Sit Down, Stand Up

Assembly speakers aren’t always captivating—if they were, more people would attend.  However, it seems to me that often times the audience delivers a standing ovation, a symbol of our appreciation to the speaker, and a symbol that we loved hearing him or her talk, when the speaker is so boring that many members of the audience actually fall asleep.

Why is it that kids at Exeter feel the need to please the speaker in such a manner? We take away from the significance of a standing ovation every time we do it without meaning it.  It is the speaker’s job to at least interest us, or if not, to simply provide us with something to think about.  We are not required to respond at all, but each assembly, I see the end, and watch as the 1100 students in the assembly hall (because everyone goes to every assembly) reluctantly rise and show their enthusiasm. 

Standing ovations were originally used when a speaker was departing, and during special occasions. At Exeter, we give one to almost every speaker, and sometimes they are such a chore that groups of people don’t stand up, leaving the audience looking lopsided, with only a portion that are standing. 

The reason that I think most students stand up is not to applaud the speaker, but simply to stretch his or her legs because after sitting in cramped Assembly Hall benches for upwards of half an hour, it gets incredibly uncomfortable.  Then students, who are simply looking for an excuse to get up, find themselves standing and applauding a speaker.  The speakers are delighted and the faculty gains confidence that they are interesting us, and they continue to hire speakers of the same caliber.  It is a dreadful cycle.

There is no one who genuinely appreciates every single assembly speaker so much as to give each one of them an ovation.  It is almost as if you can tell when Exeter is truly applauding an audience as opposed to stretching their legs and clapping at the same time.   

Another driving factor in the standing ovation problem is that those who don’t stand initially are pestered by the faculty to rise and acknowledge the speaker. Faculty members often believe that the students who fail to stand are trying to be funny, making trouble, or both.  I don’t know why, but they often tap students or push them upwards, as if it is our duty to stand and appreciate the speaker each and every time that he or she speaks. 

Assembly is a time where the student body comes and listens to a presentation chosen by the faculty (usually).  Optimally, we are somewhat interested in the presentation, and as is common courtesy, we will clap at the end of the presentation.  A standing ovation should be saved for a special occasion, not forced upon us by peer pressure.  I feel that there is immense pressure at assembly to do this, and I think that it takes away from what a true standing ovation should be.


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