What was it like at ASW?
Lucas James: It was a pretty special opportunity to be part of such a multicultural community, as well as great education. It was a great time.
What’s your best memory of ASW?
Lucas James: In the 8th grade we spent a good chunk of the year, diving into the tragic history of Poland and, in particular, the Holocaust. Talking about the many different facets of that in Poland’s history and that I thought was just one of those unique and remarkable experiences that you really couldn’t have anywhere else. We traveled to Krakow, to Auschwitz.
Did you also experience the Living History Day?
Lucas James: Yes, we did Living History. I remember speaking to a man, who had a couple of really remarkable stories to tell about his life in Communist Poland. I think often the perspectives of people who lived through these historic moments get a little superseded by the way we think about them now. It is good to travel back in time and hear somebody’s perspective in a more raw and emotional way.
Talking about traveling back in time, while you were a student here you wrote a historical play. Can you tell us more about it?
Lucas James: That was a crazy project that folds in into my general experience at ASW. I chose not to complete the IB diploma, because I wanted a little more flexibility in my schedule. What I end up with was this chunk of time that I was trying to figure out how to fill. I came up with this idea after reading a book called the “Great Cat Massacre” by Robert Darnton, who is a historian of culture in France. He had this really fascinating deep dive into the way the early police state, in the 1750th, in France, was functioning as sort of a cultural institution and part of that was censorship. I started reading the journal that Darnton’s narrative was based on, and it was the funniest thing I have ever read. It was one of these ridiculous points in history. Censorship to me always feels ridiculous because it is a product of vulnerability. You try to stop people from saying things, because you realise that you are easy to make fun of and to criticize. I thought that somehow this play is going to be a comedy. I spend the next year writing this comedy. I got student musicians to perform the music that I wrote. I got student actors to perform the piece. We did in the library and had a great time. It was one of my fondest memories in here.
What was the most memorable service project you got involved in?
Lucas James: I started a project with a friend of mine, Tomek Kościewski. We had been visiting a community centre “Chaberek”, as part of our Global Politics in Action Club. The Centre was focussing on providing programs for children with underprivileged or unstable families background. We ended up getting some founding from the School Board to buy a few kids who were interested some acoustic guitars, beginner instruments. We would go to Chaberek once a week and offer some lessons for beginners. We taught them a Polish Christmas tune, just single note picking on the guitar and taught them some chords. It was really amazing to see these kids realizing, “Oh, yah! There is a talent that I have and that I can pursue, there is a skill that I can learn.” I think that’s quite a remarkable thing.
While being here in Warsaw, you’ve visited a homeless shelter, joined a band that played a concert for the ASW community. Later on today you will be co-running in a jam for refugee session...
Lucas James: You have to stay part of these things. You got to continue… It is easy when you leave a community just to forget about it. Don’t engage and forget that you can engage with these communities. It’s important to realise that each community that you leave, you are still a part of in some way. There is still a memory of you there. I’ve been really moved by coming back here and having younger students say hi to me. There were people who were in the 9th grade when I was in my graduating year. This was sort of surreal, but it was also Ok. I am still a part of this. My dad, Alan James, is really involved with service here. He lets me know about this stuff and I just wanna continue to be part of that.
Some three years ago you wrote a song together with a Refugee man, Sultan. He is going to participate in today’s jam. Will you try to play that song again?
Lucas James: I am interested to see how it will go. It has been a long time since I’ve revisited that work. But I am very excited to see Sultan again. He had written a chord progression and a melody. Somebody translated what he was saying to me, which was that he had tried to write words for that song, but it did not work in Chechen, it did not work in Russian. He was not proficient enough in English, so he was thinking that may be he could ask somebody to write words to fit this melody in English, since he tried the languages he knew and nothing felt right. I was really honored to have that opportunity. He is a great musician and for me he is also somebody with a very important story. I wrote a song, the lyrics for a song, which was sort of about the idea of home and travel. I wrote it in English and than I asked somebody to translate it into Russian. Then I sent it to him. I am curious to find out how he plays it. The song exists in English, but I wonder about the translation.
What is the most important thing you have learned at ASW?
Lucas James: ASW is very good at impressing on you how much empathy you need to exist in this world. This is one of the beauties of an international schools that there are people coming together from all over the world who, and may be it is easy to forget this, but they think differently from you. This is actually true. We all come together and, to some degree there is some similarity, we are all young, we are all international students, but you are reminded every so often that people can think so very differently but still be able to connect emotionally and still be able to be friends. That is a pretty powerful lesson to learn, and it doesn't come naturally, I think. Having empathy and compassion is such an important part of just growing up and being a human being. You can have a connection with all the people in the world. ASW has done a really good job with that.
Please see the video for the full version of the interview with Mr. Lucas James.