Thursday, July 24, 2014

It's Only A Matter of Rhyme

On the first day of class, Andy told us that we could learn from other students, that we could teach ourselves. He was right. Today, we did just that. Presentation day.

I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing. No, not my alarm ringing. My phone ringing. The alarm hadn't gone off today, and the phone claimed to be Julia Mason. My groggy morning-brain picked up the phone to hear that class was about to start. I cursed, forgetting to thank Julia, and rolled off my bed (I'm still not entirely sure how that worked, since I'm on the top bunk—somehow I landed softly). I dressed and flew out the door. The first thing we did in class was decide on some presentation norms, and I arrived in the room, completely out of breath, before we voted on the third norm. You could say that I take this class pretty seriously, because I didn't want to miss a thing.

Lauren started off the presentations with a poem on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then Maayan, Kevin, Matt, Ben, and Alejandrowow, I learned a lot of namespresented. And then came the one we were all waiting for. 

Julia Mason's presentation on the Roma. YES. She started her presentation with a funny disclaimer that the whole class enjoyed, and effectively taught the class about the Romani people with the help of a simple PowerPoint. Julia's presentation went just over five minutes, but none of us would have been able to guess, because it was such a fascinating speech. She really did an excellent job, and she received plenty of well-deserved compliments for it. 

Julia was followed by Jamie and then Zoey, who talked to us about the need for human connection, and who asked us to start asking people how they're feeling and why, to avoid answers like "fine" and "good." The idea was simple, but I really liked it. After a break, one of our classmates, Claire, gave a speech using sketches she drew on the chalkboard about all of the major issues we discussed in Social Justice. It was really great. 

And then my name was called. 

I didn't sign up to present anything, but a few days ago, I read one of my poems to Julia, and she had been insisting that I read it to the class on presentation day since then. Now, even though Julia says she only meant to ask for her name to be put on the list, somehow there were two "Julia"s on it by the end of the "sign-up" process. Highly suspect. Anyway, my name was called, and I made a quick decision. 

I would read my poem, "Do You Feel Pretty?" about the gender norms around beauty. I stood and weaved between the desks, and Claire gave me a microphone and some reassuring words before leaving me alone at the front of the class.

"Can you guys hear me?" I asked, putting down the microphone on the desk behind me. In response, I got a mumbled affirmative from the class. I took a breath, and began. "Tell me. Do you feel pretty?" I shook when I read my poem. As far as I know, no one noticed, but my hands trembled. They shook, not because I was nervous about speaking, but because I was afraid that I couldn't compare with my amazing classmates, because we were all paying attention, and we were all invested in what was being said. I finished to a round of applause and a few high-fives, and a hug from Michael, who suggested that I publish it. 

Ruby talked to the class about standardized testing, and Brandon went next on youth voting. Kay talked about the school system in China, Nate gave an inspirational speech, Michelle told us about unjust labor practices, Tee talked about the N-word (it was a good speech, and I agreed with everything she said), Kelly talked about demonstrations in China (Kay stood up and said, "It's ridiculous that I know Chinese news from New York Times."), and Peter talked about music programs in school ("Music is a matter of life and death of our culture."). Then we broke for lunch, and I got a pleasant surprise. 

I was receiving positive, supportive responses for my performance. Along with a handful of compliments (Zoey said "that was amazing," before I sat down), two of my classmates said that mine was their favorite presentation, one of my classmates teared up, and four people (including Andy) asked for a copy of my poem. I have to say, I feel really good about myself. (Julia, thanks for making me present!)

Over the rest of the day, we heard about fifteen more presentations, including feminism and radical feminism ("It's not anti-men, it's anti-sexist."), art and theater ("There is a part of us that to breathe through art. ...It will change your life."), freedom, urban environments, society, and gun rights. One of the last student presenters talked about respecting individuals, because as a twin, almost every conversation he has includes some form of "you're the same person," and he ends up feeling terrible. "Am I him, or am I me?" he said. 

Max's presentation on weapons
The stories we heard were truly inspiring. Every single presenter, speaking about hope for change and the things that can make a better world, poured their emotion and their knowledge into the room, and we all listened, and we all felt it. Today was one of the best days we've had in this class. In Social Justice today, we heard speeches, poems, and songs, ending with songs led by students and then one big, beautiful song led by a teaching fellow. We really do seem to be ending on a high note.

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