We exist to create, not to re-load, re-connect or sync, but to cultivate, develop, love, feel, see, smell, touch, taste and explore.
Why don’t we see past grades, relationships, extracurriculars and realize we are all humans that feel sad sometimes?
I’m angry. I’m angry that we all have felt like we weren’t enough. I’m angry that we don’t feel like we can be anything but happy. That our emotions aren’t valid. We’ve all felt like that. And no one told us it was okay to be sad.
Why is that?
"At the end of the day, I guess I will always understand that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is chronic, and it will be a very long time until I find a way to get over it. I will continue to be the best me I can be from day to day, and try my hardest to be as positive as possible throughout the hardest times. But something about throwing the words “My Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” into a fiery pit of other hardships really did something for me. I felt brave, and powerful, and I knew that I would overcome this one day."
"Under A Tree has given me the opportunity to become more open, honest, and vulnerable than ever before. Our resiliency is something supernatural. Our strength and determination have gotten us through some of the worst things imaginable. Together we can all help carry each other’s weight through offering support and guidance"
"Tragedy brings us together in a way success or good fortune never can. Tears were shed, confessions were unabashedly shared, and our group emerged coherent in an altogether different way. We were all truly screwed up – flawed and cracked in every way imaginable.
But it was okay – because broken glass reflects the light in a way unbroken glass never could."
Our ethical citizenship cup runneth over...
Meet and get to know our most recent additions to the under A Tree family-- 25 South Florida-based high school juniors and seniors who are committed to becoming more ethical, accountable, and unapologetic social justice activists and civic leaders.
Click on the photo for more info!
The mentors (Tabitha Cherubin, Jhanae Douglas, Nick Mijares, Zoe Lee, and Shada Thykandy) and our leadership team (Director of Fellowship Recruitment & Experience, Andres Castillo, and Director of Development & Special Events, Donna Patricia de Castro) recently met in South Florida to build trust, share perspectives and hopes, and define individual, team, and organizational goals for the coming year.
Despite being depleted from weeks of AP Exam preparation and testing and sandwiched just before the thrilling release of graduation/summer vacation, our Fellows still somehow managed to create, implement, and execute their personalized capstones on a social issue/civic problem of their choosing.
The mission? Quite simple: Promote awareness (what it is people should care about it), garner accountability (why it is that people should care and why it matters to them), and promote agency (how can they actually go about doing something about it themselves moving forward).
In the final stage of our fellowship, facing more obstacles and barriers, our Fellows more than rose to the occasion. Over a span of two weeks in late May, they successfully implemented 30 community activism capstones on topics ranging from ending sexual violence to fighting environmental racism to shining a light on teen depression and addiction. In the process, they raised awareness in their local communities as well as online, inspired other elementary, middle, and high school students to think more critically and care more about the world we share, and experienced firsthand the difficulties and frustrations of creating social change but also the gifts, joy, and purpose of trying, learning, and persisting in the struggle nonetheless!
Please check out some highlights of our Fellows' work and be sure to click on all the links and explore some of what they created in more detail. We couldn't be more inspired by the work they invested in this effort and the foundations they have built to support the ongoing construction of a better tomorrow.
We are proud to officially announce our student leadership team for our third annual Ethical Citizens Fellowship, beginning in September of 2017.
As recent graduates of the UAT Ethical Citizens program, they will be responsible for recruiting, selecting, mentoring, and guiding the newest cohort of fellows. Please join us is recognizing and celebrating Shada, Jhanae, Andres Donna, Nick, Tabi, and Zoe!
On Friday morning, June 9, 2017, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, I was lucky enough to emcee the high school graduation for 25 of our Under A Tree seniors who had taken part in Under A Tree during 2016 or 2017.
Of the six student speakers at the two-school ceremony (Somerset Academy High School and Somerset Arts Conservatory), five of them were UAT alumni (both school valedictorians, both school salutatorians, AND the senior class president). This opportunity ranked among the most meaningful moments of my 15-year career in education.
Although we are admittedly sad to see our founding fellows of Under A Tree move on to college (we will miss them terribly and wish them well!), we are awed by their personal and academic accomplishments. Multiple AP Scholars of Distinction, National Merit Finalists, and an unbelievable list of college acceptances and millions in scholarship offers...our fellows are quite simply...IMPRESSIVE!
Here's just a snapshot of their admissions accomplishments:
We are also excited to note that we have a student leadership team in place for the 2017-18 school year and are ready to implement our THIRD annual Ethical Citizens Fellowship.
With all that said, check out a few images from that special morning below:
And a few bonus pics from our final extemporaneous hoorah picnic:
June 11, 2017 | Pembroke Pines, FL
On Wednesday, June 7, 2017, Under A Tree honored 27 Ethical Citizenship Fellows and six Ethical Leadership Mentors for their successful completion of our 2016-17 Fellowship. Joined by parents, family members, community stakeholders, donors, and past Under A Tree alumni, we highlighted major accomplishments, celebrated student achievements, and awarded over $6500 in college scholarships.
We are grateful to Diana Rivera, Diana Escobar, Anaeli Mirjares, and Damaris Vila or their tireless efforts to secure and prepare such a beautiful space and provide tasty refreshments. We would also like to thank the Principal Stephanie Saban, the faculty and staff, and the PTA of Coral Cove Elementary School for so generously donating their facility for the celebration.
Check out our photoblog below to get a sense of the magic, emotion, and impact of this unforgettable evening in South Florida:
For our most recent ethical citizenship mission*, House of Bhutto and House of Suu Kyi teamed up to spread awareness about sexual assault and ending sexual violence. We realized that this is a topic that isn’t heavily discussed amongst high schoolers, not necessarily because it isn't an important issue but because many people are afraid to speak out about it. We decided that the best way to bring attention to the issue was to approach the young audience at our own school by making an information/photo booth and a “twibbon” that people could use on twitter. Flyers were handed out to remind people to do their part if they ever found themselves in a difficult situation involving the potential for sexual assault. Whether ensuring consent or being an ally for someone who experienced the trauma of sexual violence, we wanted to encourage our classmates not to be afraid to communicate openly, seek help if needed, or simply just to bring attention to a serious problem.
Members from both houses worked together to spread awareness in various forms. Maria, the mentor of House of Bhutto, made the flyers and created the twibbon. Adrianna from the House of Bhutto and Camila from House of Suu Kyi took the pictures at the photo booth. Kyle made the blue ribbon with which people could take pictures. Daniel, Maria, Camila, and Ariana helped design the poster. Everyone else participated in helping inform people what our project was all about. It became something fun -– the dancers at our school dressed up in teal body suits to match our theme and people were posting their pictures on different social media platforms. There was music playing and we were able to get plenty of pledges from both boys and girls.
Ending sexual violence will not be easy. But we can't change a culture until we communicate with each other and collaborate to amplify our voices...even if we're sure at first no one is listening.
~Kelly Ostruszka, House of Suu Kyi
*Editor's Note: For a look at Kelly's campaign as well as the campaigns created and implemented by the other houses, please check out our above photoblog documenting an incredible week of activism, social change, and civic leadership.