Photo: Maya Vernick designing her statement.
Back in 2004 when she was a sophomore at Belmont High School, Jesse Mattleman came up with an event she hoped her fellow students could use to promote their hopes and wishes.
On Thursday, Mattleman returned to BHS to see the success that gathering had become.
“Make a Statement Day,” held on March 16 this year, is when students and teachers decorate basic white T-shirts with art, designs, opinions, beliefs, or a favorite quote which they wear the next day during the school day.
Some of the designs and statements are fun and inspiring, and others serious with a definite declaration of critical issues to the participants.
“It’s a chance to show everyone in the school who you really are,” said Devan O’Toole, senior class president, and this year’s event co-leader.
Sophomore Maya Vernick selected a quote from the Dr. Suess book “The Lorax.”
“It’s about protecting the environment which I want to be associated with,” said Vernick.
On the other end of the cafeteria, junior Barbara Joseph was writing a slogan on her shirt, “Hella Black, Hella Proud.”
“The connotation of being black is usually a negative one. My shirt is telling all my friends that are black that they shouldn’t be ashamed of the skin tone they are. That it’s a badge of honor,” she said.
Others were of a whimsical bent such as Aidan Carey’s which appeared to be a math equation.
“I don’t think I can explain the meaning of the shirt,” said Carey, since when deciphered, it revealed a profane command to leave.
“I like the stupidity of what it really means, but how it looks so complicated,” he said, noting his shirt last year was also a pun-filled math equation.
It is just those examples of self-expression that Mattleman was seeking to encourage when she first proposed the concept a decade and a half ago.
“It was started not just to express yourself, but to promote social issues and what students were passionate about and bring it into a conversation,” said Mattleman who today is Foundation & Corporate Relations Manager for YW Boston.
“It is a time for sparking those meaningful conversations and thinking about social justice that school sometimes doesn’t allow for,” she said.
Mattleman remembered a classmate student used the event to revealed his sexuality on his T-shirt.
“It brought the whole purpose into such focus for me,” she said.
“It was such a straightforward message, but it must have been hard to do it to their peers or in person. So it was very powerful to see it written and have that [student’s] identity out in the world. It has been liberating and scary, but it was also courageous,” said Mattleman.