Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Paly Problem

I spent the last two days learning how to inspire and relate to my very own group of incoming freshmen through a new Paly program called LinkCrew.

LinkCrew, championed by choir teacher Michael Najar and 9th Grade Guidance Counselor Paige Johnson, is designed to smooth the transition from middle school to high school by training upperclassmen to welcome, get to know, and stay connected with groups of freshmen throughout the year.

I learned how to play a ridiculous number of icebreaker games, how to give a decent campus tour, and how to arrange 64 sheets of paper on the floor of a classroom already jammed with desks.

But more importantly, I learned that Paly has a problem.

When we witness a tragedy, a travesty, or any other event that might be expected to reasonably affect a community, we tend to minimize, marginalize, and sometimes outright ignore it. Whether it's a fistfight at school, a classmate's failing grade, or something as severe as a suicide, our initial response is to assure ourselves that it has nothing to do with us.

While avoiding conflict is sometimes the best goal, we have to realize that each one of us is deeply connected to the Paly community; the newest freshman, the oldest senior, and even the most apathetic parent has a stake in the well-being of our students, our school, and our society.

Even if you're not the one to step in and break up that fight, even if you don't tutor your classmate to bring them up to a C-average, even if you didn't personally know the student who decided to end his or her life, you have to care.

The Paly tradition of acting like we don't care has to end. We have to break the conventional wisdom that caring is lame, stupid, socially unacceptable, and weak.

Palo Alto is a fantastic place. Both our high schools are in the top 100 in America. Some of the smartest people in the world live here. We're too smart not to care.

And the ironic thing is, none of the top CEOs and engineers and doctors and lawyers and scientists and venture capitalists got to Palo Alto by not caring. Every single one had to care, and care a whole lot, for their endeavor to succeed and land them here. Caring is key to success.

I know that so many Paly kids are terrific. We're there for our friends when they need us, and we genuinely do think about how to make other people happy. We do.

But as a community, we all have to acknowledge the intertwined lives of everyone in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Stanford, and everyone else who has the privilege to attend our fantastic school.

You might think that it's just not possible to discard tradition and summon positive action from everyone in the community.

But I know that in Palo Alto, with our Mac computers, Google searches, Facebook profiles, medical advances, linear accelerators, and amazing students, we eat impossible for breakfast.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Black Eyed Peas: Let's Do This!

Thank goodness for amazingly profitable companies that establish foundations for the promotion of the arts in inner cities and partner with the foundations of amazingly profitable music artists and orchestrate summits for teens all over the world that end with performances by said music artists. Because sitting right in front of me at Adobe Youth Voices Live in San Francisco tonight were the Black Eyed Peas.

The Peas, who really were literally sitting two feet in front of me, got up to perform “Imma Be” from their newest album “The E.N.D.” with a youth dance group comprised of teens from Imani’s Dream Dance Troupe, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, and Mt. Pleasant High School in San Jose.

Fergie wore a black romper with what looked like 6-or-7-inch black and red peep-toe heels. They did seem to somewhat inhibit her dancing ability, but she stepped around rather gracefully. was in jeans and sneakers, which allowed him to perform several backflips onstage, while Taboo rocked a pair of white skinny jeans and a leather jacket, his hair pulled tightly back.

The event was the culmination of the three-day first-ever global Adobe Youth Voices Live summit that did indeed bring youth together from as far as Uganda, New Zealand, Jordan, and the UK to learn new media skills and share their own stories through the videos they brought with them.

Adobe Youth Voices partnered with the Black Eyed Peas’ Peapod Foundation to open “two new state-of-the-art music and multimedia academies for youth in Oakland and Redwood City, Calif.” Read the entire press release HERE.

Shantanu Narayen, president of Adobe, thanked the Peas for their partnership and enthusiasm. He also apologized for’s absence (“He’s sick,” said with a mock pout).

Fergie, who sounded surprisingly normal and down-to-earth, said she was “so excited and so proud of all this new talent that I see and I can’t wait to hear the success stories coming out of these new academies.”

She, like all of her fellow Peas, thanked Adobe profusely. “Thanks to all of you. There’s a lot of creative talent in this room,” she said, prompting huge applause from the audience.

Taboo started in Spanish, “I’m here to represent all of the Latinos from LA,” to enormous cheers. “We are so excited about the tools that we’ll be bringing to the kids – no, I don’t want to say kids, because they’re more than just kids. They’re our people.”

Taboo’s eloquence and erudition were really quite extraordinary. He clearly has a way with words – and people.

“So with that I say Let’s Do This. When you go home tonight and think about the kids putting it down, my troop putting it down, you say Let’s Do This. When you look at another person who’s showing their dreams in their career you say Let’s Do This. When you see Adobe and Black Eyed Peas partnering up you say Let’s Do This. So on the count of three I need everybody to say Let’s Do This. ONE, TWO, THREE!”


There was a lot of love in that room, and we all had a feeling it was going to be a good night.

And it was.