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Amazing Grace at Samohi:

On Wednesday, June 15, Samo held a peace rally in its Greek Theater. Samo’s Leadership class planned and organized the rally with the support and assistance of track coach and history teacher Patrick Cady. According to Cady, the rally was intended to send the graduating seniors off with an inspiring message, as well as to pass those positive feelings on to the lowerclassmen.

As I walked to the Greek Theater on my way to the rally, in the midst of a massive crowd of people, I wondered what lay in store for me. I’ve been to plenty of pep rallies in my four years – usually a shouting match between each grade level (“Oh five!” “Oh four!”) while the freshmen look on, utterly confused. Sometimes, there’s an obstacle course for the team captains of different sports teams, usually involving whipped cream, a skateboard, and a hula hoop, among other items. Then there’s always the provocative dancing, either by the cheerleaders, the songs team, or both. And if we’re lucky, the marching band will perform a song or two from the corner of the Greek.

Based on my knowledge of Samo’s pep rallies, I had no idea what a peace rally could possibly be. Try as I might, I couldn’t picture the entire student body dressed in tie-dyed clothes and singing along to cheerful songs. When I entered the Greek, I knew right away that I was in for a treat: there was a student band set up on the stage, ready to perform. I grabbed a seat with some friends, and waited for the show to begin.

As I watched the rally, I realized that it was most definitely different from a normal pep rally. The focus seemed to be on embracing differences and diversity, and the speeches that were given and the music, poetry, and dancing that were performed reflected this.

History teacher Don Hedrick eased people into the rally, as he sang a song and played his guitar for the crowd. As Cady said, “You could feel it right from the beginning [that the rally] was working.”

Two seniors, Kristina Von Hoffman and Sanyu Nagenda, then performed amazing slam poetry for us. The audience remained more silent during their poem than during the moment of silence that Cady later requested as the students and faculty reflected on former Samo students who are no longer with us.

Then the dancers arrived on stage, and again, I was reminded that this wasn’t your ordinary rally. The cheerleading and songs teams weren’t anywhere in sight. Instead, some hula dancers and several other students performed for us. Yes, some of it was mildly provocative, but nothing like it usually is.

Leadership arranged for a guest speaker, Fernando Espuelas, to talk to us. He told us of the difficulties he faced growing up as an immigrant to the US, and how he rose to success with his company Voy.

The student band, Bird Waffle, was amazing. As they performed, I looked around the Greek, and realized that over 3000 people were all being happy together. The kid who sits next to me in Sociology class was jamming away like a pro at the drums on stage, while my French teacher clapped along to the music, and my closest friends danced and hugged each other. As corny as it might sound, some sort of magical spell seemed to capture the audience. Even seeing my teachers dancing wasn’t as disturbing as it normally might have been. Needless to say, everyone fell in love with the band, especially the lead singer, who is now something of a legend among the people I know.

The rally wound down with a speech by Coach Cady. He captivated the audience in a way that is rare at Samo, telling the story of a slave trader who changed his ways and became an Episcopalian priest – the story of the man who wrote “Amazing Grace.” He then led Samo’s largest choir in singing the song while he played his ukulele. Samohi Idol winner Jacqueline Harris also sang a few solo verses, and then requested that the audience join in for the last verse.

Much to my surprise, many people in the audience began singing. I couldn’t believe it. It was the sweetest thing I think I’ve ever seen at Samo, watching everyone from football players to band enthusiasts singing their hearts out to “Amazing Grace.”

Everyone then sang Samo’s “Hymn of Praise,” and the rally was over. I stood there in happy shock. I will never know if everyone there took the rally seriously. But the administration, the Leadership class, and all of the students and teachers I talked to felt that the rally was highly successful. “The love and unity out there was so thick you could feel it,” said Cady. “It was so moving.”

I heard more than a few rumors that some minor skirmishes almost broke out that very same day. After witnessing the rally, though, I simply refuse to believe it.Ava Tramer will graduate from Samohi tomorrow.

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