Diversity on display for students

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Diversity does exist in Steam-boat Springs; some students just might not know how to recognize it.

Some of the many forms of human diversity were presented to Steamboat Springs High School students Tuesday during the school's "Diversity Day," when 12 community members of various ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, socioeconomic statuses and sexual orientations came together to highlight awareness and encourage tolerance.

"There's always the comment that there's not a lot of diversity in our community," Principal Dave Schmid said. "(Diversity Day) was to show our students there is a lot of diversity here."

The high school's 650 students were divided into 11 groups to listen to local speakers talk about a variety of diversity-related subjects, often including the personal stories of each presenter.

Steamboat resident Babette Dickson, who is French, talked to students about the world that awaits them outside of Northwest Colorado.

"One day, you'll be leaving Steamboat and face another world than what you have here," Dickson said, encouraging students to explore the world for themselves.

Diversity is a way of life in Europe, where dating, socializing and professional life often require interacting with people from all walks of life, she told them.

In another group, Reggie Sellars framed the diversity discussion around his personal experiences as a young, black homosexual. Sellars, a former football star and Ivy League graduate, said it was difficult to find acceptance after he came out.

"People didn't want to talk about it, much less talk to me," Sellars said. His friends refused to believe he was gay, and many of his teachers wouldn't talk about it.

Then, during his senior year of high school, Sellars decided to take a stand and refuse to allow himself to be labeled by others.

"By speaking up and being honest, I gave them a chance to speak up and be honest to me," he said. His openness spurred conversations that allowed his peers and friends to understand him and themselves better.

Sellars encouraged students to speak out for what they believe in. Diversity, he said, is part of everyone.

"We all have the same thing in common, and that's being a unique person," Sellars said. "Diversity is all about being an individual."

For the past nine years, Craig Kennedy has been the subject of stares and sympathetic offers of help from people unsure about how to act around someone in a wheelchair.

Kennedy's become accustomed to the rude looks from others, and he now realizes that the skiing accident that cost him the use of his legs made him more able than he was before he became a paraplegic. He recently started his own business and is increasingly active in the community.

"There's always people out there who are worse off than you are," Kennedy said. He encouraged students to give back to their community and spend time volunteering.

"Don't set limits for yourself," he said. "You'll only achieve what you think you can achieve."

After listening to the presenters, who included Mexicans, a Horizons Specialized Services client, an Asian American, a Jew, a local rancher, a LIFT-UP client, an American Indian and an American Samoan, the students met with their anchor classes to discuss what they heard and learned.

"The kids were very serious about what was talked about," Schmid said. "I thought it was a good day."

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