“My mom was the one who first noticed it,” Kersten Butler says, tapping her knuckles on the edge of the desk and looking at the legal notepad on its surface. “She said that for an 11-year-old girl, I was obviously depressed. I had dark thoughts. I would say dark things. It was obvious to my mom that there was something wrong.”

The senior is visibly nervous as she talks about what she calls “having bipolar.” Putting her hands in her sweatshirt pockets, her tone takes on the hard edge of defiance as she says, “I like to say that I’m not bipolar. I say that I have bipolar and that I refuse to let it define me.”

It’s only the second time Butler has spoken openly about her struggle with the disorder. The first time was at the Upper School Town Hall during a segment called Senior Speech where seniors can elect to speak on a topic of their choice. There, she told the entire Upper School.

Butler shuffles the notepad as she talks about that moment and describing to her peers the phases of the disorder: mania, the mood of abnormally elevated energy levels; depression, the persistent feeling of sadness. Of the experience opening up about something she’s kept secret her whole life, Butler says it was really difficult, but that she “was tired of being voiceless.”


“I realized that people at this school accept you for who you are. That’s probably the greatest lesson CA taught me—is that I don’t need to try to be somebody to get somebody to like me. I know that I can be myself in front of all you guys. I know that every single person in this room will accept me for who I am. That’s the beauty of this school.”


And that’s the point of the senior speech, which is new to Town Hall this year—it serves as a platform for the “voiceless,” a safe place where seniors can speak openly without the fear of judgment. It’s also part of a greater initiative to make the meetings more student-centered. Now, Town Hall is led almost entirely by students who read out announcements, share notes left in the “gratitude box” about things they’re thankful for, and then ask the faculty to leave as they prepare for open mic—a time they can lean into discomfort by sharing their thoughts independent of adults, one at a time over the microphone.

Senior co-presidents Tyler Kelly and Ethan Miller had a hand in implementing these changes. Says Kelly of past experiences at Town Hall: “Just from a regular student’s viewpoint, I would sit there and be kind of bored, and so we wanted to give the students a stake in it.”

Middle and Lower Schools have taken notice as well. The Lower School Town Hall features fifth-grade students who welcome the community, lead the pledge, and introduce any speakers and activities. Additionally, they brainstorm ideas for topics, activities, and speakers.

The students recently selected to run the Middle School Town Hall underwent Upper School Town Halllessons on public speaking with Chairman of the Fine and Performing Arts department, Angel Vigil, before getting up in front of their peers. Says Vigil, “Everyone already has the skills needed to be successful talking in public. Making these meetings student-run gives them confidence to speak in front of a crowd despite their nerves.”

But nerves play a big part, especially in Butler’s case, who admits that she was nervous then and still is now. “Mostly because I’m not a huge center-of-attention person,” she says, referring to all of her peers, faculty and staff who have since heralded her speech as extremely brave.

“I just wanted to inspire someone, even if it was just one person.”

Some might think the person she inspired was an unlikely candidate—not so much a victim as an aggressor. At the following Upper School Town Hall, senior Slater Shoptaugh stood up and told people that he was a “bully.”

“And I know why I was a bully,” he said. “I was a bully because I really didn’t feel good about myself and I didn’t think other people liked me. So what went through my mind was that if I put other people down, it was going to put me up. “ In his own words, Shoptaugh, who joined CA his sophomore year, says he “immediately realized something was different.

“I realized that people at this school accept you for who you are. That’s probably the greatest lesson CA taught me—is that I don’t need to try to be somebody to get somebody to like me. I know that I can be myself in front of all you guys. I know that every single person in this room will accept me for who I am. That’s the beauty of this school.”

Following his speech, Shoptaugh called out to his freshman buddy, who joined him in the center of the room to read notes from the gratitude box.

“Kersten, thanks for sharing your story. You really did inspire me,” read one. Shoptaugh shuffled through to the next card and read another: “I am so proud of Kersten Butler, her courage is something every student should aspire to have.”