by Eman H. '20, Michelle V. '19, Aidan C. '20, David C. '20, Selah W. '19, and Sherifat S. '21
Life changing experiences usually don’t start off with you knowing they’re coming; they happen at unexpected moments in time. SDLC was an exception. When the six of us boarded our evening flight to Nashville, we were already giddy from excitement. Since before we even applied, we had been hearing about the grand impact these three days would have on our lives. It turns out, our anticipation for whether it would live up to our expectations was completely unnecessary. From the moment we sat down in a giant auditorium with 1500 of our peers, we knew SDLC was all we had heard and more.
The Student Diversity Leadership Conference is a national conference hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). It aims to engage students in workshops about diversity and equity, bring speakers who challenge and inspire the audience and to teach students about what it means to be a part of this movement to the future.
As I entered my last strides of high school, I thought that my moments of enlightenment were over. A few more months to go and I’ll be out. In my soon-to-be four years at Lakeside, I managed to discover my passions, make amazing friends, and create myself along the way. So what, if anything, could top that? The answer is simple: SDLC. At SDLC I was able to build connections with students from all over (I even made friends from Bermuda and China). Despite the fact that we all came from different backgrounds, grew up in environments that were different from each other, it was nice seeing us all come together to discuss the things that were important to us: social issues and creating positive change. It was also great meeting people who shared the same identifiers as me. I enjoyed meeting other Filipino-American students and talking about a range of things, from Filipino jokes to more serious topics like mental health and beauty standards in the Asian community. Though the conference only lasted three days, the impact it has made in my life is well beyond any number of days I can measure. SDLC enlightened me on what it means to truly embrace my identity, it showed me the importance of reflecting on issues that matter, and best of all, it taught me to love myself for who I am.
SDLC was meaningful to me for a lot of different reasons. I made so many new connections that I would not have been able to had I not gone, and learned a lot about myself. One of the things that struck me immediately was how genuine and vulnerable people were willing to be so quickly. I had never been surrounded by so many people who barely knew me, but I knew would listen and care about me like they’d known me my entire life. Because of how genuine people were able to be with me, I was able to have the space to talk about my experience and learn what my identity means to me. Saying SDLC is life changing is an understatement.
Before going to SDLC, I heard that it would change my life but I didn’t understand until it was time to leave wonderful people I’d met on the trip. It was very refreshing to be surrounded by many different people who share a common goal, to better diversity in independent schools across the country, starting with their own. I learned so much by having valuable group discussions and also listening to the many adults who’d gone through the same thing as us. Being in the room with 1600 students working toward diversity felt amazing and I knew that I could turn to my neighbor and they would understand where I was coming from.
Sooooo...there are really no words to describe how SDLC has impacted me. This was an experience that truly molded leaders. I not only watched myself grow and learn, but I watched others around me step up and plan ways to be a leader back at their school. There was one moment in particular when we sat in a room of 1600 kids. It was the first day and no one really knew each other, but the feeling it gave off to see so many young people devoted to making change was inspiring. It gave me the thought that whenever I experienced a microaggression, felt like the “token black kid,” or heard something offensive, I was not alone. I was with 1600 kids who had my back.
Making a positive impact on the world is a dream I’ve grown up with. Before I could answer the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I could answer, “why do you want to be that?” However, as time goes on and life gets busier, there are days where it’s easy to start to focus on the “what” and forget the “why.” SDLC was a unique, colorful experience where students from all over the country (and even other parts of the world) came together for a brief time to share their “why’s.” For me, getting to hear these stories was the best part of the trip.
Additionally, as someone who tends to think analytically most of the time, being in a room with people who interpreted things in completely different ways was refreshing. It challenged me to not only try to understand the perspectives of others, but to listen and try to understand where those perspectives were coming from. In the end, the combination of all the wonderful people I met along the way and the stories they told me taught me that SDLC and making a positive change is not always about thinking, it’s also about feeling.
Upon arriving at SDLC, I felt personally singled out; it was wonderful. It is not uncommon to hear good-natured allies makes comments like, “I don’t see race, I’m colorblind.”; however, many are not aware that the effects of these well-intentioned remarks often encourage homogeny instead of embracing celebrated difference. During the conference, I felt as if every aspect of my identity was being pointed out for everyone to gaze at. While this all-too-common feeling was jarring at first, I couldn’t have asked for anything better; the end result was affirmation to a degree I had never thought possible. People weren’t staring at me because I was a different skin tone; they were staring at me because they saw something unique in me, not on me. In conclusion, SDLC taught me how to aim higher than tolerance; it gave me a taste of true acceptance, something that we all deserve to receive and that we all must give to each other.
At the end of the conference, our heads still reeling from the excitement, we headed back to the airport to fly home and bring everything we had learned with us. Despite the exhaustion that was settling into us the further we got toward home, something had changed: we were all walking with a purpose.
Video by Michelle V. '19