Calls Prom Venue Choice “A Short Sighted Loyalty”
Editor’s Note: On Friday, February 17, Horace Greeley High School (HGHS) Principal Robert Rhodes sent a letter to HGHS seniors and their parents explaining the reasons as put forth by a Senior Leadership Council behind the decision to hold this year’s prom at the Trump National Golf Course in Briarcliff Manor. HGHS grad (Class of 2012) and Harvard grad (Class of 2016) Aemila Phillips immediately sat down to write a response–in the form of an open letter to HGHS students–and asked if Inside Chappaqua would publish it. Here’s Aemilia’s letter which speaks for itself. Rhodes’ letter follows as a reference point; Rhodes states that the Council has scheduled a meeting on March 2 “for any students from the Class of 2017 who feel that attending Prom at Trump National is not something they are comfortable with.”
By Aemilia Phillips
Dear HGHS students,
Eleven years ago, my Dad began a tradition of speaking to Bell Middle School’s fifth grade class during their annual Latin America unit. He’d bring artwork and family photos, piñatas and the ever popular Carlos V chocolate bars, all the while laughing and joking with kids he’d coached on the baseball field, and kids he’d met only a few minutes prior.
A Mexican immigrant himself, he used his story to provide a cross-border snapshot, to answer any and all questions from a bunch of bright-eyed 10 year-olds. That first year, he came to just my classroom. A year later, he presented to four more classes. And for the eight years after that, he spoke in front of the entire fifth grade.
These are the values I choose to remember about my time in the Chappaqua school system – an emphasis on not only learning about other cultures, but celebrating them. Encouragement to embrace and welcome the diversity of the student body. Teachers who see education as not only a compiling of facts, but as a way for students to become intelligent and active citizens of this nation and the world.
The recent decision to hold this year’s senior prom at Trump National Golf Course stands in complete opposition to those supposed values. It shows a short-sighted loyalty to a single night of partying instead of a commitment to stand by the principles and values taught to students over the course of their 12-year education.
This decision is not about party politics. This is not a partisan debate regarding the nation’s controversial immigration policies. This is about the President of the United States, a man holding the highest office in this country, referring to Chappaqua students, to members of our own community, as murderers, rapists, and criminals. As not the best and brightest this country has to offer. As people who should be embarrassed to come from diverse backgrounds.
As we’ve seen play out on the national stage, the President’s business ventures and executive actions are one and the same. Money flows from Trump properties into Trump bank accounts, into the Trump campaign and into Trump national policies. The decision to hold senior prom at this location is an implicit endorsement of the President’s blatantly racist policies, and his exclusion of people we should be proud to call our own.
And so now, I’m calling on Greeley students to take a stand, in a way that I never had to during my time there. Say no to racism. Say no to the exclusion of your friends and family. Hold the prom in the gym, or under a tent on the soccer fields, if money is that big of a concern. Laugh, dance, and celebrate in a way that you can look back and be proud of. Next year, tell your college roommates that you had your prom in a ragtag tent with handmade decorations and stood up for what you believed in, rather than compromise your values for a party at a golf course.
Now is the time to show up. Now is the time to ask how you as students and we as a community want to be remembered. And if I’ve learned anything from my time in the Chappaqua Central School District, it’s that Greeley students are more than up for the challenge – Now is your time to change the world.
Douglas G. Grafflin Elementary School ‘04
Robert E. Bell Middle School ‘08
Horace Greeley High School ‘12
Harvard University ’16
Here is the letter sent by HGHS principal Robert Rhodes to Greeley Seniors and their parents with the subject line: Important Senior Prom Information for Seniors
Second semester of Senior year is upon us, and we are very excited for all it has in store for you. We truly hope that you are able to fully experience the many moments to come! We also realize that the arrival of Senior Prom may create a range of feelings given the Senior Leadership Council’s decision to hold the event at Trump National Golf Course in Briarcliff. With our country already divided over political issues, we want to prevent the same divide from interfering with the Senior Class enjoying your experience. Our hope is that the Class of 2017 can unite and leave Greeley remembering a great Senior Prom. Typically, we see just about the entire class attend; it is a very special occasion for us as well.
Regardless of your feelings about the Presidential election or current national climate, we hope that everyone will be able to attend the Prom. We acknowledge that the heightened emotions carried by our current political climate may spill over to the selection of your prom venue. On behalf of the Senior Leadership Council, we also want to share the process for selecting the venue so that everyone has the same information about how the decision was made.
Every year the Greeley Senior Prom is sponsored and organized by the Senior Leadership Council. This group of twenty to thirty students has been committed to working on class activities including: bonding events, charity events, fundraising, and planning for the Prom. This started when you were in 9th grade; many of these students have dedicated the last four years to representing your class and promoting unity. When it came time to decide on your Prom venue back in April of 2016, the Senior Leadership Council participated in a vote to decide whether to explore other venues or continue with Trump National as many previous senior classes had done before. Students based their decision on: 1) financial information that was collected; 2) the seating capacity of the venue; 3) the close proximity to Greeley; and 4) the overall aesthetics of the venue. If the Senior Leadership Council had one-third or more of the students ask to explore further options, the Council would have opened up the conversation to the full Senior Class. The results showed overwhelming support to keep the venue at Trump National Golf Course based on the four factors listed above.
The Senior Leadership Council students also carefully weighed the controversy around the selection of this same venue by the previous year’s seniors, the Class of 2016. That class had systematically reviewed as many venues as possible without finding a suitable alternative, let alone one that matched their criteria. The Class of 2016 did all this during the time that President Trump was a candidate running for election. When it was time to make a decision, both Senior Leadership Councils, those of 2016 and 2017 decided that the venue was the best choice for their respective classes. A deposit was paid months ago for the Class of 2017 Prom, prior to the election. Large venues book quickly, months and sometimes over a year in advance during prom and wedding season.
There are students in the Class of 2017 who support the President and those who dissent from him. What unites you is that you are the Horace Greeley Class of 2017. We want to both be mindful of individual feelings and decisions and support you as a group. The last thing we would want to see is your class in conflict with itself. The Senior Leadership Council has been hard at work planning for the Prom. On their behalf, we are encouraging any students who feel uncomfortable with the venue decision to still attend because we would not want you to miss out on the memories.
We also believe that there may be ways to maintain personal beliefs and still attend the Prom that would allow the Class of 2017 to remain unified AND support all its members. The Senior Leadership Council has scheduled a meeting on March 2 at 7:45 a.m. in F1 for any students from the Class of 2017 who feel that attending Prom at Trump National is not something they are comfortable with. The goal of the meeting is to help brainstorm ideas or action(s) that will support anyone who wants to attend and feel like they are being true to their beliefs. That can only happen when people are talking with one another. The Senior Leadership Council wants to support everyone and we encourage anyone with concerns to attend.
Robert Rhodes, Principal
Lyn Stewart, Acting Assistant Principal