24 May 2013
15 Sivan 5773
These Kids Are On Fire!
At our Annual Meeting Tuesday night, our robotics teams set up their “playing” field in the Dining Hall and demonstrated for the audience how a robotics competition works. With interest and amazement, Board members, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, and community members gathered around the robots to watch and learn from our students. I explained that, at robotics competitions, the level of passion and energy parallels a competitive sports event (a playoff, no less!), and our students modeled their 21st century skills of creativity, collaboration, and, in the spirit of the FIRST Robotics’ mission, “gracious professionalism.”
An alumna and founding member of Team R.A.B.B.I. reflected on her Gann experience and what she gained from robotics, recapping the power of her experience: “At Gann, I learned a tremendous amount from all of my teachers. But I learned the most from these guys,” she said, pointing lovingly at her robotics teammates.
Our students continued to shine last night at the celebration of the Visual Arts show and Playhem, our annual performance of one-act plays that are acted, directed, and produced entirely by our students.
As impressive as all of the artwork was, what particularly inspired me was our students’ explanations of their own creative processes. One student presented her senior independent project, which “combined my two passions for photography and literature.” Another student described why he loves photography. To paraphrase him: “Photography makes you look differently at something that you might see but do not necessarily recognize. It gives us insight into a scene and a world by bringing specific elements of that scene to the forefront.” This young man’s explanation of photography modeled precisely what photography is meant to do for the viewer—helping you to see and understand something in a new way.
Other projects included the creation of masks as abstract representations of students’ fears. Some of the artist statements were extraordinary, as students were willing to make public not only their artistic thinking but also how the process of making art served as a vehicle for them to reflect on emotional and spiritual dimensions of themselves.
The student performances in Playhem were among the best I have ever seen, as our students dealt with mature and intense subject matter, from parenting and love to death and loss to violence—not to mention some classic Neil Simon comedy! I laughed and cried my way from play to play.
In his weekly class on the parsha of the week, Rabbi Shalom Rosner quotes and summarizes the Lubavicher (Chabad) Rebbe’s commentary on the name of this week’s parsha, Beha’alotcha. “Behaalotcha et hanerot – When you light (literally ‘cause to go up’) the candles (of the Menorah) . . .” –The Book of Proverbs teaches that “ner Hashem nishmat adam – the soul of a person is the flame of God.” We are all candles. We are all lights. But, we have to be turned on. Different stages in our life and different people we connect to can turn us on.
We have the power and the responsibility to ignite, light up, elevate the flame inside every person. How long do you have to continue to ignite another soul? Until the flame burns by itself. Until each individual becomes a self-sufficient powerhouse of enthusiasm.
This offers a powerful message about the purpose of education, which illuminates the sacred task of teachers and parents and the outcome goals for our students. During the profoundly formative adolescent years of intellectual, moral, and spiritual development, a great high school experience can ignite the sparks of students’ passions and creativity and help them develop the capacities and drive to inspire each other and light up their world.
Rabbi Marc Baker