By Christopher Wong and Dominic J Larsen, Editorial Staff
A recent move by Kennedy administration to discontinue the Senior Auction fundraiser has caused debate between students in favor of continuing the fundraiser and students supporting the school’s policy of canceling the event permanently. This year the event was held on February 9th and 10th.
Senior Auction has been an annual fundraiser held by student government to raise money for Senior Ball. In the event, seniors volunteer to be “auctioned” and then perform small tasks for the highest bidder for a day, such as buying lunch for the winner or singing. This year, the event was much smaller in scale, taking place in the Little Theater as opposed to the quad outside the auditorium. The event has been a Kennedy tradition for over 15 years.
However, some students compared the fundraiser to slavery and human trafficking. This year, one student decided that the time had come to take action against the auction.
Lamari Johnson, a senior at Kennedy, started an online petition to gather signatures to end Senior Auction. “My ancestors fought for freedom, fought to not be [sic] enslaved,sold and separated from their family,” Johnson wrote in a description of her petition. She also added that Sacramento has some of the largest cases of human trafficking in the country and that students should be taught to know their own worth.
“Just because something is ‘fun’ doesn’t mean it’s right,” she argued. “This event isn’t a necessity to our school and just because it’s been around for [sic] along time doesn’t mean it’s right.”
After years of the issue not being raised directly to administration, Johnson chose to act this year. “Now I decided to speak up because when I was a freshman I was still trying to ’fit in’ [sic] and get along with everyone. I transferred to Kennedy late my freshman year so I wasn’t very vocal and kept to myself. I didn’t have the ‘balls’ to stand up and express my opinion. As I got older [sic] i was able to open my eyes and connect [sic] thing to a larger issue,” Johnson stated in an email interview. Johnson then decided to get the administration’s attention by sitting down and speaking with Kennedy’s principal, David Van Natten. She wrote that she was very satisfied with her conversation and with the fact that administration was already debating the event’s cancellation.
The Clarion received the opportunity to hold a press conference with Van Natten to obtain solid answers about the decision to discontinue the Kennedy tradition. In the past, some faculty had voiced concern over the event. “Over the past six years, anywhere from eight to ten staff members have brought up concerns, at least as far as I know,” stated Van Natten. Van Natten was unable to say if any students had raised the issue before.
The topic was brought to the forefront of attention at multiple meetings that took place before the auction, but the administration decided not to act upon the issue until after Cougar Days had passed. The school eventually decided to end the event permanently. Van Natten explained the decision, “Perception can often equal reality. Everybody’s reality is a little bit different, so the message that someone takes from an event like senior auction may not be the same message that someone else receives … Does this event represent John F. Kennedy High School in a way that I can be proud of, in a way that I don’t feel like I have to explain, and in a way that I want the school to be represented? And I think my answer to that was—I kept coming back to that—my answer was no, and that is what drew me to the decision that I made.”
Van Natten stated that although a huge emphasis is placed on student voice, Johnson’s petition had relatively less impact as opposed to Johnson meeting with him personally. Van Natten indicated that a meeting face-to-face allowed for an open sharing of thoughts to allow for more informed decisionmaking.
“I think one very important piece of leadership is these two things (points to his ears), listening. And it’s important to listen to everybody. Everybody needs to be a part of the conversation. I don’t think that I have all the answers, I know that I don’t have all of the answers,” he explained. Van Natten acknowledged that some of the outside opinions may have been influenced by mischaracterized and sensationalized information.
Van Natten warned against personal attacks on Johnson or any student voicing his/her opinion. He reminded that ultimately, the decision was his to discontinue senior auction, not one student’s. The decision is final.
The most important takeaways from the event for Van Natten were listening to others and questioning everything.
However, concerned students were also worried about the fate of Senior Ball. Van Natten assured that Senior Ball would continue, “[Senior ball] is an event that I believe is part of high school culture: a good part, something that I want students to be able to experience.” Van Natten said that if not enough funds were raised, he would cover the costs. “The financial impact… on student activities will be zero.”
Senior auction raised around $500 this year, according to Katalina Koloamatangi, ASB cabinet member. The event earned similar figures in the past. According to Mr. O’Flaherty, the costs to hold Senior Ball amount to roughly $30,000. Senior auction roughly contributes to only 1.5% of the cost of Senior Ball.
Nevertheless, the move surprised students on campus. Alexa Mark, a senior, volunteered to be auctioned off this year. “I volunteered because I wanted to really take advantage of doing all the senior activities since it was my last year at JFK. My friend and I swore to each other years ago to do it,” Mark explained. She found the decision to cancel the event a bit drastic. “I think a renaming of the event would have been good,” she suggested.
Jonathan Oen, a senior at Kennedy, started a counter petition to raise attention to some students’ discontent with the auction’s permanent cancellation. Oen had a message for those concerned about senior auction promoting low self-worth, “If you’re gonna base your personal value based on this auction…you should probably change your values and morals… You’re a better person than that.” Oen’s petition received 132 signatures. In comparison, Johnson’s petition received 204. From the supporter comments, it appears that a majority of Johnson’s petition’s signatures are not from Kennedy students, or students at all. Oen recommended that the situation be put to a student vote for a more accurate summary of student opinion.
Students commented on Oen’s petition to voice their opinions on the issue. Jack Parsh, class of 2017, commented, “I want the future seniors to experience what I have. Also, our society runs on freedom and self-choice, it is important to continue to protect that idea to keep society free.”
Kiana Lee wrote, “Honestly people need to not get so offended. Senior auction is a fun tradition that is COMPLETELY voluntary and for the good of the class.”
Jaquari Smith, another Kennedy senior, said, “Senior auction is for all people who want to participate. Race is not necessarily connected to senior auction, so we should not connect it. We are all humans and suggesting senior auction is racist is the same thought that puts us back, instead of pushing us forward to a place where race is an afterthought and we are all seen as equals and human beings.”
“I think one very important piece of leadership is these two things (points to his ears), listening. And it’s important to listen to everybody. Everybody needs to be a part of the conversation. I don’t think that I have all the answers, I know that I don’t have all of the answers.”
Van Natten answered one of his last questions with an important request for all students on campus, “It is your school, we want you to be engaged… it’s super important to the good of the school.”
The principal was not aware that Teen Vogue had picked up the story. “I will have to check that out. It might be the first time I’ve ever read it,” he said with interest.