What it Means to Be an American School Abroad in the Current Era: Part 2

About a year and a half ago, after the US government implemented the "Muslim Ban", I wrote a blogpost asking the question: What does it mean to be an American school in the Current Era?" I ended that post by saying: We must remember that our students are watching us and they will read our silence as consent. 

As we face the current manufactured crisis at the Southern border where children are being forcibly separated from their parents, we must come back to this question.  For those of us living abroad, can you imagine if your host country implemented a policy wherein US families were being ripped apart?  Can you imagine the outrage? 

As I pondered what message to deliver at our 8th grade promotion ceremony to our students and parents, I had no doubt that I had a moral obligation to comment on the crisis and leave no doubt about our position as an American school.  

Here is my speech below: 

I was very fortunate to attend the Upper School Graduation on this Sunday. It was a wonderful celebration of our 50th graduating class. There were many touching words spoken, but as usual the words that had the most impact on me were from a student.

In his powerful speech, Christian Reed reminded everyone of what is truly special about an ASP education. He asked his peers to "Remember that although you may have grown up on different sides of the planet, it was a friend from Russia or China or Brazil that was there for you and understood exactly how you felt." His speech made me think about the choices that we have all made to be here. About 80 percent of us consider ourselves "expats". We are not "immigrants" in the traditional sense, nor do we resemble the refugees that leave their homelands to flee violence or discrimination to find a new home.

60 years ago my mother left Hungary as Russian tanks rolled in her streets to strike down a revolution. She and my grandparents snuck across the border into Austria and remained in Vienna for one year as refugees before they were granted asylum in the United States.

They started penniless in NY City and made a life for themselves. They embodied the quote at the base of the Statue of Liberty (that symbol of French- American friendship) which invites "the tired huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Yes, they lived the American dream and were so set on being American, that my mom and grandparents never taught me or my siblings how to speak Hungarian.

I tell you this story because I know that I wouldn't be standing in front of you representing the American School of Paris, if my country had not opened its doors so generously to my mom.

But times have changed. It seems that in many places around the world we fear the diversity that we have here in this very room. In Hungary they have erected razor wire fences to keep refugees out, and as we speak today the United States government is brutally separating children from their parents at its Southern border and keeping them in detention camps. Just yesterday Pro Publica obtained a recording of small children wailing for their parents in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, while a Border Patrol agent joked, “We’ve got an orchestra here.”

I say this to you 8th graders not to sadden you, but to embolden you. You know the power of diversity. You know how it has made you smarter, more compassionate and more kind. And you are privileged. I challenge you to use your privilege to share this message. You know it better than me, and better than your parents. I look at you and I truly feel hopeful that our future is in such good hands. For you know that our difference is our strength, and it is what will help us solve the most challenging dilemmas of our time. Share your message, share your truth, because others will surely follow.

Christian asked the seniors to "Use the time you spent alongside people of different cultures and backgrounds as a springboard into spreading love." I encourage you to do the same.


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