SUFC shouldn’t force speakers to conform to an arbitrary theme

January 28, 2020 — by Esther Luan and Siva Sambasivam

Encompassing annual themes are unnecessary and undermine speakers’ experiences

Throughout previous years, Speak Up for Change has been considered a necessary event to foster a positive social-emotional environment for the school. While it’s undeniable that providing a platform for students to open up about their emotional experiences is a valuable experience, the process the school takes to implement it is far from perfect.

Most notably, the school always emphasizes a specific theme for the weeklong SUFC event, with this year’s being “Know No.” Previous years’ themes have included “Breaking Barriers” and “Escaping the Mask We Live In,” catchy buzzword-filled slogans  that are meant to prompt a certain quintessential backstory. 

While each theme is independently a crucial emotional concept, the usage of these phrases as encompassing themes for the event is problematic.

The entire point of Speak Up for Change is to allow for students to share their own stories and their personal experiences. Wouldn’t it be best that these are shared in their own light, with their own moral and without the need to conform to an arbitrary theme set by the Outreach Commission?

Specifically, this approach may incentivize speakers to change their stories in order to make their personal experiences more consistent with the theme. This is supercharged by the fact that students effectively “compete” to speak at the assembly; speakers are selected out of a pool of speeches sent in to the Outreach Commission. 

This means that students aren’t truly telling their stories, from their viewpoints, and the audience hears instead a modified version of the speaker’s experiences to best fit the theme, undermining the fundamental purpose of the event. The value of a mental-health oriented assembly is rooted in the uniqueness of each story, and that inherent value is handicapped by the addition of these arbitrary themes.

What further proves that these annual themes are superfluous is that speakers often miss the true takeaways of their own experiences while presenting them; not every story this year was meant to have “Know No” as its moral, just as not every speech from last year truly had to do with “Escaping the Mask We Live In.” 

To assume that all the stories being presented at the assembly can be deformed to fit a predefined phrase effectively undermines each experience. At the very least, students should be encouraged to come to their own conclusions about the stories.

Before the assembly, students always go in with the mindset that they’ll hear stories with a certain similar ending, which is troublesome considering the event is a platform dedicated to combating diverse mental health issues. We should be celebrating our differences and sharing the different ways we’ve overcome them, not focusing on packaging our stories to fit one lesson, one mindset. 

Overall, the school’s approach to this activity creates an environment where students are unable to illustrate their own unique experiences in their entirety. This is problematic because it generalizes issues regarding mental health and hinders listeners from taking away the true lessons of each story.

If there was no overarching theme of the event, each speaker’s story would be equally compelling, if not more, as they would be able to stick more to the ideas they truly want to convey. On the other hand, none of the other events throughout the week would be significantly affected.

Students should go into the SUFC assembly with the mindset of hearing unique, meaningful experiences, not one general lesson told over and over again by different speakers. It’s about time the school learned that as well.