Lifting each other up is how we cope during difficult times. Last Friday, the entire student body at Briarcliff High School had the opportunity to learn of ways to thrive, both individually and as a community, during a crisis.
Students at school and at home watched a presentation by Dr. Mykee Fowlin, a clinical psychologist and trained actor. The hour-long assembly, which was generously funded by the PTA, was called “You Don’t Know Me Until You Know Me,” and focused on issues such as empowerment and inclusion.
“I came across Dr. Fowlin some time ago and when I heard that he was doing a presentation at the Yorktown Middle School, I went to see him, along with Student Assistance Counselor, Meredith Ohmes,” said Briarcliff High School Social Worker Tim Pellegrin.
Inspired by the presentation, Mr. Pellegrin arranged for Dr. Fowlin to do a virtual assembly at Briarcliff, which was viewed by the students at home and students in all classes, as well as in the school cafeteria, where study hall usually takes place.
Dr. Fowlin began the presentation by discussing conflicts that people may have due to language barriers. He then discussed how each student has an individual voice and set of experiences and said that even our closest may not know who we truly are.
“Dr. Fowlin’s message is about inclusion and encouraging people to share their pain, versus masking it. He encourages us to not label people or put them in boxes and to be our authentic selves,” Mr. Pellegrin said. “Dr. Fowlin shared his personal struggle with depression and mental health and normalized it, as it is important to encourage people to not suffer in silence,” he added.
During the presentation Dr. Fowlin discussed the metaphorical masks that we all wear to hide our true selves and used his acting skills to transform into two characters and share their stories in an authentic way. He discussed the messages behind those stories very clearly and the importance of reaching out if you need help.
Although he was speaking remotely, Dr. Fowlin’s charisma shined through the screen and watching him was almost like being in the same room with him.
He also discussed his philosophy, which he calls the Japanese teacup philosophy. He shared a story about being at a Japanese restaurant and noticing that a teacup had no handles. When he asked the waiter why there are no handles, the waiter simply replied: if it’s too hot to hold, it’s too hot to drink.
This response made him realize that we don’t need handles on teacups to drink hot tea and that, metaphorically speaking, putting “handles” on others or ourselves prevents us from knowing the “temperature” of a person, which is part of who that person is.
The powerful presentation touched on other subjects, such as suicide prevention.
“Dr. Fowlin, in his own unique and deeply personal way, encouraged and challenged all of our students to share their stories, express their pain, and to see one another in all our beautiful complexities,” Mr. Pellegrin said. “He modeled the importance of being vulnerable, and the power of sharing our real and authentic selves both for our own well-being, and in the service of others.”