Souhegan hosts 1,110-student philosophy event at UNH

With more than a thousand attendees, this year’s H.Y.P.E. event was the largest by far, and it was completely student-run.

On March 17, the Souhegan High School Ethics Forum held its annual Hosting Young Philosophy Enthusiasts event at the University of New Hampshire for high school students around New England.

Since Ethics Forum is a senior leadership club at Souhegan, it is preparing to pass the reins down to next year’s seniors. However, first, the group takes time to reflect on H.Y.P.E. and the year as a whole.

Some exciting new opportunities arrived for this year’s Ethics Forum students working on H.Y.P.E. With a Pulitzer Grant, the forum had four Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonists speak at the opening ceremony of the event.

Another exciting development this year is that Atlantic Media Productions has been filming the entire planning process for a professionally made documentary that will be released later in the year. The film will start with our fall and winter planning days and lead up to the day of H.Y.P.E. itself, including reflections from students.

The event also expanded to a national level this spring when the University of New Orleans joined as a sponsor. The university flew two students down to New Orleans for an Institute of Humanities philosophy conference at their campus.

Although the conference was intended for college students, the university gave the Ethics Forum a chance to prove themselves and display their passion for philosophical discussion.

"H.Y.P.E. prep in general was legendary," said Matt Saunders, one of the Ethics Forum seniors who attended the New Orleans conference. "I bonded so closely with people I wouldn’t normally have spent time with, while working together to reach a common goal.

"My favorite part about the H.Y.P.E. day itself was the way in which my fellow organizers and I were faced with problems and cohesively worked as a team to come up with smart, effective solutions," Saunders said. "Seeing such critical thought from my classmates was inspiring."

Throughout the preparation, everyone had their own tasks. There was a group to handle finances and sponsors. There was a group for merchandise, one for logistics and time planning, and many more.

Students had to reach out to high schools and colleges, put together the philosophical materials, train other students to facilitate small-group discussions, schedule times for each bus to leave each school, and pull together the funds to make H.Y.P.E free for all 1,110 students attending.

They were so focused on their own specific tasks, it was hard for them to imagine what the event would look like when everything came together at last.

"The final preparations (including the arrangement and setup of facilities and materials) on the day before H.Y.P.E. was the most enjoyable part of the event for me," said Blake Karavas, Souhegan senior and member of the Ethics Forum.

When high school students from around New England arrived at H.Y.P.E., they were registered by Souhegan and Spaulding students. The attendees were then ushered into UNH’s Granite State Room for the opening ceremony, where the emcees and panelists introduced this year’s theme.

H.Y.P.E.’s essential question that guided the discussions for 2016 was: To what extent is freedom of speech influenced by power and control? The 1,100 students then split into groups of about 10 for discussions, led by a student facilitator from either Spaulding High School or Souhegan. They started with icebreakers and then moved into philosophical discussions about the topic.

"The depth of discussion that was created by students from every background made the conversation diverse and insightful," said Nick Truchon. "I think everyone walked away having learned something important."

Souhegan senior Ely Marciano agreed, saying, "I think this type of discussion is an experience that every high schooler should have seeing that the future of the world really sits in strong communication skills."

Following the discussions, the students headed to the UNH cafeteria for lunch, where they could continue their philosophical conversation or reflect on the day as a whole.

"My favorite H.Y.P.E. moment was seeing everyone in the UNH cafe during lunch," said Olivia Richer. "It felt great to know that after many months of planning, the day had finally come. And while everyone who planned H.Y.P.E. was nervous, we experienced so much joy knowing that the day was a huge success and everyone left with a smile on their face and an experience unlike any other."

"This has been a fantastic year of growth for the program," said Ethics Forum’s faculty advisor, Chris Brooks. "With our new, emerging connections with universities and colleges, as well as other high schools throughout New England, we anticipate an even greater program next year."

Alex Cullen is a senior at Souhegan High School in Amherst.