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#21303 Ellie Whelan Chapel Talk

Good Morning. Anyone who knows me—or anyone who has been within 300 feet of me—knows that I am loud. I am loud, and I have always been loud. I make a lot of noise. Even when I’m not talking, I’m loud—the way I move about the world is anything but graceful, and I am constantly knocking stuff over, running into things, and causing a relatively high amount of chaos. 

Throughout the years, my sheer volume has gotten me into a fair amount of trouble in school. In seventh grade, before our class field trip to the natural history museum, my science teacher, Mr. Taylor, told me that if I “disrupted the trip” by making the amount of noise I “usually” do, I would immediately be sent back to school to sit in the principal’s office for the entirety of the day. In ninth grade, my Latin teacher, Mr. Pagonis, wrote a note home to my parents that literally said, “Ellie is the loudest student I have ever taught.” In twelfth grade, my spanish teacher gave our class an oral exam, but when I went to her office, where she was supposed to quiz me, she instead lectured me—IN SPANISH—on the value of keeping my voice down and not causing “una interrupcion” in the classroom. 

There were, of course, times that I was punished when I absolutely deserved to be—times my jokes and laughter and general volume definitely caused a distraction from the learning environment of the classroom. But, more often than not, I felt that teachers and students alike would call me out for my energy and excitement, even when I wasn’t necessarily doing anything wrong or distracting. I watched as my male classmates were praised for speaking with fervor and passion, for making jokes in the middle of class, for having a voice that could command a room, and for having the bravery to answer any question with confidence, even when they may not have known the answer. As a student in middle and high school, I felt that my male classmates were given a gold star for having the same quality I was punished for having. The boys were encouraged to take up space, to grow out, while the other girls and I were told to grow up. 

Kiniya became somewhat of a sanctuary for me, a place where I felt not just accepted, but celebrated and loved. There is a quote that is on the wall of cabin Edie, one I saw for the first time this year and absolutely fell in love with. It reads, “watch carefully, the magic that occurs when you give someone just enough comfort to be themselves.” At camp, when I let out a glass-shattering cheer at team comp, no one tells me that I’m making too much noise or that my volume level is “inappropriate”; rather, everyone joins in. I am often praised here for the qualities I was ridiculed for at school. I find that, in a majority-female environment, young women are more often encouraged to take up space, to make some noise, to be excited and goofy and loud.

Now, I am not gonna stand up here and tell you all that you should just start yelling as much as you want whenever you want, but what I will tell you is this: let Kiniya be a place where you and everyone around you can grow out. Work to create an environment here that does not shut down certain quirks or qualities, but celebrates them. If you have a friend who wants to yell and scream and cheer, even when her team misses a shot at team comp, not only let her, but encourage her. If you have a friend who wants to wear baggy clothes and cut all her hair off, oKay! That’s awesome, and you should tell her that. If you have a friend who is really into superheroes and video games and loves talking about how cool wonder woman is, cheer her on—this might be the only place where she feels comfortable enough to embrace that passion. In these last few days at camp, I encourage you to look at the people around you, see what qualities they have that might be strange or different to you, and rather than questioning those qualities or thinking that they are weird, celebrate them. Let them grow and flourish into something beautiful. Give each and every person here the comfort and space and love to grow out as far as they wish to. Thank you. 

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