The Power of One

Lorrin Johnson, Amanda Roberts, Sydney Hopper, Skylar Kylstra, and Megan So

A sea of blue and green rhythmically flows into the open gym. Teachers direct students to their respective bleacher sections. The sophomore class beams with confidence, relieved to be ridded of the burdensome title of “freshmen.” Juniors eagerly accept their positions as upperclassmen. Seniors zealously await the ancestral “Senior Power” chant.

Looking around in anticipation for the ceremonial entrance of the freshmen, a senior turns his head to the left, expecting to see the bleachers barren since the freshmen were awaiting their entrance outside the gym doors. His heart drops.

He has to double-check to ensure that what he saw was real. The bleachers are overflowing with freshmen, an image of tiny ants flooding into their hill. Disappointment overwhelms him. Senior year was his time. He was supposed to finally have the chance to greet the freshmen with the “boos” he had once received.

The volume of murmurs rise as his fellow seniors make the same realization: the freshmen tunnel was canceled.

“At the beginning of the year, there was a lot of angst about whether we should boo the freshman, whether we should shut down the tunnel. The question was: Is it appropriate to do that, and what tone does it set?” ASB advisor Michelle Munson said.

To achieve a culture of unity and inclusion in a school, a certain tone must be set by the student body. Ostracizing freshmen through booing and turning away can set a tone of exclusion and insensitivity, characteristics generally not associated with Liberty.

“Even though we have the friendly competitions, at Homecoming and the like, we still accept who’s walking the halls with us,” Munson said.

Many members of the Liberty community take pride in the unique culture Liberty has developed. Beginning with the football program five years ago, Liberty has continually worked towards the idea of “We Are One.” This year the motto was adopted by ASB, marking the beginning of a conscious effort to encompass “We Are One.”

The decision to remove the freshmen tunnel from the first assembly of the year was met with disappointment and confusion. The tunnel was regarded as symbolic to many, as the freshmen enter high school through the tunnel and exit through one on their final day of senior year.

“If we have this tunnel, and these rumors of booing are going to come to truth, how is that ‘We Are One?’” Munson said.

Is “We Are One” worth the sacrifice of tradition? Is Liberty living up to the motto? What is the importance of the motto?

 

THE HISTORY OF ONE:

“In 2008, I was introduced to the word Ubuntu, which means ‘I am because we are, your success is my success, your failure is my failure, our humanity is inextricably linked together, [and] what happens in you happens in me,” head football coach Steve Valach said.

Inspired by the sense of unity that Ubuntu suggested, 2008 marked the start of a new tradition for Liberty football; from then on, the team was given the task of choosing a single word that they believed embodied the team that year. The founding team chose ‘tenacity’ as their word, but the next year’s team wanted to choose a word that truly epitomized the team’s unity.

“We were sitting in Central Washington football camp, trying to think of the word that would describe our team that year,” US History teacher and Liberty football alumnus Cameron Talley said. “We decided on the word ‘one.’The coaches were skeptical and wanted an explanation. So we sat there and started writing a mini-essay on why we thought it should be ‘one’. The coaches read it and say ‘Oh, we didn’t know that’s what you meant by it.’”

So, what exactly did they mean by “one?”

“We realize that we are this big mess of teammates, but we are one,” Valach said. “It is about approaching things one day, one practice, one play at a time. It’s the idea of the individual becoming part of the whole, instead of the individual whose doing his own deal.”

“One” has since evolved into “We Are One,” and recently the phrase has been adopted as Liberty’s unofficial motto. The defining appearance of “We Are One” occurred at the 2013 Liberty versus Eastside Catholic football game.

“We lost by 53. I was thinking, ‘this is our first game. How do we keep encouraged?’ And as I’m walking back and I turn to our stands, I swear about ninety percent of our student body is still there and they’re chanting, ‘We Are One. We Are One,’” Valach said.

Exactly how and why Liberty’s student body latched onto the phrase remains a mystery, but ASB is now making a conscious effort to implement the phrase as the school motto.

“This year, wanting to implement ‘We are One’ as the school motto, [ASB] is starting to bring in more activities that include the whole school; we want people to feel like they can participate and that it’s not just for a select group of people—it’s for everybody,” Executive Board Female Senator Issabelle Hayden said.

Whether or not the Liberty community is living up to their motto is debatable, but the presence of the phrase is indisputable.

 

MEANING OF “WE ARE ONE” TODAY:

The meaning of “We Are One” is subjective—each individual, as a part of the “one”, is able to take the motto and mold it into something meaningful to him or her.

Senior Sarah Roth joined Liberty’s drama program as a freshman. Before, at the middle school she attended, Roth didn’t feel accepted by the school or community—Liberty’s culture came as a shock.

“My experience as a student here at Liberty is one of the best things that has ever happened to me,” Roth said. “When I first came here, I was shy, I didn’t think anyone would be my friend, I thought I was too weird. I thought nobody would like me after they knew who I really was. But then I joined drama. I did something that I thought would make me look really awkward and uncool, but everyone loved me anyway. Before, in the middle school I went to, that didn’t happen.”

Roth acknowledges that there are always going to be those who don’t necessarily buy into the motto, but she believes that the people living up to the motto far outweigh those who do not.

“Liberty is a special school,” Roth said.

Principal Josh Almy, speaking from a teacher perspective, also understands the value of “We Are One” and believes the phrase to be beneficial to Liberty and the community.

“For me it means rallying around core values that we have at Liberty High School, which is one of caring, kindness, respect, and hard work and just love for this place that we show up to five, six, seven days a week,” Almy said.

With such a large basis of support, from students to teachers to families, it seems unlikely that anyone would oppose the motto. If those who are at the frontline of the Liberty community love “We Are One” then how could anyone not feel included?
Sophomore Dhamanpreet Kaur believes that the motto only includes those who fit the mold of the “one”.

“I think the ‘We Are One’ thing is really silly and I don’t feel included in it,” Kaur said. “I feel like it is not really inclusiveness as it is more representation at football games.”

Senior Michael LeBlanc, a ROTC Commanding Officer, shares Kaur’s opinion that the “We Are One” theme isn’t actually all inclusive, and that the “one” may just be referring to a select group. He doesn’t see ROTC getting recognized, feeling that groups that aren’t major sports teams aren’t supported.

“We’re everywhere, [but] just kind of in the background,” LeBlanc said. “I wish we were more seen.”

To many students, the biggest fault of “We Are One” is the failure to extend the motto beyond the football field and into the lives of all types of students.

“Usually ‘We Are One’ is for those kids who go to football games, and I think they are already united in the ‘We Are One’ thing but the kids who have other interests are not being included,” Kaur said.

 

IMPORTANCE OF “WE ARE ONE”:

“I knew a boy who had gone all through high school not wanting to be involved and not wanting to make friends, up until a teacher of his influenced him to give the school a try,” P.E. teacher and alumna Kelsey Werre said. “By the end of his senior year he was nominated as student speaker and had completely changed how he felt about the school. He hated it at first, and once he got involved he loved it. Those are the people who can really turn the school around.”

Although not yet accepted by the entire student body, “We Are One” may have the capacity to change the lives of anyone that buys in to the idea.

“One of the most important things we can do for all kids, whether they feel that they are ‘one’ or they don’t, is to get them involved in our school culture,” Almy said.

Getting everyone involved in the school culture has proved a challenge for Liberty. It’s difficult to put into words what “We Are One” can do for each individual, as each person is different. At this point in the development of the school culture, the most important action a student can take is to take the concept of “We Are One” and mold it to their own needs.

“The people who don’t buy into the idea are the reason why we’re struggling with our unity,” Werre said. “It’s important for them to buy into the idea, and then they’ll realize how much it can do for them.”

Becoming “one” won’t happen overnight, but it can happen with the support of the student body and the embodiment of “We Are One.”

“It’s not a sports message, or a school spirit message: it’s a life message,” Valach said.

“Once upon a time the freshmen tunnel was a great tradition, not every tradition evolves with the school,” Munson said. “So this was one that we said: if we want us all to be one, then we’re going to start as one. We’re not going to start as three divided classes and bring another class in.”

We lost the tradition of the freshmen tunnel, but perhaps it’s time we make new ones. Liberty has started the school year with a clean slate, a truly blank canvas whose image can be determined by the students. If there has ever been a time to make “We Are One” a reality, the time is now.