'Stories of Diversity' provides shared experiences of immigrants

During Westlake High School’s recent Diversity Week celebration, the Leadership Challenge club hosted a short film titled “Stories of Diversity.”

The film was directed and shot by WHS senior Rafi Melikian on her cell phone and shares the experiences of immigrant students. She said she wanted to provide these shared experiences for everyone to understand what happens around the world and to appreciate the privilege of being in school.

“We knew that WHS has quite a bit of diversity, in the sense that we have a lot of kids and members of the Westlake community who are immigrants, who lived in places very different from Westlake or even the United States,” said Rafi, who is a facilitator in Leadership Challenge’s Diversity Group. “We wanted to highlight that.

“We thought so many kids go to school with these people who had very different life experiences they didn’t even know about. We got a couple of students and a teacher who are immigrants and asked them to tell us their story.”

The film starts out with light-hearted stories about things these individuals learned when moving to Westlake. As it progresses, it delves into serious facts and events that shaped the lives of these immigrants before they came to the United States.

The film was shown during lunch periods and was voluntary. As word of mouth spread, more and more students and staff made their way to the Westlake Schools Performing Arts Center for a showing. Several teachers requested access to show the film in their classes.

“In the film there is content that, frankly, the average Westlake student doesn’t hear or talk about,” Rafi said. “It’s eye opening. I go to school with these students who experienced or lived in this place where war was a daily thing. It’s not something we talk about here every day. We are all in our bubble. We did this as a way to encourage kids to talk about their experiences and to inform other kids."

Rafi is a child of immigrants. Her father, Simon, is Armenian, but grew up in Lebanon/Syria. Her mother, Majd, is Syrian. The couple came to the United States in the 1990s in their mid-20s, married and started a family. She and her siblings, Lori, Vanessa and Luke, were all born in the United States.

“I grew up hearing all of these stories, but I wish people knew about the way of life there and all sorts of places,” Rafi said.

Leadership Challenge advisor Kathy McGinty, WHS prevention coordinator, said students wanted the diversity issue to be relevant year to year. She and Rafi said they hope other students will add to the project year after year.

“When we previewed the movie to select groups of students before we showed it, there were kids who cried and said ‘I didn’t know,’” McGinty said. “Well, how would you have known?”

“Stories of Diversity” is now available on the WHBS TV YouTube channel at youtube.com/watch?v=xoJ4zd0O6-E.

Students featured in the video include Ghazal Adibi, 17, from Iran; Nick Gauntner, 16, Japan; Shahad Al-Jumaili, 17, Iraq; Jafar Al-Saffar, 18, Iraq; Valeria Flores, 17, Mexico; Esther Park, 18, Korea; and foreign exchange student Ditte Due, 17, Denmark. World Language teacher Claudia Blaha, from Mexico, also is featured.

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Volume 11, Issue 6, Posted 10:06 AM, 03.19.2019