It was the first day of seventh grade and I sat awkwardly on the bleachers with unfamiliar peers, thoroughly intimidated by the rambunctious senior class just an aisle away. A booming voice came over the microphone and, after welcoming my grade to a new school and veteran students and teachers to a new year, President Rick Commons welcomed another brand-new member of our community—the mission statement. He recited the words with passion.
Five years later, the class of 2020 and I, now the rowdy and daunting seniors, repeated this statement with ease as Commons introduced it to the wide-eyed “sevies” who sat adjacent us at convocation. But while this sentence has become something we can all instinctually recite, I will admit that throughout my years I have questioned whether it is something that we all abide by as a school community.
Our school has worked to make the words of the mission statement as close to reality as possible. Measures to accomplish this goal have included the creation of a Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion position, a climate assessment conducted by a third-party consulting group and a new block schedule created to reduce stress. Despite these commendable changes, one part of the mission statement that I believe deserves more attention is the mantra’s reference to a singular community.
Unlike the majority of Los Angeles private schools, Harvard-Westlake is divided into two parts by a twisty canyon, which at times makes it difficult to think of the middle and upper campuses as one single school.
As frightening as convocation was for me as a shy and self-conscious newcomer in seventh grade, and as sweaty and sunburned as it leaves me each year, I have come to realize the event’s importance in creating a strong Wolverine community.
Convocation is one of the few school-wide events during which students of all grades can interact with one another, giving true meaning to the unity that our mission statement suggests exists between the two campuses.
It would be reductive to suggest that the upper and middle schools are completely disjointed all days of the year after the first. Students of all grades gather for Homecoming, ninth grade varsity athletes shuttle to the upper school for practice and all student ambassadors enjoy In-N-Out at their annual orientation event. In my eyes, however, more can be done to strengthen the connection between campuses.
The school should take a more active approach in creating bonds between students on both campuses. For example, upper school events like performances, art shows or Cinema Sundays could be announced at middle school assemblies, middle school sport schedules could appear in the upper school bulletin and copies of “The Spectrum” could be made available on the Coldwater campus. Another suggestion might be altering the “Big Sibs” program to create friendships beyond the boundaries of respective campuses and provide more expansive mentorship opportunities.
Students should not solely rely on initiatives implemented by the school to work on strengthening our community. Individuals can play a crucial role in fostering the unity that our mission statement speaks of.
Whether it means reaching out to people from the other grades, upper school athletes supporting younger Wolverines at middle school sporting events, artists and singers attending shows on both campuses or families making time to go to all-school community service days, students should make creating connections across campuses more of a priority.
As it is written in our mission statement, it is time to start making a concerted effort to show we are a united community.