A Liberating Education


During his graduation speech, Brook Hill Salutatorian, Daniel Choi, created a powerful portrait of the education system in South Korea, contrasting it with his experience as a boarding student at The Brook Hill School. Daniel captures the distinction between his educational experiences when he says, “This [my Korean school] was not a school. It was a jail. I wanted something else. I wanted a high school where I consider my classmates not as rivals but as friends…I wanted a high school where I can learn to be independent and take the lead in my life.”

Daniel believes he found that school in Brook Hill. It is a powerful message about the impact a liberal arts education can have on students and why what we’re doing at Brook Hill is so important.

Here is Daniel’s full speech:

Hi, my name is Daniel Choi and I am honored to speak at graduation.

I am here to represent the senior class of 2014. This is a normal function of a salutatorian. What is not so normal is I am an Asian at an American school. What is not so normal is English is my second language. What is not so normal is I live in a boarding house. What is not so normal is I have only been here two years among people who have attended Brook Hill their entire life. Therefore, I kinda feel like I don’t deserve to speak here. It was hard for me to write the script because I am too abnormal and too unskillful to fully express how awesome the Brook Hill School is.

So, I decided, since I am unusual, to share my unusual experience. I am from South Korea. South Korea, like most Asian countries, has, let’s say, a harsh education system. The reason I say harsh is that the education system seems like a war. A war between students. Unlike the U.S. that has an absolute evaluation system which assigns an A if a student scores a 90 or above, Korea has a relative evaluation system which only gives A’s to the top 4% of the class, regardless of how hard the students work or what their final average is. Therefore, in order to get an A in Korea, I have to get a better score than my friends and classmates. This is cruel. This system makes students overly competitive and belligerent toward each other because each student’s grades affect all the other student’s grades. The competitive grind is heightened because school normally starts at 7:30 a.m. and finishes at 10:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

There are NO extracurricular activities, just 14 hours used only for studying school subjects.

In addition, there is literally no communication in a Korean classroom. A teacher’s job is to read a textbook and give answers. There are always certain answers that students have to write; it is wrong to suggest other answers. In other words, Korean education has little or no room for creativity. I didn’t write a single essay while at school in Korea. Why? Because there is no exact answer in an essay. Essays often require brainstorming, listening and interacting with each other, sharing ideas, preparing. Why would a Korean teacher do these things when he or she can just give questions that have five possible choices with one exact answer that can’t be refuted.

This was not a school. It was a jail. I wanted something else. I wanted a high school where I consider my classmates not as rivals but as friends. I wanted a high school where I can enjoy sports and fine arts, and see how far I can go with my talents. I wanted a high school where I don’t have to study ALL DAY LONG, but where I can go out and find what I really want to do for my future by experiencing various extracurricular activities. I wanted a high school where I can help plan and follow my own schedule, not just a schedule the school assigns and makes me follow. I wanted a high school where I can learn to be independent and take the lead in my life.

So when I decided to study abroad, I carefully researched schools around the U.S. My expectations were high so it took days to finally choose the best school.

And, now, I am here, standing at graduation at Brook Hill, the best high school in my opinion. And this school has exceeded my expectations.

Even though there are some cliques, as is usual among high schoolers, classmates are friends, not foes. I have friends from freshmen to seniors who have truly shown me what true friendship looks like. I don’t know if it’s because this school is a Christian school, but the students in this school always try and don’t hesitate to help each other. When there is a project or a test, they communicate and put efforts together in order to get the best out of it. I was worried about racism and being an outcast when I came here, but the smiles, hugs, and greetings from my classmates and teachers washed it away. The people here are respectful, and consider this foreigner as part of their family. I feel at home here, thanks to my friends and teachers.

At Brook Hill there are many opportunities for extracurricular activities and new experiences. I have been able to play football and soccer, as well as piano with the orchestra. I have been able to live in the boarding house and share different cultures with friends from different countries. I could not achieve this by myself, and Korean education doesn’t provide any of this. Therefore, I am thankful to Brook Hill for providing me so many great experiences.

Finally, at Brook Hill I have truly become independent, not only physically but also mentally. Teachers and students communicate so differently here at Brook Hill than in Korea. I mean absolutely differently. All the teachers listen to and respect the students and their opinions. For example, in English class with Mr. Travis, when we read a book we spend all of our class time talking about the book and its ideas. He doesn’t say the right answer for what each book is about, or what each symbol means, or what each writer wants to say. Instead, he asks. He asks what we think the book is about, what the symbols mean, or what the writer wants to say. And there is no “no.” Every idea we say isn’t necessarily right, but what Mr. Travis does is to gather these ideas to a right direction so that we are on the right track. And these different and fresh ideas become our power to think further and write a better essay. Every time I walk into class, I am encouraged to enlarge my creativity. This process has affected me in so many ways, not only when I think about essays and tests, but also in how I have developed certain values for my life. Through this education, I have been able to search who I am, and set my own values. Therefore, I say thanks to Brook Hill for its education, for respecting students, and for developing their creativity.

Again, I am an Asian—a foreigner—who thinks I don’t deserve the heavy honor to stand in front of you guys and give a lesson with my unskillful English and short time here at this school. However, one thing I wanted to say before graduating is that I truly thank my high school, the Brook Hill School for all the ways you have impacted my life.

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One thought on “A Liberating Education

  1. By the time this young man finished his speech, many were in tears. He is wise beyond his years. I have wanted a copy of his speech and I would like to thank Daniel and Brook Hill for sharing it. I wish him a life full of blessings and thank him for reminding us of all the blessing we take for granted in this country on a daily basis.

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