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Hill Celebrates Dedication of the Warner Center for Spiritual Life and Equity

A glorious, sunny Sunday afternoon served as the perfect backdrop to a ceremony celebrating the dedication of the newly established Warner Center for Spiritual Life and Equity. On September 26, student and faculty leaders and members of Hill’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council led the programming for the special event, which also included remarks by Michael Tennant ’00, founder and CEO of Curiosity Lab,  empathy expert, and creator of Actually Curious, a unique card game which fights divisiveness. 

Olivia Kalu ’22 and John Ju ’23, co-chairs of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Student Leadership Council, served as the emcees for the ceremony.

“I would like to acknowledge the joy and hope our Student Leadership Team shares in dedicating this new space and what it means for Hill and its future,” Olivia shared. “The DEI student leadership team is dedicated to making every member of our community not only feel equally valued in our Hill School family, but have the accessibility to highlight our identities and culture.”

John noted the Council’s theme this year of “Unity Through Our Differences” and shared his personal hope that “the Warner Center and DEI can truly make Hill the family boarding school for students of all various identities,” noting it was the family boarding school ideal that made Hill stand out among other schools.

Dean of Spiritual Life and Equity and Firestone Chaplain The Reverend Khristi Adams reflected on the importance of having a dedicated, physical space on campus that reinforces The Hill’s commitment to cultivating an inclusive community through programming and initiatives that support Spiritual Life and DEI work at the School.

“We are a community that values all of our diverse cultures, identities, beliefs, and perspectives,” said Reverend Adams. “We want to be a place that provides emotional, social and personal support to students and faculty of underserved and underrepresented communities. It is our hope that this space will be a place for programs and initiatives, but also relationship building, community, and rest.”

Before Michael Tennant ‘00 offered his keynote remarks, Nimala Sivakumar ’23, a member of the DEI Student Leadership Council, courageously shared a powerful “spoken word” (please scroll down to read).

Keynote remarks by Michael Tennant '00

‘“I have mixed memories about my experience at Hill,” Michael Tennant ’00 candidly shared at the start of his keynote address, noting that at that time, the School was not a place that necessarily prioritized inclusivity. While there were times when he felt seen and heard by people who he was close to at Hill, there were many times he was left feeling alone and unheard and needing to walk away.

 “What I began to realize is that unity doesn't always feel like harmony, Michael shared. “In fact, often it can feel like the opposite. Dissonance. Discomfort. And the more diverse our personalities, perspectives, and backgrounds, the greater the opportunity for difference.  But unity is what you get on the other side of that difference.”

Michael asked students to close their eyes and think of a moment that “will light your way to clarity, to peace, to purpose, to happiness,” emphasizing that “the dreams of love and happiness that we all seek, are available to us. We just have to create it in our minds first.” Michael encouraged students to “hold on to your passion and let it guide you to your integrity, and to your happiness.”

He ended his poignant and poetic remarks by sharing possibilities of “his favorite memory of Hill these days” noting times:

Where I found the courage, even when it was uncomfortable, to stand in my integrity. Where a shared struggle brought me closer to community - my fellow alumni, to members of the faculty and administration, to the ability to have my story affect the lives of those that follow.

Organizations have formed across the Hill ecosystem to keep discussion, agency, and representation alive and growing. A building has been dedicated to commemorate this moment in time.

Perhaps my favorite memory at the Hill will be right now. Or some other moment that the people in this will room create, or perhaps a moment curated by those you inspire. Let us fill this space with voices that inspire the true pursuit of unity. And make this next moment matter. What happens from here forward… turning dissonance into harmony, over and over. That's unity. That's love.

The dedication ceremony concluded with a special prayer led by Associate Chaplain The Reverend Anne Confer Martens ’02 in which she offered thanks for this special place of warmth and welcome for all.

"Spoken Word" by Nimala Sivakumar ’23

before I left for the tenth grade
my parents warned me, telling me to start quieting down
to let words roll off my tongue like droplets of rain
to join the gentle drizzle instead of organizing the storm clouds
and to keep my eyes set on the horizon 
the leader of the troupe
to somehow be both part of the crowd and apart from it  
and they stitched those phrases together with contradiction
and set it down in front of me like it was dinner 
and I saw it not as orders but
as a choice 

before I left for tenth grade
I had fallen back in love with my culture
with banana leaf plates and silk sarees and dosa and idli
and bending space and time between my fingertips and joining elements together with my hands every time I ate
the words had long lost their home on my tongue 

but I found them and pieced them together with broken accent 
finding through my own cultural history
that rebellion courses through my blood
that the scorned children of Murugan, god of war
the god I was named after
joined hands even though some found solace in Gods that did not make their home on the summit of the Himalayas
and spun storms with the same hands that joined elements at their will
and with the words of the thirukurral on their tongues
they claimed ‘nininru amaiyatu olakenin yaryarkum 
vaninru amaiyatu olukku’
‘The world can’t survive without water’
‘And morality can’t exist without rains’ 

As I started tenth grade
I knew rebellion coursed through my blood
That mere water brought upon the floods of morality
And with my parents warning drums reverberating in my ears
I knew I had to make a choice  

and during tenth grade
with the words of thirukkural stuck in between my teeth
in face of the sun dried soil that ignorance found its home in
I continued to pull together the rains 

rebellion is the trickle of water into the dry soil
it is the refusal to yank the gold from my friend’s flesh
it is the refusal to become inure in the face of injustice
it is the refusal to shut your eyes and close your ears
because though silence quells the fears at night
when everyone shuts their ears injustices go unheard
all but a wound whispering victims in the wind 

as I ended tenth grade, I bought six books on the subject of love
I yearned to find some kind of answer,
some idea of how to better myself and how to be ‘happy’
but all i realized is that love finds its home anywhere
it permeates every word in every language
it nourishes the seed and gives way to life
it opens the redolent rain lilies
it is the rebellion that shakes the dry bones of those who refuse to pay attention
it is the rebellion in a time where we attempt to overcome floods on our own
it is the rebellion in a time where we only see what divides us instead of what draws us together

unity is the petrichor emerging from the rich nutrient filled soil
the blood of all gods that gives way to all life
and the verse from thirukkural that stays spinning in my mind
vellath thanaiya idumpai arivutaiyaan
ullatthin ullak kedum
that the floods of tribulation will be wiped away
when the wise set their minds on overcoming it
that alone, one drop cannot nourish a field
but together, a storm can bring life to dry soil 

and in the blushing crimson of cruel history
with blood smeared content and torn out pages
we continue to hold the pen
and as fraught times continue
and the sun takes its high throne in the sky
let us hold our hands up high
draw together the clouds
and let it pour