You may remember Ella from the story about her Pot Holder Sales. Here is another story sent to us by Ella’s mom Kate:
Dear Friends and Family,
Ella won first prize in her school-wide International Speech Contest! Yesterday she gave her speech to her entire school at the very moving culminating ceremony of their International Week of Cultural Diversity. The assignment was to write an essay on what culture means to you. Ella goes to Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering, a dynamite 6-12 grade public school located in the heart of Harlem.
Normally they wear school uniforms, but yesterday the CSS students were allowed to dress in clothing that represents their culture. Ella wore her “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt!
We wanted to share her essay with you all because you play an essential role in what she writes about and who she has become.
International Speech Contest Submission by Ella Maré
Culture. From the Latin cultura, meaning to till, to grow, to tend, to guard; a cultivation of the mind, faculties, manners. Under this definition, everything that surrounds us is culture, grown from the seed of our families, friends, teachers, and experiences. The culture of CSS is expansive, from the literal seeds, or culture, of the CSS garden, where we plant seeds that establish the growth not only of our flowers, berries, vegetables, and now the eggs from our chickens, to the academic seeds of the CSS mission which has led us to this moment of asking this very question of “what does culture mean to us.”
In two short years, CSS has become an invaluable part of my culture. It celebrates my personal roots, and helps me grow new ones. In early October we were asked to write “Where I’m From” poems, inspired by George Ella Lyon. They were not restricted to our original cultures and could include everything that made us who we are. They included the cultures we were born into, as well as the cultures we choose. Some people say that you can’t control the culture you’re born into, but I think that’s wrong. You have the power to choose your culture, as well as choose which cultures you don’t belong to. Just because your family is part of a culture, doesn’t mean you are automatically, permanently part of it. You should be proud of every culture you are part of; and if you aren’t proud of one, you can choose to leave it.
I choose not to belong to the culture of fear, inequality, or injustice. I choose to be part of the culture of music, gardening, and hope. My list of cultures is a long one. Everyone’s is. I cherish my culture because of its diversity. I’m very lucky to live in New York City, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. I’m lucky, too, to be a part of CSS, which truly reflects New York City’s cultural diversity. Our cosmopolitan city speaks 800 languages. And our city expresses its cultural differences in many different ways: art, music, food, literature, theater, sports, and architecture. This means everyone can share cultures, depending on her or his interest.
I believe that culture should be shared as long as it’s done appropriately. By this I mean that we should share other cultures as long as we’re sure that we know the origin of what we are doing so that we can participate in the cultures responsibly. Otherwise we may unwittingly engage in cultural appropriation which can denigrate that culture.
Culture is more than just where you’re from. Culture is what you choose to do and what you love. I cherish CSS for introducing me to my circle of French, Irish, Chinese, Nepali, and Cuban friends. I cherish my foodie culture: after a decade of cooking with my aunt, I am able to make four course meals with ease. I cherish my family’s theater roots and my theater future, thanks to Professor Hill. I cherish my environmental activism thanks to the seeds sown by Katie Spotz six years ago in Chautauqua, which have found a home with the CSS Green Team, H2O for Life, and the Maria Mitchell Association. I cherish my music roots, planted by a YWHA kindergarten afterschool program, which allows me, eight years later, to be in a rock band. I cherish my three island homes: Manhattan, Ireland, Nantucket, which are filled with family and memories. I cherish my strong body, made stronger by the ineffable Professor Delucia and SONYC’s swim program, which allows me to be a surfer. I cherish my seven year old sister Mabel, who everyday plants the seeds for sistersforlife. I cherish the dedication CSS has to social change, philosophical debate, and choice over habit, from Professor Rohr’s debates in room 415 to Contrariwise debates on the international stage.
Our cultures, at CSS and beyond, grow from small but mighty seeds of thought, commitment, love, and imagination. I cherish that CSS has given me this moment to celebrate that my habits are my choices, and they are healthy choices which insure a culture of possibility, progress, sustainability, and peace.