On Thursday, middle schoolers gathered in the Lowell Center to welcome Dr. Rajani LaRocca, physician, author, and winner of the 2021 New England Book Award, the 2022 Walter Dean Myers Award, and a 2022 Newbery Honor, for her verse novel Red, White, and Whole. Dr. Rajani LaRocca’s visit kicked-off DCD’s annual CommUNITY Day, a day to celebrate difference and belonging within our DCD community.

Head of school Allison Webster first spoke about the significance of CommUNITY Day, and the importance of coming together to make sense of things in our world. Referring to her experience as a young adult, Ms. Webster recalled that she and her friends always talked about all the similar things they had in common, but never discussed the differences, and she emphasized the idea that we can take all our differences and learn from them, and become richer, fuller individuals, experiencing deep connections.

Dr. Rajani LaRocca then took the stage, and asked the questions, “Have you ever felt torn between two worlds?”, and “Have you ever wondered if you ever really belong?” Dr. LaRocca went on to explain that as a young Indian girl growing up in Kentucky, she never felt like she truly belonged. On the weekdays, she felt like an American kid, and on the weekends, an Indian version of herself, and that sometimes, she wondered if either girl was who she really was. Dr. LaRocca talked about the inspiration for Red, White, and Whole and her path to writing her verse novels, with the hope of inspiring kids to tell their own stories, share their feelings, and know that we all belong. Dr. LaRocca talked about her incredible love of reading and writing, and how she “finds inspiration from her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere [she] looks.”

Referring to her writing process for her book Red, White, and Whole, Dr. LaRocca explained that she wrote this book in a very short span of two months. It tells the story of Reha, a young girl who feels torn between two worlds: school, where she’s the only Indian American student, and home, with her family. Reha then finds out that her mother is very sick. Reha, who has dreams of becoming a doctor even though she can’t stomach the sight of blood, is determined to make her mother well again. Dr. LaRocca then shares that while Red, White, and Whole is a fictional story, it mirrors much of her own childhood, including her traumatic experience with her own mom being seriously injured in a car accident, and having to spend many months in the hospital.

Students then had the opportunity to ask questions regarding Dr. LaRocca’s favorite books, reading styles and inspiration. Earlier in the presentation, Dr. LaRocca had mentioned that when she was a young adult in a creative writing class, she told her writing teacher that she loved to write, but that she wanted to be a doctor, and couldn’t do both, and her teacher posed the inspiring question, “who says you have to choose?” This was a truly monumental idea for her, and she has since cultivated a life in which she can do both things that she truly loves, bringing these two disparate parts of herself together.

After this powerful session with Dr. LaRocca, middle school students spent the rest of the day breaking the mold of their normal day-to-day classes, participating instead in various workshops located throughout their classrooms, which were assigned based on personal interests.

Workshops and Facilitators included:

  • “The Social Dilemma Documentary Screening and Discussion” (Laura Foody)
  • “Women and Money” (Emilie Liebhoff)
  • “Art, Mindfulness & Compassion” (India Clark)
  • “Mapping Our Identities and Destinies” (Karen Eutemey)
  • “Social Media and Offensive Speech” (Devaraux Brown)
  • “Journaling Through the Years” (Mark Jackson)
  • “The Bionic Project” (Bionic Project)
  • “Making News Fun” (Becca Levi and Josh Raab)
  • “Identity Through Storytelling” (Dee Tran)
  • “What Can I Do To Practice Self-Care?” (Meg McFarland)
  • “Financial Education 101” (Lori DeLeo)
  • “From Sports to the Pink Tax 2.0: Exploring Gender Equity” (Elaine Gage)
  • “Antisemitism in Today’s World” (Charles Rudnick)
  • “Power of Picture Books” (Dr. Carla Haith)
  • “Mapping Rights: From Slavery to Roe to Same Sex Marriage” (Nancy Barre)
  • “Healthy Comebacks for Sticky Situations” (Gwen Hyland)
  • “Teamwork…You Know The Deal” (Tim Stratford and Karen O’Leary)
  • “Bryan Stevenson and The Power of Identity” (Mervan Osborne)
  • “The Soul Project: Brave Spaces for Women and Girls” (Kristie Dean)
  • “Economic Empowerment for All: Early Life Lessons” (Michelle Knight)
  • “Move To The Music” (Laura Martinez)

Thursday evening, Dr. LaRocca was welcomed by the adult DCD community for an evening of dinner and discussion. Dr. LaRocca spoke about her identity as an Indian American woman and her journey in medicine and writing.

Dedham Country Day is strongly committed to building and ensuring a sense of community in which every member is safe, valued, and treated with dignity. We believe that a broad range of experiences and viewpoints enhances learning and enriches life. A huge thank you to Dr. LaRocca, Nate Buffum, Camille Harrison, Ivy Alphonse-Crean, Kathryn Novicki in the Advancement Office, Phil Holden and the Facilities team, Karen McPherson and the Flik team, and all of the visiting workshop facilitators and DCD faculty facilitators for this unforgettable event!