Being a Sri Lankan-American has always influenced my identity and my outlooks on life. It composes a great part of who I am and what I value as a 1st generation high school student. Culture has always been something of high regard and extreme importance to me as I always had an intrigue with history. The ever-growing curiosity to dive deeper into what I represent and the elements that I want to emulate into my life here, keep the vivacity of my heritage alive.
In elementary school and middle school, I did not prioritize my identity as a person of color, and I regret not being able to acknowledge that I was a person of a rich cultural heritage. This all changed once I started high school and I met a community of students and faculty who valued various cultural backgrounds and appreciated the vast diversity of the student body. My outlook on Notre Dame Academy was transformed as I was exposed to an educational environment that celebrated diversity and made each student feel that their culture was beautiful and unique.
With events like International Night, National French Week, and the organizations of various culture clubs, the opportunities to discover new cultures and be exposed to various global etiquettes was numerous. It was such an unforgettable experience for me as I saw cultural diversity through food, dancing, music, and storytelling. All of these instances open a remarkable opportunity for you to be a part of a culture and learn more about its elements and people. It was truly an experience to remember as I watched teachers become a part of International Night as well-- learning the dances, trying new foods, and engaging in the cultures their students were so passionate about. Culture leads to the formation of one’s identity and character, and learning more about everyone’s individualities together brought N.D.A. to form a cohesive union as a united community.
At times when the world was at an all-time low and race was seen as a basis for discrimination, Notre Dame Academy nurtured a comfortable and engaging environment. Students and faculty could gather to discuss these events, speak their mind about how they felt and what we could do to be proactive in the fight for equality. From the administration of N.D.A. to the faculty, all these adults shed light on how youth felt. It was a beautiful, empowering moment of words that could captivate the hearts of everyone. Notre Dame Academy has taken strides to promote the important virtues of love and kindness while amplifying the voices of advocates through events like Love in Action Week and the celebration of Black History Month.
With this year being unsteady and unique, in terms of meeting for in-person events, N.D.A utilized online meeting applications and did not let obstacles stand in the way of these needed discussions. Through attending various events, and being a part of Justice League (Political Engagement Club), while bearing witness to the conversations led by Black Student Culture Club, I saw my beloved school in a different lens-- one that was eye-opening and unbelievably incredible.
As I witnessed the events led and organized by my school, I recognized that Notre Dame was an active advocate for social justice and equality. N.D.A. chose to be proactive in this fight for justice, this fight for liberation, this fight for true equality. It was an appreciatory moment as I witnessed other institutions fail to acknowledge the damage in our nation, and how this affects certain individuals and communities. The silence of those made the ongoing situations worse-- how we could fight against oppression?. Being silent in moments of oppression means you chose the side of the oppressor. We need to raise our voices and shed light on situations of importance to create awareness.
As I reflect on how Notre Dame assured the student body and community of its support, love for all, and constant guidance, I feel safe. I felt content knowing that my school was vocal and in times where it needed to be. As justice is finally served for those who fell victim to police brutality, I feel happy that the justice system did not fail us, and our voices were heard. I pray everyday that those mourning the loss of their loved ones find peace and comfort knowing that they are with the Lord and resting in His arms. I also pray that Marguerite always instills us with courage to speak out on issues that affect our world and she bestows her blessings upon us so that we may keep continuing her mission and the mission of the Congregation of Notre Dame.
The Power of the Voice: How Notre Dame Amplifies This Message
Finding your voice definitely is not an easy task to accomplish, especially when you find yourself conflicted on what to do at certain moments. The uniqueness of your voice is being able to speak out on topics you find yourself expressing many emotions towards. This can be done by stating how you feel either through an opinion or a statement. While some people seem to have a keen sense of voice and where they stand on certain issues, most of us struggle with utilizing our voice and understanding why our individual voices matter so much.
Being at Notre Dame, you begin to find your voice almost immediately upon starting classes. Whether it is from being an active participant in a guided discussion or answering a question in class, you find yourself using your voice more often than you think. If you quite literally think about it, portions of your grade depend on using your voice to express what you think and what you understand. The emphasis of the individual voice is practiced widely at N.D.A. and that is behind one of the reasons why I am able to use my voice on important matters such as racial equality, female empowerment, and anti-hate.
Last year, we were witness to how racial discrimination infiltrated our nation and consumed it with hate and conflict. If the existence and continuance of police brutality wasn’t clear enough, 2020 made it abundantly transparent that the system of justice in the United States is deeply flawed and damaged. One group in particular,African-Americans, were heavily targeted by police and many of their lives were lost due to police brutality. Black Lives Matter was a movement established in 2013 and aims to provide justice, healing, and liberation for Black people around the globe. The BLM Movement started to amplify in 2020 as many people started to educate themselves on the movement, research its history and relevance to the times we are in now, and become engaged in its mission to positively impact society. BLM became a response to the police brutality that African-Americans faced, and it paved a path for people to have a voice on this oppressing issue. It allowed me to use my voice and for all the right reasons.
After a summer of reflecting on everything that is going on and educating myself on the movement, I still felt helpless. It seemed like there was nothing I could do to ease the pain of those mourning or the fear of those who felt like they would be the next victim of police brutality. I joined the Justice League Club in September 2020 and soon after I became immersed in a room full of passionate people who wanted to make racial discrimination an open conversation for all and do something more to advocate for the equal treatment of African-Americans. Joining the Justice League was easily one of the best clubs I ever joined at Notre Dame-- though we met on Zoom, the conversations we have are the most impactful and empowering and the value of using your voice can not be underestimated in these circumstances.
I never felt more proud and happy to be a Notre Dame student when it openly addressed that our nation was hurting from these instances of hate and the best we could do in these times is to be united and talk about what we feel. Did a school need to address these topics directly? No, but that’s the beauty that resides in Notre Dame Academy. I watched as faculty members would moderate club meetings to talk about racial injustice and BLM after school and help students feel some sort of understanding and comfort by offering them their support and solace. I was present when administrators allowed students to use their voice and do so comfortably in a safe space and pose questions as to how society became this way and what we can do to be proactive in this movement for justice to be served and equality to be established.
As I look back on my freshman year of high school, I did not understand the true definition of my voice. Since then, my voice has been taken on an eventful and inspirational journey. I found my voice at Notre Dame and I am thankful to say that today, it composes a large fraction of my identity and character. I feel more empowered and encouraged to speak out on topics that we silence and avoid due to its sensitive nature-- but communication is key and we must allow ourselves to encapsulate in conversations that are insightful and important to our education as well as our well-being.
The Hill We Climb: How NDA Hosted an Influential Discussion on This Poem
It seems like just the other day, Ms. Spillane was starting a new lesson with one of her British Literature classes when she told us that the inaugural poet for 2020 was going to be Amanda Gorman, a newly-graduated Harvard University alum and the youngest poet laureate in the United States Presidential history. The moment felt so surreal to me--- how could someone not that far in age from me accomplish something so successful and triumphant? I was in awe of Amanda’s work in poetry and all of her achievements at such a young age, especially while balancing out her education and the other various duties of life. If an image could be provided as an example of a young female powerhouse, it was surely to be Amanda Gorman.
January 20, 2021- the date of President Joseph Biden’s inauguration and installment as the 46th President of the United States of America.he spotlight was on him but the crowd’s attention swayed to Amanda whose words uplifted everyone who heard them, and was compared as music to their ears. I can concur that Amanda’s words were so uplifting and instilled a sense of union within me that I could just not depict into words. Words such as “rise” and “rebuild” gave everyone hope-- hope that our damaged nation could heal, hope that police brutality would end, hope for black people that members of their community would stop turning into victims. The most noted quote from this entire poem was “For there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it, if only we're brave enough to be it,” and all I feel is amazement at the power of these words and the emotions she expressed as she amplified her voice into that small microphone. It was so incredible to witness an individual speak art into existence and to be a part of the inauguration as Amanda’s poem iterated inclusion and togetherness.
The poem was so moving that Notre Dame hosted an influential discussion on this poem where diversity, inclusion, and equity were highlighted. It was so invigorating to hear how the poem impacted others differently and its influence on their mindsets and lives. As teachers and students talked about their ideas on the poem, it was so fortifying to hear the different perspectives and notes each person made. It was an N.D.A. experience to remember as everyone congregated to dissect and share their opinions on “The Hill We Climb”. The meeting concluded with a prayer and it was a moment I truly appreciated each second of. The days ahead we continued to have open discussions about the poem and Amanda’s inaugural message proved to be present as it continued to radiate deeply within our hearts and minds.
Not only this, but a large piece of artwork down by the Arts and Humanities Building is now dedicated to Amanda with a quote from her speech and bright colors to represent the renewal at the inauguration for better days ahead and a healed future. The presence of this artwork always greets me as I walk down the stairs. When I see it residing in all of its powerful beauty, I take a moment to reflect on the words written on the canvas. The quote motivates me to always be brave regardless of the situation and look for positivity when I do not recognize it in my life or oftentimes take it for granted. Amanda’s legacy lives on at Notre Dame and will continue to live on as we hear pieces of her poetry in Literature classes, watch her monumental speeches in History classes, and learn more about her and her work.
Amanda proves to all young women especially the students at Notre Dame Academy that anything is possible with hard work and dedication. She demonstrates that hard work and resilience can bring you to great places in life and that is exemplified by all of her accomplishments at the young age of 23. An important lesson that I’ve learned from Amanda’s works in poetry is that you should never silence yourself from what you feel or believe is important and this is supported through the numerous occasions that Notre Dame speaks about injustices and issues that we feel passionately about. A noted lesson throughout this all is to be vocal and listen to your intuition, it can unveil emotions and expressions that we should pay close attention towards and are significant to our lives. Amanda serves as an influence and role model to all females everywhere and that is treasured immeasurably.