Thank You Notes: Freshie Edition

Debby Lee ’21 attending a TableTalk dinner at EHS

*thank you note writing music in the background…*

Dear TableTalk,

Picture this: it’s your first day of high school. In other words, this is the day you begin your journey in the setting of many significant moments in history, including but not limited to, all 3 High School Musicals, Mean Girls, the DUFF, Wild Child… the list goes on. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, it’s a beautiful day. Take a deep breath in. But, before you let it out, there’s a plot twist — this isn’t your ordinary high school. This is boarding school.

Whether you felt dread, excitement, pity, or just straight up laughed because you could never see yourself in this situation, believe me, I know what that feels like. I felt all of those emotions on repeat that first day. It was a cycle lasting about five minutes. Beginning with the initial feeling of nervous dread, I would puke a little inside. Then, thinking of all the adventure, I got excited! Yay boarding school! This manic excitement lasted approximately 2 seconds. Back to being nervous. Then I would feel bad for myself, for being nervous, then got angry that I was feeling bad for myself for being nervous, which in the end led me to laugh out loud in denial that I was even in a situation like this. Laughing that I was about to be stuck in this place that blurred between school and home for the next year, the laughter soon turned to tears. Here I was, high school.

As the day progressed, looking around I realized that everyone had already calmly fallen into… FRIEND GROUPS!? I had barely talked to three people and there were others who already had drama down the hallway. Now I’ll admit, I am a shy person, but I like talking to new people and I don’t just stand in the corner to avoid conversation. It was just that I had such a severe disadvantage considering that everyone was already divided, even before the first day. Everyone already knew each other, whether it be through local get togethers or family connections. I had none. An even more isolating factor, I physically looked different from everyone else. I’m asian, and this school was predominantly white. So even when I tried to join in, I felt like I didn’t belong, visually and mentally.

This all led me to ignore the word “community”. Whether it be during a prayer at chapel, on a poster advertising our school’s awesomeness, or during an emotional chapel talk where a student got up and talked about the amazing Episcopal “community” and the impact it’s had on them while shedding a tear or two, I completely zoned out. That word meant nothing to me here. To me, the posters were nothing more than false advertisement, and the speeches were basically pep rallies. Even our dining hall was segregated. Everywhere I looked, there was an exclusive clique. White girls, freshmen. White girls, seniors. Black people. Normal white boys. White jocks. Lost sophomores. I scoffed. Everything the school claimed to be, the “one body” we were all supposedly a part of, was just a label to hide behind. No one could actually possibly think we were a “community”.

One day, I was scrolling through gmail when I saw an email from Olivia Tucker, the founder of the EHS Tabletalk chapter. It talked about the first ever CampusCouches that would take place that year, and ended with a facilitator sign up form. I have to admit, I was interested. But as I reflected on what I had heard about TableTalk, I thought it was too good to be true. It sounded like one of those things that was a good idea, but never worked. So I just deleted that email.

The next time I heard about TableTalk was during International Week, which was a week full of events with the purpose to educate Episcopal on the world. The Cultural Ambassadors, who organized it, decided to team up with TableTalk to hold some important discussions regarding cultural differences and the problems that caused at our school. Being a cultural ambassador myself, I decided to facilitate for the first time.

As I sat there on the couch, I realized two things that day. One: We need to start getting better doughnuts at TableTalk events.

And two… Sitting there, and listening to the mostly white group of people that consisted of: one physics teacher, two juniors, one sophomore, and two fellow freshmen, I got a wake up call. As I listened to my group talk in great detail about the discussion questions, I was surprised by how much they actually knew and cared about these racial issues in the world today. With that, I realized that I had been holding unconscious racial stereotypes against my predominantly white school. Them being white, I had thought that these cultural issues wouldn’t be of importance to them, and that they would be ignorant and apathetic regarding these topics. Instead, every single person in the conversation talked with interest and contributed something new to the conversation.

Debby Lee ’21 at a CamusCouches event at EHS

Being asian and living in a world where I’ve been a minority pretty much all my life, I have faced most every stereotype out there. Everything from asian smarts, athletic ability, eye size (I swear they’re open), to the question “Are you Chinese or Asian?”, I’ve gotten since I was born. However, I had never realized myself that I could be doing the same thing to other people, and never realized especially how easy it was to assume things without even knowing that you are.

I’d just been blaming everyone else for holding stereotypes against me, without checking my side of the damage.

It was so easy to think all white people didn’t care about minority issues, and that everyone at my school was looking down at me. Turns out, I was only looking at the surface, refusing to look deeper than what could be seen on the outside. Selectively choosing what to see, I didn’t see the EHS community for what it was, the students here for who they were, and assumed everything. That was the missing piece for me to be a part of something truly bigger than I could have ever imagined.

TableTalk, you’ve helped me to realize how easy it is to develop and hold a stereotype, and how that alone can segregate people. You’ve also allowed me to see the other side of the stereotype window and to begin breaking down the walls of my own assumptions.

Debby Lee ’21 attending a TableTalk event and decorating cookies at EHS

For helping me realize there was a reason everybody is obsessed with the word “community” and handing me the invitation to join in on the addiction, for making my freshman year at high school complete and leaving me a good heart to start the next three, and for every event that has opened up my mind and further broadened my perspective, I really have to say, thank you for everything.

With that, I’m out! #JoinTheConversation