March 15 began for Bullis Upper School students with a surprise announcement by Guidance Counselor Lisa Gray. "Get comfortable, loosen your ties, put away your notebooks and books — and get ready for ‘Beyond the Books – 2012.’" Students learned they would have a day far different from their usual world of English and American literature, science labs, math problems, exams and electives. This year’s program was designed to help students better understand diversity and tolerance and to embrace the changes which occur every day in their lives.
This year, the National Coalition Building Institute led morning workshops and then, comedian Judson Laipply addressed the students about "Life is Change."
Both students and faculty spoke positively about the day and what they gained from it. Mike Reidy, Bullis’ Assistant Head of School said, "It’s good for kids to have the opportunity to reflect on these topics — because they are issues that they will face in the real world. This day will generate a lot of discussion."
In their workshops, students and faculty were given the assignment to self-identify and then group themselves according to how they identified themselves. Next, they were to discuss and list things they never wanted to hear about their group again.
Among the groups they broke into were the artists, teachers, jocks, scientists, ex-pats and others. Each group expressed a number of comments that they felt were unacceptable. The jocks stated they never wanted to hear people say they only got where they were because of their athletic ability or that they were dumb. The teachers said that they can’t stand it when people say they have a part-time job because they get the summers off. The ex-pats explained that it really bothers them when they are supposed to know everything about the country they came from — and that they are all illegally here in the U.S.
The participants came away from the discussion with a new understanding of others. Bullis student Parker Young said, "I learned that all Chinese students are not experts on their government policies, nor does every Chinese student agree with communism — and I always thought they all were communists." A faculty member said he would be more understanding about respecting students who come from other countries and their views. Another student said, "I always believed it was cool to describe a black person as ‘African American’ — but I learned that it is not an accurate description of one’s ethnicity. One student publicly stated to the teachers, "We really appreciate what you do."
In the afternoon, students were treated to Laipply, a comedian and motivational entertainer who kept the students laughing while delivering his message. He spoke about the importance of laughter and humor in one’s life, but then moved on to the many people who, as he put it "ride the strugglebus" everyday. He cited the statistic that 1 in 5 people over 18 take anti-depressants just to get through the day.
His message to the students was to stay off the strugglebus and realize that pills are not a solution. "Life is change. We never stop changing. Some things we have no control over and some things we can control. Worry about the things you can control — and let go of the things you can’t control. We have a power of choice and must decide how to effectively choose what we can control."
Laipply then stated that "Life is not perfect, but while we are here, we might as well dance" which led into his "Evolution of Dance" which had over two million hits on You-Tube. In a few minutes, he performed all the popular dances from 1950 to 2012. The students whipped out cell-phones, recorded his dancing, clapped, cheered — and joined him in the dances from their era. They gave him a standing ovation as he finished dancing and once again stated that "Life is Change – embrace it."