Woodward students welcome spring with Holi celebration

Woodward Academy President
Stuart Gulley gets doused with colored powder during the first school-wide Holi celebration.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Woodward Academy President Stuart Gulley gets doused with colored powder during the first school-wide Holi celebration.

Spring arrived at Woodward Academy in colorful and cultural style when students, faculty and families gathered for the first school-wide Holi festival.

India’s celebration of color drew about 350 revelers who turned Willingham Field on the school’s College Park campus – and each other – into a palette of primary shades. Armed with cups of colored powder to toss, participants turned friends and family members into walking rainbows.

“The fun and color aspects were great,” said Namit Miglani, a Woodward student from Duluth. “Even if kids didn’t understand the full meaning, they knew it was a holiday celebrated all over India.”

Prior to the March 23 event, students were introduced to Holi in various ways, said Nija Majmudar Meyer, Woodward’s vice president of enrollment management.

“We did it in age-appropriate ways,” she said. “We had New York Times best-selling author Surishtha Sehgal come and read ‘Festival of Colors’ to introduce our young students to what Holi is all about. That set the stage for us to tell them not to miss the celebration. For older kids, we sent emails explaining what it was about.”

Some students already had familiarity with Holi, said Miglani, who is president of the Upper School’s South Asian Affinity Club.

“We’ve had three celebrations like this just for upper school participants, and we’d get 40 to 50 people,” he said. “But they were less planned out.”

The March festival was the first school-wide celebration open to all grade levels on both the College Park and Johns Creek campuses. Parent committees paired with students to organize food trucks, hand-washing stations and color booths where kids could pick up cups of powder to toss while Bollywood hits blasted through the speakers.

“We used nontoxic colored powders, and the only rule we had was stay away from the eyes and mouth,” said Meyer. “A lot of students brought goggles, sunglasses, towels – and a change of clothes.”

The turnout went well beyond expectations, Meyer said. “When we initially planned it for a Friday, we had 600 RSVPs. But when we had to move it to a Thursday because of the weather, we had about 350. It blew us away. We thought if we had 200 people it would be successful. Now we’re looking at making it an annual tradition.”

The event went beyond just having a good time, Meyer added.

“We pride ourselves on our diversity; everything we do is about embracing that,” she said. “We have 58% students of color and different faiths. In a time that’s so fraught with intolerance and division, it’s deeply gratifying to see our students sharing what’s beautiful about their cultural traditions. The troubles of the world seemed to melt away while celebrating the power of our similarities over our differences.”

Information about Woodward is online at woodward.edu.

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