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Maya Smith Inspires Senior Class Over Zoom

By John Kalil, Staff Writer

// Despite the challenges of school cancellation and shelter-in-place orders, the show, more specifically the senior end-of-year traditions, must go on. 

   The executive director of pop singer Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, Maya Smith, headlined the second installment of this year’s virtual Senior Speaker Series yesterday, May 11. Smith spoke to Acalanes High School seniors about her career, funny stories, and tips and techniques regarding mental health and suicide prevention. 

   “I find her to be an inspiring, resilient and determined leader that I get strength from,” Leadership teacher Katherine Walton said of Smith in an email to seniors publicizing the Zoom call. 

   Inspired by her Romanian immigrant mother’s appreciation for freedom and democracy in America, Smith began working to bring young people into the fold. 

   “Just ask the young people,” Smith said of her work to engage American youth. 

   After working at two civic engagement nonprofits during the 2000s, Smith moved to the West Coast, where she now resides as a mother of two children who attend Springhill Elementary. 

   Following the move, Stefani Germanotta tapped Smith to run a foundation focused on kindness and anti-bullying efforts for young people — most know Germanotta by her stage name, Lady Gaga.  

   Smith helped to create what is now the Born This Way Foundation, named after a hit song composed by Lady Gaga which discusses bullying and self-acceptance. 

   The foundation launched the #BeKind21 campaign, which works with schools, companies, and organizations to perform acts of kindness. The first such campaign occurred at Springhill, located next to the Acalanes campus. 

   Smith focused heavily on Acalanes seniors’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for kindness and self-care during these tough times. 

   “Whatever you’re feeling, and whatever experience you’re having, it’s valid,” Smith said during the webinar. 

   Smith also highlighted ways in which students could find help for themselves and others if they feel depressed, anxious, or even suicidal. 

   “I hope that in this conversation we get more tools and tips to talk about our mental health,” Smith said. 

   Seniors in attendance also gained inspiration from Smith’s message about togetherness, which the decision to still have a Senior Speaker Series reflects, even if it can’t be in person. 

   “I like how she talked about ‘physical distancing’ instead of social distancing. I think it’s important that we stay more connected than ever during these unprecedented times,” senior Maddie Wilson said. “Whether this is through Zoom, FaceTime, social media, or other virtual platforms, staying connected with your friends and family is vital.” 

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