The past five years have seemed riddled with disaster: civil war and violence in the Middle East has generated a worldwide refugee crisis; disease emergencies have wreaked havoc in areas of the world that were already suffering; mass shootings and terrorism have plagued the world.
Instead of coming together to find solutions to the growing list of problems, we’ve let ourselves become divided. Instead of civilly sharing opinions and beliefs, we talk loudly over the person next to us, vying for more support, as if doing that will prove us right. We shut down anyone with different perspectives or ideas — if we even choose to listen or associate ourselves with them in the first place. In the midst of this war of words, its no wonder we’ve failed to resolve issues. However, there is a way to improve the world around us.
From Jan. 6-8, I attended the Civitan Leaders in Freedom Conference where I participated in seminars on leadership, economics, religious freedom, and politics. I met people with nationalities, backgrounds, beliefs, and concerns that were different from my own. While I was there, I gained a deeper understanding and new perspectives on world issues and on my role in finding solutions to those problems. The most important lesson I learned, though, was the importance of being open to new ideas and tolerant of different beliefs and opinions.
At the conference, Derius Swinton of the Soar Group, a leadership development and training company, led a discussion on the traits that effective leaders should and shouldn’t have; one of the most important traits we discussed was open-mindedness. Being open-minded doesn’t mean that you abandon your beliefs and opinions and adopt those of others, and it doesn’t mean that your views are unimportant. Being open-minded only requires that one listens to and considers different ideas. Learning about another person’s experiences or hearing new ideas allows solutions to problems to be found. It also helps us become more empathetic toward others and appreciative of our differences. Oftentimes, listening to different opinion allows a person to better support her own, through understanding others’ concerns and finding ways to address them. Instead of assuming someone’s character based on which presidential candidate he supported, or his position on abortion, ask him why he feels the way he does, with sincere intent to learn. Chances are, you’ll learn something new that will deepen your understanding of the topic and the person.
Along with open-mindedness comes tolerance—the willingness to accept and honor opinions and beliefs that differ from one’s own. Tina Ramirez, founder and president of Hardwired, an organization that advocates religious freedom worldwide, spoke at the conference, detailing ISIS’s genocidal attacks on the Yazidi in Iraq, and the experiences of thousands of girls who were abducted and sexually exploited. More than 5,000 Yazidis have been massacred since 2014 because of their religion. This seminar made me realize that, if tolerance had been practiced, those lives could have been saved, and thousands of girls could have been protected from unspeakable horror. Tolerance could have saved more than six million Jews in Europe, one million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, one million Tutsis in Rwanda, and millions of others who were murdered simply because of their religion or ethnicity.
Everyone, regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, or background, deserves to be respected, and everyone has the responsibility to offer that respect to others. We don’t have to agree with someone’s beliefs, lifestyle, or choices, and we shouldn’t expect people to agree with ours. But tolerance isn’t about agreement; it’s about mutual respect and the recognition that we can’t force someone to think a certain way. It’s about the realization that everybody has the right to make his or her own decisions. Tolerance is a two-way street; if we refuse to respect different perspectives, how can we expect others to respect ours?
In a few years, this generation will be leading the world and solving its problems. We can choose to continue the current trends of closed-mindedness and intolerance that propel crises and create more obstacles, or we can choose to change our approach and work together to effect change. We need to be willing to listen to and consider new ideas and respect people for who they are. By doing so, we’ll be better able to compromise and make decisions that will benefit everyone, not just a select few. When we change our attitude, we’ll change the world.
~katie johnston, features director
The day after Donald John Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, the Women’s March on Washington (WMOW) brought an estimated 1.7 million protesters to the nation’s capital on Jan. 21, for the biggest inaugural protest in American history. Co-chair of WMOW and social rights activist Tamika Mallory claimed the march was “not anti-Trump, but pro-women.” Over 15 FHS students and at least eight teachers attended.
“It was such an overall positive, empowering experience,” said senior Alex Amirato, who marched for equality for all Americans. “The rhetoric of this election season was not okay, and it made a lot of people feel like their opinion didn’t matter, but coming together with like-minded people was a really good, different feeling.”
The D.C. Metro system reported that this was the second busiest weekend in its history, trailing behind Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Thousands flew in, drove, and took buses from all parts of the country. Senior Madison Luellen got up at 3 a.m. to be at the metro station when it opened at 5 a.m.
“It was definitely overwhelming, but incredible. I participated in the Dakota Access Pipeline protest in D.C. last year, and I thought there was a lot of people then,” Luellen said. “It was nothing compared to the numbers [at the march] on Saturday.”
Luellen stayed in D.C into the night as people continued to march down Independence Avenue.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I refuse to respect corrupt authority,” Luellen said. “I was there for all basic human rights, especially the importance of intersectional feminism, which supports women of color and ethnicities. This was a protest on a global level.”
There were large sister marches in downtown Los Angeles, Portland, Miami, and New York City, along with smaller marches across the country and the world, as far away as New Zealand and even on the coasts of Antarctica.
“It was amazing to see the enthusiasm and the hope that democracy in action can make a difference,” librarian Rebecca Isaac said. “Everyone, no matter what side you are on, deserves to be respected and loved. We had a peaceful march and a positive showing, and I have a deep sense of gratitude that in our country we have the privilege to do that.”
Junior Tatjana Shields advocated for the acceptance and celebration of diversity at the march and has been inspired to continue to take action in her community.
“At this march, I felt empowered like never before to stand up for what I believe in [and] for what is right,” Shields said. “Some focuses of mine were the recognition of Muslim rights; the Islamophobic reaction across the country because of someone’s religion kind of sickens me. I also believe in the Black Lives Matter movement; black Americans have been at the end of the totem pole for a very long time. It’s about strengthening the relations we have together.”
Freshman Macy Major went with her mother, English teacher Jennifer Major.
“I was really lucky to go with my mom,” Major said. “She’s very supportive, and I know not all parents are like that; it was very empowering to go with another woman in my life.”
The march was criticized in articles and social media posts from both men and women who strongly opposed the it and its platform. Junior Ben Nesbit attended the March for Life in D.C. the Friday following the women’s march and advocated for defunding Planned Parenthood.
“I think they need to get over it. The Democrats lost, and because they haven’t lost in a while, they’re just not used it,” Nesbit said. “I believe that every person has a right, and I marched for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. I feel like the women’s march kind of took that right away from people, which is sad. People are going to hate me for this, but they can hate me.”
Senior Max McDaniel-Neff, who attended the women’s march with his family and senior Aidan Kierans, viewed the march differently; he said that the protest was peaceful and everyone was supportive of each other.
“I was there to support Planned Parenthood, and that women still need to be respected,” McDaniel-Neff said. “The fact that Donald Trump even got elected shows that sexual assault is still a pretty big deal.”
Senior Victoria Rucka, who is an exchange student from the Czech Republic, was able to participate in the march and observe American politics up close and in action. Her country had its own women’s rights march in the capital city of Prague last year, but she said that it’s unlikely that her country would elect a female leader in the near future.
“I think [American politics] are going to get worse. A lot of things over here would never happen in my country,” Rucka said. “ I don’t think we’ll have a woman president [in Czech Republic] any time soon; a lot of people wouldn’t have a lot of respect for her simply because she is a woman, and most of the people in the government are men.”
Spanish teacher Karen Falcon had a unique perspective and reason for attending the women’s march with her oldest daughter. The Affordable Care Act, enacted during the Obama administration, helped Falcon’s family members obtain health care, a right that many people take for granted.
“I grew up overseas, and so I was always conscious of being an American and being patriotic,” Falcon said. “So for me, patriotism stands for democracy, freedom of expression, and diversity. To see the country pulling away from those things makes me worried. I think those things are our biggest strength. It’s important for people internationally to see that Americans can argue about opinions, yet still maintain a strong democracy.”
~julia sexton, news director
Senior Sam Oravec, who has been a prominent force on the school track team for all four years of his high school career, recently committed to Cornell University, located in Ithaca, New York.
“It was definitely a goal that I’ve really wanted to meet for a while,” Oravec said. “I achieved one of my goals of being a D1 athlete, and continuing my dream on for four years, which is [continuing] jumping [events] and getting better.”
Oravec knew that Cornell’s close community was a good fit for him when he visited.
“The team up there was a lot like our high school team: very family-oriented and very close. The coaching staff is a lot like the coaching staff here at the high school: very skilled and dedicated coaches and athletes,” Oravec said. “What it really came down to was the academics. That’s what set it apart from other schools.”
At his parents urging, Oravec began track as part of a club in elementary school, but he never anticipated getting to his current level. Oravec was a member of the 4×8 relay team, which won the 2016 Outdoor State meet and secured the top time in Virginia. Oravec received all state honors in four events in the 2016 Outdoor State meet: 4×4, 4×8, 500, and triple jump.
“I started out with cross country, and I knew I wasn’t going to be a very good endurance runner because I’ve always been more of a speed, power guy,” Oravec said. “Then, I got to winter track and started doing some more of the shorter [events], and found out I excelled more at those than the distance events.”
Oravec has been a member of six championship relay teams: 2015 Indoor 4×4, 2015 Outdoor 4×4, 2015 Outdoor 4×8, 2016 Indoor 4×4, 2016 Indoor 4×8, 2016 Outdoor 4×8. After coaches got him involved in sprinting and jumping, Oravec was driven to excel.
“I started looking at college standards when I was a freshman, just to see what I should meet. That really got me motivated to be a jumper and middle-distance runner here,” Oravec said. “I [wanted] to get to the college level.”
After years of taking advantage of the science curriculum, including biology and anatomy classes, Oravec is considering majoring in biology with a focus in physiology.
“I would like to take more of a research approach, not a pre-med approach,” Oravec said. “I really like the whole idea of science. I’m really interested in the field of physiology and how the human body works, and the applications of that on the world around us. I like to figure things out for myself.”
In addition to track, Oravec has been a member of a local shooting club since sixth grade, where he shoots three-position air rifles. Oravec received the CMP Gold Standard, which is the highest honor earned through competition.
“Other than that, I don’t really have any other hobbies,” Oravec said. “It’s either track, training for track, getting ready for the next day of school, and track.”
Oravec is determined to accomplish his goals for this season.
“I would like to get into the 22.6 range for long jump. I’d also like to get 45 ft for triple jump. Those are my two goals for jumping,” Oravec said. “My 500m, I’d like to bring down to 1:06, which I’m pretty close to. The 4×4 and 4×8 relay teams, I really want to push them, and get everybody to place well in states this year, like we have in years past.”
Coach Mark Scott has known Oravec since his freshman year, and he said that Oravec is a good teammate and leader with big goals and a plan to accomplish them.
“He came in as a freshman, and we could tell he was capable of performing in a lot of different areas. He is very competitive and multi-talented; we can put him in a lot of places,” Scott said. “He has a big vision of where he wants to be. He has little and small goals of where he wants to be in track. I’m super proud of him, and he means the world to me.”
~emma dixon, copy production editor
In a recent yearbook poll, government teacher Tyler Walker was voted “Most Likely to be Mistaken for a Student,” a distinction that he finds amusing.
“It is funny, and I’m not that much older than my seniors,” Walker said. “I think it’s humorous, but I try to dress like an old man a lot. I did get told, that, one day when I wore a sweatshirt and jeans, that someone actually thought I was a student.”
However, Walker is most proud of his military service. He enlisted in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard when he was 17, after hearing about the opportunity from his best friend. Service in the National Guard combines his longtime passion for history with the desire to serve and be a part of something bigger than himself.
“When I [heard] about [the National Guard], I learned that they would pay for college,” Walker said. “So, on top of wanting to do all those other things, now there was the added bonus of paying for school.”
Walker went through basic training the summer of his junior year and attended advanced training the summer before he started college at Shippensburg University in south-central Pennsylvania in 2011. In college, he decided to join ROTC to become an officer.
“There wasn’t enough helping I could do,” Walker said. “I wanted to do more to serve. I wanted to be an officer to serve as a leader.”
Walker is commissioned as a lieutenant, and although he originally enlisted to assist in natural disaster relief, he’s currently training to go into combat.
“My units have been able to go and help with natural disasters, but as infantry, we’re a combat brigade,” Walker said. “We’re [constantly] preparing for deployments to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s an amazing opportunity that we could go fight terrorism.”
Being a young leader can be challenging since many of the soldiers Walker commands are more experienced, with 10-20 years of service and multiple deployments. According to Walker, commanding a mechanized infantry unit is a big challenge.
“I’ve got four Bradley Fighting Vehicles that are like armored personnel carriers that I have to train and know how to use,” Walker said. “I have to know the armored side of things and know the infantry side of things, while still learning how to be in the Bradley and command it myself and lead soldiers. It’s a lot of things to juggle.”
Although Walker had an opportunity for deployment in 2013, it was canceled due to budget cuts.
“Right now we have a potential deployment in 2018, that I can’t really talk too much about,” Walker said. “It’s been fortunate because I’ve been able to finish my education. I would like to go, to be able to serve, because I feel like I haven’t done anything. It’s been years and I’ve just been training so much. I want to do more, to earn being called a veteran before I get out, because I’ve only got a couple of years left.”
Walker trains over the summer and one weekend every month; he occasionally needs to take a day off work to fulfill his duties. Working as a teacher while serving in the military has proved challenging, especially when he was also coaching football last year.
“When everybody else is lesson-planning Saturday and Sunday, I’m training and leading soldiers,” Walker said. “When I was coaching football, and doing that and teaching, I thought I was going to die. So, I had to take a step back from coaching to focus on teaching, but it is incredibly challenging.”
Walker’s commission ends in 2020, and although he could stay in the military longer, he hopes to settle down.
“I feel like, especially now as a teacher, I’d like to get settled here, and eventually start a family and slow things down,” Walker said. “A deployment would kind of make that a little bit more challenging.”
Walker knew he wanted to be a teacher in his junior year in high school, after moving to a new school where he was picked on.
“My history class was the one place where my teacher made it an atmosphere of inclusion,” Walker said. “It was just a comfortable place to be, and so it was that year that decided I would be a teacher because I wanted to create that same atmosphere for other people.”
Walker is passionate about history; he believes that a foundation in history is critical for understanding and solving current problems.
“I think that you need to understand history to prepare for future problems and for what’s going on today,” Walker said. ”I wanted to explain [history] and have it make sense for other people, so they can better understand what’s happening today and in today’s society.”
Both of Walker’s parents graduated from FHS, and he lived in Warrenton until he was eight, so he knew he wanted a position here. He eventually came across a position as assistant football coach, and later, an opening for a social studies teacher.
“As soon as I saw [the opening for] assistant coach, I knew this was God telling me I need to be there,” Walker said.
Both teaching and his service in the National Guard have helped him develop skills in leadership, communication, and organization; he has also developed the ability to understand people and how they need to be taught. His experiences in the military allow him to share perspectives on world events with his students.
“I think it’s really cool because any time I show a video from the news, I can explain to these kids why it happened, and then I can give them first-hand experience of what we’re doing to combat it, and why we’re doing that,” Walker said. “I think that adds a really cool twist to things that you don’t usually get from a teacher.”
~katie johnston, features director