Hi everyone! My name is Leela Kiyawat, and I am one of the ServiceSpace 2020 Summer interns. It's such an honor to do service work in the company of all of you amazing people - I'm so grateful I've found this wonderful group.
One of my projects this summer includes interviewing teenagers in my community about the various acts of kindness that they have either done or experienced this summer. I also wanted to hear, in a more general sense, their experience with grappling with the future in a world that has come to a pandemic-induced standstill. Generation Z is going to inherit a tumultuous world, and I want to show you all some of my incredible friends who are ready to attack any challenge that's been thrown at them. From online AP tests to lobbying for gun safety laws to the negative affects of performative activism, these interviews will cover it all! Below is my interview with Sarah Schecter, who is seriously one of the coolest people I know. Enjoy!
Sarah Schecter is a theatre artist, activist, and chef from Oakland. She is a junior at Oakland School for the Arts (OSA) studying Playwriting, and a member of the Teen Core Council at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Her work has been published at the 2018 Heart of Oakland Festival, Still I Rise Films, OSA New Works Festival (’18, ’19) and at the SF Children’s Hospital. Her recent dramaturgy work includes ...And Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, and The Importance of Being Earnest at OSA and In The Heights and Hairspray at Throckmorton Theatre. Her recent directing work includes The American Dream and Dog Sees God with Bay Area Zeta Players. She is currently working on writing her first book, and is directing The Rabbit Play at Berkeley Rep’s Teen One Acts Festival. She spends her non-theatrical time as treasurer for Bay Area Student Activists, a student-led civic engagement group, and learning and cooking in kitchens around the Bay Area.
Below is the transcript of our conversation that we had on July 3rd, 2020.
LK: So tell me about your act of kindness.
SS: Well, could I say two acts of kindness? Two different acts of kindness?
LK: Oh, Sarah, of course!
SS: Well, excellent. Thank you, Leela. I would say the first act of kindness that I did was when I was biking with my friend, Sylvia Pavlov. We were biking, and a can fell off of her bike. She was holding it on her bike, like a crumpled soda can, and I don’t think she realized [it fell], because she kept on going. We were biking along, and I thought about it, and I was like, “I can’t leave that can there ‘cause we had biked passed this house earlier, and there was this old woman weeding in the front yard. And I thought about her coming out and seeing that can, and being sad that somebody left it there. So I biked back and I picked up the can, and I found another small piece of garbage, and I got my hands nice and germy and I threw them away. And I biked back feeling better, because now that old lady won’t see that garbage when she comes out.
LK: That’s beautiful.
SS: Thank you.
LK: You’re welcome!
SS: And the other act of kindness was the other day, at a distanced birthday party, for my dad’s girlfriend’s son Arjun. It was his birthday party and his girlfriend Aditi was there, and she got this really nice cake for his birthday, in addition to some tea and some rice pudding. There were so many desserts out, and I gave her my chair so she could sit next to her boyfriend.
LK: (laughing) That’s so sweet. That’s so kind. Thank you, Sarah.
SS: (laughing) I feel like my eloquence button is turned off today.
LK: No, no.
SS: But these two relatively small acts of kindness - I like to think they fit into a wider ideology, or way of living through the world, which is this Jewish idea of Tikkun Olam. It’s the idea of healing the world, and I like to think it means healing the world one action at a time. So it kind of encompassed a lot of Jewish beliefs, whether that’s Tzedakah, so, you know, giving money to charity, or just helping other people out. It’s kind of my favorite tenant of Judaism because I think that really all of us should be working towards healing the world. And there’s so many interpretations of that. Sometimes, we don’t need to develop the world, or change parts of it, we just need to heal it. So I think whether that’s a really small act of inclusion, or kindness, or picking up some garbage, doing one act of kindness helps the world.
LK: That’s so beautiful. You spoke about the world, a lot. Not too much, a good amount. I was wondering, as an adolescent in the times that we’re living in now, you know there’s a pandemic, systematic uproar, college tuition is crazy, recession, things like that. How are you personally dealing with this? And what advice would you give to other people, as someone who is still making the most out of everything?
SS: Right. Well, thinking about all of these things...I went to this camp last summer for girls from all over the world. It was in Upstate New York, and it was really cool. It was for a month, and one of the pieces of advice that I got on the very first day was from a girl from Hungary. And she just said “Take it one day at a time.” And eventually the days that felt long and scary began to feel short and sweet. That’s how I want to approach life from now on, because if you just take it one day at a time with hope for the future, then things can feel a lot more manageable. I think about, like, that we’re going to be alive in 2050 and that there’s going to be worms eating our garbage, and my kids might not see forests or grow up with clean air, it sounds terrifying. So I like to think that what drives my activism is fear. Sometimes I think that isn’t an answer I should be proud of, but it’s just an honest truth for many of the people who are advocating for climate justice, or gun reform, that are scared. But I think we just have to find things that make us happy and hold onto them.
LK: Wow. How wonderfully put, and how wonderfully said. Okay. Coronavirus has put a lot of things to a standstill, am I right?
LK: But how have you been able to manage still putting work and time into the things that you’re passionate about?
SS: Definitely. I think for a lot of people the third year of high school, especially in the U.S, is a really intense year, and I think for me it taught me a lot about work ethic and what I’m capable of achieving and what priorities are. And I think in March, when quarantine and shelter in place was put into effect, I was still kind of in this mindset of getting everything done, working towards some, maybe not necessarily tangible goal, but just working towards something. And then I did start to slow down during quarantine, and I was really grateful for that. But it’s kind of what was driving my schoolwork and tests and writing things, which is something I am really passionate about. I love creative writing and I attend an arts school called Oakland School for the Arts. The things I’m passionate about, like creative writing - that’s an outlet that’s successful to me most of the year. But sometimes I don’t have time for it, so quarantine created the time for me to write for the sake of writing, and having fun with it. And other things I’m passionate about, like my pet turtle, and playing music. I play the guitar, and the banjo, and the violin. And gardening! I don’t usually have time for it, so I was able to reconnect with the simple joys of being at home, and enjoy spending time with myself. But it has been challenging, because when you spend too much time alone, spending time with yourself starts to feel like spending time alone, and it feels lonely. But I have been enjoying things, and I think my biggest realization that happened today was that I just need to prioritize identifying what I want, rather than prioritizing my commitments, or rather than prioritizing other people’s needs and wants.
LK: That’s so wise, Sarah.
SS: Thank you!
LK: Are you scared for the future? Or are you hopeful?
SS: Well, I’m always scared for the future. I think that it is because the world is a crazy place right now. But when you look at the response that people have, it does make me hopeful that there are people who will never accept injustice. And I think that if the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that the world will always keep on going. No matter what happens, things will always keep on going. And I think that’s reassuring and scary to me in a way, because I’ve realized that, you know, eventually when the ice caps melt and when there aren’t as many forests and when our oceans start really coming towards cities and Venice is no longer a place, then that will just be a part of the world we live in. The world will keep on going. People will still go and laugh and have kids and have day to day lives. So there’s kind of a comfort and a scariness to that. I think society will keep on going, so for that I’m hopeful. But it will change a lot, and that is scary.
LK: Sarah, you are so smart, kind, creative and wise. How has it been for things that maybe you’re not necessarily super passionate about, like, for example, school. How has it been to...well, not that you’re not passionate about school -
SS: No, but like things I’m not passionate about.
LK: Like, how has it basically been to try and get a high school level education through an online platform?
SS: I think along with prioritizing commitments and working towards the goal - getting good grades this year - I definitely lost something in the process, and maybe that’s part of an intrinsic motivation or desire to learn for the sake of learning, and not for the sake of getting a good grade or reaching some benchmark. I think that the scariest thing about the standardized education that we receive is that we’re taught that education is a linear or finite thing. That once you reach a certain point, and you pass a test, then you’re done learning. And once you’ve passed a certain module then you’ve learned a concept. So I’d like to rediscover the joy of learning, I think that’s something I’ve struggled with during quarantine. I’ve just been doing stuff to get it done. And I enjoy the feeling of getting stuff done, but maybe not necessarily learning. But I do feel grateful for that in a way, because it’s showed me what I’m really passionate about, which is cooking, and being in the kitchen, and the stories of food. I want to study culinary anthropology, and look at the stories and places of food. I think that doing something that’s not categorically academic, but can be, allows me to lean into grades and stuff. But also into the real world, it will make me passionate for what I don't always enjoy doing, like school, which is something that I don’t always love.
LK: Totally. I totally agree with that, and I’m really excited to see the person that you will become. And the person that you already are right now is such a joy to be around. Do you have any last words - just about life?
SS: Well, there are a lot of great stone fruits in season right now! I hope that you’re all taking advantage of that.
LK: It’s true. Plums and cherries. Off the charts.
SS: Off the charts! Pluots, peaches.
LK: I’m just so inspired by your optimism, and your general joy for life, and life’s offerings. Thank you so much for joining me today Sarah!
SS: And thank you for having me.
END OF INTERVIEW