If you talk with Talia Boyle about the recent vandalism that left a trail of swastikas and hate speech across George Washington High School on Monday, October 18, you will hear the word “disheartening” more than once.
Boyle talks about the hate crime, which targeted multiple groups and included antisemitic, racist, and homophobic words and images, with an air of resignation and sadness. And yet, her actions showed that she was not disheartened. Quite the opposite—she reacted with resolve, determination, and leadership.
Boyle is a senior at George Washington High School and also serves as the president of Jewish Student Connection, a high school club sponsored by JEWISHcolorado. Within a day after the hateful graffiti appeared on campus—and was quickly removed—Boyle had organized a forum for students from a variety of affinity groups to talk openly and react to what had happened. And in just ten minutes, she wrote a speech that could serve as a model for any community facing a crime like this one.
The Importance of Including Everyone
It was supposed to be a nice Monday holiday from school when Boyle heard about the graffiti through social media. Her first reaction was to discuss it on social media, joining group chats with other school leaders. Her message was straightforward: “We are strong. This is our community.”
But to her, the situation seemed to demand a more significant and resounding statement than social media could provide. She talked with representatives from JEWISHcolorado and met with members of student government later on Monday. Together they decided to hold an open forum during lunch on Tuesday to give students a voice. Boyle also recognized their plan needed to be broad in scope. “This was a hate crime that targeted multiple groups,” she says. “It was not fair to hear from only one of them.”
She reached out to leaders from multiple groups within the high school, asking representatives to speak at the forum: Chicano/Latinx, Gay Straight Alliance, Justice Club, African American students, and the student body president. The forum was also open to administrators of the school, representatives from Denver Public Schools, and other key participants.
Then Talia Boyle sat down and wrote the speech that she would deliver the next day. It was a story she had told before, but in light of the events at the school, it was a story she felt compelled to tell again.
The Impact of Telling Your Own Story
Boyle began her speech by briefly referencing the vandalism at George Washington High School. Then she told her story, excerpted here.
We have gathered today to stand against this hate and prevail as a community. Today, we come together to let our voices be heard.
When I was 12, I found a swastika in my English journal for the first time. When I reported it to the school, I was told “students will be students” and will grow out of it. From ages 12 to 15, I normalized pennies being thrown at me. The swastika that started in my English journal found its way to each and every one of my notebooks by the 8th grade. Once again, I was told kids will grow out of their immaturity.
The acts we have witnessed over the past 48 hours are not acts of immaturity. It is not something someone will grow out of. The vandalism of our school is a hate crime. We will not stand for this
Today, the George Washington community has gathered here to create a safe place.
After she finished speaking, Boyle introduced Sue Parker Gerson, senior associate director at the Anti-Defamation League– Mountain States Region. After Gerson spoke, Boyle opened the forum for speeches by other affinity group leaders, and eventually she invited anyone attending to the microphone.
The Future for Talia Boyle
Boyle is grateful for the support that she has received from JEWISHcolorado, especially from Jillian Feiger and Ben Sanders, whom she calls “the adults in the room.” She says that the response from the George Washington High School community has been reassuring. “There has been a lot of support,” she says. “We hear, ‘If you need anything, we are here.’”
But she looks at those statements with a world-weary eye. “A lot of things in this world, they say they hear you, and they want you to believe they understand you,” she says. “But you don’t really know if they understand until months later.”
The incident has changed the way Boyle looks at the familiar tan brick building that is home to George Washington High School. “It was scary to go back into that building,” she says.
“Vandalism and hate speech of this kind are alarming and make students of all backgrounds feel unsafe in the school environment,” said Rabbi Jay Strear, president and CEO of JEWISHcolorado, in a statement released by JEWISHcolorado. “We will do everything we can to support the school leadership and its student body to heal from these destructive and hateful acts, and we thank Dr. Kristin Waters, GW principal, for her strong and swift condemnation of this vandalism and for her unwavering commitment to her students’ well-being.”
As for the future, Boyle says the “unfortunate reality of today is that people are expected to move on.” She will do just that, graduating from high school early in December and then heading to Israel with the Masa Israel Journey program to work in media and marketing. She will bring with her a wealth of experience in management, leadership, and crisis communications. And she will have a resilience created by experiences no high school senior should have to bear.