‘Putting together the pieces’

PV senior discusses experience at Unity in the Valley event


(Editor’s note: Shauna McLean is a senior at Pascack Valley and a prominent member of the student body. She is the president of PV’s Debate Team and the co-editor of the LitMag. McLean has written two Letters to the Editor before, but this is her first Op-Ed for The Smoke Signal.)

I didn’t go to Unity in the Valley alone. My father canceled a conference call so that we could attend together. We both felt the need to get dressed up, putting on a nice shirt and maybe some lipstick. Then we left.

Within the auditorium we shuffled awkwardly towards finding a seat, ending up in the middle of an empty aisle. On the way I saw friends, teachers, parents, administrators. I recognized some and not others, but it didn’t matter in the end; All were smiling, and all were saying hello.

I had heard student complaints an event such as this was a farce, created to save face and put a surface bandaid on a deeper problem. I myself had warned against such actions in an article to The Smoke Signal. That’s not what I felt at Unity in the Valley. The congregates were not there purely for the PR; The room had intent.

We listened to a plethora of speakers that ended in the Attorney General, and all had a different message to bring to the night. There were presentations from different faiths, ethnicities, genders, ages, and walks of life. Every message was different, but one rang through all: we are all one.

It is a message that is often espoused but just as often misused, and at first, I feared that this thread was the beginning of the night unraveling into a plethora of pleasantries and useless remarks. Instead within the auditorium, I felt the unity that the night had been named for.

We were one not because we were the same but because we were different The whole beauty of Unity in the Valley was that it cultivated acceptance. Acceptance, not tolerance. Tolerance as a word was mostly blessedly absent from the night. Tolerance as a promise has always rang with inaction. I hope that we as a community have realized that is not enough. In times of hate, to tolerate is not to defend. To tolerate is simply to not ostracize even as others are. What we need is acceptance: of ourselves, of our oneness, and of our difference. Acceptance is the active choice to embrace all without negative feelings or suppressed differences.

In that room I felt the goal being realized, I felt oneness. I felt this not because we all became one being, amalgamous, but because we all became quaint and lovely puzzle pieces fitting messily together in that gym to become something more than one: to become whole again.

Too often for the sake of unity, difference is made smaller or less significance, but the value in our difference is a strength. What is necessary is not sameness but equality. All puzzle pieces can be shaped differently, but they all are allowed equal standing within completing the picture.

Unity in the Valley was the beginning of our community putting together the pieces, healing itself, and uncovering the picture that we all can make together. I’m so excited to see what it becomes.