By Christina Yakaboski
Riverhead High School
Attending a diverse high school and participating in athletics prepared me to interact with diverse populations. To befriend and respect those of a gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion different from my own is not something I have to think about; it is normal in my life.
My high school, Riverhead High School, has a 56% minority enrollment rate, surrounding me with people of various races, ethnicities, and religions. As a community, we are accommodating and inclusive, which sets a precedent for younger students.
Witnessing the determination and ambition of my Hispanic friends is one of the most beneficial parts of being part of a diverse community. I enjoy the stories of their triumphs: one’s transition from a non-English speaker to an AP student and another’s successful balance of her conservative religion and the novelty of American culture. From them, I learn that no matter how daunting a challenge may seem, we can overcome it.
Wanting to support my classmates who are English as a New Language (ENL) students, I am working with three of my peers to establish programs to strengthen their support and improve their graduation rate. With the help of our principal and the head of the ENL department, we identified some of the struggles faced by these students and brainstorm ways to alleviate some of their stress to make the transition easier. We decided that organizing a mentorship program for English Language Learners would be the most cost-effective and practical solution. Students that have successfully graduated from the ENL program would act as mentors and positive role models for current students. Mentors would interact and connect with the students, showing them that they, too, are able to graduate from the program and from high school. In return, the mentors would gain leadership experience that can aid them in other areas of their lives. Our next step is to put this plan into action.
I believe that my school’s racial, ethnic, and religious inclusiveness makes people more comfortable with coming out as a member of the LGBT+ community. There is no mold for who a person should be, what they should look like, or how they should act. When my good friend transitioned to a female, she was respected and welcomed under a new identity. To me, she is not a trans-female, but a humorous, intelligent, and helpful friend. My community has taught me to look beyond a person’s exterior to really get to know him or her before showing judgement.
Additionally, athletics have led to my participation in Athletes Helping Athletes, a group of volunteers, professional athletes, and students who mentor kids, teaching life lessons through physical activity. I work with the sixth grade students in my community to teach values like sportsmanship, hard work, teamwork, and integrity, while promoting a drug and alcohol free life. By demonstrating the importance of these values to the students, I am able to break down racial, ethnic, religious, and gender barriers that have been created by society. Through sports, these students are able to respect each other for their strengths rather than see each other’s differences.
Ultimately, diversity is important to the success of a group. Those of various gender identities, backgrounds, and beliefs offer a range of perspectives imperative to the circulation of new ideas, skills, and solutions to problems. Therefore, one’s ability to successfully work with leaders, peers, and team members of a gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and/or religion that differs from his or her own is crucial. It is a blessing to be surrounded by people who view the world differently than oneself, as these different perspectives are beneficial, not detrimental, to society, and should be embraced.