Dear Leadership: Passion Week speaker’s message falls flat

Emily Cerf

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In recent years, Leadership has brought in a speaker to talk to the entire student body and staff to inspire them.

This year, former preschool teacher Davey Muise, lead singer of Boston-based alternative punk rock band Vanna, spoke to supplement Redwood’s first ever Passion Week, a week intended to recognize the passions of Redwood community members.

Leadership chose Muise with assistance from the Chris Fisher agency, which helps schools find speakers for their intended audience, according to leadership teacher David Plescia. The speaker, who students felt best embodied the theme of Passion week, was voted upon by the entire Leadership class.

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When I entered the gymnasium on Thursday morning to listen to Muise’s speech, I expected a message centered around the theme of the week: “making your passion your purpose.” With posters and an enthusiastic introduction, Leadership promoted the speaker as an uplifting addition to their new spirit week. However, his speech left me confused and frustrated, and I heard murmurs in the halls from others who felt similarly.

Muise’s website says that the most important idea he hopes to convey is that “ the youth of today have the ability to use their creativity as a means of helping dig others out of the negativity they may be buried in.” Yet his message was one of self-aggrandizement, burying the idea of “making your passion your purpose” beneath sexism and an oversimplification of issues of mental health and addiction. The theme of the week seemed to be a small footnote at the end of a 75-minute anecdote about his personal struggles.

Muise’s speech included several instances of profound sexism. During one particularly reprehensible account, when he spoke about a young girl who self-harmed due to feelings of isolation, he asserted that a woman’s sole aspiration is to achieve surface beauty.

“Ladies, all you want to do is feel beautiful and make all your girlfriends feel beautiful, right?” Muise asked the crowd, adding that this is “not a lot to ask for.” He also said that this mindset is the reason girls follow beauty and fitness accounts on instagram and other social media platforms.

For a man to broadcast his assumption that the sole aspiration of half the population is to obtain a socially accepted version of beauty is undeniably wrong. Although there is nothing shameful about wanting to look beautiful, to presume that it is the only trait a woman can want is offensive to any woman who aspires to valued for more than her physical worth––which is every woman.

Generations of women have dedicated their lives to abolishing a mindset that places women beneath men. It is unbelievable that our school hired and promoted a speaker who furthers this antiquated, sexist rhetoric.

As if blatant sexism weren’t enough, Muise trivialized issues of mental health and substance abuse and addiction several times throughout his speech.

He claimed that his own life was saved through his music. When he was inches away from suicide, he joined a band and quickly became happy again, he recalled with pride.

Similarly, he told stories of two fans whom he inspired through his music. One girl came from a family of abandonment and abuse, but when she listened to one of his songs, all of a sudden she knew she wasn’t alone, Muise claimed, and she was cured.

In another instance, when a heroin addict became clean but was tempted back to addiction by his friends, he listened to Muise’s music and suddenly had the perseverance to continue to live clean, get a job, and start a family.

While it is a lovely thought that music can save someone’s life, and studies have shown that music can provide channels of expression and relief, it is a complete oversimplification of mental illness to say that it can be cured by plugging in a pair of headphones.

According to a December 2015 Bark survey, 13 percent of students struggle with a mental illness and 42 percent of students know someone close to them who struggles with mental illness. If these students and their loved ones could be healed from their mental illness, and if curing mental illness and substance abuse were as simple as listening to the music of someone with similar issues, than it seems safe to say that there would be no suicide, no depression, no addicts.

Members of my own family have struggled with substance abuse, causing deep pain and suffering to my family. It is deeply insulting to hear this speaker trivialize issues that can plague families for years and even lifetimes.

It is unfortunate that Leadership selected a speaker who, instead of inspiring, left me and many of my peers disappointed and disillusioned by his sexist comments and trivialization of mental illness and substance addiction. I urge Leadership to be more careful when choosing an “inspirational” assembly speaker in the future.