Community

Ordinary Joy: Graduation 2019 Keynote Address

By Catherine Epstein

When I learned that I would be giving the commencement speech for the class of 2019, the very first and most lasting thought that came to my mind was: I need to talk about Division 4 drumming class.

I wondered for many weeks why this felt like the most urgent subject to discuss with you tonight. Why did playing Wes Anderson title themes and Sufjan Stevens-Coldplay mashups feel so significant?

After some reflection, the reason, as far as I can tell, is because it gave me access – on a consistent weekly basis – to joy.

“Joy,” at least, is the best word I can come up with to describe the unique sensation I felt on Monday mornings in Laura’s room when, along with several of you, I got the chance to play the snare, the tambourine, or – on especially lucky days – the triangle.

So what was this joy? And why did it feel so profound, so distinct and, strangely, so necessary? Tonight, I’d like to use this time to examine these questions with you.

First, the transcendence I experienced in drumming class felt unique in part because it seemed to arise from a contradiction. Joy didn’t seem to come because I was actively seeking it out, but rather because I was not. It’s very difficult, after all, to think about yourself and your desires when you’re trying to hold down the beat on a cowbell.

Here, I should say that this particular aspect of joy does not come easily to me. I worry a lot, and I like to maintain control over myself and my surroundings. Drumming, on the other hand, requires immersion in a piece of music and a group of people. It forced me to surrender control and listen to what we were making together, rather than the litany of worries in my head.

And I think it is this letting go that allows joy to surface. In his memoir, musician Jeff Tweedy writes that “Music is most magical when everyone can lose the burden of self and be put back together as a part of something bigger or other.” Perhaps this is what drumming gave me access to, in the same way that theater rehearsals and walks outside and teaching do: losing the burden of self.

In describing the deeply bonded communities that form in the wake of disaster, writer and activist Rebecca Solnit builds on this observation. She says: “there’s a kind of self-forgetfulness and a sense of having something in common that brings joy.”

I appreciate Solnit’s use of the phrase “self-forgetfulness.” How curious and counter-intuitive that it is not when we turn attention toward ourselves, but rather when we forget ourselves through action, through community, and through creation, that we cultivate joy.

I’ve also found that joy is, importantly, distinct from happiness. In an interview, Solnit said, “This notion that happiness should be a steady state seems destined to make people miserable. And joy is so much more interesting, because I think we’re much more aware that it’s like the light at sunrise, or the lightning — that it’s epiphanies and moments and raptures, and that it’s not supposed to be a steady state, and that’s OK.”

Naturalist and environmental writer Michael McCarthy expands on Solnit’s idea, saying of joy: “It’s not the same as fun, or even delight. We don’t use it to define our pleasure in eating a particularly well-made pizza. But we might well think it was appropriate to describe the feelings of a parent finding a missing child...All I say is that joy looks outward to another person, to another purpose; and I say that joy has a component, if not of morality, then at least of seriousness.”

McCarthy’s point took me aback at first because I’ve often thought, and still sometimes think, that joy is essentially a luxury – a sensation reserved only for those who have the time and energy for gratuitous feelings. But I’ve come to believe that it may be patronizing, and perhaps dangerous, for us to perceive it this way.

In the 1990’s, the city of Sarajevo in southeastern Europe endured the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, lasting for almost four years. During that time, the philosopher, writer, and political activist Susan Sontag traveled to the city in the hopes of providing assistance. The people she met there asked her what she could offer, and she began by telling them that she had some paramedic skills, and that she could type and teach. Eventually, she mentioned that she also directed theater, and they told her she should do that. She said, “But you don't have theaters, you just have bombed places.” They responded, “We're not animals you know, we're not people just standing on water lines and bread lines and cowering in basements during the shelling and the sniping. There was theater in Sarajevo before the war. There should be theater now.” Reflecting on the experience, Sontag said, “We performed every day for about six months and people came. People came through the shelling and the bombing. It was risking their lives to come to the theater.”

What I take from Sontag’s experience is that when we perceive joy – joy in that sense of collective transcendence – as a luxury, we may deny its existence, or its function as a necessity, in people we have deemed too desperate. Sontag’s time in Sarajevo demonstrates to me that not only is there no such thing as someone too desperate for joy, but that we may deny another person’s humanity when we assume that to be true.

I’ve also wondered whether joy functions as a distraction in times like ours, when we are called to resist injustice, dishonesty, and sorrow on such a great scale. What can possibly be the role of joy during times like these?

In an interview, the late poet Mary Oliver seemed to respond to this question when she argued: “People have forgotten how to be ecstatic, and ecstasy is very important. It’s the balance, I suppose, with the feeling of rage or emptiness. Emptiness is never gonna make us get up and do anything. But ecstasy might.”

In a similar vein, Solnit writes that “Joy doesn't betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine act of insurrection.”

Oliver and Solnit remind me that it is of great interest to autocrats, after all, to keep their citizens feeling paralyzed and hopeless. And they also help us see that, when we submit to this worldview, we lose the capacity for resistance. Joy not only gives us the energy to do so, but serves as a reminder of our shared humanity – of what it is we’re fighting for.

While I have come to perceive joy as an animating force, I have not found that its purpose is to lessen sorrow or anger. In fact, joy may amplify those emotions when they come. If we let ourselves take joy in the people, places, and experiences we love, it is likely that we will feel the weight of their absence that much more profoundly.

In this way, I’ve found that joy can be terrifying, and we may actually find ourselves attempting, however subconsciously, to ward it off. Joy requires that we open ourselves, and when we do that, we simultaneously make ourselves vulnerable to other feelings like loss, impermanence, and grief.

As many of you know, I am fond of reminding actors of something before their second – which translates, at Meridian, to “closing” – night of the play: I point out that this will be the last time they have the chance play these particular characters in this particular production. On more than one occasion, one actor or another has met this reminder with a severe look and a pointed comment: “Thanks for ruining it, Catherine.”

And I can see what they mean. It may sound as though I’m asking actors to mourn the play rather than enjoy the moment. But I’ve found that one way to access joy is to remember impermanence. There is something about knowing that an experience will end that compels us to open ourselves more to it.

This is a valuable practice because, after all, we do lose things. You are, at this very moment, leaving high school behind. And, as I’m sure many of us in the room reflected watching you process down this aisle, we are losing you. There’s something about loss that helps us take in joy, and tonight is one of those moments. Perhaps that is what feels so singular and rich about traditions like these. We feel, however impossibly, loss and joy at the same time.

I have loved witnessing your growth over the past many years. And in more ways than I can articulate – your service to others, your unbounded energy and generosity, your love of science and teaching, your zeal for weird art, your deep ethical curiosity, your passion for cats, your devotion to mammoths and subway pigeons, your beautiful, personal songwriting – in all of these ways, you have been my teachers when it comes to joy.

And that means you already know how to cultivate it. Your joy may not look like playing the triangle in a  Sufjan Stevens-Coldplay mashup, but when it hits you, it will be just as strange and unexpected and ordinary. I encourage you to pay attention to these moments. Notice how they allow you to lose the burden of self, connect with others, incite you to action, and place you more firmly in the present moment.

The great writer Audre Lorde said, “Tomorrow belongs to those of us who conceive of it as belonging to everyone; who lend the best of ourselves to it, and with joy.”

So, my dear class of 2019, I encourage you to conceive of tomorrow as belonging to everyone, to lend the best of yourselves to it, and to do so with joy. Fortunately for all of us, tomorrow does indeed belong to you.

Students as Teachers: A Senior Reflects on her Final Exhibitions Evening

By Division 4 student Isabel

As wild as it sounds even to me, last Wednesday I attended my very last Exhibitions evening. Although I may not have the 21 Exhibitions under my belt – like some seniors who’ve been at Meridian since 6th grade – I have now completed 12, and it’s safe to say that they have been a staple of my youth.

After all of those Exhibitions – and, of course, with the wisdom of an elder 12th grader – I wasn’t nervous to present our division’s work. As students spend time at Meridian, we quickly get to know the parents and extended family of our classmates. Because of this, our audiences on these nights quickly become a sea of familiar faces. I started the night in my mathematical modeling class, where I talked with visitors about a bicycle insurance policy I created and about how game theory can be used to explore one's commitment to solving climate change. After that, I moved on to Humanities, where I talked with a prospective family about a theatrical model that my friend Jo and I built as part of our playwriting unit.

Later, I spent time in the Art room showing off my work in ceramics and lamenting about how much I’d miss our teacher Emily’s classes. Finally, I went to Spanish. After talking briefly about the ceramic piece I created for a project on Argentina’s Dirty War, I reflected for a moment on how far my Spanish skills had come since 9th grade. Just then, my classmate Ifrah tore me away from my sentimental reflection, telling me that we needed to gather everyone for a senior picture. This was it: the beginning of the good-byes. My heart could barely take it. After finally locating our classmate Piper, we all – yes, our entire graduating class – crammed onto the couch in the hallway, glowing for the paparazzi of teachers and parents.

A dozen Exhibitions have not only gave me the confidence to present my own work. They’ve also demonstrated to me how satisfying it is to teach others about what I’ve learned. As I walked out into the night after that final class picture, I promised myself that this teaching element of my learning would not end here. Thanks to Exhibitions, I want to continue learning and sharing newfound knowledge wherever I go.

An Evening of Wild Harmony: Meridian’s 5th Annual Music Night

By Division 3 student Jamie

Every year, the entire Meridian community comes together on one night in March to hear the fruits of all of the hard work that the music department has put in over the second trimester. This year, we got to hear songs performed by the school band – “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, “Animal Spirits” by Vulfpeck, “Breed” by Nirvana, and “Teenagers” by My Chemical Romance – as well as the songs that each of the music classes had prepared. In a grand culmination of all of their efforts, Division 4 ukulele, Division 4 drumming, Division 3 guitar, and Division 3 singing all came together in Meridian’s largest-ever arrangement to perform what we called “Clockshkago,” a medley of Coldplay’s “Clocks” and Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.” Many thanks, also, to Jesse, Merrick, and Lila who gave a fantastic performance of “Best Friend” by Rex Orange County.

Other pieces included the traditional Irish hymn “Wild Mountain Thyme,” 12th grader Dani’s original song, “As Far as it Will Go,” a traditional African celebratory drumming song called “Bembe,” and a quirky vocal arrangement of “She Said”  by The Beatles. The highlight of the night came when our fabulous music teacher, Laura Grill Jaye, carried out the annual tradition of handing out framed “grill-as” – photographs of the chalk gorilla who presides over Laura’s classroom – to the graduating class. Two teachers who will be leaving next year – Jon Cannon and Kevin Hong – also received the prized work of art. (Owing only to personal restraint, I will keep my personal feelings about the school losing two of the most fantastically talented faculty musicians ever out of this blog-post). The night was topped off by selections from the music Winterim group, which performed selections from Nirvana’s “Nevermind.”

One of my favorite moments in this year’s music night was the performance of a song that I had written for Pay It No Mind, a musical that I am in the process of writing with Laura’s help. The musical follows the life of Marsha P. Johnson, an activist who led the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the 1960s and 70s. This particular song is titled “Welcome to the Stonewall.” It featured faculty musicians Catherine Epstein (vocals), Kevin Hong (keys), and the aforementioned Laura Grill Jaye (drums), as well as 9th grader Rhys Boyd on the bass and sophomore Cameron Smith on vocals. The audience’s participation in the performance made me incredibly happy, and I am endlessly grateful for all of the spectacular musicians who helped me perform this song that I had worked so hard to create.

By the end of the night, everyone was exhausted. But because of all of our efforts Meridian’s 5th music night was a success!

Check out some of the songs on our Vimeo page!

Fitting Functions to a Bear: Trimester 1 Exhibitions

By Division 3 student Mara

Three times a year, Meridian students show the public the work they’ve been doing throughout the trimester. In each class, students present their projects and their peers’ projects to all sorts of visitors. As a new 9th grader at Meridian, I experienced my very first Exhibitions in early December.

In the weeks leading up to Exhibitions, we had a lot of work to finish, and I was specifically excited to present my Functions of Art project. For this project, we needed to create and fit algebraic functions to a work of art, and it was the first time I had ever applied math to a creative piece like that. For my project, I looked at a work of art called “As it Comes to Bear” by Venetia Dale and fit functions to create a bear like the one in the piece.

On the day of Exhibitions, I felt nervous but prepared. I had heard a lot about the event, but I was still not 100% sure about what to expect. It began with a performance from musicians in classes ranging from singing to composition to our school band. I was excited to hear all the original music that students wrote, along with new arrangements of songs that I knew well.

After the music, it was time to go to my classes and present my work. I was worried that I might not have anyone to talk to, but each room included many visitors, and they all wanted to hear from students about what we’d learned. During the evening, I was able to talk to several visitors and families, and it was a completely new experience for me to tell people I didn’t know about my work.

I also talked to other students about their projects, and it was really interesting to see and explore their learning and ideas. When I was in the art room, I talked with Jo, a 12th grader, about a shirt she had made in her Sewing class. Like my Functions of Art project, Jo had to apply practical skills to make this creative piece, and it was neat to see how projects in different classes can use such similar skills.

Exhibitions was really different than other presenting experiences I have participated in, and I’m excited to do it again in March!

On Nerves, Art, and Spanish: Presenting at a conference for the first time

By World Language Teacher Leisa M. Quiñones-Oramas

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After much planning and anticipation, Saturday morning was finally upon me. I was the first to arrive at the conference room. As I laid out examples of student work on the tables, the sky outside echoed my nerves. Gushes of wind splattered the window with rain drops. Leaves trembled in unison with my shaking hands. As I greeted my co-presenter Nicole, our first attendee quietly arrived and sat in the last row. She was followed by another, and then another. The clock arms inched closer to 8:30am, our starting time. Everything was ready, our materials were all organized, our electronic devices were up and running, and our microphones were plugged in. My heart was beating fast, and my mind was eager. Finally, Nicole addressed our audience. Twenty or so faces looked expectantly at both of us. Nicole turned towards me. It was my cue. I started to talk…

On October 27th, I co-led a three-hour workshop at the annual conference of the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA) in Springfield, Massachusetts. After attending more than ten different literature- and education-related conferences over my last eight years in Boston, it was the very first time I was invited to present my own work. I was elated, excited, and nervous for the chance to share my craft with other teachers from across New England.

The opportunity arose earlier in the school year, when I was approached by Nicole Claris, Manager of School Programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to co-present with her at the event. Our workshop, entitled “Art of the Spanish-speaking World,” had a dual purpose. Nicole would introduce and create connections between works of art from Spain and Latin America available in the MFA’s vast collection, while I would describe how I’ve incorporated some of these artworks into my classes, and guide an in-depth brainstorm session for teachers to develop concrete ways to use the collection in their lessons.

For the last four years, I have worked alongside Nicole and around twenty-five other teachers from New England as a member of the museum’s Educator Advisory Board. The board’s task is to advise and support the museum’s School Programs Department in developing and promoting programs for students and teachers in the Greater Boston area. My involvement with the board and the museum has undoubtedly shaped how I approach and bring art into my Spanish classroom. In many ways, the MFA’s collection of resources has led me to consider visual art as not only a cultural representation of different regions and time periods, but as a central text that enriches my classes and serves as inspiration for the projects that my own students create.

We had Parent-Teacher conferences on Friday the 26th, the day just before my conference, and I had the opportunity to describe to Meridian parents the work their children were doing in Spanish class so far. Parents learned about students’ exploration of México’s rich popular culture while creating alebrije sculptures; their grasp of the complex meaning in Hispanic Caribbean poetry through the use of images and drawing; and their use of art and abstract representation to create ABC picture books about themselves. As we talked, I simultaneously realized how much art I asked the kids to produce in my Spanish classes, and how lucky I was to be able to do so. I knew that in less than 24 hours, I would be standing in front of a group of language teachers interested in enriching their curriculum with the vast collections from the MFA. I also knew that, depending on their schools and districts, many of these educators might not have the same freedom I enjoy to plan their courses creatively.

Back in the conference room, my nerves had completely dissipated. The audience’s eyes scanned an image of three unique sculptures. I was in the middle of explaining how I had collaborated with Emily, Meridian’s art teacher, on a unit about Taíno mythology in which students created small deity-inspired sculptures known as cemí. Suddenly, a man opened the room’s door and asked, “Wasn’t this session over 15 minutes ago?” Our three hours had flown by. Our audience had been welcoming, attentive, and inquisitive. They were blown away by the materials, historical background, and connections that Nicole shared with them. They also asked encouraging questions about my unit planning process, my students’ reactions to and involvement with the materials, and their final projects.

As I left the room, my bag was emptier. All of my copied resources had been left in the hands of eager teachers. However, my mind was full of thoughts and assurances. This experience reminded me of one of the reasons I originally decided to become a teacher: to share and build knowledge through community and collaboration.

Taking Education to the Polls: One Student’s Experience Leading in Local Politics

By Rhys, a 9th grader

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November 6th marked an important day for transgender people across the state of Massachusetts. Ballot Question 3 gave voters the power – for the first time in a statewide election – to decide whether or not transgender people had the right to basic protections like using the bathroom that best matches their gender identity, get access to jobs, hotels, restaurants, and even healthcare. As a non-binary identifying 9th grader, I think it’s needless to say that this vote mattered to me – a lot.

I’ve always had a passion for treating humans equally. This has been both a wonderful strength, but also one of my biggest downfalls, as I can sometimes get hung up on things that aren’t really worth my time in the long run. It was this awesome, and sometimes illogical power that kept me going throughout this fall while working on a political campaign while balancing schoolwork and extracurricular activities.

Funnily enough, this whole experience for me started through school. In a project meant to “expose you [the students] to what it means to organize – what it actually feels and looks like,” according to Nathan, my teacher at the time, I found myself at a phonebank in the Keshet offices in the Brewery Complex, only a 5 minute walk from my school. At first, I was surprised to see how close to me something like this was – some preconceived notion told me that I would have to travel a significant distance to participate in something like this. That notion, as with many of my other expectations, turned out to be completely wrong, and I think that this physical ease is what kept me going back throughout the summer. The costs of going to a location and phone banking was more than worth the benefit that I, and other transgender people, now still have – basic human rights.

The true test of my dedication to the cause – and to my own inner morals – came only a month before the election. One of the field organizers asked me if I was willing to be on the leadership team for one of the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) locations. For context, GOTV is the last push in the final four days of the campaign to work to get voters out to the polls on election day. Leading one of these sites is like running a mini campaign office – it’s a huge responsibility, and looking back I’m so thankful for being given that opportunity by the campaign, and by Meridian, who granted me three days off from school to pursue this job.

As we all now know, Question 3 passed decisively. While I in no way mean to downplay the result that was achieved on election day, personally, it mattered less to me whether or not we won. I look back at that experience as an incredible learning opportunity. What I learned about political organizing, communication, team building, and my own limits have a similar long term significance for me. Of course my life would have changed with the other possible outcome on November 6th, but even with no legislative change in my home state, I still gained more than I ever would have expected doing this work.

This inspiration continued for me after the campaign ended, even on the same issue. The Friday after the election, I presented an abridged training taken from folx within the campaign to try to make Meridian a safer space for transgender students. My aim, of course, was to make the school a safer space for all, though most of what I focused on was with transgender students and teachers in mind. If I cultivated one primary value from this experience, it would be to never give up, and never let down my pressure to achieve what’s right.

Learning to Lead at Becket

By 11th graders Marty and Nadia

A highlight of every Meridian student’s academic year is our annual trek to the Berkshire Outdoor Center, in Becket, MA. The whole school gathers on the streets of JP at 5:30 AM to embark on our adventure. After leaving our homes at the crack of dawn, we all arrive in Becket early, on a Monday morning. After a quick icebreaker, we break off into small groups, where we spend the majority of the time during our 30-hour experience. Other highlights include the annual s'more fest, musical celebrations at night, and perhaps Head of School Josh’s renditions of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,” from Oklahoma!

Each of these small groups traditionally has had ten students, a Meridian teacher or two, and a Becket facilitator, who takes the group through various fun games, and team-building events. This year, Meridian added Leaders In Training or LITs to the group. Every member of Division Four was eligible to become a LIT.

After nervously agreeing to become LITs, we quickly got excited about our pre-Becket training. Johnny, an experienced facilitator came to Meridian a week before Becket to train us. We discussed what it meant to be a leader at school, and what a leader means in general. After these discussions, we shifted outside to play a variety of team building games that we might incorporate at Becket.

One of our favorite games was called “Remix.” In Remix, one person from the group leaves the room or goes somewhere where they cannot hear the group. Then, the group makes a big circle, shoulder to shoulder. Each person forms a partnership with the person on their right and one with the person on their left. Each partnership chooses a line from a pop song. They split that line into a half, so together, they can sing that line of a song. When everyone is in their proper place in the circle, it sounds like a medley of song lines. But here is where the fun part comes in, the circle scrambles into a random arrangement. Each person holds out their two fists in front of them. Then, the person who was outside of the room comes back in. Their goal is to arrange the people back into the correct order, finding the pairs. To do this, when the “organizer” taps someone’s fist, the person sings their part of the line that corresponds with the fist tapped. It turns into a really fun game of match.

Once we arrived at Becket, we met with Johnny to discuss our plans. In building our group plans, we decided to start with some icebreakers, before moving into a game which involved trust and communication; both skills we would have to use as leaders ourselves. To play the game, we divided our group into teams of three. The object of the game was to collect as many objects which were on the open field as possible. One person was blindfolded, and they were the one trying to get the objects. Another person could instruct the blindfolded person with their voice, but could not see the blindfolded person. The final person could see the blindfolded person, but could not speak, so they were forced to use physical gestures.

This game was a hit, and we played many variations. Each round people came up with better strategies. After we finished, my partner and I led a debrief, something which happens with the group leader after every game. We discussed what strategies went well, and which didn’t. We also talked about how some of the skills and group dynamics might be present in school, or in other parts of our lives. Leading the discussion was probably one of the hardest parts of being a LIT. The debrief required a lot of participation from our group to be able to function. This was the part of leading which required listening and thoughtful support, two of the more challenging skills we got to practice.

After we led, we agreed that it took patience to lead with a group of people, and also to lead with someone else. We also needed to know how to evaluate a situation. A lot of our plans had to be adapted, due to space or materials we had. After this summer, we both only have one year left at Becket. Having this opportunity to play a leadership role in our school made us a key part of helping to create a strongly knit community at the beginning of the year, and we felt really glad we could do it.

Making Sustainability Visible: One Student's JRPS

By 11th grader Izzy

In 2050, the global population is estimated to be about 10 billion people. More than 70 percent of those 10 billion will be living in urban areas. This level of change inspires many questions, such as: How can we adjust our urban development practices to cope with these increases? What were our urban and suburban practices in the past? Who is the most at risk with these changes in urban areas, and what can we do to help protect them?

It was with these questions in mind that I started my Junior Research Project. As a student at Meridian Academy, a small independent school in Jamaica Plain, I have the opportunity to dive deep into a topic of my choice for full year. I get to work closely with an advisor to do academic research and then produce a project that extends my learning.

Although I ended up fascinated with urban planning, that’s not where my interest began. Fighting climate change is a major passion of mine, and I originally wanted to study how the American housing system evolved through the 20th century. I started my research by examining green movements such as the Tiny House Movement, the accessibility of those movements to people of different economic backgrounds, as well as the role these movements play in combating global climate change.

One of the most important lessons I learned this year centers on the complexity and importance of the word “sustainability”. Prior to this project, I only perceived this word in the context environmental sustainability. During my research, however, I found out about the “three-legged stool of sustainability” which includes environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Because all of these “legs” are most easily and commonly addressed in dense urban areas, I decided to focus my remaining research on city-wide sustainability.

When it came time to use this research to generate a final project, I used the knowledge I gained from my study of urban planning: community input is a key way to maintain sustainability. In light of this, I wanted to create an interactive and informative exhibit that would be open to the public. After working with many local organizations and people, and receiving a grant from Eastern Bank, I was able to create two kiosk-like structures that are located on the lawn in front of JP Baptist Church on Centre Street. The exhibit examines the environmental justice movement, the history of sprawl, urban renewal, and modern sustainability practices, both nationally and locally. The structures are painted with chalkboard paint and visitors are encouraged to respond to the questions posed on the labels and share ideas and questions of their own.

The questions that spurred my project still feel deeply relevant to me today, and the knowledge I've gained helps me see their importance even more clearly. But not everyone has a whole school year to delve into research. I hope these structures will encourage others to examine these questions, and that we can imagine together how we can create a sustainable 2050.

Challenges, Conversation, and Ocarinas: One Student’s First Exhibitions

By Division I student Amos

The Exhibition evening on December 6th, 2017, was my first as a Meridian student. I had seen others last year, but actually taking part was an entirely different experience.

It’s true – as I had heard – that homework increased around Exhibitions, but I was excited to be part of an event that so much work had gone into. The night was more structured than I thought, and it was helpful to have a schedule. Each student moves to a different class for a set period of time to show parents, visitors, and peers the work they’ve done throughout the entire trimester. Each of the classes felt different to discuss, but I didn’t have a favorite – in each one, you’re still having an interesting human interaction.

I remember one such interaction when I was playing a song on the ocarina – a kind of vessel flute – that I made in Ceramics. An older student recognized the song I was playing and that led to a more in-depth conversation.

Exhibitions is also fun place to see how classes overlap. For instance, the same teacher who taught me how to make the ocarina also helped in my Humanities class. For that project, we interviewed family members about challenges they had overcome, and then we made Greek-style coil pots and etched illustrations of the family stories we’d collected.

Experiencing the East at the Peabody Essex

By 11th grader Izzy

The students of Division 4 were shocked earlier this month when they sat down at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem to watch a video of what seemed to be a lovely wedding: a joining together of two wonderful families, a time of joy and laughter. The video quickly turned into something very unfamiliar. This present-day Chinese wedding, a decision made solely by the groom’s father, was a day mourning for the bride’s family; full of sadness and loss.  

The wedding video was certainly not the only powerful, thought-provoking exhibit we had the privilege of seeing. Earlier in the day, students spent some time in a typical, 1840’s American house, commenting on the architectural elements that made it stand out as one of wealth. Students were then immersed in Chinese home life, an experience that fell just short of actually visiting the country, by touring the Yin Yu Tang house brought over and reconstructed at the museum. There were many obvious differences between the two houses; the lack of flashy wallpaper and decorations in the Chinese house stood out. The students debriefed their visit the next day, talking about the differences and similarities between the two houses and what each conveyed about that culture. What did the small rooms and large common areas of the Yin Yu Tang house tell us about Chinese values as compared with the larger individual rooms in the colonial home? After spending an entire trimester learning about differences in worldview between the East and the West, Confuician filial piety, and major historical events in China, the museum visit served as a way to experience these topics in a more hands-on way.

After a morning full of discussion on architecture and culture, students visited additional Chinese art exhibits, full of incredibly detailed pieces. These pieces ranged from a fragile, ornately detailed, carved ivory fan, to paintings done by Chinese artists imitating early 19th century American painting styles, to vibrantly colorful and, again, incredibly detailed porcelain vases.

Afterwards, the day took a slight detour and Jon, Division 4’s calculus and physics teacher, got to feel right at home in an interactive exhibit on dimensions. Aside from a slight headache, the exhibit gave students a very fun, interactive introduction to the daunting world of physics.