Since 2009, hundreds of Summit students have walked to the front of the Chapel and bared their souls to an audience of 400 peers, teachers, parents and special guests.
These Chapel Talks have been alternatively poignant, enlightening, artsy, surprising and playful while embracing the broad diversity of experiences, perspectives and backgrounds of the student body.
Many reflected deeply on the transitional experience of growing into adulthood. Liz (Edwards) Ford ’10 discovered how cool her dad really was. Fatima (Moscat) Pardos ’11 elaborated on patriotism. Brittany Williams ’11 challenged her audience to rethink the definition of beauty.
Others built acceptance for all kinds of diversity. Isabelle Saldana ’13 likened her family dinner table to a meeting of the United Nations where Puerto Rico, Portugal, France, and the Peoples Republic of China hold nightly confabs. Wearing traditional Middle Eastern garb, Sara Ahmed ’12 talked about how to balance modesty dictated by her religion with fashion.
Some have been playful, even though they shone a light on serious truths. Simon Chow ’11 suggested adding sprinkles not just to donuts but life itself. Wearing a pith helmet, Shirley Nunlist ’11 described observing her Middle School peers in their natural habitat and discovered The Summit is an ecosystem as convoluted as any rain forest.
Some were surprising. J McLean III ’12 delivered his talk in rap. Daniel Shisler ’19 abandoned the podium and walked down the aisle for a conversation with his classmates.
Oratories like these are not the singular domain of the Upper School. The Summit’s highly-trained faculty helps students develop confidence for oral presentations beginning as preschoolers and gives them opportunities to shine in front of an audience at every grade level. But Chapel Talks are a specific rite of passage in the Upper School and the capstone experience of Soleil, The Summit’s Oratory Leadership Program.
Illuminating each student’s personalized education experience, Soleil helps students develop a sense of self, hone leadership skills and find their voice. Chapel Talks polish oratory skills as students reflect on who they are and who they want to be.
“What Summit's Chapel Talks became, and why it is so special to me, is that it shed light on my fellow classmates whom I had been sitting next to for at least four years,” says Gaby (Chandra) Napier ’10, who was among a group of faculty and students who defined the program after a visit in 2008 to Phillips Academy, Roxbury Latin and St. Sebastian’s to research similar programs. “I thought that I knew my classmates and friends, but after hearing their Chapel Talks, I felt I had a better understanding of who they were and how their beliefs were formed. Personally, and I think for every senior, when they write their Chapel Talk, it is a time to reflect on their own experiences and how they have grown into a person ready to be a leader in the world we’ve inherited.”
Telling stories that form connections is the most important aspect of Chapel Talks, says senior Colleen McIlvenna ’19. “That’s what stories do,” she says. “They connect us. They bring us together. They teach us more about ourselves and even others.”
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Soleil is a French adjective which means to finish with a high luster.
The Summit’s Oratory Leadership Program, Soleil polishes the oratory skills of Upper School students and guides them to become leaders of character. Soleil fosters and empowers personal growth in faith, character, morally-based leadership and formation of conscience.
Through a formal curriculum, students study speech as freshmen and take leadership classes as sophomores and juniors.
Chapel Talks is the fourth component of Soleil. Students also have opportunities to practice what they have learned through Soleil in assemblies, student-led activities, liturgy, the arts, extra-curricular activities, advisement and community events.
At its core, the Chapel Talks program holds that:
- Interpersonal and oral communication is vitally important in a digital age.
- Growth cannot happen without inquiry and reflection.
- The historic chapel is the best place at The Summit to gather in God’s presence and get to know each other more fully.