By Katrina Yeung, Prayers Prefect, 2016-17
Excerpts from a speech presented at Upper School Prayers on September 12, 2016
Hey Havergal. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m one of the two Kat Yeungs, and I’m both really excited and scared to be your Prayers Prefect this year. Scared because admittedly, speaking in front of hundreds of girls and teachers whom I admire so much can be a little terrifying. Excited because I truly believe that Prayers is one of the most special things at Havergal. I mean, when else in your life are you going to be able to start your day listening to an awe-worthy music performance, belting out a banjo-accompanied hymn, and receiving an inspiring speech, while surrounded by all your friends? What other school starts their students’ mornings in such a way?
Over the past 11 years that I’ve been at this school, I’ve sat through many Prayers that have inspired me and shaped how I look at the world. I remember School Captain Lindsay Newman’s anecdotes, Nicole Leung’s spine-chilling musical performances and my teachers’ thought-provoking questions. I remember laughing at Halloween videos, bawling at sister prayers, being really confused that one time Alex Holgate ran across the stage singing Total Eclipse of the Heart. I remember passionate speeches and speeches that made everyone in the hall laugh and cry together. The fact that the entire Upper School can gather in this hall and listen to ideas is truly special. Prayers gives us time to stop and reflect on themes together as a school. It’s a space for shared spiritual, moral-based learning and thought. In those ways, Prayers unifies our school and strengthens our community in ways people from outside of Havergal might not understand. Whenever I mention Prayers to someone from outside the school, the reaction is usually “Why is it called Prayers? What do you mean, you sit in a hall for forty minutes before class? Do you pray the whole time?”
Some people might be thrown off by this title, ‘Prayers’, especially in an increasingly secular world. And yes, we have a prayer every morning. And we sing hymns together; it’s an amazing and valuable space for the religious members of our community to connect with their faith. But you don’t have to be a religious person to participate. I mean, I’m not religious, I’d consider myself agnostic, but I still like listening to the prayer and singing the hymn. I mean, singing with all your friends is kind of a super fun way to start the morning. And a prayer, whether you believe in a higher power or not, still gives everyone an opportunity to reflect and be grateful, and I think such reflection is really important. That element of reflection, I think, that really contributes the feeling of intimacy I get from Prayers. Prayers to me is an intimate environment where we can comfortably share music, religion and ideas through our community, and that’s why I think it’s so special.
So tune into the music. Jam out with the staff band Staff Infection, admire the technical and musical skill of our soloists and clap along with your friends’ ensemble. Belt out the lyrics to Down to the River to Pray and Vitai Lampada Tradens – I know you have the lyrics memorized. Listen to your fellow students’ and teachers’ speeches and ideas with an open mind. Wonder about their perspectives. One of the coolest things about Prayers, in my opinion, is that even though we’re all sitting in straight lines, wearing the same flawless uniform, we can all have such different opinions on what is shared. Talk about Prayers with your friends: what did you like and dislike about the speech? What did you think about the music? Did you learn anything? Open up conversation about it. Make the most out of your morning in Prayers. And get up here yourself. Really.
Every single person in this hall has something we can learn from. There’s such a wealth of knowledge and perspective in this school. I urge you to share your perspective up here one day. Share your story. What have you seen that we haven’t? What have you learned that we have yet to? What are you passionate about? What golden nuggets have you got to share? By sharing our many different perspectives and ideas, I think we’re, at some level, diminishing ignorance and promoting compassion in the school. Ignorance is the root of all evils, so get up here and share what knowledge you’ve got. I really hope Prayers this year is as special for you as it has been for me.