Speak your truth and listen to others

This blog post is adapted from an ethics speech given by Sonija Parson, who teaches Middle School Spanish and serves as the Middle School Ethics, Service, and Leadership Coordinator. Ms. Parson challenged “us all to speak our truth, whatever it may be, and when you speak, do so quietly... and clearly. That is when honesty shines through the most. You must also listen to others. Take the time to process, internalize, and feel what others want to share with you.”

“May the words shared with you today not only be heard, but also felt as they are intended.”

-Jorge Morales, the Pulsera Project

Good afternoon Middle School! My name is Ms. Sonija Parson.  I am the Ethics and Service Coordinator, I am one of five teachers of Middle school Spanish, I co-coach the 8th grade soccer team, and I am the assistant 6th grade lacrosse coach.  I am also lucky to have nine energetic, kind, and risk-taking advisees this year.  This is my second year at Landon and my ninth year teaching, coaching, and mentoring at independent schools. 

I am the daughter of the truly phenomenal Ms. Sonja Lee Parson.  My mother has inspired me, and continues to do so daily, to be the best that I can be, stay true to myself and my word, honor my family and believe in God.  My mother is now retired from the U.S. Postal Service and helps me and my husband tremendously with our son and our home.  She is a strong single Black mother, who was able to put me through 12 years of private school in Washington, DC, as well as make it possible for me to attend and graduate from Bates College in New England.  This is no small feat!  I owe so much of who I am and what I am passionate about in this world to the lessons she has taught me, and the unconditional love she continues to give me.   

A sincere thank you to (Director of Ethics, Service, and Leadership John) Bellaschi and (Middle School Head Erin) Duffy for the opportunity to address this community today.  My sincere gratitude to the students and colleagues who held space for me to think through some of the ideas that I will share with you all today in this talk.  Finally, I wish to take a moment to acknowledge those who may not be present with us today, but are always in our minds and hearts, lovingly guiding and watching over us.  Both those seen and unseen.

Today, I will share the values of the Ethics program at Landon, and hopefully inspire this community to think deeper about honesty and respect.  Real talk—I wish we had more time to sit and listen to one another.  This space, although beautiful and grand, is not my ideal venue to share my inner most thoughts and to have meaningful dialogue.  However, there will be a pause in my prepared remarks, dedicated to you all sharing what you value and what brings you joy.  I also hope to continue the conversation in ways that are meaningful, organic and authentic. 

If I share anything that may speak directly to you, respectful audience participation is encouraged if it does not distract from what is being said.  In my classroom, for example, I often show student speakers that I agree with *snaps*, and I will also acknowledge a shared experience or agreement by *signing ‘same/me too’*.  Please note that these modes of communication are not intended to draw attention to yourself, rather to acknowledge what the speaker is saying, and then we all move on together.  These are small gestures that I welcome, however I also want to remind you about our group norms and expectations while a speaker is before you.  Please show me that you are listening with your whole self (pause and model for corrections) and be please mindful that this presentation was prepared for you with love, time, and care.

So let’s get started! *Thumbs up?*

As the title slide read, I will talk today about honesty and respect.  I will talk about honesty from the perspective of speaking your truth.  I will also talk about respect from the perspective of daily actions, here at Landon, and ways we should demonstrate that respect.  I will also share some anecdotes facts about myself. 

We’ll start with my schooling.  I attended Georgetown Day, a co-ed private school, and the first racially integrated school in Washington, DC, just a few miles down the road from Landon.  I was a solid four sport, multi-team athlete, who balanced academics with travel soccer for Bethesda United, school soccer, Stoddert soccer on an all-boys-plus-me team.  I played on the basketball team, ran track, and played lacrosse.  I attended weekend and summer clinics at George Mason and Georgetown Universities. My summers were filled with morning academic enrichment and afternoon sports at Sidwell Friends or St. Albans math and soccer camps, and all-day lacrosse camps at St. Stephen’s/ St. Agnes and Episcopal School. 

My mother kept me busy, and had to sacrifice a lot for me to participate and excel.  I am truly grateful that she did, although I did not always understand or realize how much it cost her.  I hope that at least one takeaway from me sharing this with you all, is how you should do your best to show gratitude to the people who make opportunities like these available to you.  You see, I was privileged to go to expensive and elite schools and camps, and play for Division I teams, but what always stood out for me, and maybe served as a bit of fuel, was understanding and knowing that I was never entitled to these experiences. 

My mother’s car broke down often, we lived in an apartment, she lost her job one year and had to go on welfare for food assistance, we did not have a dining room table with place settings and often my dinner would consist of McDonald’s or Wendy’s because it was cheap, fast, and accessible. 

This was my reality for much of my middle and high school years—and through it all, I was happy, safe, and loved!  However, my reality looked so different from many of my friends and classmates.  At times. I was forced into uncomfortable conversations about not having the different name brand clothes they had, because I couldn’t afford them.  I was bullied about not having the latest shoes, even though my mother did the best she could to buy what I needed at K-Mart or Walmart and I received hand-me-downs from classmates and coaches. 

I remember in 6th grade, when some kids thought it would be funny to make up a rumor about me being too poor to get the new Timberlands.  Quite honestly, I could not care less about Timberlands, but I still remember how much I felt marginalized because of something I could do nothing about.  Luckily, I had allies and friends all around me, making sure that I knew that I mattered. I had teachers who spoke to me every day and cared about me.   What you may not realize about your teachers is that we see you, we want you to succeed, and we hope you know that you matter.  If you haven’t heard it lately, I want you to know now that you, yes YOU, you matter, and we are so glad that you are here.  Right here, and part of the Landon community.

“You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

These are excerpts from one of my favorite poems, “Desiderata,” by Max Ehrmann (1952).  I share these lines with you because they demonstrate what it means to be honest.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others.

I first learned this poem, not in English, but in Spanish.  I heard it from this Mexican midwife who has trained and mentored me for the past 15 years.  Angelina Martinez Miranda is a fifth generation traditional Mayan midwife.  Because of her, I have caught and assisted in hundreds of births, and I get emotional just thinking about how much of a privilege and honor it is to hold space for women, for families, and for truly anyone who needs help during, at times, the most vulnerable moments of their life. 

At one birth, after a long night of labor sitting, I remember my midwife, Angelina, pulling me into the hallway, giving the laboring mother some privacy.  She came close and began to recite the Desiderata poem to me:

Enuncia tu verdad de una manera serena y clara,
y escucha a los demás,

which means…

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others.

Are your words honest and authentic? I challenge us all to speak our truth, whatever it may be, and when you speak, do so quietly... and clearly. That is when honesty shines through the most.  You must also listen to others.  Take the time to process, internalize, and feel what others want to share with you. 

So, here is your chance to share what you value and what brings you joy.  Before I say go, I will give you some clear instructions.  Listen carefully; think quietly, then pair-share when told to do so.

Take a moment to close your eyes and center your mind.  Quietly, think of something that you value. Now, think about why.  In what ways does this value bring you joy? When you hear the chime, you may open your eyes and pair up with someone next to you to share your responses.  Introduce yourself if you do not know their name and decide who will share their value and joy, first.  After a few moments, I will ring the bell to switch partners.

Bell chime- 1-minute share then switch.

Thank your partner for sharing with you.

So, what does your partner value?

By a show of hands, did anyone say that they valued respect?  Let’s think about this value in context.

We come to Landon each day, to this beautiful campus, to learn, play, and to grow.  It is maintained by an incredibly hard-working buildings and grounds crew as well as cleaning staff.  We have access to fresh food, prepared and served daily in the dining hall.  There are people who work hard to keep us safe and cared for every day, and this is often a thankless labor. 

I caution you all to be mindful of the messes you leave behind for others to clean up for you.  Quite frankly, it is disrespectful to leave a mess and expect someone else to clean up after you.  We have heard this message numerous times, and the reminders have been clear, “leave it better than you found it.” 

This concept of leaving it better than you found it also pertains not only to cleaning up after yourself but can also be applied to the next generations to follow.  This year’s motto of “honor the den,” encourages us all to have respect for this place and all spaces we may occupy. How will you show your respect for the den?

The upcoming faculty ethics speeches this year will focus on the values of kindness (October), gratitude (November), inclusivity (December), courage (January), perseverance (January), humility (February), responsibility (March), teamwork (April), and hope (May).  Please remember to take the time to relate to the experiences you hear from faculty speakers.  Take time to connect with their message.  Ask yourself: What part or parts of today’s talk resonated with me, and why?

If you wish to take it a step further, write an email to the speakers or find them and have an open conversation about how their words made an impact.  The intention, when we come to this stage, is to provide you all with a bit of hope, maybe some insight, and perspective.  I am truly grateful to have a platform to speak with children from a place of vulnerability, honesty, and mutual respect.