For a brief moment during the chapel service honoring Indian independence and the death of former prime minister Atal Vajpayee, on Friday, August 17, a majority of students rejoiced. Dr. Jonathan Long, principal, had just announced that classes would be suspended for the day in solidarity with schools across the country that were closed to mark the first of the seven-day mourning period, and students responded with a sustained cheer.
Later that day, community members reflected on the disrespectful showing by students. A number of teachers and student leaders attributed the applause to the immaturity of the audience, considering this a learning experience for the students and community.
Mr. Steve Luukkonen, head of physical education and ninth grade adviser, made ninth graders stay back in the gym to give them a talk about their behavior, which he described as “extremely disappointing.”
He said, “In my ten years at Woodstock, this is probably the most disrespectful behavior I’ve seen from the student body.”
The Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away on Thursday August 16, just the evening before the chapel service. The news led to many last-minute changes to the program agenda in order to make it more solemn.
The chapel service began with a speech by Mr. Arjun Puri, director of development, to commemorate the achievements of Atal Vajpayee.
A successful poet and renowned orator, Vajpayee was the first non-Congress Prime Minister to serve a full five-year-term from 1998 to 2004. He played a key role during the Indian Independence Movement. He is also credited with significantly improving the country’s diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, namely Pakistan and China.
Yet, even after being informed of the significance of the leader, students exhibited disrespectful behavior throughout the chapel service. Many students were on their phones, talking with friends, and even dozing off.
Mr. Simon Paul, chaplain, was “shocked” by the conduct. He said, “I thought through the chapel service and memorial, we had gotten across that this was a solemn day and a time for reflection to remember a great man.” He called the cheerful reaction to Dr. Long’s announcement “very unpleasant.”
Other staff members believe that the reaction was something that would be expected out of middle school and high school students.
Mr. Prateek Santram, Indian history teacher, called the cheerful reaction “natural and genuine.” He added, “I’m not blaming them, but at the same time, it was disrespectful because it’s not a fun holiday: it’s for mourning.”
Mr. Puri shared similar thoughts. He said, “If I was a student, I would have jumped up and celebrated because it’s a holiday. But after having spoken about the prime minister at the start of the assembly, I felt kinda bad, but at the end of the day you learn, you know?”
During candle-lighting by teachers of different faiths, Mr. Puri had to send a tenth grader out of the gym for twenty minutes for making inappropriate comments. After the assembly, the student apologized to Mr. Puri for his behavior. An eleventh grader was also told off by Mrs. Swati Shrestha for sleeping.
Immediately after the assembly, many student leaders took charge.
Dr. Long said that various class governors apologized to him on behalf of students, both in person and by email.
At Midlands, dorm president Pankhuri Poddar held a collective check-in for all girls in the dorm just a short time after everyone returned from school. She explained the significance of the deceased former prime minister and asked students to reflect on their behavior. She then held ten minutes of complete silence, during which time everyone acted appropriately.
When asked about the incident later, she said, “I get people getting excited in the beginning for like the first couple of seconds, but it was really disrespectful of us to continue cheering for almost like two minutes. That’s why I held the ten minutes of silence to make up for it.”
Similarly at Hostel, Kritin Garg, school president, gave a small speech on the importance of respect for the fallen leader. He talked about how the seniors should behave and act as role models for the younger people during sensitive events such as this.
He then opened the floor up, allowing others to add their sentiments on the issue: one person talked about how everyone needed to react sensibly according to his or her surroundings.
To this, Garg added the fact that there was a seven-day mourning period for the deceased man, revealing just how much he meant to the country.
After so many chances for reflection, most students seemed to understand their mistake and were remorseful. However, not all were happy with how the disrespectful showing was dealt with.
For instance, ninth graders had mixed feelings about how their grade was singled out after assembly, despite the fact that all grades had reacted disrespectfully.
Kalsang Wangchen, Class of 2022, said, “It was a really natural response. We just got really excited, and most of us didn’t know who the political leader was. We were just excited because it was a holiday.” She added that the advisers in her grade were “very strict.”
Others thought that their grade deserved the talk that Mr. Luukonnen gave them.
Maanasa Muppala, Class of 2022, said, “Our grade wasn’t only disrespectful when they announced the holiday, but we were talking throughout the assembly.”
Similarly, Gyeongmin Kang, Class of 2022, said, “I think Mr. Luukonnen did the right thing. We were disrespectful.”
This wasn’t the only occasion where students displayed complete disregard during chapel services. On numerous occasions, teachers have had to confiscate devices and earphones due to students’ disinterested attitude towards the occasion. Students’ explanation for the lack of attention during chapels is the frequent complaint that they are “too long and boring.”
To this, Mr. Paul said, “There isn’t such a thing as a boring chapel, there are only boring people. If you’re prepared to listen attentively and take in what’s going on, then you realize it’s far from boring. In fact, it’s very pertinent to yourself.” He blamed the student conduct on “immaturity.”
“There’s a place and time for everything. There’s a place and time for celebration, but today was a place and time for respect and quiet,” he said.
Pictures by the author of this post.
Dhrubhagat Singh contributed to this article.
Edited by Dhrubhagat Singh.