Somali Author of Call Me American: A Memoir, Abdi Nor Iftin, Shares His Refugee Journey with SMA Prep Cadets

Somali Author of Call Me American: A Memoir, Abdi Nor Iftin, shares his remarkable journey as a refugee from Mogadishu to Maine and offers SMA Prep cadets a unique “outside – in” perspective of America. His story is powerful and ties into this year’s Inspire Project pathway: Project Equality. Cadets are exploring equality, tolerance, and, discrimination across gender, race, and ethnicity.

As a child growing up in Mogadishu, Abdi first knew of America when US Marines came to his village to provide food and places to eat because their presence allowed for peace. “I thought they were aliens.”  Abdi had never seen anyone that looked different than him.  He described his life in Mogadishu as difficult. There is no public service and there is also a war. He taught himself English from movies and began to feel that he was no different than any other child.  He grew a love of America and gained the nickname “American Abdi” and he knew that one day he would get there, even though it was not easy traveling 10,000 miles to the U.S.

“All humans share a desire for survival and acceptance.”

Many of his coworkers think of Africa as all the same. There are different languages and culture throughout Africa. In his book, he wanted people to see the human side of the refugee story. “All humans share a desire for survival and acceptance. I was just like every American kid who wants to be inspired by something. Everything you have is a privilege.”

The hardest part about adjusting to American was the lack of diversity where he lives in Maine. The weather was also a shock having come from a consistently warmer climate. He also described the more humorous side of learning about a new culture. “Ordering a coffee at Dunkin Donuts drove me crazy. In Kenya you just say coffee and they give me coffee, but here you have to say so many things.” He says he now sticks with hot chocolate.

SMA-Cadet MacCloud was reminded, “how to not take for granted all we have here. Mr. Iftin notices every little thing for example how many types of crackers are available at Walmart.”

When asked what drove him to keep surviving he replied, “Many times, I almost gave up on hope. As long as I was breathing and living another day, I needed to do everything it takes to get myself out of the life I was living at the time. I connected to the rest of the world through my stories. Teaching myself English motivated me because I was able to communicate to a wider audience.”

About Sarasota Military Academy

Founded in 2002, Sarasota Military Academy (SMA) is a public charter, (6th-12th) located on 2 campuses in Sarasota, FL. As an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, SMA provides students with a 21st-century learning experience immersed in daily military principles of honor, respect, and leadership. Combining extraordinary academics with the highest military principles of camaraderie, focus, leadership, integrity, compassion, poise, honor, and respect, SMA’s mission is to graduate young men and women who will confidently define their personal and unique goals for success in a multicultural and globalized world. More information is available at www.sarasotamilitaryacademy.org

Stanford Professor Emeritus and World-Renowned Psychologist, Dr. Zimbardo Challenges SMA Prep Cadets to Train for Everyday Heroic Action

Dr. Philip Zimbardo, an American psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University introduced cadets at SMA Prep to the Heroic Imagination Project of which he is the founder and president. Many know of Dr. Zimbardo for his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment along with many other notable works. Currently, he is focused on motivating people to no longer be bystanders and instead take action to have a positive impact on the world around them.

Growing up in poverty in the Bronx in the 1930s and 1940s, Dr. Zimbardo often wondered how it was that some of his friends in the neighborhood grew up to be “bad” kids while others grew up to be “good” kids. As he refocuses his pursuit of understanding human behavior, he has established a new approach by asking, “how do ordinary people act heroically? Being introduced to the Heroic Imagination Project, cadets began to make their own connections with issues such as bullying and intolerance that can also be a part of their adolescent lives.

“Heroism starts in the mind.”

The larger question Dr. Zimbardo posed to cadets was, “Can anyone be a hero?” and emphasized the need to teach people to move away from being passive and instead to help people and situations that are in distress. Other questions came to light such as how to eliminate stereotypes and become more accepting of others as well as the value of developing a growth mindset as opposed to a mindset that is fixed and unchangeable. Dr. Zimbardo imparted to cadets that success in life depends on mindset, are you thinking into the future or are you stuck in the present only seeking immediate reward?

 

Dr. Zimbardo speaks to cadets this year for Project Equality which is one of the pathways developed through The Inspire Project created by SMA-MAJ Todd Brown who teaches 8th-grade Individuals & Societies as well as Civics. Brown has been cultivating this program over 5 years and it has positively impacted many students. SMA Cadet-CPL Grace Wagler is currently attending SMA High School and shared this about Dr. Zimbardo, “something that really stuck with me was the idea that just as normal people can take on “evil” roles so easily, normal people can also take on roles as heroes. This was an interesting concept and I think it is amazing that DrZimbardo used the findings from an experiment that sort of went south (Stanford Prison Experiment) to inspire people to become everyday heroes.”.

Dr. Zimbardo is also involved in the green school movement with the goal to empower kids across the world as Eco-Heros. He currently works with schools in 18 countries and Green School in Bali is particularly impressive. SMA Prep was awarded the Green Flag award from Eco-Schools USA through the National Wildlife Federation. The connection to other green schools offers a unique opportunity for SMA Prep cadets to collaborate on a global level.

Dr. Zimbardo and his team believe, “Most people want to take effective action in challenging situations, they just don’t know how.” He is hoping to train a new generation of heroes, “suggesting that each and every seemingly ordinary person on this planet is capable of committing heroic acts”.

About Sarasota Military Academy

Founded in 2002, Sarasota Military Academy (SMA) is a public charter, (6th-12th) located on 2 campuses in Sarasota, FL. As an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, SMA provides students with a 21st-century learning experience immersed in daily military principles of honor, respect, and leadership. Combining extraordinary academics with the highest military principles of camaraderie, focus, leadership, integrity, compassion, poise, honor, and respect, SMA’s mission is to graduate young men and women who will confidently define their personal and unique goals for success in a multicultural and globalized world. More information is available at www.sarasotamilitaryacademy.org

About Heroic Imagination Project

The Heroic Imagination Project (HIP) develops and implements education programs, research, and public initiatives to inspire and encourage everyday heroism. Our mission is to encourage and empower individuals to take heroic action during crucial moments in their lives. We prepare them to act with integrity, compassion, and moral courage, heightened by an understanding of the power of situational forces. More information is available at www.heroicimagination.org.

 

Character Day 2018 Highlights

Character Day is an annual global day that brings together millions of people of all ages in schools, classrooms, companies, homes — anywhere people already gather — to engage in conversation and action around character strengths like empathy, grit, gratitude, creativity, and leadership. This year was the fifth annual (September 26, 2018), and there were over 200,000 groups participating — that’s 15,000 schools and over 4 million people.”

SMA Prep has participated in all previous Character Day events since it began 5 years ago.  This year’s #CultivatingCharacter event did not disappoint. Cadets developed and participated in a “Bravery” Flash Mob. The performance was Skyped globally through a live stream. As described by the Character Day crew, “Tapping into this event at Sarasota Military Academy in Sarasota, Florida was such a highlight! Among other activities, the students did a choreographed “bravery” flash mob all filmed and Skyped into the live stream from a drone flying overhead.”

Cadets also created a Periodic Table of Character Strengths focusing on Wisdom, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence. Discussions and collaborative projects took place all over campus.

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“Fearless Girl” Sculptor, Kristen Visbal, Inspires Cadets to Notice the Movement Around Them

visbalThe “Fearless Girl” sculpture placed as the opposing force against the Charging Bull on Wall St. was created by artist Kristen Visbal and became an iconic landmark almost overnight. SMA Prep cadets asked questions to learn about her journey as an artist and her passion to promote the value of gender and cultural equality worldwide.

Planning, completing projects and speaking engagements are abundant since “Fearless Girl” occurring in Norway, Germany, and Africa. Cadets were fortunate to share some precious time with Ms. Visbal. Jumping right in with questions, cadets were curious about what inspired “Fearless Girl”. Ms. Visbal explained that she responds to realism, was meticulous about measurements, and that her friend’s daughter Ellie inspired the figure.  She likes to work from real life as much as possible and the real young girl also had the right attitude.

Originally commissioned as part of an ad campaign to promote gender diversity in business, the statue was installed on March 17, 2017, the day before International Women’s Day. Ms. Visbal went on to explain that the young girl sculpture was to represent the future of what women in business could become and was requested in bronze to be an imposing figure in response the Wall St. bull.

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Cadets are always curious to ask those that have pursued their passions if they ever failed at what they do. Ms. Visbal responded, “Every time I make a sculpture, I look at it and say I should have done this or that. After 20 some years, I learned to accept it and release it and move on. You get smarter as you go.” About another trying experience she recalls, “I lost an installation and I cried but telling the story helped to cope and then I started to exercise and eat right and I move on.”

She admitted to not liking school overall but did like history because her teacher was a good storyteller. She also loved art so much and enjoyed time to herself . She once got approval with a note from her mom to work on her art at home. What inspires her as an artist is marine-life and movement. As an artist, she notices movement in her surroundings and tries to capture moments in time. This explains the movement of wind in the skirt of “Fearless Girl”.

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Ms. Visbal explained her larger goals as an artist and the impact she hopes to have in the world in response to being asked if she ever thought “Fearless Girl” would become such a big deal.  She explained the initial commission and installation was only supposed to be 4 days but turned into a permanent fixture in NYC and a favorite tourist selfie spot that also sends a powerful, global message of gender equality.

Ms. Visbal’s is currently focused on what is going to have the biggest impact on gender and cultural equality.  Promoting the value of leadership for women and equal pay and education in the workplace for all.

Ms. Visbal set a goal for cadets to, “go out today and look for the motion around you, capture an instant in time, and one day choose a career you are passionate about.  One that allows you to have a positive impact in the world.”

Trisha Yearwood Kicks Off Inspire Project Speaker Series

Platinum-selling, Grammy-winning artist and best-selling cookbook author Trisha Yearwood challenged SMA cadets to exceed expectations as she kicked off The Inspire Project Speaker Series for 2018-19. Ms. Yearwood is known for her moving vocals, her love of storytelling and her delicious southern recipes. SMA cadets responded to the down-home and down to earth charm that has become a trademark in her professional life. The focus of this year’s campus-wide initiative is Project Equality and Trisha Yearwood was gracious enough to spend some time taking questions from SMA Prep cadets.

When asked why she picked music to pursue over other interests, Mr. Yearwood responded, “music picked me, I just knew I wanted to be a singer, but if I hadn’t become a singer I might probably have become an accountant”. Ms. Yearwood was simply always passionate about music.

What drives Ms. Yearwood to keep up with all her success? She admits to being very competitive even if she isn’t good at something. She credits her mom and dad for being a  risk-taker, and her sense of adventure in trying new things. Her dad is the reason she fell in love with music, played guitar and sang. Her mom was the driving force that let me know as a woman she could do what she wanted and be happy. Ms. Yearwood stated that her parents are her “heroes”.

As far as being a woman in business, Ms. Yearwood pointed out that there are some challenges but you need to work hard no matter what and don’t let any excuse get in your way. As she was entering the music business, she is thankful that she had Reba McEntire as her mentor to help navigate as Trisha Yearwood began her early music career.

Cadets also received some words of wisdom on time management. She admitted to not really have time for everything she has going on in her life. “There are baseballs in the air and some fall on the ground. I try to choose what I can do well and learn how to say no. You can’t be a people pleaser because then you won’t do anything well.”

Responding to the question of liking school or not, Ms. Yearwood gave an honest answer. “I hated it and I liked it. My mom was a teacher and she was my teacher in the 3rd grade in a very small school. I was a self-proclaimed nerd and an “A” student who got involved in everything.” She clarified that it was music that was what she had always loved to do.

A large part of what The Inspire Project is about is to offer young people 1st hand accounts of what it is like to pursue your dreams. Cadets are always curious if people who become successful ever had to deal with failure. Ms. Yearwood mentioned that she is competitive and doesn’t enjoy failure. However, a person begins to appreciate failures as the successes become sweeter. “Learning what doesn’t work is just as important what does work. It is what you do after that that matters.”

Perseverance is a character trait that many cadets work to build every day. Mr. Yearwood shared that she never thinks about quitting, but that the true answer is there are moments when you just want to give up. You get past those moments and deep down even with a bad experience you have to know you don’t give up.

Sharing her strong sense of humor made this a relatable and fun experience for cadets. Ms. Yearwood stated that if she were not able to sing, she might be in prison. Even though her cookbooks have turned into a completely different career she says that she would always pick music. “If I weren’t successful in other things, I’d still find a way to sing in my local honky tonk.”

Phineas and Ferb creator, Dan Povenmire, Shares His Story and Keeps Cadets Laughing

ferbSMA cadets had a fun and interesting exchange with yet another great speaker as part of SMA-MAJ Todd Brown’s The Inspire Project. Dan Povenmire is best known as the co-creator of Disney’s Phineas and Ferb, which was the #1 kids show for 7 years.

Cadets asked some great questions to Mr. Povenmire who has a broad and successful background as a television director, writer, producer, storyboard artist and voice actor. Cadets were surprised to learn that the inspiration for Phineus was to see what character he could create based on a triangle. It was from there that his wife asked who’s that? He replied it’s Phineas and this is the show I am going sell.

Many cadets grew up with the show and laughed out loud when Povenmire did the voice of the shows villain Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. When asked about his favorite episodes he told cadets: the Roller Coaster Perfect and the Act YourAge Episode.

Cadets are always interested in what success and failure mean to the various speakers who have made their mark on the world. Mr. Povenmire shared his take on the idea as well. “There is this path and sometimes this one just got closed and so I open another. Success and failure are not a binary thing. If I go this way I will be a success. If I go to this other one I will be a failure. You never know how many paths you’ll take before it goes right.”

He informed cadets that it took that it 13 years to sell Phineas and Ferb and 16 years to

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One of the 1st sketches of Fineaas

get it on the air. “If you have something you believe in and you think it is fun don’t take no for answer.”

As far as the story behind the show, he and co-creator Jeff “Swampy” Marsh were reflecting on their youth and how kids today miss out on the physical things like playing in the woods. Phineus imparts “the imagination of a 9-year-old boy inspired by [our] time growing up and not hampered by reality”.

Throughout The Inspire Project speakers series this year, cadets have learned that many of the people they speak to started out on a different path then where they are now. Mr. Povenmire didn’t want to be an animator. He made a living as an artist but he really wanted to be a filmmaker. Now he enjoys many creative endeavors.  

Mr. Povenmire compared success and failure to a tree with many forks in the various branches. There are many different directions you will go in, it is never only a one or the other journey.

World Renowned Scientist, Dr. Pardis Sabeti Returns to Make Science Infectious for Prep Cadets

Dr. Sabeti returned again this year for another interactive session with SMA Prep cadets as part of The Inspire Project WebEx speaker series. The Q and A with cadets was timed to coincide with “Outbreak” a unique infectious disease outbreak simulation that has become a student-driven event and a campus highlight for 4 years running. This year’s simulation received extra support after Dr. Sabeti received one of ten L’Oréal “For Women in Science” grants and teamed with SMA Prep.

Many cadets were curious about Dr. Sabeti’s views on failure and success. Her advice for the short-term was to “deal with failure by going through the emotions,” however, long-term you have to remember you are going somewhere bigger then you may be able to see now. She also reminded cadets that as a scientist most of her days are filled with failures. “Science is a continuous disappointment. It’s a career that is made on the few times you succeed but most of your work are failures.”
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Paul Molnar, One of a Few Remaining Holocaust Survivors, Shares His Personal Story

SMA Prep cadets experienced a profound, personal account of loss and luck from one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors, Mr. Paul Molnar. Mr. Molnar emphasized to the 8th-grade students, that he was 14 years old when the Germans occupied his Hungarian village on March 19th, 1944. “I was the same age as you are now when my life changed forever.”

As Mr. Molnar began to tell his story, cadets embarked on his precarious journey as he recounted his initial relocation to a Hungarian ghetto where anti-Jewish laws were established and he was required to wear the Jewish (Star of David) badge so he could be easily distinguished from others as a Jew. He described the cramped, unsanitary conditions being transported in a cattle car to an unknown destination that he would later learn was Auschwitz-Birkenau. “Many old people died and others lost their minds,” he said recalling his 3-day transport to the death camp.

fullsizeoutput_b08It was at Auschwitz where the sorting lines formed to the right and the left. His mother went to the right staying with his grandmother and little brother. While he and his cousin Otto went to the left. He reminded cadets, “I had no idea where we were or why.”

He would later notice four chimneys spewing ash into a summer sky. “What are they burning?” he asked a prisoner nearby. “It’s your family going up in smoke,” the stranger replied. He would never see his mother, grandmother or little brother again.

“5,000 a day in June of 1944… Auschwitz was built to be a killing machine,” Mr. Molnar stated without hesitation.

Another cattle car transport brought Mr. Molnar to the labor camp of Buchenwald where he believes he remained alive because of his youth, ability to work and also strokes of luck. “I survived not because I was a hero. That’s the way it was.”

Cadets listened intently to Mr. Molnar’s every word. SMA-Cadet Samantha Mast described the impact of his story. “I could feel how confused he must have been when he was younger; when he was our age.” SMA-Cadet Elise Dunn also expressed an emotional connection. “There are not a lot of people left that can tell their story. It was very special.”

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SMA-MAJ Pelletier, who is teaching Holocaust survivor literature to her 8th graders, was captivated listening to such an intimate recounting. “To listen to his story and see the cadets make specific connections to his powerful and personal story offers a unique, authentic and memorable experience.”

Mr. Molnar was told he was free on May 8th, 1945 finding himself along the Czech border and eventually preparing himself to return to his home in Hungary. He arrived at an empty house and later found out his father was at work and would be returning home. He never imagined he would see his father again. He would eventually learn that he lost 16 immediate family members.

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Members of Mr. Molinar’s family joined him. Two of his great-grandchildren are SMA Prep cadets, who he described as “the pleasure of my eye”.

Mr. Molnar told the cadets not to be a bystander when they hear racial or bullying remarks stating, “this is how something like this happens.” As he received a final thank you for his visit to SMA Prep, he said, “I need to do this, there aren’t many of us left.”

About Sarasota Military Academy

Founded in 2002, Sarasota Military Academy is a public charter, middle school, and high school located in Sarasota, FL. As an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, SMA provides students with a 21st-century learning experience immersed in daily military principles of honor, respect, and leadership. Combining extraordinary academics with the highest military principles of camaraderie, focus, leadership, integrity, compassion, poise, honor, and respect, SMA’s mission is to graduate young men and women who will confidently define their personal and unique goals for success in a multicultural and globalized world. More information is available at www.sarasotamilitaryacademy.org

About Paul Molnar

Survivor/Camps: Ujpest (Hungary), Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Magdeburg, Berga

Born in 1929 in Ujpest, a suburb of Budapest, Hungary, Molnar was the older of two sons of a moderately wealthy Jewish man in the construction business. His life prior to World War II was quite normal. He attended public school, mixed with all kinds of children, and recalls very little anti-Semitism. Watch Mr. Molnar tell his story at Studies in the Holocaust with Paul Molnar, Holocaust Survivor

SMA Prep Inspires with World Renowned Guest Speakers for Project Earth Initative

SARASOTA, FL. August 24, 2017Sarasota Military Academy Prep, a public charter, middle school and authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, providing students with a 21st-century learning experience immersed in daily military principles of honor, respect, and leadership, is inspiring its cadets with a world-renowned speaker series. SMA Prep is promoting its campus-wide initiative Project Earth. The 2017-18 Project Earth Speaker Series line-up includes an array of world-renowned scientists, authors, and celebrities who offer SMA Prep cadets real-world exposure to changemakers who are positively impacting environmental issues on a global scale.

SMA Prep cadets interact with speakers through WebEx or in person and this year’s speakers include: Continue Reading

50/50 Day at SMA Prep 2017

On May 10th, 2017, over 11,000 events happened around the globe in companies, organizations, schools, museums, libraries and homes for the first ever 50/50 Day — a global day of film screenings, discussions, and a global Q&A around how to get to a more gender-balanced world in all sectors of society, from the economy and politics to culture and home. 50/50 Day had over 500 million press and social media impressions, including coverage of the Times Square billboard, recent ABC News article, NPR interview, Variety, Bloomberg, Time Magazine. (2017 Let It Ripple)