Wellness: A Work in Progress

About this time two weeks ago, one of the “best weeks” at Andover was just a few days away. The newly dubbed “Wellness Week” (formally known as FCD Week) was filled with nightly seminars, lectures and presentations on the broad topic of “wellness” in the absence of a few classes each day. But, although the Wellness Week programs were entertaining and informative, they failed to address issues relevant to Andover students. As a returning Lower I was thrilled about the reduction in class time and work load, but I was also interested in the presentations I was scheduled to see. Would they be more captivating than last year’s FCD workshops? The introduction the workshops provided was adequate, but it was time to move beyond the basics. I was looking forward to more compelling and thought-provoking experiences. My first scheduled presentation, “I Am Dirt,” was described as “a one-man performance…on the theme of alcohol and drug abuse and the impact on high school students, their friends and families.” The performer, John Morello, was lively and interactive with the audience. Through short vignettes and monologues, Morello demonstrated how substance abuse affects people’s lives. As a whole, the presentation was entertaining and enlightening. Comical skits left the audience laughing through most of the performance and meaningful monologues kept the room’s attention. My main criticism of the performance was that the presentation failed to connect to scenarios at Andover. For example, while everyone may face a situation at a party with drugs or alcohol, the reality of a large party in a dorm is simply impractical. With relatively close supervision, any drug or alcohol use has to be done in secrecy or off-campus. These circumstances of substance use are particular to boarding school life. Unfortunately, my next two presentations failed to meet the expectations Morello had set. On Tuesday night, I attended “The Thin Line,” which addressed eating disorders through a series of monologues. Regrettably, the humor that filled Morello’s presentation was evidently absent in the somber, serious skits. While this was one of the shorter seminars, the half-hour monologues became somewhat repetitive towards the end. Granted, the separate monologues touched on different points of eating disorders, but as the show went on, they were all filled with information that had already been mentioned. In the dark, stuffy room I felt myself drifting off throughout the presentation until a panel of experts on eating disorders took the stage. One of the members of the panel was a local girl who had recently recovered from an eating disorder. I know that at least for me, her words had more of lasting impression than those of the other “experts” on the panel. After a brief discussion with a friend after the seminar, we came to this conclusion: what if the recovering girl had presented her struggle and any resulting life-long consequences? While this may not readily be possible, it could be one way to connect more with the students while getting the same point across. On Wednesday night I walked into my final lecture titled “AIDS/HIV From a Global Perspective.” Two student members of Harvard’s FACE AIDS, an organization that strives to combat AIDS/HIV in Africa, began their presentation with a background on the disease and current statistics. What could have been an enlightening lecture was, quite bluntly, far from it. The poor delivery of the information and the fact that many attended AIDS/HIV lectures last spring left the presentation monotonous. Although the before and after pictures of a former patient in his sick and later recovered state were astounding, the repetitive referral back to this patient’s success lead me to two conclusions: either the presentation was poorly organized or triumphs like his were limited. The latter would appear to challenge the underlying message that the efforts of FACE AIDS and similar organizations were important components in a decreasing mortality rate in Africa. While Wellness Week provided students with less class time and the opportunity to focus on their personal well-being, there are still improvements to be made. Andover provides a unique environment for unique students, which thus results in unique situations. This fact needs be considered when planning these types of events so that the goal of understanding and addressing the unique lives of Andover’s students can be adequately represented.