On December 5th, seven Upper School students departed for Houston, Texas to attend the 25th annual People of Color Conference/Student Diversity Leadership Conference. Alex Churchwell, Jody Gregory, Victoria Longo, Madi Schopfer, Courtney Hayman, Carina Miller and Rodney Orr were selected from applicants by the Diversity Club faculty advisors and joined over 1300 other students from across the nation for the three day conference. With a focus on the eight core identifiers of diversity (age, ability, gender, sexual orientation, family structure, race/ethnicity, socio-economic status and religion), students gathered together to discuss how to impact communities with what the conference and people taught them. SDLC is hard to capture in words, but some of the attendees explained their experiences below.
“It is hard to pick the most meaningful moment from the most meaningful experience of my life. Every second I spent at SDLC was important to me. However, if I had to pick one moment over all the rest, it would have to be the last few minutes I spent with my family group. Our last journaling prompt was to write a letter to ourselves to read in the future when things get hard that will remind us how it felt to be at SDLC and why we are doing what we are doing in the first place. As we were writing, our facilitators put some music on. This was supposed to be a silent activity, but when Thinking About You by Frank Ocean came on, we all started singing along. As I sang with them, I sat in awe of the moment. The sound of a room full of people I had only met two days before all singing along with a laptop was one of the most beautiful sounds I had ever heard. Although this moment may not seem important to others, I feel it is one of the most significant of the time we spent together because it proves that we truly had become a family in only two days. That moment, to me at least, really captures the purpose of SDLC because in that moment there was no judgement or conflict. In that moment we were all simply being, and more importantly, we were doing it together.” -Madi Schopfer, Class of 2013
“This doesnt even begin to capture what I’m feeling after this whole experience. But I can’t express it in words. As a ‘first year’ at SDLC, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect and 1300 unknown faces seemed a little intimidating. But, I went in with an open mind and quickly discovered that it is a conference not only about recognizing diversity, but also about celebrating your identity and each individuals uniqueness. Realizing that I was surrounded by hundreds of people willing to trust, understand, and accept my individuality was a powerful experience I will never forget.” -Carina Miller, Class of 2014
“Last year I had the burden of trying to explain my experience at SDLC. All that I could tell my friends, parents, and teachers was that it was an amazing experience that changed my life forever. A year later and I finally figured out a little bit of a better way of explaining my experience. Last year I went into SDLC wondering if I would get anything out of this conference, and 5 minutes it began to swell with tears in my eyes. Seeing my distress a girl, whom i had never met nor met again, put her hand on my back and told me “everything will be okay.” I lost it right there. I knew at that moment, 5 minutes into a 15 hour day that I was in for something special.
Last year SDLC was a healing process for me; this year SDLC was a connecting process. I challenged myself to connect with others who are struggling as I struggled. I saw strong individuals speak up with such courage and infliction that my heart sang. I befriended a guy who reminds me of myself, quiet yet strong, independent yet warm and soft-eyed, and we instantly became inseparable. I’ll miss him. But what I learned from him is that friends will come and go and memory may slowly fade, but the emotions, the feelings we share and use to connect with others will always remain.
So what was the most memorable part of SDLC for me? It was the connection I felt in every human in that conference regardless of age, gender, sexuality, race, religion, socio-economic status, family structure or ability. It is all of the friends that I made over those few, precious days. It is the tears of life, joy, sorrow, pain and freedom that I saw by students whom I had never met before. I still have trouble explaining SDLC in spoken or written words, but If you can just sit in silence for a moment with other people in a room, and listen, and feel, then in that instant, for just that moment, you know all there is to know.” -Rodney Orr, Class of 2014
“SDLC has changed my life in more ways than one. It has led me to create everlasting friendships and meet inspiring people that I’ll forever hold in my heart. I think it’s impossible to describe the feeling of acceptance and love that washed throughout the room during the closing ceremony. It’s a moment I’ll never forget and look back on when I feel things can’t get better. I’m so grateful to ha’ve gotten a chance to go to SDLC for the past two years, and I’ll continue to spread what I’ve learned for the rest of my life.” -Alex Churchwell, Class of 2013