Custom Class: post-landing-hero


By Maddy Frech, student body president

This year, Rowland Hall welcomed students back to school with a virtual Convocation on Friday, September 4. This year’s speakers focused on the theme Welcome Everyone—one of Rowland Hall’s core values—recognizing the power we all have in building our shared community. For Maddy Frech, 2020–2021 student body president and a Rowland Hall lifer (a student who has attended the school for 12 or more years), the event was a chance to reflect on her time at Rowland Hall and to use that experience to challenge each grade to find ways to build community and make a difference in the world. Her speech—lightly edited here for style and context—appears below.


Traditionally, a welcome can include a high five, a handshake, a hug, or a kiss on the cheek, but unfortunately these friendly gestures are no longer acceptable at the moment. We now have to depend on the sincerity of our words and honesty of our actions to convey our welcome. So, it is with heartfelt and candid excitement that I say, “Welcome, Everyone.” This year is going to be amazing!

Now, you may think, “How can we be sure that this year will be a great one when no one knows exactly what to expect?” But there are a few things that you can be assured of.

Firstly, you are at the very best school in the state of Utah. Our faculty and staff care about you and want you to succeed not only academically, but personally. Our school will adapt to these uncertain and frightening circumstances to provide you with the means to be successful and, more importantly, develop individuals who contribute to and are prepared to change the world. How do I know this? Well, this year will be my 14th year at this school. Since walking through the front doors of the Beginning School and being greeted by classmates who remain my friends to this day, I have known Rowland Hall to be welcoming. I can attest that your senior class is inspirational. They not only are talented but thoughtful. We can use the class of 2021 as a model of community spirit as we rally around the unknown.

A simple greeting to someone you don’t know can change the course of your year, or even the rest of your time at Rowland Hall.

So, how can we be welcoming and rise above the uncertainty that feeds our anxieties? Well, let’s start with our Beginning School. I challenge students in 3PreK, 4PreK, and kindergarten to meet new friends. Whether this is in the sandbox, on the playground, or in the classroom, a simple greeting to someone you don’t know can change the course of your year, or even the rest of your time at Rowland Hall. My memories of growing pumpkins, making green eggs and ham, constructing Mother’s Day hats, and learning all about the many varieties of apples are cherished, and my partners in those activities are still some of my best friends. Also, I can assure you that the entire senior class is really envious of your allotted naptime!

First graders, congratulations! You are in a different building on campus. You have a bigger playground, which at first may seem overwhelming but will be exciting as you learn to navigate a world that seems bigger. Share those monkey bars and help a friend that skins their knee. Remember that caring friends will last a lifetime.

Second graders, you will start writing your own stories. Try to write stories about friendship and making the world a better place. I wish I had written more of these instead of stories about Justin Bieber and my Bieber fever; I suspect our vice president, Cooper Davis, may have had some similar stories about the Biebs. So, focus on what you can do to be more inclusive. Your stories could teach adults how simple it truly is to be kind. Your parents may keep that story; re-read it to remind yourself who you strive to be.

Third graders, welcome to the upstairs! When you pick your biography project, I challenge you to, rather than picking a sports legend or celebrity, choose a person that actively tried to change the world. I actually chose Mother Teresa, initially not because of her amazing service, but because my teacher, whom I loved, was named Teresa, and my mom could easily convert my Princess Leia costume into a holy shroud. However, through that project, and looking back now, I am happy I chose her because I learned that she was an incredibly happy person by living a life of service.

Fourth graders, be prepared to learn about the great state of Utah! The lyrics “Utah, people working together” will soon be stuck in your parents’ heads. Even though the song is a little—no, really—incredibly annoying, it teaches you that we are a local community and everyone in that community matters and contributes to our great state.

Fifth graders, you are finally the oldest on the McCarthey Campus. When you learn about explorers, challenge yourself to think about what they could have done better. Many social problems exist because they could have explored and settled without harm to humanity. It is important to learn from the mistakes of history so we do not repeat them.

Maddy through her years at Rowland Hall

A Rowland Hall lifer, Maddy tapped into her experiences in all grade levels to share wisdom with her fellow students. Photos courtesy Maddy Frech.

Sixth graders, I am sure you are terrified…I know I was. A new campus, and all the other students look so much older. But make sure you take advantage of the sports and the arts opportunities so that you can meet those older students. You will be surprised just how much community spirit our events can foster.

Seventh graders, you will likely have your first big trip to the Tetons to do amazing science. Even if that does not happen, the brilliant faculty will figure out some way for you to learn about the beauty of nature. Take advantage of the incredible knowledge of our teachers to learn what you can do to preserve our environment.

Eighth graders, similarly we hope that a trip to Washington, DC, happens. In preparation, make sure you learn about the importance of government. Don’t just plan to visit the sites—think about what decisions are made in those buildings. The only way we can have effective change is the next generation of leaders; be that change.

Freshmen, I cannot imagine what you are feeling. Starting high school is scary enough without added uncertainties. But please know that your Student Council is here for you. Specifically, we have a website for you to ask questions and get help.

Sophomores, you made it through a very strange freshman year. Even though you did not get the joy of losing Battle of the Classes, please know that Student Council will try to make that up to you. We will plan more class competitions so that the class of 2023 can come in last place a few times (but perhaps, with enough class spirit, you might pull off a few victories).

May this year allow us to use our innovation so that each student learns not only effectively, but also in a way that grows intellect, resiliency, and spirit. May each of us use our voice and actions for positive contributions to our community.

Juniors, your symposium was canceled last year, but, fortunately, the advertising project can be done mostly virtually. This project will challenge you to think about stereotypes and the importance of positive change. Be prepared to work hard and concretely propose ideas that reduce bias. It is a hard year—power through it!

And finally, my fellow seniors, I challenge you to be leaders. Look to set an example for those younger than yourselves. What do you wish the senior class did for you? Please use the Student Council website to voice your ideas to surmount these challenging times with innovation. Please propose a community gift so we can leave an impactful legacy. The community gift is something I believe will allow us to leave our mark.

In conclusion, please know that I sincerely welcome you back to school with a virtual high five, handshake, hug, and kiss on the cheek. May this year allow us to use our innovation so that each student learns not only effectively, but also in a way that grows intellect, resiliency, and spirit. May each of us use our voice and actions for positive contributions to our community. Winged Lions, I wish you all health, safety, and comradery that can sustain you through the uncertainty. As your president, I promise you an amazing year. Thank you!


Top photo: Maddy, left, arriving on the Lincoln Street Campus on the first day of the 2020–2021 school year.

Student Voices

Welcome, Everyone, to the Best School in Utah


By Maddy Frech, student body president

This year, Rowland Hall welcomed students back to school with a virtual Convocation on Friday, September 4. This year’s speakers focused on the theme Welcome Everyone—one of Rowland Hall’s core values—recognizing the power we all have in building our shared community. For Maddy Frech, 2020–2021 student body president and a Rowland Hall lifer (a student who has attended the school for 12 or more years), the event was a chance to reflect on her time at Rowland Hall and to use that experience to challenge each grade to find ways to build community and make a difference in the world. Her speech—lightly edited here for style and context—appears below.


Traditionally, a welcome can include a high five, a handshake, a hug, or a kiss on the cheek, but unfortunately these friendly gestures are no longer acceptable at the moment. We now have to depend on the sincerity of our words and honesty of our actions to convey our welcome. So, it is with heartfelt and candid excitement that I say, “Welcome, Everyone.” This year is going to be amazing!

Now, you may think, “How can we be sure that this year will be a great one when no one knows exactly what to expect?” But there are a few things that you can be assured of.

Firstly, you are at the very best school in the state of Utah. Our faculty and staff care about you and want you to succeed not only academically, but personally. Our school will adapt to these uncertain and frightening circumstances to provide you with the means to be successful and, more importantly, develop individuals who contribute to and are prepared to change the world. How do I know this? Well, this year will be my 14th year at this school. Since walking through the front doors of the Beginning School and being greeted by classmates who remain my friends to this day, I have known Rowland Hall to be welcoming. I can attest that your senior class is inspirational. They not only are talented but thoughtful. We can use the class of 2021 as a model of community spirit as we rally around the unknown.

A simple greeting to someone you don’t know can change the course of your year, or even the rest of your time at Rowland Hall.

So, how can we be welcoming and rise above the uncertainty that feeds our anxieties? Well, let’s start with our Beginning School. I challenge students in 3PreK, 4PreK, and kindergarten to meet new friends. Whether this is in the sandbox, on the playground, or in the classroom, a simple greeting to someone you don’t know can change the course of your year, or even the rest of your time at Rowland Hall. My memories of growing pumpkins, making green eggs and ham, constructing Mother’s Day hats, and learning all about the many varieties of apples are cherished, and my partners in those activities are still some of my best friends. Also, I can assure you that the entire senior class is really envious of your allotted naptime!

First graders, congratulations! You are in a different building on campus. You have a bigger playground, which at first may seem overwhelming but will be exciting as you learn to navigate a world that seems bigger. Share those monkey bars and help a friend that skins their knee. Remember that caring friends will last a lifetime.

Second graders, you will start writing your own stories. Try to write stories about friendship and making the world a better place. I wish I had written more of these instead of stories about Justin Bieber and my Bieber fever; I suspect our vice president, Cooper Davis, may have had some similar stories about the Biebs. So, focus on what you can do to be more inclusive. Your stories could teach adults how simple it truly is to be kind. Your parents may keep that story; re-read it to remind yourself who you strive to be.

Third graders, welcome to the upstairs! When you pick your biography project, I challenge you to, rather than picking a sports legend or celebrity, choose a person that actively tried to change the world. I actually chose Mother Teresa, initially not because of her amazing service, but because my teacher, whom I loved, was named Teresa, and my mom could easily convert my Princess Leia costume into a holy shroud. However, through that project, and looking back now, I am happy I chose her because I learned that she was an incredibly happy person by living a life of service.

Fourth graders, be prepared to learn about the great state of Utah! The lyrics “Utah, people working together” will soon be stuck in your parents’ heads. Even though the song is a little—no, really—incredibly annoying, it teaches you that we are a local community and everyone in that community matters and contributes to our great state.

Fifth graders, you are finally the oldest on the McCarthey Campus. When you learn about explorers, challenge yourself to think about what they could have done better. Many social problems exist because they could have explored and settled without harm to humanity. It is important to learn from the mistakes of history so we do not repeat them.

Maddy through her years at Rowland Hall

A Rowland Hall lifer, Maddy tapped into her experiences in all grade levels to share wisdom with her fellow students. Photos courtesy Maddy Frech.

Sixth graders, I am sure you are terrified…I know I was. A new campus, and all the other students look so much older. But make sure you take advantage of the sports and the arts opportunities so that you can meet those older students. You will be surprised just how much community spirit our events can foster.

Seventh graders, you will likely have your first big trip to the Tetons to do amazing science. Even if that does not happen, the brilliant faculty will figure out some way for you to learn about the beauty of nature. Take advantage of the incredible knowledge of our teachers to learn what you can do to preserve our environment.

Eighth graders, similarly we hope that a trip to Washington, DC, happens. In preparation, make sure you learn about the importance of government. Don’t just plan to visit the sites—think about what decisions are made in those buildings. The only way we can have effective change is the next generation of leaders; be that change.

Freshmen, I cannot imagine what you are feeling. Starting high school is scary enough without added uncertainties. But please know that your Student Council is here for you. Specifically, we have a website for you to ask questions and get help.

Sophomores, you made it through a very strange freshman year. Even though you did not get the joy of losing Battle of the Classes, please know that Student Council will try to make that up to you. We will plan more class competitions so that the class of 2023 can come in last place a few times (but perhaps, with enough class spirit, you might pull off a few victories).

May this year allow us to use our innovation so that each student learns not only effectively, but also in a way that grows intellect, resiliency, and spirit. May each of us use our voice and actions for positive contributions to our community.

Juniors, your symposium was canceled last year, but, fortunately, the advertising project can be done mostly virtually. This project will challenge you to think about stereotypes and the importance of positive change. Be prepared to work hard and concretely propose ideas that reduce bias. It is a hard year—power through it!

And finally, my fellow seniors, I challenge you to be leaders. Look to set an example for those younger than yourselves. What do you wish the senior class did for you? Please use the Student Council website to voice your ideas to surmount these challenging times with innovation. Please propose a community gift so we can leave an impactful legacy. The community gift is something I believe will allow us to leave our mark.

In conclusion, please know that I sincerely welcome you back to school with a virtual high five, handshake, hug, and kiss on the cheek. May this year allow us to use our innovation so that each student learns not only effectively, but also in a way that grows intellect, resiliency, and spirit. May each of us use our voice and actions for positive contributions to our community. Winged Lions, I wish you all health, safety, and comradery that can sustain you through the uncertainty. As your president, I promise you an amazing year. Thank you!


Top photo: Maddy, left, arriving on the Lincoln Street Campus on the first day of the 2020–2021 school year.

Student Voices

Explore More Stories By Students

Rowland Hall Student Body President Samantha Lehman speaking at Convocation.

At the start of each new school year, Rowland Hall holds a Convocation ceremony. The 2021 event, held on Friday, August 27, centered around the theme (and school value) Relationships Matter.

Every year, Rowland Hall’s student body president is invited to address the group of students, faculty and staff, trustees, alumni, and families gathered for Convocation. (Check out the 2020 speech here.) This year’s president, Samantha Lehman—who recently wrote a reflection for Fine Print about appearing on the Utah House of Representatives podcast to discuss the toll the pandemic is taking on students' mental well-being—used the event to inspire students to find ways to tap into their own superpowers, even amidst personal and global challenges, to achieve their goals. Her speech—lightly edited here for style and context—appears below.


By Samantha Lehman, student body president

Most people would describe me as a nerd.

You may think the term nerd has a negative connotation, but I take it as a compliment. And part of what makes me a nerd is that I am a very avid reader. If someone gave me a book for my birthday, I would actually read it. If I tell my parents I’m going for a hike, I’m probably just going to Barnes and Noble in my workout clothes. However, when I got to high school, work and extracurriculars just sort of piled up. I didn’t have time to read anymore, so I preferred watching a show to reading because it was easier.

But my New Year’s resolution last year was to read 20 minutes of a non-school book a day, and I’ve ended up getting back into reading as a result. Now, I don’t mean reading Shakespeare, War and Peace, or Grapes of Wrath. I mean traditional, fun, not-really-brain-intensive young adult fantasy. Think Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Shadow and Bone, etc. I read these types of books because they allowed me to escape from my daily life into an epic fantasy world filled with dragons, and knights, and magic, and demigods.

Rowland Hall Student Body President Samantha Lehman speaking at Convocation 2021.


And as I read more and more of these types of books, I realized that most of them follow a general formula for how they’re constructed. It goes as follows:



  1. Main character is facing some struggle at home.

  2. Main character finds out they have magical powers.

  3. Main character goes to a special place for people with magical powers.

  4. Main character is involved in a conflict, but ends up defeating the villain, usually with the help of teammates.


There I was, struggling to deal with real life, thinking about this formula and wishing that some big dude with an umbrella would bust down my door and tell me that I was actually a wizard and offer me an escape from reality ... and I would feel sad and disappointed that that probably wasn’t going to happen. So I decided to change my mindset. I started to compare this formula to my everyday life, and—while I know this might sound a little crazy—I realized that they’re not so different.

I thought back to first grade, when I didn't really like school and was struggling to find my place. It wasn’t until my teacher, Susanna, told us about a story-writing project that I discovered my love for writing and storytelling. Writing was my magical power, and it was just my luck that I was in a special place that fostered that power: school. Writing helped me slay the first-grade dragon, and has helped me ever since, by serving as a stress reliever, a way to express my voice, and a way to connect with others.

I thought back to Middle School, when I was unsure whether or not I could be a scientist. It wasn’t until I earned my first exceeding on a science test that I realized, “Hey, I could actually do this stuff.” Realizing that I could do anything I set my mind to, including science, was a magical power.

Find your superpower, support your friends and teammates, beat the odds together, achieve your goals, and do it again. Use school as a place where you can strengthen your powers, and find ways outside of school to continue to grow.—Samantha Lehman, class of 2022

I thought back to all the instances when I found new abilities through trying new things—and the times when I’d failed and fallen. And I’m still here. I defeated all of those challenges, I’ve grown, and I did it with the help of new friends, teammates, and abilities I didn’t even know I possessed.

These past two years have been tough. We’ve lost friends, family, and time. We’ve been alone, limited, and angry at the world. But you are all still here. You’ve made it through years of hardship and school. You’ve climbed barriers, faced the odds, suffered through ERBs—and yet you’re still standing.

So this year, I challenge each of you to live your life like you are in a young adult fantasy book. Find your superpower, support your friends and teammates, beat the odds together, achieve your goals, and do it again. Use school as a place where you can strengthen your powers, and find ways outside of school to continue to grow. You are warriors, and knights, and scientists, and writers, and historians, and mathematicians, and debaters, and artists, and athletes, and computer geniuses. You are strong, smart, and unique. So use those powers to live your own fantasy, because even though the real world is no magical school, summer camp, or palace, you are brave enough to face it.

Thank you.


Banner photo: Members of the class of 2022 wave to this year's first graders in a COVID-adjusted version of the high-fives usually given at Convocation.

Student Voices

Student Samantha Lehman at the Utah state capitol.


At the beginning of June, rising Rowland Hall senior Samantha Lehman began an internship for the Utah House of Representatives majority staff. She spent two weeks sitting in on appropriations and caucus meetings, communicating important information through social media, and researching everything from local procedures for foreign diplomats visiting Utah to water and transportation policy (did you know that 32,933,228,764 miles were driven on Utah roads in 2019? Neither did Samantha!).

While working at the capitol, Samantha was approached by Harry Hansen, communications manager and podcast host, who asked to interview her for the Utah House of Representatives podcast about her experience attending high school during a pandemic. She said yes, and when Harry asked if there was anything specific she wanted to talk about, Samantha immediately answered, “Mental health.” Below, Samantha, a Rowland Hall mental health educator and this year’s student body president, reflects on why she chose to focus that discussion on the toll the pandemic is taking on students' mental well-being.

Mental Health and the Pandemic: A High Schooler’s Perspective

By Samantha Lehman, Class of 2022

The movies don’t lie when they say that high school is tough.

I, and many other students, found it hard to stay motivated and to care about things we were previously interested in. I felt alone, helpless, burned out, and like I was a failure for not being more engaged. It was as if Earth’s gravity had suddenly increased: everything looked the same, but it was harder to lift myself up.

Homework, studying, and the epic highs and lows of extracurriculars are enormously stressful, so a balance between friends and work can help make school manageable. However, the pandemic meant students were isolated in their rooms, unable to be around their friends, making school feel more strenuous and boring. Additionally, in-person class is hard to replicate on Zoom. There’s just not the same energy, and focusing is near impossible when a) you have been staring at a screen for hours at a time, and b) the world of the internet is at your fingertips (I’ll be fully transparent here: I definitely watched The Office instead of paying attention in class more than a couple of times). As the year went on, many students found it harder and harder to keep up with work and make themselves pay attention to what they were supposed to be learning, even if they were able to be in person at school some of the time. I, and many other students, found it hard to stay motivated and to care about things we were previously interested in. I felt alone, helpless, burned out, and like I was a failure for not being more engaged. It was as if Earth’s gravity had suddenly increased: everything looked the same, but it was harder to lift myself up.

Another problem with school during a pandemic is repetitive thoughts. When you’re stuck at home all day in front of a computer with nothing but your brain to keep you company, repetitive thoughts become a real problem. My brain kept telling me, “You should be doing better at school,” or, “You’re a horrible student and don’t deserve to be here,” and, “You’re a failure.” After hearing those things again and again, I started to believe them. Unfortunately, many of my classmates had this experience as well, and they struggled with school and their mental health as a result.

For some students, having their routine dramatically switched up by the pandemic was a huge challenge. For others, they enjoyed being online for school, perhaps because they are uncomfortable in many social situations, so going back in person towards the end of the year was a hard adjustment. Maybe a student lost a relative or a friend during or to the pandemic and didn’t get the community support they needed. Regardless of the reason, the pandemic impacted every student’s mental health in some way, and that may have long-lasting effects, even if this school year looks a little more normal.

I think it’s important to realize that mental health is not a reason a person isn’t strong. You can be strong and still struggle with your mental health.

I think it’s important to realize that struggling with mental health is not a reason a person isn’t strong. You can be strong and still struggle with your mental health. Take Simone Biles, for example. She has 31 Olympic and World Championship medals and pulled out of the Olympic team competition to prioritize her mental health. That’s strength if I’ve ever seen it. A person also doesn’t have to be diagnosed with something like anxiety, OCD, or depression to need to take time to prioritize their mental health. Brains are weird and life is hard.

As we continue to navigate the pandemic, the advice I’d give to parents and guardians is to remember it’s important to realize that kids need time to recharge and get their heads on straight to succeed. It’s OK for kids to feel tired and want to take breaks from work, and caregivers should encourage them to prioritize their mental health as well as support their kids in times of struggle. My parents support me by reminding me that they are there for me and by never judging or criticizing me for struggling with mental health.

Additionally, as students, we need to remember to support each other. There is never a bad time to tell a friend that they are doing great and that you are there for them. As a community, we need to continue to uplift each other and give each other the space to put mental health first.

Student Voices

Valedictorian Zach Benton speaks at Rowland Hall's 2021 senior graduation.

At this year's fifth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade graduation ceremonies, student speakers shared funny, reflective, and inspiring stories.

Seniors Maddy Frech and Zach Benton (pictured above), as well as Senior Celebration speaker Chiara Kim, expressed their gratitude for the positive ways the Rowland Hall community shaped their lives. Eighth graders Tessa Bartlett, Jojo Park, and Ainsley Moore reflected on the importance of friendship through their middle-school years, and several fifth-grade students thanked their teachers, family, and friends for creating a supportive and engaging learning environment in the Lower School—especially during a pandemic.

We have posted their speeches here for you to enjoy.

Student Voices

Rowland Hall junior Sophie Ayers-Harris, who participated on a panel discussing Black history in classrooms in April 2021.


Rowland Hall junior Sophie Ayers-Harris recently had the opportunity to speak on a community panel called Black History is Utah History. Hosted by the Salt Lake City Public Library and moderated by Salt Lake City Rep. Sandra Hollins, this conversation focused on how Black history has been taught in Utah schools and why educators must do a better job incorporating this history into curricula moving forward. Sophie was one of three high school students invited to participate in the event, which also included Salt Lake City School District Board Member Mohamed Baayd. Below, she reflects on the experience.

Rowland Hall is proud of our students for using their voices to help drive conversations around inclusivity, and we welcome their perspectives as we continue on our journey to create spaces of belonging in our community.

Black History is American History

By Sophie Ayers-Harris, Class of 2022

The importance of Black history is something so often overlooked in American education. By joining this YCG project, I saw an opportunity to speak up and be a small part of reversing this trend, at least in my community.—Sophie Ayers-Harris, class of 2022

On April 15, I was lucky enough to be a part of a panel discussion called Black History is Utah History. The event was hosted by YouthCity Government (YCG), a Salt Lake City Corporation program meant to foster leadership skills in young people, alongside the Salt Lake Public Library; Angela Romero, member of the Utah House of Representatives, is a big part of directing it and making it happen. The program also seeks to get young people in our community involved in meaningful conversations about political, social, or legal issues, whether they be local, national, or even international.

I first learned about the Black History is Utah History panel when my friends Hattie Wall and Sophie Dau reached out to me and asked me to be a part of it. About a month or so before I agreed to participate, it was February: Black History Month. Over the course of those four weeks I heard in the news that parents at a charter school in Ogden, Utah, contacted the head of school to opt their kids out of participating in learning about Black history. Hearing this, I was angry and disappointed—but not entirely surprised. The importance of Black history is something so often overlooked in American education. By joining this YCG project, I saw an opportunity to speak up and be a small part of reversing this trend, at least in my community. I believe that schools ought to treat Black history as what it is: American history. 

Our panel group was able to meet a few times in the month leading up to the event via Zoom, where we discussed our objective and plan for the panel. There were several students on the panel from different schools, as well as Sandra Hollins and Angela Romero, both members of the Utah House of Representatives, and Mohamed Baayd, a member of the Salt Lake City School Board. It was a surreal, refreshing experience to hear them talk about their day-to-day jobs and busy schedules, and I got to learn a lot from them about state legislation and the often grueling process of passing bills through the House and onto the Senate. It was both fascinating and inspiring to hear firsthand anecdotes about the politics within my community and state, and I still think it’s so cool that I got to talk with them over Zoom. Our focus for the panel was to have a productive community conversation about the importance of teaching Black history in schools, and also raising awareness as to why that should happen.

Screenshot from the Black History is Utah History panel.

Participants of the Black History is Utah History panel. Top row, from left: Sophie Ayers-Harris, Mohamed Baayd, and moderator Rep. Sandra Hollins; bottom row, from left: Diya Oommen and Amira Baayd.

During the panel itself, I spoke alongside two students named Diya Oommen and Amira Baayd, both of whom attend different schools in the Salt Lake Valley. The third, non-student panelist was Mohamed Baayd. Rep. Hollins moderated our discussion by asking various questions, such as our personal experiences with Black history in our education, and why it is necessary and important to include it in school curricula. Having attended an all-Black school in New Orleans, Rep. Hollins had an education in which she learned a lot about Black history and culture. However, Diya and Amira did not share this experience, and said that they were disappointed by how little they learned about diverse histories. My education at Rowland Hall falls somewhere in between those of my fellow panelists and Rep. Hollins. In the Lower School, I learned very little about histories that were not dominated by white, Anglo-American and/or European narratives. In my fourth-grade class about Utah history, I learned next to nothing about people of color or history from diverse perspectives. This lack of knowledge and inclusion into that curriculum was and still is disappointing—I wish I knew more about the diversity in the state I have lived in for my whole life. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve taken classes with a thoughtful, inclusive curriculum.

It is so important to realize that Black history in no way is separate from the rest of American history. We cannot get an accurate, full picture of our history if we do not include a multitude of narratives from different groups, whether ethnic, racial, religious, or other identities.—Sophie Ayers-Harris

Something in particular I had to unlearn is that slavery was happening alongside the Revolutionary War, and that in the building of our country, whose principles are founded on the equality of all people, Black Americans were treated less as human—in my elementary school years, I never knew that the country I live in was built on the backs of slaves. It is so important to realize that Black history in no way is separate from the rest of American history. We cannot get an accurate, full picture of our history if we do not include a multitude of narratives from different groups, whether ethnic, racial, religious, or other identities. Without this foundation, I think that we as a society are not properly equipped to deal with the issues we see today surrounding systemic racism, such as the prison industrial complex and the disproportionate incarceration of Black men, to police brutality and disparities in healthcare—the list goes on. Prejudice and oppression based on race is entrenched into our country’s roots, and if we as a community and a country don’t understand that, we can’t get very far. At the end of the day, Black history and American history are not separate, and they shouldn’t be taught that way. They are one in the same. Everyone on the panel unanimously agreed on that, and both Mohamed and Rep. Hollins are committed to working to make Utah school curricula more inclusive.

For me, Black history is not optional. It is a part of who I am and cannot change, and I’m so grateful I got this opportunity to speak on this panel.

Student Voices

You Belong at Rowland Hall