Culler students celebrate hopeful, welcoming attitudes at assembly

Culler Middle School students showcased how their campus is truly a global institution during a special ceremony celebrating diversity.
More than 700 students and staff members filled Culler’s auditorium for the inaugural Hope and Welcome Celebration. They paid tribute to the rich multicultural heritage that is present at the school. Current Culler students represent 36 countries and speak more than three dozen languages.
Eighth-grade students Jackson and Smara each gave speeches as part of the event. They joined seventh-grade student Jourdynn on stage in front of their friends and classmates. They said they were proud of the confidence they had gained by overcoming their public speaking worries.
“It was scary at first, but I felt a lot better when everyone started clapping,” Jackson said. “It was a good feeling to know they had liked what I said.”
“It was nice to be up there,” Smara said. “I was a little nervous, but I knew it would be fine. It was fun to be able to share my story with others.”
Tom Kolbe said he was happy to watch the composure the Honors Cadre students displayed. Kolbe, who serves as Culler’s building coordinator, organized the event as a way to highlight the school’s diversity. He saw Smara and Jackson in a post-ceremony meeting and told them he was pleased with their courage and poise.
“Both of you did a really great job,” he said. “That was well done.”
The new City of Lincoln flag played a key role in the assembly. Students saw the teal-green, deep-blue and warm-gold colors of the flag hanging above the stage. The colors represent Lincoln’s large number of parks, Nebraska’s valuable groundwater aquifers and the bright future for local residents.
Kolbe matched the ceremony’s name with a beacon featured in the flag’s center. The beacon is meant to signify how people in Lincoln have welcomed new residents with open arms. It also conveys the hope and optimism people from all over the world have found in the city.
Culler Principal Michaela Hahn told the audience the city flag will be the newest addition to the main brick-lined hallway outside the auditorium. More than 80 international flags are prominently featured in the space.
Students used the global symbols for one of the day’s highlights. More than 30 Cougars walked on stage with paper flags of their home countries. The audience applauded as English Language Learners (ELL) teacher Amanda Bandy read the names of each student and nation.
Bandy said before the ceremony that many students from Afghanistan and Ukraine have joined the Culler family. Countries from Central and South America have also become a larger part of the school’s international fabric.
“It’s really neat to see the diversity we have here,” Bandy said. “I think our students benefit a lot from it.”
Culler is part of a worldwide mosaic of learners in the district. LPS students and families represent more than 150 countries and speak more than 100 languages. Many bilingual liaisons and ELL staff members provide support for them each day.
Keynote speaker T.J. McDowell told the audience he was impressed with the accepting actions of the Culler community. He encouraged students to continue having inclusive attitudes all of their lives.
“Embrace that, because that is a skill that will serve you well,” McDowell said.
McDowell grew up in Lincoln and attended Culler from 1985-87. The Lincoln High graduate has served as chief of staff for Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird since May 2023. He is an active community volunteer and has also worked at LPS, Nebraska Wesleyan University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
McDowell told students that making good choices was a critical factor in their future success. He said some of his former Culler classmates had enjoyed prosperous lives because they had made positive decisions with their friendships, relationships and careers. Others had opted to take less-successful pathways after middle school and had encountered difficult circumstances.
“The difference is choices,” McDowell said.
Jourdynn, Jackson and Smara reflected on how diversity and choices have shaped their lives. Jourdynn shared her positive experiences at different tourist spots in Lincoln. She also said she had gained a great deal academically and socially from attending Culler.
“Culler’s diversity helps me learn more about everybody’s unique culture,” Jourdynn said.
Jackson spoke about how people in Lincoln are overcoming obstacles such as racism. Smara told classmates she felt isolated when she and her family first moved here eight years ago, but she is now happy and has a sense of belonging.
Jackson said the hopeful and welcoming environment he has experienced at Culler has given him a confident outlook on his future.
“The diversity here is something that really makes a big difference,” Jackson said. “I feel included.”
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Published: March 1, 2024, Updated: March 1, 2024

Culler Middle School students smile as they showcase flags from across the world in the auditorium. Hundreds of students and teachers took part in the inaugural Hope and Welcome Celebration. They applauded Culler's rich multicultural heritage during the special event.