Roughly midway through Thayer Academy Middle School's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, guest speaker Maurice Philogene '93 urged students to walk into the nearest convenience store and try to purchase a car.
Actually, it was pretty good advice.
"Fear stands for 'False Evidence Appearing Real'" Philogene then offered by way of explanation and clever encouragement to his Zoom audience. "It's not there."
An entrepreneur, investor, veteran, and police officer, Philogene was one of two guest speakers at the Jan. 13 breakfast, the other being fellow classmate Alegría De La Cruz '93, now the director of Equity for Sonoma County, California. The two, who shared that they were good friends in high school, told students that feeling different or out of place is a normal part of growing up and finding one's true identity.
"The question of how you find your voice changes over time, but it never really goes away," said De La Cruz. She told the audience of how scared she was as a young attorney during her first oral argument, a feeling only exacerbated by a bailiff who purposely pretended not to recognize her every day that she walked into the courtroom. When she finally explained in no uncertain terms who she was and why she was taking her seat at counsel's table, he never did it again.
"Make space for your voice," she said.
Both De La Cruz and Philogene said that finding one's identity is inextricably linked to connecting to one's community and history in a meaningful way.
"Identity, for me," said Philogene, "is just to be my authentic self, to show up every day and do good for my community."
Philogene praised King for being a "powerful and unapologetic" voice who never wavered from his principles. "He never quit," said Philogene.
De La Cruz noted King's skills as a prolific writer. "That gift of his writing leaves something powerful for generations to come," she said.
Head of School Ted Koskores '70, P '10, '13, Middle School Director Galen Hamann, and Middle School Arts Faculty Destiny Palmer welcomed students and guests to the annual event. Rose Cairo '25 and Aarya Vaghela '25, both members of The Girls in Action Group at the Middle School, deftly led the online conversation for participants.
In her welcoming remarks, Palmer called listening the key to so many things, from her own role as an artist to building a stronger community.
"Listen to these speakers," Palmer urged the audience. "Listen to one another, and listen to those whose opinions differ from your own."