We Are Westridge

A community blog featuring Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor, the Westridge Leadership Team, our esteemed faculty members and occasional special guests


Alumnae Re-blog: Where It All Began – Class with Ms. Bizar and Mr. Cross

by Muse Lee '15

Here goes another long, long post.

I was initially writing out a private message to Ms. Bizar and Mr. Cross, but I decided to post this publicly instead, because I'm quite sure I'm not just speaking for myself when I express how grateful I am to them:

One of the most extraordinary educational experiences of my life was the seventh grade Holocaust unit. In Mr. Cross' English class, we read Holocaust literature, both harrowing survivor accounts and deeply moving historical fiction. We discussed the moral questions raised by Markus Zusak's "The Book Thief" and read Elie Wiesel's "Night" aloud with our parents. Meanwhile, in Ms. Bizar's History class, we learned about all the social and political threads that wove together to create the incomprehensible genocide. I can never forget Weimar Cafe, in which we engaged in a heated political debate as citizens of the Weimar Republic--with some of us assigned to argue in support of the Nazi party. The central question of Simon Wiesenthal's "The Sunflower," whether or not a survivor should forgive a repentant Nazi soldier on his deathbed, was one I remember us discussing well into lunch period. Keep in mind, we were seventh graders, fresh out of Lower School.

The poignant, shocking, unforgettable way Mr. Cross and Ms. Bizar integrated their two disciplines, compelling us to see the light and darkness in our own reflections, urging us to be upstanders--well, when you're thirteen years old, that honestly changes everything.

Now, I'm nineteen, a college sophomore, and quietly wondering whether my longstanding dream of being an author/activist is possible. When Stanford announced its new, wonderfully interdisciplinary Human Rights minor, I immediately signed up for the introductory course. I have been restlessly searching for a way to reconcile my dreams of being a writer with my dreams of marching on the ideological frontlines and fighting for people's rights, and though I've been quite in the dark, this course seemed like it could be the spark that kindles the torch.

On my first day of class, our instructor, human rights lawyer Penelope Van Tuyl, asked us why we were interested in the subject. I realized that I didn't know the answer. What got me here, anyway? What was it that urged me to march through the dark?

Before hearing our responses, our instructor told us her own story. I was startled to hear her talk about how reading Holocaust literature changed her life. We went around the room, and a second student also cited Holocaust literature as the beginning of her passion for human rights. I thought back to my own extraordinary middle school Holocaust unit and I realized: that was it for me, too. That was the precise moment of my awakening: literary, moral, social, philosophical, existential, human. That was where it all began.

Without those two teachers, it was quite likely that I wouldn't be sitting in that Human Rights classroom at all.

And I realized that in those two teachers, I had my torch all along, my undeniable proof that yes, bringing literature and social science together is worthwhile and meaningful, yes, doing so can really can change the world. At least, it can change a young person's life--and isn't that exactly where it begins?

Posted by in convocation, re-blog on Tuesday October, 4, 2016


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