News From Masters
Ten Upper School students gave powerful and engaging talks on an array of topics at TEDxTheMastersSchool, The Masters School's second TEDx event, on May 18 at the Fonseca Center.
Families and friends filled the Experimental Theater to hear the students' presentations, which addressed timely social, political, economic and technological issues. Other community members watched the livestreamed event on a video monitor in Morris Recital Hall or on their own devices.
The students' weeks of preparation for the event were evident as they delivered their presentations with poise, confidence and touches of humor.
In a talk entitled "Journeying into the Present: My Experience with Mindfulness," junior Drew Schott explained how living in the moment has changed the way he sees his surrounding environment and how it has shaped the way that he goes about living.
"I see technology as one of the largest obstacles to living in the moment," said Drew, citing Kent State University studies that found that increased cellphone use by college students led to more stress. In fact, he said, as students' cellphone use rose, their grade-point averages dropped.
To underscore his message about the benefits of mindfulness, Drew coached the audience through a brief breathing and relaxation exercise. "That's it," he said. "It's that simple."
"Living in the moment," he said, "allows us to be aware of our surroundings and truly know, appreciate and recognize the world around us."
In her presentation, sophomore Annie Rubinson also used scientific research and personal anecdotes to support her premise: that it's important to remain creative as we grow older. Her talk was entitled, "Re-Creating: Creativity, Development and Why We Lose It."
"We think in straight lines," said Annie. "That mode of thinking is depriving us of so many important skills later in life."
There is a strong link between creativity and success, she said, noting that many accomplished people have served as examples of this connection throughout history. For example, Albert Einstein played the violin throughout his life, while Thomas Edison played the piano.
Among the ways to foster creativity and "thought diversity," Annie concluded, are to break the linear thinking cycle and expose ourselves to creative thinking.
Also making a case for changing one's mindset was Junior Rachel Aideyan, who posed this question: "Is Ignorance Truly Bliss?" She argued that there is a way to use ignorance as an advantage and to gain knowledge.
Rachel described an experience she had a few years ago while eating lunch with some friends. When she told them that she was Nigerian and her family had moved from Nigeria to New York, the friends asked about her parents' huts and whether Nigeria had restaurants and movie theaters, and wanted to know about the lions and elephants roaming around the country.
While everyone has "an island of knowledge," Rachel said, "You will always face the sea of ignorance." When encountering "innocent mistakes," she advised, "try to figure out what went wrong and try to learn from them."
And when it comes to events like incidents of police brutality or the mass shooting that occurred at a nightclub in Orlando, FL in 2016, Rachel said, there are ways to use such "harsh news" in your favor. The best way to respond, she added, is by engaging in self-reflection, self-care, and action, such as by voting, volunteering or advocating for your beliefs.
Also speaking from personal experience, sophomore Emanuel (Manu) Adamiak delved into the problem of ethnic stereotyping in his talk, "Lederhosen and Thieves: Understanding Prejudices." Manu, noting that he was born in Germany to a German mother and a Polish father, said he grew up in a household influenced by two very different cultures.
When he was seven years old, he said, his family moved from Germany to Poland. One day, two classmates in his new school mimicked the Nazi salute while looking directly at him. "That day," Manu recalled, "I experienced the harsh reality of being judged because of where I'm from."
He later learned that many Germans harbor their own stereotypes about Poland. For example, crime rates in Poland, although high at one time during an economic downturn, are now about equal to those in Germany, he said. Nevertheless, he added, many Germans cling to the stereotype that Poland is an unsafe country.
Manu said he is optimistic, though, that people can overcome their prejudices by taking the time to learn about and understand other cultures. He concluded with a quote by Charles Swindoll, a Christian pastor and author: "Prejudice is a learned trait. You're not born prejudiced; you're taught it."
Senior Grace Rosner's talk also addressed a salient topic: "The Faults in Our Feminism: A Discussion about Teenage Hookup Culture." She spoke about the need to reform hookup culture to foster positive and healthy sexual experiences for teens.
One ramification of the sexual revolution of the 1960s was that easy sex and hookups became more common, said Grace. At the same time, she added, women were being asked to embody typically masculine characteristics, while men were not expected to embody typically feminine characteristics. The result is that teens "avoid showing emotion at all costs."
"All hookup culture does right now is to ask teens to dehumanize each other and perpetuate patriarchy," Grace argued.
In conclusion, she urged audience members to "begin encouraging the men and women around you to start respecting and honoring the complex humanity and lives of boys and girls surrounding sex. By doing so, join me as we give power to femininity, not just women."
Sophomore Evelyn Sabety also touched on issues of gender and feminism in her talk, "Everyday Sexism: the Tragedy of Moments." Many people believe we currently live in a post-feminist world, and that the worst inequalities are over, she said, citing one study that found that 56 percent of men surveyed believe that sexism no longer exists.
"Women everywhere experience sexism on a daily basis," said Evelyn, noting that one of the major issues confronting feminism today is the tendency to overlook everyday aggressions against women.
Sexism is especially prevalent in certain professional areas, including Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), she said. As a result, she added, many women in STEM occupations have become accustomed to thinking that they don't belong in the field – a consequence of internalized misogyny.
To counter everyday sexism and internalized misogyny, she said, "Respect is the key. We must learn to integrate everybody into our lives with respect. It may not come overnight...but with time, effort and patience, it will come."
In "My 50 States: Finding an America Worth Loving," junior Eli Emery focused on another type of division in American society: politics. As the U.S. population becomes increasingly polarized, he said, "Everything is politicized."
Describing himself as a patriotic person who believes in America's ideals, Eli said, "For much of its history, the U.S. has failed in its pursuit of these ideals."
But citing the Civil Rights Movement as an example, Eli said, "This is a country that we are able to change....We can overcome gridlock and partisanship...to build a better America."
Senior Henry Williams also ultimately struck a hopeful note in his talk, "Alone, Together: How Technology Separates Us." He argued that much of our current technology is manipulating our psychology, fracturing our culture and leading to unhappiness.
The internet and its social media platforms make possible "endless subcultures, groups and community for interests ranging from Roman literature to raccoons," he said. Despite its benefits, he added, "This world of subcultures has taken a particular toll on those who have grown up with it, my generation. The devices that have been placed in our hands have had a profound effect on our lives, and it's making us seriously unhappy."
Yet there are reasons to be optimistic, and ways we can take our relationship with technology into our own hands, said Henry. "Bit by bit, technology is starting to look a little more 'human.' This has huge benefits for our lives, but in particular for our mental health. Instead of crudely exploiting our psychology, new devices will start to act like little digital psychologists, asking us when we feel sad and catering to our digital lives to enlighten and enliven us, instead of inspiring anxiety and frustration."
Senior Sophie Cohen tapped into her interests in wildlife science and psychology to compare human and animal cognition during her "Knowing Ourselves through the Natural World" talk.
She began her presentation by showing a video of a dog opening a refrigerator door, retrieving a water bottle and closing the door. "The closer [animals'] cognitive function resembles a human's, the more important it seems," she said.
But Sophie cautioned against making assumptions about animal behavior based on human behavior, and against projecting human emotions on to animals.
"I invite you to reexamine your perspective on the world around you and the role you play in it," she concluded. "Here's your first opportunity to look at the world through another lens."
In "Unknown Identity: The Untold Life of a Donor-Conceived Person," junior Lizzy Forman told anecdotes about her experience as a donor-conceived individual, including the challenges of growing up without knowing whose DNA she carried.
Noting that her mother told her early on that she was donor-conceived, Lizzy said that when she was a freshman she decided to learn more about her biological father. She took an Ancestry DNA test last summer and was able to match the results to a DNA test taken by her father. Since then, said Lizzy, she has been in touch with her biological father and has learned that she has several half-siblings. She has even met one of them, she said, showing a photo of herself with one of her half-brothers.
Lizzy is now an advocate for donor-conceived people across the U.S. and helped create a group for donor-conceived people in New York and surrounding areas.
TEDxTheMastersSchool was an independently organized event, licensed by TED. Launched in 2009, TEDx is a program of locally organized events that bring the community together to share a TED-like experience.