[REMEMBER WHEN] Ep. 1: Free speech icons and mascot security scares

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Noa Gross: Hello and welcome to our new podcast, Remember When, where we ask members of the SPA faculty to share interesting stories from their younger years. I’m today’s host, Noa gross, and today and I’ll be interviewing Vincent Cheng, a newer of staff that is well known among his students for his comedic stories.

Vincent Cheng:  My name is Mr. Cheng, I’m a teacher, I’m an English teacher for the Upper School.

Gross: What years were you in high school from?

Cheng: I was in high school from 2005 to 2009.

Gross: What high school did you attend?

Cheng: Eastview High School in Apple Valley.

Gross: Do you have any crazy memories, or stories from your time in high school, that to this day, kind of, oh remember when that happened?

Cheng: I guess one that I’d forgotten about, I might have repressed this whole saga, but I used to be on the um… So the junior year there’s a program called the forecast, and it is basically a daily student news program. Every day, a bunch of students would just, deliver announcements to the school. And for a while, I had been an anchor with one of my friends, Ryan, and we wanted to do kind of like a different joke or a different concept for each of the episodes. But the problem is because of how live the show was, we often didn’t get the scripts finalized until just a couple of minutes before we went on air. So for this one, our school’s mascot is the Eastview lightning. 

Gross: Like a lightning bolt?

Cheng: Like a lightning bolt, yeah, zap the lightning bolt.

Gross: Did you have any like a school mascot costume?

Cheng: Yeah, it was a man dressed in a giant lightning bolt with sunglasses. It’s a blue lightning bolt named zap. And he had a Facebook page which well this is a true story. So we were all friends with zap on Facebook. We don’t know who made the profile, but I had forgotten about it completely until two years ago, one of my friends who worked for like a Security Center in Washington messaged me on Facebook to say like hey you should probably defriend zap his Facebook page has been radicalized by ISIS.

Gross: Okay

Cheng: So I went to the, I went to the Facebook page and the profile picture was the same it was just a cartoon picture of a lightning bolt with the sunglasses, but the rest of it was ISIS propaganda. So… To be clear the mascot was not a member of ISIS at the time I was attending high school. Are we on the record right now?

Gross: Yeah. getting back to the original point about the school live show. What happened there? 

Cheng: Oh yeah, yeah so our school mascot was zap the lightning bolt, and we were called the Eastview lightning. The joke of this episode was, about 30 seconds into the episode, my co-anchor would receive some news from the director of the program. And he would whisper it into my ear. And I would just go completely, just thousand-yard stare, my face would go pale. And I would say, I’m sorry but I’ve just informed that my parents were driving in Canada earlier today and they were struck by lightning and are now deceased. And we would go on with the rest of the episode where I would just have to talk about the school’s athletic achievements and say things like come cheer on the lightning as they take on Apple Valley today. And I would pause and say like I wonder if my parents cheered when the lightning took on them. And I think the joke of the episode was that I would get increasingly distraught as it went on. Well, it didn’t go over well at all with the parents. I don’t think we made it clear enough that it was not real. It was probably in poor taste anyways. But there was, it ended up turning into kind of a big free speech issue at the school because they had to send an announcement out to all of the parents, and a bunch of the teachers said that what we had done was essentially unforgivably inappropriate. Whereas other teachers said that I was being censored and that I should fight, to have done the episode. I remember walking down the hallway and my high school science teacher pulled me aside and said Vincent, what you did today cross the line, and now you need to go further. But I wasn’t able to I was kicked off the program I was never allowed to anchor again 

Gross: Within the student body how did it go over? so obviously with the parents didn’t go over that well but…

Cheng: I think it went over…well. I think students generally seem to support anything that another student gets in trouble with when the administration is involved. It seems like that’s what it seemed like in high school at the time.

Gross: So then kind of relating it back to students today. So there was some very fun crazy stories, but I was wondering, being a teacher at SPA and like seeing students in their daily lives, do you think a lot has changed from your high school experience to theirs?

Cheng: Yeah, this is this is an interesting question I was thinking about all the stories that I basically could definitely not tell

Gross: How many of those were there?

Cheng: I mean I think like the normal amount. The normal amount, but I was thinking was that like, certainly I regret 90% of those stories, but none of them exist anymore, right, they’re completely off the record they weren’t even broadcasted on social media which was barely in its inception at the time I was in high school. And that’s good because I was able to change as a person and learn from those mistakes without being beholden to them. And I, I feel like one thing that’s changed now is that that kind of disappearance of context doesn’t exist anymore. It feels to me like everything you guys do is on the public record to some extent. So I feel like every decision that you make, instead of being maybe like a dumb story from the past, could be something that sort of defines you permanently. Yeah. People do seem more stressed now I think, being in school then I remember at least but maybe I’m looking back on it optimistically, rose-colored glasses.

Gross: So, kind of going off of those two: increased pressure and not having wiping away the context. Do you have any advice to students right now who are trying to deal with that pressure and that lack of being able to just mess up and have it be a building moment rather than a defining moment? 

Cheng: When somebody messes up or we perceive to have messed up. It’s sort of a chance to open up a discussion about why we feel that way. And about why whatever happened might be unacceptable, or at least up for debate. And I think it’s especially important now, not to let sort of single moments or instances define the narrative of who a person is because it’s much easier to do that now. And I don’t think anybody you’ll interview feels proud of the person that they were in high school or middle school. And I think simultaneously we all very much value and respect people who are able to change. And so I think we need to create an environment where that feels possible. 

Gross: Any other stories that have come up to mind that have been really funny?

Cheng: No, no. 

Gross: That’s it, that’s your legacy?

Cheng: That’s that’s my legacy. 

Gross: Wow, Thank you Mr. Cheng. 

Cheng: Thank you 

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Gross: I would like to take this opportunity to extend one last thank you to Mr. Cheng for coming on our show and allowing the student body and faculty to hear about his amazing experiences and stories. In addition, I would like to thank all our listeners, without you this podcast would not be possible. I’m Noa Gross, and hope you’ll tune in again to hear more about the lives of our community members as we learn about their high school years Royalty free music courtesy of incompetech.

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Royalty-free music: “The Entertainer” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)

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