What an inspiring visit I had at Gig Harbor High a few days ago. A gathering of faculty members from both Gig Harbor and Peninsula high schools and of caring students all embracing the concept that “You are Welcome Here” graciously invited me to their get-together.
This group, which I feel represents promise for our planet’s future, gathered well before regular school opening time. It included GHHS secretary Anna Martin, and club members senior Renee Seguban, junior Allison White and sophomore Makena Edwards. Sweatshirt-wearing “We are Welcome Here” advocate sophomore Justin Rowntree was accompanied by GHHS alum and current English teacher Brittany Kealy. Joining them were math teachers Pat Kurz and Joyce Kilner, science teachers Kathy Blanchard, Dena Berkey, Toni Ronning and Susan Deeds, social studies teacher Amie Smith, and World Language teachers Heidi Steele, Katherine Snider and Nancy Janski.
Asked, “why are you here?” Deeds said, “I wanted to send a strong message to our students that all students are welcome here and everyone should be respected. I wanted our students of diversity to feel supported and that harassment toward those groups would not be tolerated.”
Sophomore Makena Edwards declared, “I am here to support the message that’s been portrayed through these shirts. Last year, I noticed a multitude of mishaps with equality and kindness toward one another over social media, my own community, and across the nation. Although I’m 16, I’ve learned that it’s never too late to make a difference, big or small. This is my way of making a difference through a simple gesture that could mean the world to someone else, let alone inspire others.”
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Kealy, the teacher, noted, “As an LGBTQ teacher, I know what it is like to not feel welcome in a space. I would like to send a message to the diverse population of my classroom that all voices are valued and celebrated, and that I am grateful for and proud of my students and the things they teach me.”
To teacher Amie Smith, the message is important to her because “in this community there are many people who have differences, not just those based on skin color or language. My hope is that all people feel welcome here.”
Said student ambassador Seguban, “I’m a big supporter of this program because I love the huge impact it has on the community.”
“America is made up of children of immigrants,” said Janski. “We need to open our minds, arms and hearts to embrace and welcome diversity.”
“It is important to me that every student and parent I meet knows that they are welcome in this school and in my community,” said Blanchard. “I don’t want fear or hatred or discrimination making someone feel like they don’t matter.”
To Snider, “The ‘You are Welcome Here’ shirts celebrate the linguistic and ethnic diversity that makes this country great. Wearing it shows my students I accept the differences in language and origin which contribute to our society. Having an understanding of cultures, ways of life, lets us foster compassion for the global citizens our students will be.”
“The poem on the Statue of Liberty makes me really proud to be an American,” said Pat Kurz. “Despite our history of slavery, native tribes’ genocide, and turning away Jews in World War II, of all countries, we welcome people from all over the world. Anyone can become a full-fledged citizen. This new ban makes me angry. When I first saw the shirt, I couldn’t buy it fast enough.”
Ambassadors Club member Allie White explained that “Ambassador’s Club is an incredible program used to help integrate new students into our school. I’m an ambassador for our club because I know what it’s like to be a new student and to struggle with finding a place in a new school. I love being able to help people feel welcome in our community. It’s a reason I’m proud of the ‘If you can read this, you are welcome here’ shirts. We’re living in a time where differences are looked down upon. In truth, we all have our differences even if they may not be as great as religion or ethnicity. The shirts and our Ambassador’s Club are two small ways to make such a big difference to people feeling lost in their identity and environment. I’m proud to have involvement with both.”
And I’m proud to have been in your company.
Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.