Excusable Opportunities

I always get excited when I hear Mr. Palfrey say during All-School Meeting (ASM) that a speaker I found inspiring will be available for questions afterward. But then, I remember that my seventh-period class won’t be over before the speaker leaves. In the five terms I’ve been at Andover, I’ve only been able to attend one discussion with an ASM speaker after ASM, as I’ve had class during seventh period. Most, if not all guest speakers are usually only available from the end of ASM until 12:30 p.m., right in the middle of the extended seventh-period block. There is no system in place to excuse students from classes to attend discussion with speakers after ASM.

I was endlessly inspired after listening to Vanessa Kerry, Christopher Willard and the recipients of the Alumni Award of Distinction. Each time, I wanted to engage in further discussion with these amazing people. However, because I had a seventh period class, I was unable meet with these people afterwards without receiving one or two unexcused absences. Last year, when I was a Junior, it was even more difficult for me to engage with these speakers. Because I took six classes for all three terms, it was highly unlikely I would have seventh period free to spend time talking to them. I’ve spent two years being jealous of my peers who were lucky enough to have that period free. Unlike me, they were able to reflect upon what the speakers had to say in a more intimate Q&A after the initial presentation.

Simply put, this system is unfair. The opportunity to engage with the speakers Andover brings to campus should not be based on who is lucky enough to have seventh period free. We are greatly privileged to be at a school that has numerous ties to inspirational and accomplished people in the world. Inviting such accomplished speakers, however, and not offering the opportunity to the entire student body to engage with them does not utilize the full potential that speakers could have on students. Speakers can often be largely impactful for students in terms of future planning and reflection at Andover, but it is unjust that not all students can experience this without choosing to skip a class or being lucky enough not to have one.

There must thus be a system in place for students to miss their seventh period class and attend the discussions with ASM speakers. On Tuesday nights before ASM, an email should be sent out to the student body, informing them of who will be speaking at ASM the following day and allowing them to sign up for the post-ASM discussion. These sign ups would require students to explain in a short paragraph why they feel passionate about attending the Q&A session afterward. This would allow students who truly want to connect with the speaker, rather than students who are simply lucky or brave enough to cut a class, to engage in discussion afterward.

I do understand, however, that students have the potential to get behind in work as a result of this system. Yet, these students would still have the responsibility to make up for missed work with teachers. If a student is missing too many classes, they could also be invited to talk to an advisor about how to balance schoolwork with attending ASM talks. Still, these discussions only occur two or three times a term and should not impact a student’s academic life too much. It is both important that students remain engaged academically through classes and have the chance to enrich themselves through talking to inspirational leaders of our society. Allowing students to connect with these speakers would improve their understanding of the world outside of Andover and their potential passions and interests. This process of self-discovery and reflection will ultimately benefit students more than attending one class.