Aside

Masks, High School and Dr. Michael Fowlin

 Imagine an auditorium filled with 650 high school students, where sniffles echo throughout the room, hands wipe damp eyes and hide contorted faces. On stage, a man stands, acting, portraying a character, portraying, in a way, ourselves.

This week my school brought Mikey, Dr. Michael Fowlin, to speak for MLK Day. He stood in front of us and brought memories, thoughts and actions to our minds that we had long wished to forget. He made us vulnerable. In the course of two hours, he broke our masks.

One of the main concepts of the entire performance was the idea that every person hides behind this façade of who they really hare, hides their pain, their misfortunes, their thoughts because if we share them, we’ll be sharing ourselves, and nothing’s scarier than that, right? Nothing’s scarier than exposing yourself to someone, be that a best friend or an acquaintance or an enemy or a parent because then you can be subject to ridicule, and they won’t be ridiculing your mask, they’ll be ridiculing you, who you are at the core of your being.

My school is filled with masks. Many of us only know the lives of our friends as it pertains to our community, rarely questioning reality off the island. Two years ago, the most sincere, kind boy killed himself because of problems at home. Last year, I suffered from pretty severe depression, and watched my friend go through the same experience, unable to help him because I didn’t care. I didn’t care about him, my other friends or myself. And so, if I didn’t care, why would I help? No one knew about that. Only a select few do currently, and by few I mean three people. On Tuesday, while leading a group discussion on the speaker, I learned that our most beloved, kind, popular, Yale-bound student body president always feels lonely, known by his accomplishments, not by who he truly is. It made me think… what else is everybody hiding?

How many girls in our school suffer from bulimia, anorexia? How many people are depressed? How many have serious home problems that we’ll never know about? How many feel pressed to live up to their family’s, their parents’ expectations? How many hate themselves and who they’ve become here? How many hate here? How many wish they could return home to their public school, to their public school friends and how many feel like there’s no way out? How many?

I’ve always accepted the fact that we will never truly know anyone, but I never considered that others, like I do, hide. We all hide, for better or for worse, because after all, when you strip away the boarding, the top colleges, the hard classes, this is high school, a place designed for masks.

 

Below is one of Dr. Michael Fowlin’s most famous poems:

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