There is Always Light 

Art by Emmy M. '26

Watching the Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman, I found myself quite moved, feeling a renewed sense of hope as she told the story of her journey and of our world, right now. Her opening line: “When day comes we ask ourselves,/ where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” is a recognition of this critical moment in our society––a time when we’ve all been challenged to endure endless months at home without face-to-face connection and with the weight of the pandemic, grief, and racial inequity on our minds. 

News coverage has focused on Amanda Gorman’s age, rightfully so: at 22, she’s the youngest-ever poet to speak at a Presidential Inaugural ceremony. And yet, I wasn’t at all surprised by how such honest and yet hopeful words could come from someone so young, because of my years working with students from 5 to 18. I started teaching, over 35 years ago, because of my experience as a summer camp counselor in college. Living for two months in cabins with 8th graders, teaching arts and crafts, and observing the impact of the outdoors was the turning point in my “what do I want to do when I grow up?” I knew then, at age 20, I wanted to teach to surround myself with the energy, creativity, and idealism of young people. This year, in particular, our children and young adults––facing loss, illness, injustice, wildfires, and isolation––continue to inspire me. Pulling on their masks, they greet each school day with hope, resilience, creativity, and community spirit. 

Take 7th grader Emmy M., for example. Like so many of us, she was moved by the power of Gorman’s poem. She picked up her stylus and began drawing a digital illustration on her (Head-Royce!) Chromebook. Another person would have stopped there, creatively fulfilled. Rather, Emmy took to heart Gorman’s message of bravery and spreading light. Emmy is currently selling her art on t-shirts and sweatshirts as a fundraiser for Huckleberry Youth Foundation. Huckleberry is a 50-year-old San Francisco institution, which offers crisis housing, counseling programs, health care, and career training to young people in the Bay. 

Our Director of Community Engagement, Nancy Feidelman, continues to support student initiatives even with the limits of the pandemic. Highlights include: 

  • A Community Engagement Board (CEB) leader Sidney S. ’21 organized an after-school tutoring program with Achieve Academy in Fruitvale and has paired 46 of our Upper Schoolers with kindergartners. At Achieve, 90% of students are emerging bilinguals, speaking Spanish or Mam as a first language. Our partner at Achieve is Head-Royce alumna and current kindergarten teacher Monica Valerian ’04 who has told our tutors that these sessions are the highlights of the Kindergarteners' days. 

  • This weekend the CEB is launching another virtual tutoring program involving 32 of our students with the public schools of Delhi, India. Under the leadership of Nisha K. ’22, this new program pairs female-identifying 7th-12th graders with girls in Delhi who come from marginalized families.

  • In honor of MLK Day, the CEB has partnered with the City of Oakland’s MLK 40 Days of Service. We are hosting four beach or lake clean-ups this month. 

  • In their Ride the East Bay initiative, Bilal A. ’23, Joaquin G. ’23, and Cole H. ’23 are refurbishing donated bikes for those who cannot afford new ones. 

  • Two juniors––Cole R. '22 and Mila S. '22––have designed a journalism class (dedicated to accurate and transparent news coverage) that they will teach in our Heads Up after-school program. 

There are many more community engagement projects than I can name here, which gives me a profound sense of gratitude for this young generation who, like Amanda Gorman, keep reminding me to choose bravery and light. Her final lines, which I find especially inspiring, are being shared far and wide: 

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it

–Amanda Gorman, "The Hill We Climb"

Read the full text of Gorman’s poem here

Take good care, 

Crystal Land