“Thanks, I will! It’s never too late to try something new, right?”
“That’s right. Put it on the shirt.”
“Plus, it’s a group activity, so I’ll meet people.”
“And make new friends.”
“Put that on the shirt.”
“And have a better life?”
“That’s what I always say.”
“Nice job, Moritz.”
“Thank you, Mr. MacKay. Nice shirt.”
“Thank you, Moritz. Nice shirt.”
“So hi, everybody. My name is Moritz Finkbeiner, and I’m brand new at John Bapst, and I really want to challenge you, myself, all of us to break the ice this year. In class, in the dorms, at lunch, in activities, let’s do a great job of breaking our old habits and making new friends. We all want to feel part of this school.”
“But it doesn’t happen automatically – it takes an effort. You have to open your eyes and recognize that there are opportunities all around you to help somebody else have a great start at John Bapst. My challenge this year could not be simpler. Use some of our ideas and add your own. Here in the auditorium in assemblies and at lunch, in every classroom and study hall, on teams and in music, at football games and in weekend activities, INCLUDE people in your group.”
“Can I put that on the shirt?”
“Totally.Thank you very much, Moritz.”
“Thanks, everybody. Have a great year, and let’s talk.”