by Anna Clark, ’25
On Thursday, January 27th, Severn held its annual Unity Day—a day centered around bringing students together through topics that can so easily divide us. Being a freshman, I had never experienced Unity Day before and had little idea what I was walking into on Thursday morning.
The day began with the entire Upper School gathering in the New Gym. A few weeks prior everyone filled out a survey where we were asked to state personal information such as our gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social-economic status, etc. As we walked into the gym, each student and teacher were given a piece of paper with a random person’s answers from that survey. Each possible answer from every category was called out, and you stood when the answers from the paper you received were called. I found this exercise very interesting, as it gave a visual of what our community looked like while respecting privacy and keeping it anonymous. It was eye opening to see what answers almost the entire school stood for and which ones there were as few as one or two people standing. It did, however, allow me to come to the realization that everyone is going through something that you may not know about. Despite someone appearing a certain way at school, they may be struggling greatly at home. It also helped me realize that we often go through things that make us feel alone, like we’re the only person struggling, yet there is always someone out there in a similar situation.
Following the activity in the gym, we transitioned into advisory groups to discuss the exercise. My advisory was paired with a junior advisory, with all of us gathered to reflect. We talked about what we found interesting or surprising and what we feel we can do better as a community. In our discussion, the juniors did most of the talking, with the freshman being more silent observers. Looking back, I wish that I had inserted myself into the conversation more and that some of my fellow advisees had done the same, but in the moment, it was a little daunting to try to jump in, with the juniors being older and having more experience. Despite this, it was still a valuable conversation and I found it interesting that some people were surprised by things that seemed predictable to me, or unfazed by things I didn’t expect.
After our advisory conversations, everyone transitioned into their first seminar of the day. All the seminars were student-led and centered around topics that affect us and our world. My first seminar was “We’re All in this Together / High School Stressors”— a workshop designed to discuss and learn how to cope with the stress and anxiety that comes with being a student in high school. The seminar began with a CBS video titled “Helping Students Cope with the Pressure to Succeed,” focusing on the immense pressure that students at affluent schools (such as Severn) face on a daily basis. It talked about how often at these schools, students get caught up in the end result of getting into a good college or getting a good job, that we forget that learning is supposed to be about furthering our knowledge and immersing ourselves in new ideas. After watching the video we had a discussion about how to cope with stressors and deal with burnout. I’ll admit—going into the seminar I didn’t have very high expectations. As students we hear all the time that we put too much pressure on ourselves, and we need to not get so stressed, yet it seems as though these are things that can’t change. Despite this, I came out with a better understanding of how to cope with these pressures, thanks in part to the seminar being taught by fellow students who understand what we go through and the coping tactics that actually help. Having an open discussion allowed for us to empathize with each other and learn new skills that may be beneficial to ourselves.
For my second seminar, I was in “The Standards Behind the Screen.” This workshop was focused on society’s beauty standards and how social media impacts the way we see ourselves. The facilitators showed a YouTube video about the ways that social media dictates how people think about their appearances (and others’). The video emphasized how these standards are unrealistic; often the pictures we see of people online are fake and it’s crucial that we don’t judge ourselves against them. We had a group discussion about how filters and social media impact what we think looks good or what we look like. We discussed how it is so easy to find the things we don’t like about ourselves or wish we could change, but it’s important to keep in mind that how we view ourselves is often clouded by what we see on social media, not our own opinions. Trends and styles come and go, and it isn’t worth the effort trying to hold ourselves to them.
My final seminar of the day was “Maybe We Got Lost in Translation / Healthy Relationships.” In this workshop, we examined the elements of an unhealthy relationship by analyzing Taylor Swift’s All Too Well: The Short Film. The ten-minute movie shows the progression of one of Swift’s relationships and the signs of its decline. Being a die-hard Taylor Swift fan, I’ve seen the video many times, although I found myself noticing things I’ve never paid close attention to before. Seeing the video from a different lens allowed me to appreciate it even more. I was surprised by how many people find themselves in an unhealthy or abusive relationship each year and how difficult it can be to spot the signs.
To end the day, everyone went into their assigned affinity group where we were able to have valuable conversations about the seminars we attended and the important matters we discussed. I found this to be one of the most valuable groups I attended, as it was an open space to discuss important matters facing our world and community. Going into Unity Day I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had my list of seminars to attend, but other than that I had very little idea what would be happening. I decided to keep an open mind and try to get the most I could out of the day. As the day progressed, I was able to meet new people, have valuable conversations, and hear differing perspectives on a variety of relevant topics. While I wish I had participated more from the get-go, I was able to open up and become more comfortable as I went to each workshop. I was impressed with the way the day was conducted and the work put into each seminar by my peers. I am excited to experience more Unity Days in the future and take the lessons I learned with me throughout my daily life.