Upper School Students Humbled and Motivated by Hearing Tough Life Story

Oct 22, 2014 | Media Galleries, Uncategorized, Upper School News

IMG_0419Just one week after the September 29 kick-off of (i)project and full immersion in and adaptation to the new Upper School P-schedule (project-based schedule), students stopped short in their tracks by hearing from a guest who made them appreciate what they have and who they are.
With an unprecedented opportunity to work on passion-driven, student-selected projects in a safe environment with soft boundaries and full support from teachers, parents and peers, students in grades 9-12 are preparing for real life. Some students want to create a fashion blog, others want to research the psychology of fear, and others have the passion to delve into discovering a cure for cancer. Students are excited that they get the chance this year to choose exactly what they want to work on and not be limited. Freedom.
In stark contrast, on Wednesday, October 1, students were asked to assemble in the GC Gym to hear from Al Duncan – a successful businessman, musician, author, and survivor turned motivator. He began by telling his life story – one of despair, fear, danger and defeat. The situations he encountered would have been enough to keep anyone down. As he continued to share his journey of a few peaks, and mostly valleys, he focused on several occasions where he found himself at a crossroad, and had to make a choice; a difficult decision – some were good and some weren’t. He frequently repeated the point that circumstances don’t determine who you will become. “I grew up in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods on the planet, but I continued to have a choice, to make good decisions and find my way out,” he says.
During his speech, Mr. Duncan asked students to stand when they agreed with a statement he was making, which made a very powerful impact on the crowd. He said things such as, “Stand if you or someone in your family has suffered from a life-threatening illness or disease.” And, “Stand if you know someone who identifies as an LGBT. Stand if you don’t know what LGBT stands for. Stand if you’ve been prejudged. Stand if you HAVE prejudged.” After watching students stand and sit multiple times while their peers looked on, Mr. Duncan pointed out that he believed that students learned things about their friends that they may have never known. Drake Gomer said, “people thought I was joking when I stood up after Al Duncan said ‘Stand if you identify yourself as hispanic.’ Even some of my friends didn’t know that about me.” Mr. Duncan’s point was that we all identify with different groups – some you may not know from the outside and some you didn’t know you had in common with someone else. At the end, he said, “Stand if you haven’t stood, yet.” Everyone in the room remained seated.
The group of 200+ students and teachers sat in complete silence as they heard Mr. Duncan’s life unfold. Some may have identified with his struggles while others were shocked that anyone could have made it out. On top. This was his real life. Then, Mr. Duncan went through an exercise that drove his point home even further. He held up a twenty dollar bill and asked, “who wants this?” Of course every hand went up. He proceeded to crumple up that same twenty dollar bill. After making it into a tiny ball, again he asked, “who wants this.” Students still wanted the money. Mr. Duncan then stepped on the twenty dollar bill and made a comment about the students not knowing what may be on the bottom of his shoe. Yet again, students were not deterred and said they wanted the money. Finally, he picked up the bill and smoothed it out, asking, “same value?” Unanimous yes. He continued, “So, if you can recognize that the value of a crisp new twenty dollar bill does not diminish when it is crumpled up, why in the world would you discount your own value just because you’ve come up on hard times and been crushed and crumpled?”
He received a standing ovation.
Many remained behind to shake this inspirational man’s hands.
“Al Duncan is one of my favorite speakers we have ever had at Mount Vernon. Everyone was captivated by what he had to say which was really cool to see,” said senior, Lizzie McLochlin.
Students were more inspired than ever to dive into their work, to make smart choices and realize that they, too, have the ability to come out on the other side of their life story – on top.
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