Annual Senior High Youth Service

Introduction by Serena Lincoln

I would like to lay some groundwork for what our service is going to be. The main focus is youth empowerment, with different focuses on youth leadership within Unitarian Universalism, youths’ flaws, how youth are misrepresented in media, and palleralism of generations.

Before we get into the service fully, I’d like to say this: I have heard the phrase along the lines of “Listen/respect/engage with to the youth, for they will be out future.” I do not think that you should listen to us because one day we will be the next world leaders, next ministers, next politicians. I think you should listen to us because we are human beings with thoughts, opinions and experiences of our own, even though yours greatly outnumber ours. Please come into this service with an open mind, open ears and an open heart, because you might apply some things that are discussed here to your own teenage selves. And with that I begin.

Phases, a sermonette by Serena Lincoln

In the past few decades, we have viewed phases as an inherently bad process, as if we should know who we are from the beginning. No one can be completely sure of themselves at any point. Phases force us to evaluate someone and take away assumptions we have upheld for a long time. When someone changes, especially someone younger, it forces us to change how we interact with them, this is something humans are innately against. We assume because it’s a survival instinct and it’s efficient. Spinning this impulse on its head is against our very nature because they make us second guess ourselves, because we apparently didn’t truly know someone.

Phases make us worry for someone’s future. I suppose this is justified. Colored hair, tattoos and piercings are a staple of parent’s nightmares of teenage phases, but not many kids come home with some  delinquent mark of rebellion every new day.  Parents also worry about LGBTQ+ phases, but If your daughter thinks she’s a lesbian and 3 years later says she’s bi, it was a phase, but is helped her come to terms with a more accurate identity of her sexuality. That is not a bad thing at all, but an objectively positive one.

Also, teens are taken less seriously because of phases. “It’s just a phase” is used so often to invalidate a youth’s choices, actions, beliefs or words. If it is a phase, this does not make it any less legitimate.

They give a chance for change and growth. They make spaces more vibrant and exploratory. If you didn’t go through that emo phase in sophomore year, your music taste would be a lot more bland, now would it? Maybe you had a goth phase influence your sense of style today. Without them, our opinions would be a lot more homogenous. People are meant to change and adapt to their surroundings, if you were the same person you were 10 years ago and you never changed, would you be content with that? We are meant to expand beyond our current selves and trying to repress our old selves  is denying us the ability to see our own change. People my age are trying to manifest or construct their own identities, going through phases hones their own unique character. Sure, we may “cringe” at who we were in freshman year, but we had to get through that to become the individual’s we are.

So before you judge a young person because they don’t know who they are right now, remember that we are all in a constant cycle of transformation, we molt our outdated views and habits to grant our new selves authority. As young people in this era, we are accustomed to being dismissed because of this assumption that we do not know who we are therefore we don’t know what we are talking about.

A sermonette by Amy Alberg

On Sunday December 31st, New Years Eve, youtuber Logan Paul posted a video of his journey through Aokigahara National Forest in Fujikawaguchiko, Japan. The video contained controversial footage in which Paul conducted himself in a disrespectful manner. The result, an immediate backlash from the youtube community calling for the deletion of both the video and Logan Paul’s account. After 24 hours on the site’s trending feed the video was deleted by Paul and, with the community still calling for more action, took a hiatus from his account and weekly vlogs. This entire phenomena caused a chain reaction of negative feedback and an onslaught of adults screaming the words “What has become of our youth”. Not the human race, not the prankster youtube community, not even Logan Paul. The youth. The marginalization of youth in the field of media has been happening for generations, but the evolution of media has only made things worse. Now when adults want an example of youth stupidity they look at people like Logan Paul or that one small youtuber that decided eating tide pods was a good idea.

But what about the students who organized movements to save the lives of their fellow piers from gun violence, using social media to publicize. What about the inspired youth who started companies such as “Speak Out” a Black Youth Project focused on creating justice and freedom for all black people or “Gotta Have Soul” a company started by a youth boy who wanted to make sure the homeless received shoes, so that children could go to school everyday instead of every other. There are youth doing so much good in the world and are promoting their actions using social media and the internet. But the older generation does not have the faith in the youth to look for the good and to stop marginalization.

Instead they publish articles such as “Infographic: The Internet is Making Kids Stupid” and “Is Social Media Making Millennials Stupid?” We, the youth, the people the older generation used to be, are being misrepresented by the few bad apples among us that just so happen to have more money, less common sense, and a faster internet connection. And the worst thing is, the older generation believes this false representation to be the face of  our country’s youth. They believe that the youth are one status, one youtube channel, one viral video, one post, one follow, one like. We are all our own choices, not everyone else’s. We are our own personalities, not a facebook status. We are human, just, like, you.

A sermonette by Bailey Saddlemire

Through school, music, and UUism I currently hold four different leadership positions. I serve as the President of one National Honor Society at my school and Secretary of another. I am a Musical Director of an auditioned rock group at the School of Rock Attleboro. And last but not least, I am in my final year of working on the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees as a Youth Observer. Through these wonderful opportunities I have learned one very important lesson.

The strength of youth empowerment depends on the power which is held by adults. The more power they have, the more our roles serve as tokenization instead of empowerment.

As the Youth Observer to the UUA Board of Trustees I do not have a vote. I am expected to do all the same work as the adult trustees. I sit in our thirteen hour meetings. I participate in formal, almost stilted discussion. I miss school, and last year I spent nearly every day of March on email or video calls to fix the association that adults nearly destroyed. Yet I don’t have a vote! Meanwhile in the music department of my high school, I have teachers allowing me to lead our performance groups on the daily because of their unadulterated belief in their students.

Even though I appear to be more important when serving on the board, I actually am more empowered by two underpaid, under appreciated women who don’t have the opportunity to send me across the country like the UUA does. This is because at the UUA there is a separate department for the youth, and it might have been created in good faith but it is not kept that way. There is a clear wall which has been built to keep youth out of the adult activities and in their own segregated section which is much less visible in the scope of Unitarian Universalism.

My fellow youth observer Tanner Linden and I are currently working to pass a bylaw change through the General Assembly to allow us to become Youth Trustees. This will give us the right to an official vote in all Board matters and not just an opinion which is often ignored or discounted because we have not yet turned eighteen.

This world is being shaped by our youth. We are not just the future, but the present. We cannot be contained and expected to wait another ten years to have our voices heard. As a youth group, we currently have four different members on our congregation’s committees. Our presence is often not known in the larger community. So let me introduce our present leaders:

We have Adele Andrews on the Spiritual Development Team. Sadie Swayze on the Siding with Love Committee. Jack Killilea on the Deacon Committee. And Kiera Roche on the Prudential Committee.

We are here, we are active, we have opinions, and we deserve the empowerment which we are finally being given in this year 2018.

Being raised in this UU faith taught us that all voices and opinions should be raised up no matter how young, old, or timid they are. So why does our leadership not always reflect this?

I ask you to support us. Include us in events in our community. Speak to us when we are upstairs, ask our opinions and emotions about current events. After all this is the age of easy access to news, so we will know what you are talking about.

And most importantly, let us have an official vote.

A sermonette by Willa Anthony Summers

In my school, when the old bell system rings, the doors get locked, shades are closed, and lights are turned off. We all sit with our knees against our chest, huddled away from the door. Usually, we make each other laugh with funny faces, or we whisper quietly. It feels like we are untouchable, that someone with a gun would never walk into our school. Until it happens to us or near us, we will continue to try to make each other giggle. It’s scary that in order for this to be “real” for us, it has to happen for us.

Unfortunately this is a very real problem in our world right now. Shootings have been happening in schools, concerts, and other gatherings with very sad and upsetting ends. There have been 72 mass shootings in 2018, alone. That is an absurdly high number, yet shootings have become normalized. It is always upsetting to hear about another shooting on the news, but it is just that: another shooting on the news.

Our lockdowns are very normal. Sometimes we even hope for a lockdown, because it will interrupt a boring class or postpone a quiz. I have been doing lockdowns since middle school, and everyone practices how to lockdown. Even my 9-year-old sister does lock downs. This seems like an issue that is too big for her to worry about. I wish this weren’t part of her world, but clearly it is.

The drills are very orderly, and the instructions are clear. Nevertheless, I know that no matter how much practice we get under our belt, if anything were to happen, things could go awry. Just this fall my brother’s school had an accidental lockdown; it was announced over the intercom: “this is not a drill.” It happened during their morning break, so kids were milling in the hallways. Jasper ended up in a classroom with two classmates; there was no teacher. He texted with my parents during the lockdown. They tried to ease his fears, but still he was stuck with the dilemma of whether to figure out how to get to the door and make sure it was locked. When I talked to him after school, he was still shaken up, and it was only a mishap.

I was recently eating ice cream with my grandparents (the right way: with a fork), and my grandmother was taken aback when I told her that we really do practice lockdowns a lot, huddling against the wall with the lights out. She then explained something to me that I never understood: when she was a little girl, they practiced bomb drills, and would duck under their desks. That was her norm. I have never practiced a bomb drill, but I can imagine that it gets the same reaction out of the children practicing: giggles and quiet chatter shadowed by the knowledge of a gruesome death.

It is terrifying that anyone would walk into a school or an arena with a gun. It is horrifying that a student at his own school would pull a gun. Yet teens are known to get to points of desperation because they’re still forming their identities (which, let me tell you, is no easy task), so we need to keep guns out of the hands of America’s youth. Please join our movement to protest for stricter gun laws. If you know students marching to the statehouse, join them. Encourage the children in your life to use their voices and speak up. If you can vote, (I can as of a week ago!) vote for someone who isn’t afraid of gun control.

A sermonette by Adele Andrews

Good morning. Today you have, and will continue to hear quite a bit about how youth are driven and deserving of respect, and all this is true. This is why it’s easy to dismiss or recent generalizing articles critiquing millenials or gen Z. It is dangerous though, to dismiss more serious criticisms, even if it is grating and outdated to our ears, because it is important to understand we are not without fault, or even many faults.

One of the most common complaints about us is how we are always looking at our “devices.” Phones, cannot be ignored as major parts of our lives. My phone can make it be easier to me productive in my daily life, serving as an easy way to tune my guitar and, keep track of my schedule… and this productivity is necessary because I, like many of us, have a LOT to do. Still, it is silly to pretend a phone is solely an “educational tool.”. When I have just come home from band rehearsal at 9:30 without having any time to practice instruments and do homework beforehand, it is stressful and overwhelming. The desire to relax for just a second before doing all of this brings me to the same phone, which would be harmless, but the second can become an hour because passive entertainment feels so much better than calculus. So, my work gets pushed, and my time to sleep does too, from 11:30 to 12:30 and some nights to 1:30, and still sometimes is saved for lunch or in class. This year I have starting falling asleep in class frequently, sometimes multiple times a day, and it is partially my fault.

I am not new, or special. I see this happening to my friends, and even my parents. Everyone is busy, everyone gets stressed, and I know all nighters are a college tradition. Procrastination is also not new, social media is just the form it takes today. This is what is scary. Finding myself and the people around me fall into a tradition of inaction is terrifying. It has been centuries, and many tries have been made, the silent generation tried, the baby boomers tried, and gen x and millennials are trying. Things have changed, but not enough. All the wrongs have not been righted, and we are covering ourselves in more smoke, more pollution and more trash. I, we, can see this weight, coming on the horizon, and we don’t yet know how strong we are, how capable we are. What we as a generation, will have to do is more than what we all have been doing. It’s not just a question of deserving respect. Having faults has never meant a person does not deserve respect, but to avoid injustice, and war, and environmental collapse, will take nearly unprecedented action and achievement without distraction. It is our moon landing, our suffrage movement, and it terrifying to think we might not succeed.

We are not a generation, we are you, and you are us, and this has always been true. We all need each other, need to work together, and we all need to believe all of this weight can be lifted. We are strong enough. Thank you.