I stared at my computer screen completely shaken, my jaw hanging open, shuddering, my eyes reddening with tears that were too raw to fall. When Elizabeth Warren was silenced during the Senate vote concerning Jeff Sessions candidacy for Attorney General, I was sickened. I felt a devastating loss of hope. It reminded me how I had felt when I openly cried during Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. I had become so enamored with the idea of the next woman president that, when she lost, it started to make me feel like it was a hopeless dream for women to ever be taken seriously. But then the mobilized efforts for the Women’s March emerged, along with countless protests across the globe, and my faith was reignited. Even though this country had elected a misogynistic egoist as its president, there were people fighting back. There were people demanding to be heard and refusing to be silenced. When Elizabeth Warren was silenced for her attempt to present Sessions as the unforgivingly racist and intolerant man that he is, that faith that I had rebuilt came crashing down again. It made it seem as if no matter how loud we scream, no one cares to listen.
This semester, Stern College Dramatics Society is performing the play Inherit The Wind, based on the famous Scopes Monkey Trial. The play centers around Bertram Cates, the character representing John Thomas Scopes. Cates is a meek schoolteacher from a highly Protestant little town who is facing imprisonment for teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, which was a crime in that state at that time. Cates, although a timid and shy character, perseveres through the trial with the help of his lawyer, who inspires him to stand firm in his fight for freedom of speech.
I have had the wonderful privilege of being chosen to portray this schoolteacher, Cates. The character is an incredible challenge, since he listens far more than he speaks. My active listening abilities as an actor have grown stupendously in this show under the perceptive eye of Stern professor and director Reuven Russell. However, the show is so incredibly captivating, that being attentive is not a difficult skill to acquire. What invigorates me, and what will enthrall the audience, is how the questions demanding to be answered in this run-down town are incredibly relevant to us in our nation’s current state of affairs.
There is one scene in the show when the schoolteacher is trying to understand if all of this insanity that has erupted from his very own classroom is worth it. Cates’ friend (played in our production by the lively Shoshy Ciment) demands the lawyer call off the whole trial. The defense lawyer demands, “Can you buy back his respectability by making him a coward?” He continues, “I understand what Bert’s going through. It’s the loneliest feeling in the world—to find yourself standing up when everybody else is sitting down. To have everybody look at you and say, ‘What’s the matter with him?’ I know. I know what it feels like.”
Waking up to morning newspaper headlines, watching countless news shows and Facebook feeds, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one suffering. It’s easy to feel as if the entire world has turned itself upside down and you are the only one left standing upright. These words, this play, the Women’s March, the Battery Park protest and countless others, The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live, family, friends, teachers—these are the people responding, telling you, “I know what it feels like.”
There’s another aspect to this play, and it’s a representation of the last group I listed: teachers. When Donald Trump won the presidency, I walked around the school feeling nothing but isolation, until I stepped into my teacher’s classes. Though I was scared, their wisdom inspired me to keep going.
Cates and Scopes were nothing but humble teachers. All they wanted out of life was to impart knowledge to their students, to the next generation. They realized that the fight for the truth was far more important than following unjust laws. Teachers are what help us continue, help us push forth. To quote William Arthur Ward, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” There have been billions of teachers throughout the years. But the ones that are remembered—such as Scopes, Anne Sullivan, Aristotle, Marie Montessori, John Locke, Booker T. Washington, Rabbi Akiva—are the ones that inspired. They are not only famous because of their accomplishments. They are remembered because of the knowledge and will to fight for the knowledge that they passed on to their students, which was then passed on to the world. They inspired their students to keep going, even in times of hardship. Rabbi Akiva was an example to his students even as he burned at the stake. Booker T. Washington led his children through the cruelty of slavery. Anne Sullivan inspired hope within Helen Keller, even when the entire world had turned their backs on her. Our teachers inspire us, even in the most insane of times. All they hope is that we one day inspire others. I hope I will. To the teachers at this school, and the teachers throughout life: thank you for inspiring me, and for inspiring all of us, to keep fighting.