Speak Up for Change aims to unite student body

January 22, 2016 — by Caitlyn Chen and Jay Kim

The leadership class invited four students, sophomores Althea Zhao and Camilla Taysi, junior Saya Sivaram and senior Abhay Aanabathula, to speak.

As sophomore Camilla Taysi’s finished telling the story of her struggles with depression and bullying in recent years during a schoolwide Speak Up for Change assembly on Jan. 18, the entire gym filled with applause. One by one, students began to stand — some of the them had tears in their eyes, while others held each other’s hands.

All faced the podium at the front of the gym. Their fellow classmate stood before them, her brave story still fresh in their minds.

“Honestly, it was such a relief to finally tell my story to everyone,” Taysi said. “So far I have gotten nothing but positive support.”

In addition to Taysi’s speech, the leadership class invited three other students, sophomore Althea Zhao, junior Saya Sivaram and senior Abhay Aanabathula, to speak. Zhao described her struggle to combat anorexia, Sivaram recounted how she had to stop going to school during junior year to deal with mental health issues, and Aanabathula spoke about his recent bout with severe depression.

Also during the assembly, leadership showed two videos made by students in the Media Arts Program. In one of the videos, students were told to read anonymous compliments. It was later revealed to them that those compliments were really about them.

It was a really simple concept, but I think it’s really important that people know that you can make someone’s day with just a few words,” leadership head senior Nina Nelson said.

For this year’s Speak Up for Change theme of “One Team, One Dream,” the leadership class chose four topics: substance abuse, student stress, self-confidence and compassion in action.

Each period, the students watched a different educational video, chosen by the leadership class, that related to the topic of the day. For example, on Tuesday, first period teachers showed students a video called, “Your Brain on Drugs: Marijuana,” which warned students about the dangers of substance abuse.

“We’re just trying to make [students] more aware,”  leadership adviser Rebeca Marshburn said. “Ultimately, it is your body, it is your choice, but what we are saying is ‘here are certain consequences, then you make the choice.’”

On Friday, the school gathered in the Large Gym once again for an assembly organized  by the nonprofit Challenge Day organization.

“The goal is to bring people together and create connections, because the more that we understand each other, the better we treat other,” Challenge Day counselor Angela Aguilar said.

Following Aguilar’s and Challenge Day counselor Christopher Foster’s heartbreaking childhood stories, Aguilar led the students in an activity called “Stand Up,” where she read a series of statements, like “Stand up if you have ever been bullied or teased by someone in this room.”

According to Aguilar, the purpose of the activity was to allow students to physically see what their fellow classmates were experiencing.

“[The ‘Stand Up’ activity] made me realize that lots of people are going through the same thing I’m going through,” sophomore Tiffany Huang said.

“Saratoga was amazing,” Aguilar said. “It was such as powerful experience for us to be able be with all of you and see the way that we [brought] the compassion and energy out of each other.  I saw a lot of people with their hands up in the air, showing that love, which says a lot to me about what kind of school Saratoga is.”

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