Good morning. As most of you know, I am a person who takes things seriously. I like to read the finest publications like the New York Times on a daily basis, and I consider myself the voice of our collective social conscience. Recently, as I spent my Sunday morning sipping tea and reading the New Yorker magazine, I came across an article about a very special individual named Juan Mann. Juan is a personal hero of mine because he started a social movement that spread like wildfire and quickly became a nationwide phenomenon. You see, Juan started the Free Hugs movement, and it soon spread to college campuses around the nation and later to countries around the globe.
At first, Juan would go around the local mall and hold up a FREE HUG sign. While he was originally met with strange stares and few takers for his free hugs, some individuals soon decided to take him up on his generous offer. People who were having a bad day, people who had just broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, students who had failed a test, and CEOs who had to lay off employees sought the warm embrace of this complete stranger… And they liked it.
Suddenly, an idea hit me: we should have a free hug campaign here at SIA. When I walk through the halls of our schools, I see people hugging all the time. Students hug to say hello, to say goodbye; they hug when they are upset or anxious. I bet you even the faculty hug each other in the faculty room. I’m sure Mr. Ahern and Mr. Acquilano hug in celebration after another senior class graduates, or Mrs. Corigliano hugs Mrs. Import after another successful fire drill. While public displays of affection are frowned upon in our hallways, we should not overlook the power of the hug. I know I love hugs, and they can make an enormous difference in a person’s life. A hug lets people know that they are loved, and that someone will always be there to support them and cheer them up. A hug is non-judgmental, and it brings utter joy to the hugger and the huggee.
I think that if we had a Free Hug campaign or a Hug Club in our school, it would be a fantastic success. Free Hugs! What could be better? I see people all the time on our campus looking like they need a hug and a show of support. For example, just the other day, I was walking down the hall by Mr. Mazella’s office, and I noticed that he did not look like his usual self. He seemed depressed or just down on himself. So I crept into his office and asked him, ”Maz, are you okay?” He responded with, “James, get out of my office.” This was clearly a man who needed a hug. “James,” he said, “I know what you are going to do, and the answer is No, I do not want a hug.” I told him, “Maz, I’m telling you — if you accept this hug, you will feel 20 times better.” I figured I would just put my arms out, and he would then come to me — but no. I had to walk over to his desk and do all the work myself. That’s when I noticed the Mazella smirk was back, and for the rest of the day, he was all cheery. It was my hug that made him happy –I just know it.
I’m going to try my best to get this Campaign going. Imagine a club being formed that has designated huggers on hand during break, lunch, and between periods. Students and teachers could just walk by and grab a hug before shuffling off to their next class. Visiting 8th graders would automatically enroll in the school when they saw this, and I’m sure everyone would feel like a beloved member of our community.
In closing, as we get ready for the weekend and gear up for the warmth, cheer, and love of the holiday season, I would ask for everyone to look to your left or right, and just reach out and give that person a big, old-fashioned SIA hug before we leave this auditorium. It will make a difference. Thank you.