ASM Assault

Every Wednesday at 10:40AM, the deep tolling of a bell resounds across campus, and herds of students shuffle to Cochran Chapel for All-School Meeting. The idea behind All-School is simple: to bring everyone on campus together for 45 minutes each week and create a sense of community. We’re not the only school who does this. Brooks School in North Andover has a weekly Congregational service that is mandatory for all students, and many other boarding schools have similar rituals. The idea of a school-wide family, a unifying bond that connects the students, faculty and administration is an attractive one. But is it realistic? I question whether All-School Meeting achieves its intended purpose. Many students approach All-School with a sense of indifference and reluctance. Some students would love the extra time to catch up on sleep or homework, and others simply do not care about what the speakers have to say. The general attitude towards All-School is not very optimistic, and because All-School is viewed with a sense of annoyance, if not loathing, the intent to ‘unite the school community’ fails. Also, because All-School is mandatory, there is a sense of duty attached. We don’t want to go to All-School Meeting, but we have to. The purpose that All School tries to achieve, therefore, is strained. In order for us to form a common bond we must have a willing attitude, we have to want to form a strong community While some speakers are interesting, there is no denying that some are not. We enjoy and remember the speakers that come in, make us laugh, and capture our attention with dynamic stage presence. These speakers manage to drive their points home, and we can leave All-School feeling like we didn’t waste our time. Unfortunately, these speakers do not come every week. Often, we are faced with a droning, lackluster alumnus or scholar. These people often have poignant or interesting messages to relay, but their jewels of wisdom are lost among the snores and buzz of subdued conversation and their underwhelming speaking style. After sitting for 45 minutes of a deadpan lecture, students feel restless and annoyed. We feel like we have squandered time that could have been spent in more productive ways. We feel cheated. Because All-School Meeting requires everyone to sit and listen for the entire 45 minutes, there is not time for discussion. We’re allowed to go up to interrogate the speaker, but there is not active debate between students and teachers. We seldom have time afterwards to discuss the issues; if we were given more of a chance to communicate our views of the lectures with the faculty, more community building would actually happen. Take Dr. James Maas’ lecture on sleep, for instance. There was no open forum in which students could talk to the administration about how to remedy the prevalent sleep crisis. How is community building supposed to take place when there is no common discussion? Students also do not have much say as to whom we listen to. There is an All- School Meeting panel that has student representatives, but the general student body normally walks into the Chapel, having had no say in the lecture they are about to endure. The school pays a lot of money for these speakers. But, it is a complete waste to pay for speakers who will put us to sleep. No matter how great the speaker is, by the end of the meeting everyone’s thoughts are clear: “I have to get to class now. Commons opens in five minutes. I can get there first.” The moment that Mrs. Chase utters the beloved phrase “You are dismissed,” there is a tremendous rumbling as a mass exodus swarms out the narrow front doors of the chapel. The fact that we are so anxious to leave is ironic. All-School Meeting, which is supposed to be a relaxing retreat from the bustle of daily life, is as fraught with tension as any class. It’s just another requirement in our week that we have to fulfill. There are a handful of students who enjoy All-School Meeting, but when so much of the student body is ready and rearing to get out of the Chapel, it is difficult to relax and listen to the speaker. In this situation, nobody is happy: the many people who are forced to come to the meeting are upset, especially when the people who are genuinely interested take the floor to drag All-School out another ten minutes by asking a question that warrants another long-winded reply. It seems truly pointless and counterproductive, therefore, to make every All- School a requirement. I think students would benefit much more by looking at a list of upcoming lectures and signing up for speakers that really interest them. This way, the speakers would get the attention and respect they deserve from an audience who cares what they have to say. The feeling of requirement would be alleviated, and All-School Meeting would be a more enjoyable, relaxing experience for everyone.