When two Freshman boys walked out to the middle of Genoa-Kingston High School’s gym for a lip sync performance of John Denver’s classic hit, “Country Roads, Take Me Home,” they had no idea that within seconds, their fellow classmates would jump up to join them.
The impromptu stage was set as part of the closing ceremonies of the school’s first-ever “Start With Hello” Week, a week-long event started by the Sandy Hook Promise that’s held on school campuses across the country. The initiative focuses on preventing social exclusion by combating bullying and school violence.
So, to close out the school’s first week of participation in the event, students and staff practiced team-building exercises and lip sync challenges.
But when two boys took the stage, it became clear to their classmates sitting in the stands that the pair were a bit shy, and becoming uncomfortable.
That’s when their fellow Cogs stepped in to help.
It was a heartfelt moment that went viral after being captured on film by GKHS Librarian Tara Wilkins — a moment the staff member said would stick with her as an example of what the GK community truly believes in and stands for.
“I have to share something that happened during our Start With Hello assembly today that just moved me profoundly,” Wilkins wrote on Facebook. “It is just another example of how special and dear our kids at GKHS are. Most staff members down on that gym floor were moved to tears when this happened, at least every one I saw. Today, during a lip sync challenge during our assembly, two students were a little shy out on the floor. Before we knew it, their classmates were leaping out of the bleachers and running to the makeshift stage to make their classmates feel more comfortable and to unite out on that floor. It was AWESOME. I wish I had a better word, but it’s hard to adequately explain how it impacted me. I hope it moves you too.”
Manuel Mercado, one of the two boys, said the moment will have a lasting impact on him, too.
“This is for all my friends at GKHS,” Mercado wrote online in response to the video. “Thank you for the support for me and my first friend. We thought it was a great surprise that we never knew was coming.”
“That was a big memory that I will remember my whole life,” he added.
Once posted online, Wilkins’ video reached thousands of people, gathering hundreds of likes, shares and comments, and was reported on by The Daily-Chronicle.
Brittany Foster, a teacher at GKHS, wrote that the sweet moment was a reminder of “why I do what I do.”
“I don’t post much on Facebook anymore, but I had to post this,” Foster said. “After a week long event at our high school promoting kindness and acceptance, two of my students participated in the lip sync challenge at our big assembly. Though they are normally quiet and shy young men, they summoned the courage to go in front of the entire school and give it their all. To make the moment even more special, their classmates decided to join them to make them feel even more comfortable and more accepted. It was such a beautiful moment that brought many to tears. I’m so proud of all the students that jumped in, but I’m even more proud of my students for taking a risk and showing such confidence (as freshman even!!) I love my job for this reason. You boys are amazing. Thank you for reminding me why I do what I do.”
Throughout the week, students also learned about the power of kindness, the importance of reflecting on one’s actions, how to embrace a person’s uniqueness, and why it’s critical that compassion and inclusivity are practiced at school.
The school hopes to hold the event again in the future.