The last time the Colorado Academy Upper School gathered for an in-person PlatFORUM, today’s Seniors were Freshmen.
Because this year’s experience was a first for the majority of students, many weren’t sure what to expect. But the day—a longstanding, yet evolving, CA tradition—provided a way to open discourse, expand perspectives, and simply reflect.
At CA, PlatFORUM provides time and space to share voices, experiences, and ideas around issues of social justice and inclusivity, and to move the CA community from dialog into action. Norms for the day include being fully present, speaking from the “I” perspective, leaning into discomfort, and treating candidness as a gift.
Student leaders selected the theme, Activism Starts At Home, which was reflected in the 25 individual sessions—the majority student-led—where students met in small groups to discuss topics relevant to today’s teenagers. The scope of the sessions included eating disorders, immigration, political suppression, mental health, identity, sexual education, race, and more.
“My favorite thing about the day was how student-centered it was,” says Junior Abby Alem, who served on the planning committee. “Students planned, led sessions, and executed the day with help from faculty members. PlatFORUM was entirely about the student experience, which allowed us to talk about the topics that are most important to us.”
Junior Katherine Pulido, who also served on the committee, agrees. “I find the most impactful part of PlatFORUM to be the incredibly expressive and diverse selection of student-led forums. Each student spends time and energy designing a way to share a topic that they are passionate and knowledgeable about, and I find it to be directly representative of the rich culture of CA students.”
Junior Desi Silverman-Joseph chose to serve as a PlatFORUM leader because of his passion for social, cultural, and political issues and his desire to create space to speak freely with his classmates. “It is really transformative to be able to sit in a room with peers your own age and discuss issues that you care about in a structured way,” he says. “Although there are sometimes disagreements, in bonding over a common interest and care for these topics, many students come away from these workshops feeling a sense of community.”
This year’s event featured two keynote speakers, who each offered a different approach to this year’s theme of activism.
Marlow Baines, a 19-year-old climate-justice activist and Youth Director with Earth Guardians, shared her journey to becoming part of a movement. “What is the impact you want to make?” she asked students. “To make the world more equitable, find a place where you can connect. It took nothing special to start doing something. Time is precious; don’t waste it.”
Denver-based artist, educator, and slam poet Suzi Q. Smith performed her poetry and shared stories of her advocacy work. “Art and activism are linked,” she says. “I have a passion for words; I have to make poetry or I will explode. It’s my way of being responsive to the world around me.”
While last year’s Zoom version of PlatFORUM made an impact, missing was the buzz that the day generates when students engage deeply and openly face to face.
“It was wonderful to have PlatFORUM in person,” says Emily Pérez, who served as a faculty mentor to the committee. “So much of the day is built around discussion and shared experience, and that is really hard to recreate over Zoom. Also, on Zoom we miss the opportunity to run into each other between sessions, exchange insights, and let ideas and energy beyond our own accumulate.”
Senior Sabrina Wachuta also appreciated the lingering discussions. “After PlatFORUM, walking around the halls, I caught glimpses of people continuing conversations that happened in their sessions,” she says. “Even in classes days later, friends brought up topics that they talked about during PlatFORUM.”
The day inspired Junior Ana Yáñez to continue looking inwards and be conscious of how these topics play into our everyday lives. “Reflection is one of the most beneficial steps you can take towards addressing difficult topics; acknowledging how you feel and why you feel that way can spark action.”