On two Sunday, June 14 and 21, 2015, the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County proudly graduated four students of its Ethical Education program, most of whom attended since preschool. The graduates were Miles Jack, Olias Bendian, Devon Wallman, and Sascha Kaplan.
Their mentors were respectively Ed Gross, Paul Fine, Jaymie Gerard, and Lisa Schwartz.
Leader Joe Chuman stated that the Education Program is “Ethical’s most important work” and that “we can feel proud . . . . to honor these graduates.” Director of EE, Sabine Salandy described how the students and their mentors work beyond a project. They work together to prepare the students to graduate into the Society and society in general.
After the presentations, the Society embraced the new graduates by individually joining the Circle of Peace whereby happiness, pride, and insight were combined and offered to the students and their families.
Devon Wallman’s presentation entitled, “Values in Love Songs,” fused her reflections on her personal values with those of her favorite recording artist, Taylor Swift, and the values of Ethical Culture Society. Devon enhanced her talk with music and lyrics from some of Swift’s love songs, and she gracefully drew connections for the audience between lyrics and values.
Devon described values simply as the things we believe in deeply, and she defined her own values by thinking about the things in her life that she is most passionate about. She then shared lists of her values, Taylor Swift’s values and the values of Ethical culture Society, and finally a list of the shared values between all three. Some of these shared values included authenticity, kindness, honesty, trust and respect.
After defining these values, Devon played clips from several Taylor Swift’s love songs while she displayed the corresponding lyrics so the audience could read along. For each song, Devon pointed out which of the shared values were found in the song. She also included her interpretations of the lyrics and the reasons why she highlighted those particular values. Devon ended her presentation with a short reflection on her time at Sunday School and her future plans for living authentically to her values and the values she leaned through the ethical culture society.
Sascha’s Kaplan’s graduation presentation was entitled “Wicked” as it related to Ethical Cultures core values. “Wicked” was a book turned play that takes a deeper look into the two witches of “The Wizard of Oz”- Galinda, the “good” witch and Elpheba, the “bad” witch. “Wicked” takes a deeper look into these two characters to explore how “good” and “bad” are defined and challenges how society generally defines these two qualities. In “Wicked”, Elpheba is born green – she is different from all other Ozians and is therefore, misunderstood. Elpheba is impulsive, sensitive and speaks her mind about things that are wrong in the land of Oz; she questions the questionable actions of the “almighty wizard” and is an advocate for what she believes is right. So, because she defies the norms, she is labelled “bad”. Galinda is pretty, cheerful, pleasant and conforms to the rules of Oz; she follows rules and does not question things that are wrong, so she becomes the “good” witch.
As Elpheba and Galinda get to know each other, they begin to understand and influence each other, and eventually become friends…
Sascha elequently related this story to some of our core values by demonstrating how the development and exploration of these two characters show that each person must be treated with integrity, that ethics is central and sometimes requires that we speak out against injustice and that we have the ability to influence others in doing so.
Olias Bendian presented a survey and ethical critique of superhero comic books as a popular art form since World War II. As a lover of current Marvel Comics, Olias applauded serious efforts by Marvel to include ethnic, culturally diverse, and gay individuals as superheroes. These heroes include: Black Panther (from the 60’s), Miles Morales (an alternative Spiderman), as well as several others. The talk was illustrated with colorful excerpts from comic books as well as a short but fascinating film clip from a recent X-Men film.
Olias discussed how comic books have represented changing values within our culture as well as the somewhat ethically questionable theme of vigilantism which is implicit in the super hero archetype.
Olias related his subject to himself and his own development in the Bergen Ethical Society. Olias is a young man with a mixed ethnic heritage and an awareness of the struggles that others have had to face with regard to racism, classism, and sexism. Olias’s presentation celebrated the diversity within himself, our community, and his beloved comic books.
Miles Jack’s presentation considered the nature of situation comedies on television and whether, by watching, viewers like him could learn ethics or have their ethical values reinforced. He began by describing the relationship between humor, which is the main thrust of sitcoms, and ethics. Then Miles discussed Norman Lear as the person most responsible for ethical issues being portrayed explicitly in TV comedies like “All in the Family” and its spin-offs. Miles used his work in the Discovery Journal given to all graduates to determine that his own highest ethical values were fairness and making the world a better place. The heart of Miles’ talk was a discussion of three ways that ethics such as those are portrayed. For this, he used examples from his three favorite current sitcoms – “Blackish,” “Modern Family” and “The Goldbergs.” His examples dealt with the acceptance of a gay adult child, communicating love in a family without words, choosing between your heritage and your adopted homeland, and the difficulty of standing up for a cause you believe in. His conclusion was that while sitcoms sometimes show ethical behavior, they more often make points about ethics by showing the reverse. However, sometimes they present realistic situations that are complicated ethically and leave the viewers to draw their own conclusions.