Owls share their stories


As a secular school, one thing that makes Overlake special is our ability to have open dialogue about the many religions that students practice. Every year, Social Studies Faculty Amanda Jones’ Freshmen World History class goes through a world religions unit. But two years ago, she started the first ever student led religion panel. Since the panelists are purely volunteers, the makeup of people and religions changes every year making each event a new and unique experience for the class. This year’s panel included a mix of students who practice Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Catholicism.

The Upper School students volunteer their time to talk to the freshmen class about their own personal religious experiences both on campus and in their personal lives. The questions were submitted ahead of time by the Freshmen students and each panelist weighed in on each question, giving many different perspectives on each religion. 

Students commented on how Overlake supports their faith and the impact on their life at school. Rose M. (’26) commented on how much she enjoys her affinity group. “Overlake encourages you to find a community that you identify with,” she says. Senior Jack K. agreed and added, “this (panel) is a good example of how Overlake supports and allows people to be themselves and encourage people to be accepting.” Laya R. (‘26) even noted how much she appreciates that the Canvas calendar lists all religious holidays, and how it helps her feel seen. Mahi M. (‘25) echoed that appreciation and added that the calendar provides her with an opportunity to ask her peers about the holidays they celebrate. 

A new space on Overlake’s campus over the last couple years is the Owls Sanctuary. This space was created for students to come and pray or observe any of their religious practices. Muadh C. (’26) commented on how he appreciates having that space to use. Many Muslim students utilize it to pray or as a place to be during times they fast and when being in the Campus Center around their peers who are eating may be challenging. The Owls Sanctuary provides a place for all students to relax, pray, or meditate, regardless of their religion. 

Several of the submitted questions centered more around how students’ religions impact their daily lives outside of school as well. But, the panelists noted that there is not necessarily a huge separation between their school and individual lives in how their religion impacts them. 

“It’s a big part of the way I show up in daily life,” says Muadh C. “Academic integrity etc, it’s a byproduct of my Islam.” Rose M. agreed talking about the teachings and morals she grew up with. “All those things come to form my character and my daily life,” she says.

Some students wanted to know if any of them tended to gravitate towards people of their own faith. Sophomore Laya R. says that sometimes she does, “it’s like an immediate connection since we already have something in common.” But everyone on the panel agreed that while it’s great to meet someone they have something in common with, everyone agreed that in such a small environment there is such a rich diversity of thoughts and opinions that you would really be limiting yourself if you only spent time with those who share your religion. 

An even harder topic was when students were asked about any discrimination they have experienced and how they respond. 

Muadh C. comments that, “you’ll face bias and people will say things and you’ll face exclusion no matter what. But if you have a deep understanding of your faith, you’ll be set, and it won’t matter what people say.”  

Sophomore Gabrielle E. notes that even what’s on the news can influence what she experiences. But at the end of the day she says, “the news is scary. It’s hard, but I’m still thankful for my religion.”

All of the volunteer panelists fondly remember their freshmen experiences in Jones’ World History class and encouraged the freshmen to keep learning and asking questions in a respectful manner.