Conference at Saint Anselm College Marks Beginning of HYPE Planning for SHS Ethics Forum

Souhegan’s Ethics Forum kicks off planning for their annual philosophy conference after the COVID-19 pandemic prevented them from holding it last year.



Ethics Forum students and conference MCs Sylvia Weiher (left) and Sierra Kimball (right).

On Friday, November 19th, Souhegan High School’s Ethics Forum gathered in a conference room at St. Anselm College in Manchester with two other New Hampshire high schools to discuss future plans for the upcoming and highly anticipated Hosting Young Philosophy Enthusiasts (HYPE) Conference, which will take place at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Durham campus in March 2022. After a long year of the various challenges that the community had to face as a result of COVID-19, this year’s Forum is eager to get HYPE up and running after the pandemic prevented the event from happening previously. 

Emily Reardon, an Ethics Forum member who is part of the core group responsible for planning HYPE and the recent meeting, says that “the purpose of the conference at St. Anselm’s last week was to create a partnership with other schools in New Hampshire…in order to choose the topic of HYPE.” In addition to planning the convention, the conference also focused on student leadership and voice in the high schools that were present—Kearsarge Regional High School in New London and Spaulding High School in Rochester joined Souhegan at the event. Reardon adds that Ethics Forum, along with students from the two other high schools, got to talk about “what different school settings are like and the prospective problems that we would like to be able to tackle through a series of mini-conferences and partnerships throughout the year.” These mini-conferences would be an initiative by Ethics Forum in coalition with other schools to mentor and work with them.

The Planning Process

Planning for the conference was, in the words of leadership member Sylvia Weiher, “very hectic”. Students dove headfirst into outlining the discussion right after finishing up Operation Pumpkin, another Ethics Forum initiative. Preliminary planning began with forming a core group of students to organize everything. Seniors Sylvia Weiher, Bella Kraus, Sierra Kimball, Siera Biddle, Emily Reardon, Kira Healey, and Madeleine Glover took on the project. “We made an itinerary, placed Souhegan students in [discussion] groups as facilitators, made presentations, and got swag bags together for the day,” says Kraus. Ethics Forum met nearly every day during lunchtime to talk about what the conference would look like. 

The table of students leading the planning of HYPE and Friday’s conference (Hargreaves).

Although its effects were not nearly as devastating as last year, COVID-19 still impacted planning for last week’s conference. Christopher Brooks, Ethics Forum’s adviser, told The Claw, “During the summer, I had to contact St. Anselm’s and ask them whether it was possible for us to even get together.” He states that looking at the possibility of holding HYPE despite the virus was partially the purpose of last week. Because of COVID, the meeting had less attendance from other schools compared to previous conferences, and students were required to wear masks during the event. And while Forum was given the green light to hold the conference, this year’s date was later than those of previous meetings.

For the most part, though, Brooks says the goal of the St. Anselm’s meeting was the same as in previous years.“We brought schools together for the [HYPE] topic selection process, and that was the most important thing”.

The Layout of the Conference

Ethics Forum MCs kicked off the conference by welcoming the other students. “As for the opening presentation, we showed what Ethics Forum achieves throughout the year, including the Hope for Gus fundraiser and the Operation Pumpkin day.” Sylvia Weiher says that this allowed the other schools to see what Ethics Forum accomplishes each year and how the group makes a difference in the community.

After the brief introduction and outline of the events, students situated themselves at their discussion tables. Each table comprised of students from the Ethics Forum (one of whom was appointed to facilitate conversation) and from the other two high schools that attended. Students were then challenged to talk about topics such as “How can we as students create change in our community and the outside world?” and “What should student leadership look like?” Some prompts challenged students to answer questions of a philosophical nature as well.

Students from Kearsarge, Spaulding, and Souhegan at their discussion tables (Hargreaves).

According to Emily Reardon, “as far as HYPE planning, we used these discussions to be able to talk about and decide upon a HYPE topic for 2022 and other important details for the convention itself.” During discussion time, members of the leadership group worked to create topics based on what groups came up with and deliberated further about the logistics of the event in March.

The Claw asked Ethics Forum members about the topics their groups discussed. Amanda Fulton said she participated in conversations about social responsibility, teacher and student relationships, and the responsibility of teachers in creating communities where student leadership can thrive. “My favorite discussion that I had was about how students need to take ownership of their own leadership potential despite their circumstances. It was very productive and helped us create our guiding questions about creating chances for personal growth in the development of our individual leadership skills.” 

Wil Jaques told The Claw that the discussion in his group centered around the comparison of Souhegan’s administration to that of other schools. “I participated in a lot of conversations about how students would be scared to stand up for themselves in fear of punishment.” 

The Topic of HYPE 2022

Towards the end of the conference, attendees voted on a series of possible topics for the Hosting Young Philosophy Enthusiasts conference in March. These drastically ranged from questions about philosophical inquiry, student voice, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on schools. After a tie, students voted a second time and ultimately decided that the driving topic of 2022’s HYPE conference would be “Relationships and Communication”.

What’s Next

After meeting earlier this week to debrief and discuss last week’s discussion at St. Anselm’s College, Ethics Forum’s next steps in planning this March’s Hosting Young Philosophy Enthusiasts conference will include dividing into committees to tackle all the different aspects of the event. “We settled on eight committees that we then presented to the group on the debriefing day: Marketing, Funding, Merch Design, Content, Logistics, Tech/Media Management, Budget, and Outreach.” Emily Reardon told The Claw that these groups will work independently, and the whole of Forum will meet at specific times during to week to go over each group’s progress. This planning process will begin when students return from Thanksgiving Break and continue through December and January. What’s more, student Bella Kraus has informed The Claw that Forum’s core leadership group is preparing a presentation for the University of New Hampshire asking for their sponsorship of the event—in the past, UNH and numerous other schools and organizations have contributed tens of thousands of dollars toward HYPE.

“This won’t fail because of the group we have.”

— Christopher Brooks

According to Chris Brooks, the coming process of planning the conference in March is slightly different than that of previous years, and that is due to COVID. “[COVID] has pushed us back a month from where we should’ve been..we should’ve done [the St. Anselm’s conference] in October…Everything else falls out from there. We had to clear access to UNH Durham’s campus in March…that was late. So everything’s kind of in the stage of being a little bit later, which is going to  put a bit more pressure on us to get things done sooner than we would like.” Despite these setbacks, Brooks says that the group will adjust to possible obstacles as HYPE planning progresses and that he has faith in this year’s Ethics Forum seniors. “This won’t fail because of the group we have.”

Ethics Forum’s meeting with Kearsarge Regional High School and Spaulding High School was the first of many plans set into motion in anticipation of the Hosting Young Philosophy Enthusiasts conference in March. It marked a return to normalcy from the trials and tribulations that the COVID-19 pandemic presented the Forum—and the entire Souhegan community—last year. When asked what she most looked forward to about HYPE, student Amanda Fulton told The Claw, “I am most excited about being able to interact with fellow high schoolers and helping them understand how they can take hold of their own power and use it to make great changes in the world.” 

There is no doubt that the Ethics Forum members of this year’s Senior Class of 2022 will succeed in bringing back an important event after a year of adversity.