Inspiring stories and videos form strong student connections January 22, 2016 — by Claire Rhee Permalink When junior Saya Sivaram began her speech during the assembly on Tuesday of Speak Up For Change, my mood shifted quickly, and I changed from my usual grumpy morning self into an excited student, eager to listen to the experiences of others. The leadership class this year planned an effective Speak Up For Change week; the week allowed me to learn about different students’ life stories and taught me to open my mind to empathize with others. The week began with a promising start — the Tuesday student assembly, where I had the chance to listen to student speeches, watch videos about the dangers of substance abuse and see students’ reactions when they read compliments written about them from other students. The speeches made me feel as if I had just jumped onto a rollercoaster of the student’s life, experiencing each person’s highs and lows. During senior Abhay Aanabathula’s speech regarding his struggle with depression, I especially remember his gripping description of how he felt alone, collapsing on the street after running away from his house. It was amazing to watch him burst into laughter as he recalled funny hospital memories, a sign of his positive recovery. Throughout the week, teachers were also asked to play specific videos pertaining to the topic of each day of the week. The one video that caught my attention was the video based around improving self-confidence, which advised to do something you have been putting off and to show gratitude for others and yourself — a message that I have been trying to keep in the back of my mind. On Friday, the Challenge Day assembly gave students and staff the opportunity to really learn about each other through its “Stand Up” activity, where students stood up if a certain phrase, like “Stand up if you have been bullied, harassed, or humiliated by somebody in this room,” applied to them. I assumed just a few of students would stand up, as bullying seems so rare at Saratoga, but I was shocked to see nearly everyone around me standing. Still, Speak Up for Change week had room for improvement; though the assemblies gave the student body a chance to hear some incredible speeches, some of them were a little too long. For instance, the original Tuesday schedule planned for an hour-long assembly; when the assembly went on 30 minutes longer, the rest of the day had to be rescheduled. In order to avoid rescheduling, assemblies should be given a certain amount time and be able to stick to that. Otherwise, it causes difficulties for the students and staff — students in first period longer classes than second, third and seventh period. Besides, long assemblies often lose student interest halfway through. Still, the content presented throughout the week inspired me to become more engaged with other students and staff at the school and to truly get to know my peers. Assuming that the school week would be tedious and tiring, I was completely wrong; it turned out to be just the opposite.