Chapel talks take a shift as COVID-19 and racial tension loom over the country

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Gvodas ’21 gives her Chapel Talk ea. Photo By Elizabeth Hudak ’21

This year, numerous Chapel Talks have revolved around topics like race, feminism, discrimination, and activism. Themes that were rare, if not unheard of, in the Chapel Talks of last year. Undoubtedly, a tremendous shift has taken place.

Last year, many talks shared personal anecdotes that were then used to share messages to the school, perhaps about the speaker’s family, experience at The Hill School, or general advice to the community. This year, the element of personal stories is still present, but such narratives are being spread with a much larger and far-reaching message. These messages now apply to not only students in the audience, but also to people and events on a national and international scale.

Some of the most popular Chapel Talks this year might even have been considered radical last year, such as Kathryn Gvodas’s ’21. She spoke on September 14 about gossip and the ways that female students are treated poorly on campus. 

Gvodas understands that “change does not come easily,” but nonetheless was compelled to give her talk because she believes in speaking about issues that are “moral issues, not even political.” Specific to her talk, was about compelling “equal treatment and respect, but that is hard.”

More recently, Avery Liggon ’21 spoke on October 23 regarding her experiences with race living in Wisconsin, specifically after the shooting of Jacob Blake in late August. 

Liggon believes that the shift in this year’s Chapel Talks has been “the climate” of the country and a “realization that Hill is not doing its part” in progress. According to Liggon who is a staff writer at The Hill News, talks such as these, namely her favorite,  Gabe Dorsey’s ’21, got the ball rolling for more discourse. Although it may be “uncomfortable,” she appreciates the shift – something that is nonetheless very necessary to “open the minds of students and faculty.” This is what pushed her to write her Chapel Talk; she thought it could positively impact others.

Gavin Guerrette ’21, President of the Young Democratic Socialists Club observes the shift in themes, as does most of the school. Guerrette believes the shift is due to COVID-19, and “facilitated new discussions on a small and large scale.” Guerrette also says that, like Liggon, these were some of his favorites, and also comments on the isolated community at The Hill School, what many call “the Hill bubble.” Specifically, he claims that while we “like to think that we are always in it,” it can also be restricting in the way we think of the world outside of The Hill. 

This year specifically, it seems like larger societal events have seeped into the community that we once may have believed was behind a barrier that is impermeable. Understandably, serious and sacred traditions, such as chapel, have been changed significantly.

Perhaps the future is the most intriguing question at this time. What more will we learn from Chapel Talks? What will be the impacts of recent Chapel Talks? And, is the shift in Chapel Talks indicative of a shift in the way the Hill community will interact with the rest of the world? These are all questions to consider as the community watches Chapel for the last time together on campus.