Beloved Community: the two words most likely to both bring a smile to Jim Justice’s face and prompt snide derision from the more cynical members of the student body. Like many other students, I find the saccharine earnestness of the phrase so easy to mock. As an admittedly typical millennial, I too often lean on my sardonic sense of humor and jaded attitude as a crutch to hide my true feelings. I hide the intensity of my emotions by lightly referring to them as “classic teen angst” and exert so much energy pretending that I care less than I do. Like so many other Westminster students, I tend to eschew real, meaningful dialogue in favor of sarcastic jabs. I take so much of what the school has done for me for granted.
I didn’t truly realize the limitations of this cavalier attitude until a Wednesday several weeks ago. Everything seemed to go right that day: I wore a skirt for the first time in weeks and didn’t get a dress cut (it was perfectly appropriate, Mrs. Boozer), the rice pilaf at lunch was delicious, and the sophomores in my AP Chemistry class finally all learned my name. But the biggest joy of the day was the most quotidian: as I walked across campus throughout the day, I realized that I, by no means an outgoing person, was greeted every day by at least 15 students and faculty members.
Being greeted by name with a smile may seem small, but from talking with friends at other schools, I’ve learned that it’s unfortunately rare. Moreover, it’s just one example of the special, dare I say beloved, community we all live in. We patiently explain math concepts to each other during our free periods when we could be watching Game of Thrones, hold doors open for each other, and help each other clean up spills in Malone. We bless each other after we sneeze, attend each other’s sporting events and plays, and cheer loudly for each other’s birthdays in assembly each week. We are all in many communities, whether those be clubs, classes, sports teams, or service groups- shout-out to the Student Grants Team on SLLC, even though none of you read the Bi-Line- but we are also part of the greater Westminster community.
I became even more impressed by our school after the mental health assembly on Thursday, Nov. 12. Three students stood in front of over 800 people and bravely shared their struggles with mental health, and they were met by compassion and support. Afterward, I didn’t hear anyone disparage mental illness for being less serious than physical illness or suggest “it’s all in their heads.” Instead, I observed a student body that is willing to support those 20 percent of teens who deal with mental illness, and a school that is doing its best to support students by moving the counselors to a more central location, and a student group that is working hard to dispel the stigma around mental disorders.
In that moment, I’ve never felt prouder or more thankful to be a Wildcat. There is still so much work to be done surrounding mental health at Westminster, as Laura Street’s article and the polls in the center section suggest, but I believe our entire community is making a valiant effort to make our school a more supportive place. Westminster is not perfect, and there are problems at our school bigger than the recent influx of speed bumps, but I believe our community is truly something special.
This Thanksgiving, in between working on college supplements and picking the marshmallows off the sweet potato soufflé, I’ll be saying thanks for Westminster. I’ll be thinking of ways that we can make 1424 West Paces Ferry Road a more supportive and warm place for all students, faculty, and staff. And I’ll even be working on using the phrase “beloved community” unironically. I hope you will, too.