Breaking Walls With Words

I am a white boy from the Upper East Side of New York City. I wear boat shoes and khakis just about every day. Before coming to Andover, I went to an all-boys private school. The student body there, as one might expect, was made up of individuals very much like me. As grateful as I am for my nine years there, attending a school with such a homogenous community ended up hindering my personal growth. Upon coming to Andover, I found myself facing such a diverse group of people that my first instinct was to build up walls to hide the differences. Only recently, during my time in Personal and Community Education (PACE), have I started tearing those walls down. PACE is subject to plenty of criticism, as many Lowers think it robs them of a free period that could otherwise be used to reduce the stress of our “busy” days. Some complain bitterly that we have to sit through, let alone participate in, the awkward, personal and sometimes controversial discussions. But to rightfully call ourselves a diverse community comprised of “youth from every quarter,” we have to function in a unified way. To promote this coherence, we must break down the social barriers that exist between us. PACE does just that. One day, Carlos Hoyt, my PACE instructor, announced at the beginning of the seminar that the topic of discussion would be social class. I was pleasantly surprised with my peers’ honesty as they openly shared their thoughts and experiences. The environment PACE created allowed us to breach topics we would have avoided elsewhere. Eventually, one of my peers offered his impression of me, speaking as frankly and as genuinely as my brother might have: “When I met Marc last year, I was pretty hesitant to interact with him. I got to Andover and never really had the intention of getting to know someone like him.” “What do you mean by ‘someone like him?’” Carlos asked. “You know, preppy, seemingly well-off, Upper East Side. We’re really different.” I was at a loss for words. Should I have felt offended? At first, I couldn’t decide. I’m glad, in retrospect, that I kept patient and waited for him to continue: “But through mutual friends and Cluster events, I dropped all the assumptions I’d made about him, and now we’re pretty good friends.” That conversation was the turning point of my time here at Andover. After four terms, I had never felt more accepted in this diverse community. My peer’s ability to see past the social barriers between us was the first step, but sharing that experience during our PACE seminar completely knocked the walls down. By recognizing aloud the various differences between us, whether ethnic, economic or as minor as what clothes we wear, we have been able to remove the unspoken stigmas that could have prevented us from getting to know each other. I love and need PACE because I know I can rely on it, on Carlos and on my peers to take a hammer to the walls that our diverse little bubble has within it. More vital than a temporary reprieve from our studies, the coherence of our community is cultivated and strengthened during these meetings. Because of this, PACE is worth the 75 minutes every week. Yes, at times the conversations are awkward, tense or repetitive, but in the long run I know that most students will benefit from taking PACE. I hope that every student who comes through Andover has a similar experience to mine. Thanks to the effectiveness of PACE, I know that that the Andover community is where I belong. Marc Sevastopoulo is a two-year Lower from New York, NY.