The Student News Site of Great Neck North High School

Guide Post

The Student News Site of Great Neck North High School

Guide Post

The Student News Site of Great Neck North High School

Guide Post

Unity Day: Why I Stayed Silent

When my English teacher pitched the idea, I declined the opportunity to speak at the Unity Day assemblies. This is why.

I am a student at North High, I am a passionate writer, and I have Tourette’s Syndrome. These are facts. 

These aspects of my identity prompted my English teacher to pull me aside in a meeting, describe the Unity Day assembly, and ask if I would be willing to speak. 

It made sense, of course. Characterized by uncontrollable movements and sounds called tics, my Tourette’s Syndrome is a relatively unique experience, but one that many people with misunderstood conditions can relate to. My testimony would reinforce the idea that stereotypes stretch beyond the realms of race or religion, and even if you don’t know someone’s condition, it’s so much more important to be respectful and open-minded. 

North High’s freshman class listens to Dr. Holtzman’s preliminary announcement at the first Unity Day assembly on Apr. 11. (Mr. Eckers)

More than that, though, my Tourette’s is an adversity that I have been judged for—an adversity that leads people to explore differences rather than similarities, elevating its relevance in relation to Unity Day. I think students at North High could have benefitted from hearing me speak. I think they might have

I could’ve talked about statistics: how it’s more common than you think, and how one in five children have tics, mild or severe. I could’ve talked about upholding respect and remaining conscious of others’ struggles, even when you don’t know the full story. I could’ve talked about the people who mocked me, called me names, and callously taunted me—the ones who sat in that very audience. 

I could’ve talked, but I did not. I told my English teacher that I’d think about it. Knowing wholeheartedly that I’d already made up my mind, I walked out of the room with my real answer writhing inside me.

To conclude the assembly, students from Asian Culture Club perform a traditional Lion Dance, with senior Aidan Lam playing the drums and junior Torrey Ge playing the cymbals. (Mr. Eckers)

There would be strangers walking around North High with the most candid parts of myself, with a truth I’ve attempted to hide for years. I wasn’t ready for such a monumental change. I wasn’t ready for negative feedback, either—I just couldn’t imagine opening myself completely to the perception of my peers and being faced with utter disrespect. And I did not trust them to be kind. 

Weeks later, as I sat in the auditorium with my science class, I twitched and anticipated the speeches to come. Would they be met with jeers? Admiration? Or no emotion at all? The six presenters spoke beautifully, and they spoke bravely, prioritizing acceptance and understanding over their own nerves. 

I did not have their strength; I didn’t even have the strength to try. 

Yet, the Unity Day assembly inspired me, reinstilling my faith in North High’s students. A boy who had taunted me years ago sat a few seats away from me, and as he fixed his eyes on a speaker, I wondered what he could be thinking of. In his face, did I see a small glimpse of understanding? Or was it just my imagination? 

Glancing around the auditorium, I saw so many peers who were just entranced. To my surprise, they were listening.


Students listen intently to speaker Lucas Turofsky, a junior who discussed North High’s walk of solidarity for Israel last fall. (Mr. Eckers)

I’m not sure if I regret my choice; I maintain the fact that I was justified in my decision, as well as my concerns. But I wished I kept an open mind rather than assuming how my speech would be received by the audience. Fortunately, I was proven wrong about the students of North High and their capacity to change. 

As Unity Week concludes, I realize that it doesn’t matter if I regret my choice: there’s always next year. 

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