The following article, And Now, Your Senior Presenter..., was featured in the 2017 issue of CH-CH Chronicle, the magazine of Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School. The Chronicle is available to read digitally here. Keep an eye out for more articles showcasing CH-CH Senior Presentations coming soon!
It's 1:15 p.m. and the arched ceiling of the Assembly Hall echoes with the laughter of students as they continue their conversations from lunch. The crowd becomes silent as the Head of School, Dr. Lance Conrad, approaches the podium and straightens the microphone. After giving a reminder to place phones on silent, Dr. Conrad introduces one of the most significant traditions at CH-CH with steady words, "And now, your Senior Presenter..."
The Senior Presentation is a required part of the 12th-grade program at CH-CH. Each senior works with a faculty advisor and then delivers a 10 to 15 minute presentation on a topic of their choosing. The topics vary widely - from a difficult obstacle they overcame to a person who had an impact on their life to teaching the community about an interest they are passionate about. One of the most striking aspects of the Senior Presentations is how deeply these high school students are willing to dig to share an often-vulnerable part of themselves to a packed assembly hall. It's a testament to the comfort they feel within the community.
Kyle Gomes, Rae Edros-Steinberg, and Chuchen "Christine" Yang are three graduates of CH-CH who delivered powerful presentations in recent years. These three presented topics about the experience of being Black in America, the power of family, and how art has helped them make sense of the world.
Kyle Gomes: "Black In America"
"Colin Kaepernick raised a lot of questions when he decided to stay seated for the national anthem," Senior Kyle Gomes began as he took the stage for his Senior Presentation, "questions that are still very relevant in America today. What is it like to be Black in America?"
With the attention of the entire CH-CH community on him, Kyle decided to take the opportunity to use a creative form of expression to create a dialogue on the issue of race in America.
"I'm not here to ask you to answer these questions. I'm only here to trade perspectives."
Kyle then gave the audience a creative way to witness the experience of being Black in America through an original poem that showed five perspectives around the event of a Black man being shot. He wrote as the shooter, the victim, the victim's mother, a police officer, and finally from his own perspective.
He ended the poem with this line: "Fall asleep and I hope to wake up and see a better day, I'll just write these words until I find a better way."
As Kyle's Senior Presentation came to a close, he included a plea. He asked that the community continue the conversation about race in America - and that they have the courage to speak up when they witness moral injustices.
"I don't blame anybody for not understanding what it's like to be Black, and I won't ever expect you to, but I do expect you to respect my perspective, and I will do the same. It starts by having a conversation. I'm hoping that by talking to you all today, more and more of you will have the courage to speak up on the moral injustices that Black people face in this country."
Rae Erdos-Steinberg: "The Power Of Family"
In her Senior Presentation, Rae Erdos-Steinberg began with a question: "The idea of a 'perfect' family is growing up in a household with a mom and a dad, who both have good jobs, perfect kids with perfect grades. What is so special about this stereotypical perfect family anyway?"
In a deeply personal presentation to the CH-CH community of students, teachers, and staff, Rae described her family, which didn't fit into this narrow image of perfection.
"My mom started a nonprofit, my dad is a musician who never attended college," Rae explained. "They never put pressure on us to follow that perfect model. Instead, my parents always instilled in us the values of love, honesty, care, trust, and giving."
While Rae described difficult times that her family endured, including illness and divorce, the strength of her family's bond never wavered. While searching for a new school prior to enrolling at CH-CH, her family continued to work together.
"They worked as a team to get me to school tours and interviews," Rae recalled. "The power of family still brings us together no matter what."
When her family toured CH-CH, Rae found a supportive community that reminded her of home.
"A creative and supportive community has always been extremely important to me. The school setting that I was initially put into did not encourage any of the creativity, love, connection, or support that I need in my life. Once I came to CH-CH, I found that spark again."
Chuchen "Christine" Yang: "Art That Inspires"
Art was more than a hobby for Chuchen "Christine" Yang while growing up in China: "Often at night, I would wait for everyone to go to sleep, turn on the light, then draw until I fell asleep, pen in hand."
Christine found comfort in art and the ability to express her inner feelings. "Through art, I expressed my inner feelings about student life and the social problems affecting the world around me," said Christine.
As her passion developed, Christine found herself drawing in her free time - often using it as a tool to work out her thoughts and feelings.
Christine's parents were apprehensive about her choosing to pursue the arts as a major in college and a potential career. They knew from past experience that it can be a competitive and difficult road. Ultimately, they recognized that her love for art was unbreakable.
"I think what my parents were trying to tell me is one thing: no matter what you study or work at, any field will give you challenges and you will experience failures. Nothing is that easy. When we pick things we like, even though we will go through struggles, the thing that keeps us going is our passion."
To conclude her presentation, Christine displayed some of her most recent artwork while explaining the significance it had for her.
"Creating these paintings helped me work through some of the confusion I feel as a teenager transitioning into adulthood. As I see the details and the bigger picture, I see how it all functions to support all the parts. I hope someday I can unwind all the knots."