Nothing — not even a pandemic — was going to stop teacher Mary Kirby and her band of 60 highly determined students from hosting Lynbrook High School’s annual Human Relations Day.
The Student Government Association organized the event with the help of Kirby, its advisor, for the first time in a virtual format via Cisco Webex. The guest list featured a repertoire of celebrity speakers, including Sen. Mitt Romney’s campaign advisor, Kevin Madden; Julia Rae of “The Bachelor” fame; radio host Craig Carton; and “Impractical Jokers” star Joe Gatto.
Chosen for its uplifting message of determination and hard work, the hit Broadway show “Hamilton” was the theme for this year’s HRD. Hashtags of “#We’ll Be Back” and “#No one else was in the room where it happened” paid homage to the show’s catchy lyrics, while simultaneously portraying the reality of hosting an event amid a pandemic, where all speakers presented through a computer screen, and really, no one was in the room where it happened.
The Lynbrook High School concert choir prepared a promotional video for the day, where students danced and rapped to a parody version of the show’s opening song, “Alexander Hamilton,” the lyrics for which were written by chorus teacher Barry Wyner. “I believe strongly in the SGA and the good work they do for our school, so I’m always eager to help,” Wyner said. “Recording the song and video was a blast.”
While there was initially some doubt from the community over whether the tradition would be upheld, Kirby and members of the SGA worked for months to ensure that the day would happen, and that it would run seamlessly.
“What better time to put forth these messages of resilience and hope than now?” Kirby said. “In the hallways, I heard our students speaking with excitement for the first time all year. It was the first day for all of us where we had a true sense of normalcy, and it felt, finally, like Lynbrook High School again. I’m so happy we could bring that to the students.”
The SGA also followed its HRD tradition of giving back to LHS students and staff who they feel exhibit exceptional kindness every day of the year. Ten “Random Acts of Kindness” recipients were each awarded a gift card to a local store or restaurant, including Burger Shack, Savino’s or Doughology.
“I was pleasantly surprised to receive a gift for ‘Random Acts of Kindness,’” junior Rachel Edelstein said. “It is very much appreciated and a great example of how a small gesture can uplift someone. I think it’s an important tradition since everyone, now more than ever, needs kindness.”
Kirby expressed that this year’s star-studded guest list may have been one of LHS’ greatest, including the aforementioned celebrity speakers, as well as many other inspiring presenters, including a second-generation Holocaust survivor, LHS alumnus Jeff Sklar, the Rockville Centre Coalition, the Feal Good Foundation, the Henry Viscardi School for students with physical disabilities and Camp Anchor.
Waverly Park physical education teacher Brian Donaldson and beloved former LHS history teacher and lacrosse coach Larry Glenz also gave heartwarming presentations on love and loss. This was Donaldson’s third year speaking at HRD, where he told the story of his brother, Thomas, and his life and battle with glioblastoma brain cancer.
“It means the world to talk about Thomas,” Donaldson said, “to share his story and his ability to appreciate what he did have and not let cancer affect his positive outlook on life. The fact that I get to present in Lynbrook, where we grew up, makes it even more special.”
Smiling eyes of his former coworkers filled the computer screen as Glenz joined the Webex meeting to begin his presentation. Glenz’s son, Kevin, an all-American, three-sport athlete and LHS graduate, died in 2010, at the age of 27, from a heroin overdose. Since then, Glenz has devoted his life to spreading awareness of drug addiction and speaking in schools across the country. He also authored an autobiography, “Forgiving Kevin: A Son’s Addiction Becomes a Father’s Greatest Teacher,” detailing his relationship with his son and Kevin’s seven-year battle with addiction, recovery and relapse.
Glenz taught and coached in Lynbrook for 36 years, during which time his son began struggling with addiction. “The other coaches . . . they were my sounding board,” Glenz said.” I didn’t tell a lot of people about Kevin’s addiction, but those boys were right by my side.”
He choked up as he continued.
“I want to tell you how much I appreciate that,” he added.
Glenz said that he wrote “Forgiving Kevin” to heal himself and to try to help others that are going through the same struggle.
“I feel Kevin’s arm around me,” he said. “I know he’s with me. His spirit stays with me all the time and strengthens me.”
Craig Carton, once America’s most listened-to talk show radio host, discussed with students his downward spiral into gambling addiction. After spending 20 years to build his career in sports radio and making millions on WFAN’s “Boomer and Carton Show,” he was arrested by the FBI in 2017 for his involvement in a ticket-fraud scheme, misappropriating more than $5.6 million on personal expenses and gambling.
“I risked it all,” he said. “I threw it into the garbage because I allowed gambling to become more important to me than anything else in my life: family, fame, money. It was the life I’d always wanted and the life I worked so hard to achieve. And I threw it away.”
After serving a year in prison, Carton swore off gambling and has now been clean for three years; he continues to rebuild his life and career, rejoining WFAN with co-host Evan Roberts on an afternoon radio show. He warned LHS students of the dangers of gambling and losing sight of what is important in life.
Madden was Romney’s senior campaign advisor, the deputy director of public affairs and national spokesman for the Department of Justice, and a communications strategist in the Office of the House Majority Leader. Madden spoke to LHS students about his early exposure to politics as a newspaper delivery boy and his work as a teenager on local community campaigns, learning skills of voter outreach and working together with a team to secure support for a candidate.
Madden then discussed the evolution of politics from the beginning of his career to now, specifically the rising prominence of social media and young voter populations in political campaigning.
“It doesn’t feel like a job,”Madden said. “Waking up every day knowing that my work will shape public debate and that everyone’s talking about the thing I’m working on is exhilarating. It’s very fulfilling.”
He now appears regularly on CNN as a political analyst and continues to work as an advocacy and communications strategist.
Although most fans recognize Rae from her time on “The Bachelor: Listen To Your Heart,” a love-and-talent crossover reality television show, she has a deeper history unknown to many. She recounted stories of her experience with the chronic, congenital disease cystic fibrosis. While her condition posed obstacles throughout her life, she never gave up on her dream of becoming a singer and helping others with CF to also achieve happiness.
Last year, she joined the debut season of “Listen To Your Heart.” The reality show, however, was not the dream she had envisioned; producers manipulated footage to portray her as a villain, she said, which opened doors to cyberbullying and internet threats over social media. Now, though, she is back and better than ever, continuing her philanthropic work with her nonprofit organization Singing at the Top of My Lungs, which funds music therapy programs in childrens’ hospitals, and recording her own original songs with revitalized optimism.
“I realized that life has continually showed me that no matter what obstacles you face, if you focus on what you know to be true about yourself and you work hard and let go of fear, your path will continue to unfold,” Rae said.
Students, staff, and administration expressed appreciation for both the presenters and the SGA’s hard work to organize HRD during such a difficult time.
“This event was such a success,” Principal Joseph Rainis said. “It was well-planned, well-coordinated, and our members of SGA did a fabulous job of moderating the Webex calls. The speakers’ incredible experiences and lessons on life are invaluable.”