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Memories of Halloween at ACS

Posted By Matt Cook '05, Friday, October 28, 2016

All the moms wanted to know: who was that girl in Eighth Group with such nice legs?

It was not one of my seventeen female classmates, but rather my best friend Philip whose gams had so impressed the Avery Coonley parents. As Phil proudly took the PAC stage in his mother’s disco-era pumps, a silence fell over the crowd. Despite my best attempt to outdo him with pink Ugg boots and a sequined shirt, we both knew it was his Nicole Richie outfit and not my Paris Hilton get-up that had earned our duo the award for “Scariest Costume” in that year’s Halloween Parade.

He made a career of one-upping me at ACS Halloweens from an early age. I quickly graduated from a kindergarten turtle - a costume my mother painstakingly sewed by hand but that, alas, was too conventional to earn a spot in school lore - to Mario in ‘96, the year Nintendo 64 made every kid’s Christmas list. Phil naturally upstaged me in style as a tiny Elvis, replete with guitar and mutton chops.

Not every costume was a success. Though today I’d contend that my ghost of Leo DiCaprio in Titanic, with hypothermic blue lipstick and icicles dangling from my hat, was a sleeper hit, the joke my parents concocted was largely lost on me and my classmates since we were not yet allowed to watch the movie. The same year, Phil dressed as a ninja, which, while not his most original effort, was at least more age-appropriate than my costume. Lesson learned: know your audience.

Over the years, our costumes became increasingly attuned to the American zeitgeist: “Weakest Link” host Anne Robinson; Kelly Clarkson and Simon Cowell after the first season of “American Idol”; Siegfried and a bloodied Roy following the infamous mauling (our friend Burke wore a tiger mask with an arm dangling from his mouth - classy). The Paris-and-Nicole combo was a crowning achievement. But no matter what role we chose, our Avery Coonley Halloweens always provided annual opportunities to think outside the box, to make our friends and teachers laugh, and to learn a little more about the world and its happenings.

Each autumn, Phil and I rehash these fond memories (emergency wig shopping, flubbing the Monster Mash during the Student Council dance, etc.) forged by Halloween at Avery Coonley. But this reminiscing also gives us an excuse to consider more important lessons learned in costume.

Halloween at Avery Coonley is a time for expansive imagining. Though crafting a costume is an ungraded exercise, the holiday tests each student to reach for his or her creative maximum. Whether store-bought or homemade, our class always celebrated the zaniest outfits our friends could dream up. In this sense, Halloween was an equalizing holiday at Avery Coonley. Though it may be hard to believe, hierarchies among children exist even at ACS. But decades later, it’s tough to recall who was considered the king or queen of a particular class in a given year. Instead, everyone remembers the hilarious Blue Man Group costume or the great Crayola crayon outfit - no matter who wore it.

At ACS, we were asked by our teachers not just to dress up, but to really embody the characters we portrayed and to learn about their context. Selecting a costume with a historical bent prompted an examination of a time period and a culture; outfits with a nod to current events catalyzed frank discussions between students and teachers about the role of the media or the politics of the day.

While Halloween at ACS always inspired new learning, the process of assuming a role and playing a part fostered a quality even more important than academic engagement: empathy. Learning to exercise empathy is a foundational aspect of an Avery Coonley education, and rarely were we afforded a more immediate opportunity to drop into someone else’s shoes than on Halloween. When I was an ACS student, I misjudged the impact that this cultivation of empathy would have down the road, but many years on, it has proven to be one of the most valuable parts of my time at Avery Coonley. Dressing up each Halloween to see the world through new eyes was instrumental in developing our ability to understand the actions and experiences of others.

Though our peers’ interest in dressing up for the holiday has waned, Phil and I still return to the costume box each year for another crack at Halloween. We do this not as some desperate attempt to cling to our fast-fading youth, but because it allows us to engage our creative sides and to get outside of ourselves, just as we used to do at Avery Coonley. With each wig, high heel, or cloak, we know there’s always something new to be learned.

Happy Halloween to the ACS community! May your tricks be fun and your treats be sweet!

~ Matt Cook (ACS Class of 2005)

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