The first time I heard the word “strong” attached to a word was in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012. In the wake of the storm’s devastation, New Jerseyans began saying “Jerseystrong” as a kind of rallying cry, and people around the nation used the word to identify with and show support for the citizens of that great state (in the interest of full disclosure, I am from New Jersey). The next time I heard this epithet used again was after the bombing of the Boston marathon in 2013. In the face of savagery, we were all Bostonstrong. And here at John Champe High School with the passing of a student last spring, we were Champestrong. But we use Champestrong in several other ways as well.
It is a mindset, a way of thinking, how we approach things. It is who we are.
Let me explain by giving you a few examples. On October 19, students and staff wore orange wristbands with the word “Champestrong” emblazoned on it; aside from it being PSAT day, it was more importantly Unity Day. This was a day where students either wore orange (a strong, visible display) or the Champestrong wristband in a demonstration of our togetherness against bullying and support for inclusion and kindness.
But we’ve been champestrong for five years now. When we first opened, it was the courage that students displayed if they chose to attend Champe. It was a student body of 552 that first year, and champestrong was on full display each time our athletes took the field or the court against established schools, stronger teams, and bigger and older students. Champestrong meant doing things differently, starting new traditions, and initiating new clubs.
And we’re Champestrong even as the largest high school in the county: it is welcoming the middle schoolers into our family and giving them a hallway. Our renovations and trailers make us Champestrong—both as students and as teachers. And we will continue to be Champestrong next year as we break the 2,000 mark.
Champestrong is found in our sense of service and in our sense of pride. It is how we conduct ourselves in the classroom, on the court, as well as out in the community. It is found in our Knight’s CHARGE—Character, Honesty, and Respect Generate Excellence.
Finally, Champestrong is expressing yourself. It is being who you are and accepting who you are. But most importantly, it is also accepting others.