On April 25th, U-32’s atrium was crowded full of students and teachers, gathered to look up at the balcony above the entrance. It was Word of Mouth, the school’s tradition of student performances between classes on special days in the year.
At one moment, Orlando Whitcomb-Worden, a Senior, was standing at the microphone, waiting for the crowd to give him their attention.
The crowd quieted down, and he began his speech. He described his own experience dealing with the death of his TA, Laure Angel, as a way to shed light on the school’s hard issues. Months later the speech still resonates.
Orlando wanted people to think about their role in disrespectful situations.
“There’s just a lot of bad behavior going on,” Orlando said, describing his reasons for making the speech. “I feel like there is this culture being created where people don’t even view some of the things they do as harassment or assault.”
“This school is fairly liberal,” he said. “We’re usually accepting of everyone, but how can we do that when we sort of slowly, silently perpetuate some of those things?”
“It went through a lot of drafts… a lot of different versions,” Orlando said.
“It started out as a bad poem. Then it turned into a speech. I worked on it for a week and a half on it. Riley [Flynn] was the person who help on the formatting, like intertwining the things I saw in the school versus my problems.”
“I ran it by some people to make sure it was something people would listen too.”
Here’s the first part of Orlando’s speech:
It was a sunny winter day when Laure Angel passed away
Yet what followed for all those that knew her was not so bright
For me, the coming weeks moved in slow days, sometimes filled with little purpose
And I know it still feels that way for many of us.
Even though Laure wasn’t perfect, she stood for something,
She stood for love and she stood for kindness.
Maybe that’s why I missed her even more in the coming weeks.
Everything I’m about to say, it’s about U-32 and it’s true.
Two Weeks After Laure, I Cried Every Night
It was a cold winter day when I heard the N-Word shouted on the bus,
But, surprisingly enough, it was only the first time of many.
And even though I yelled back the first time,
I didn’t know who said it and I couldn’t manage to do it again.
Four Weeks After Laure, I Wanted to Sleep Every Hour
It finally looked like a spring day when I heard that other word while in line for lunch,
Or as many seem to use it, a playful insult to make someone seem lesser.
In a school where we claim to accept people, it seems as though sometimes, we take the right to casually disrespect others.
But I didn’t say anything, I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t have the energy.
Six Weeks After Laure, I Stopped Doing the little Homework that I had
It seemed to be winter again when Acting Up performed for our second core.
I’m still saddened by what we have to perform.
Guys sexually harassing girls in the 8th grade, and you can’t tell me that it’s not harassment.
Because it made me think about the freshman and sophomore girls who have reluctantly admitted that they might have been harassed or raped, because they wanted to be liked.
And you might think, well it’s not me, but it’s anything. Catcalling, nudes, grabbing people.
And I would know, I’ve been guilty of it.
But I don’t want our school to turn into that kind of place, Acting Up is about the only thing I can do to stop that.
Orlando was referring to a specific incident when he said he’d been “guilty” of bad sexual choices.
“In 10th grade, I was on a field trip and there was a girl that I liked. We had kissed and flirted before but I didn’t know how to approach her and we were sitting next to each other in one of the school vans,” he said, describing the incident.
“At one point, I just moved my hand next to her and then around her body and under her, groping her. I can’t really explain how it happened but it did.”
“Since then, I’ve apologized on numerous occasions and she and I are very close so that’s nice, but honestly, I can’t really forgive myself for what I did. And knowing that others do it and some worse, it really hurts me.”
Here is the rest of the speech:
Eight Weeks After Laure, I Felt Neither Sad, Angry or Happy. I Felt Nothing
I didn’t even know what season it was when I was denied from my sixth and final college.
The show was about the only thing that got me through days.
I felt a burden to my friends. They all had each other. I was only an annoyance in their life.
Financially, our family doesn’t have a lot. I thought, maybe it would be easier if I didn’t have to be payed for, if I didn’t let everyone down, if I wasn’t a problem, if I wasn’t around.
Ten Weeks After Laure, unsure of my future, I slept in school, I was tardy to some classes, I even skipped my chorus class to sleep instead
It was a sunny spring day when I received news that Interlochen Arts Academy had accepted me on a large scholarship.
And I thought, well maybe that was it, I just needed to succeed, I just needed a future to be happy.
But the truth is, everything I saw in our school, how I didn’t do anything about it, and how I had felt wasn’t going to be solved with one success.
Twelve Weeks After Laure, I Wrote This
So this is my attempt. Everyone deserves to be happy. Everyone deserves a friend.
But most of all, everyone deserves respect.
When I talked to Laure Angel, I knew she was listening. I knew she really was hearing.
Everyone in our TA knew that she respected us, even if we all had different dreams.
I know I can’t change everything in this school, I’m not a saint, I’ve even perpetuated things.
But I can encourage us to really see each other.
To smile at people in the hallways, to take into consideration someone else’s wants, someone else’s feelings, someone else’s past.
I’ll probably still hear those words in the hallway, I’d hope to not see those acts, and I know I won’t be happy every moment that I have left in this school.
But at least, I can be content to have friends, I can try to be better and I can hope that some of you will care and try, because no one deserves to feel alone, and no one has a right to make others feel lesser.
As Orlando made the speech, the atrium was dead quiet. Hundreds of students and faculty listened.
“Whenever I’m in a large crowd, whether I’m telling my story or a characters, there’s always pressure that I deliver because performance is what I do,” he said. “As the speech went on, I heard that people were listening and I felt much better.”
“It was encouraging that I’ve only received nice comments since the speech, from a vast range of people in the school.”
Here are some of the students’ reactions:
Rene Robert, 9th Grade-
“He was down about how the school is, how he lost one of his best friends.… It was surprising because he open up about his life a lot and in the past year.”
“It’s interesting to hear someone who I really didn’t know that well talk about something so deep. It will make a big difference in people’s eyes.”
Jordan Hawkins, 10th Grade-
“Wasn’t it about how stuff went on the bus and stuff like that? He was saying that kids were saying the ‘n word’ on the back of the bus. I was kind of upset to hear about that but I didn’t experience it…”
“Where I was, no one was laughing or joking. Everyone was pretty serious, took it seriously.”
Gabby Calderon, 11th Grade-
“He was really talking about being kind to others and standing up for what you believe in.”
“And then he got on to the topic about talking about women and respecting them and having the right to make choices.”
“I think it really made a big impact. Like when I was looking around, everyone was listening to what he said and it was still being talked about.”
“I think short term it can change but I don’t think long term it will make a big effect because those things are still happening.”
As for Orlando, the speech isn’t his only work toward a better school community.
He has performed in the Acting Up improv group, which “goes to the middle school and talks to them about their problems and then tries to figure out what’s a way that they can present realistic skit of their problems and try to work through them.”
“That’s some I really enjoy doing because I’m connected to the younger people in our school,” he says.
“I’m just going to be an ally to people as much as I can. It’s all about doing the best you can.”