Empathy, Respect, Empowerment at Heart of Guest Speaker Meg Zucker’s Upper School Talk

Meg Zucker, founder and president of Don’t Hide It Flaunt It (DHIFI), delivered messages of empathy, respect, and empowerment while sharing her experiences of living with Ectrodactyly, during a special Upper School assembly on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in the Mary Mother Campion Center for the Performing Arts. 

Ectrodactyly is a genetic condition that results in having shortened limbs, one finger on each hand and one toe on each foot. Zucker passed the condition on to two of her three children. 

The assembly was a partnership between Oak Knoll’s Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice and the Upper School Counseling Department. 

Zucker is a Wall Street lawyer with more than 20 years of experience in the field of anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism. In 2009, Zucker founded DHIFI after her oldest of three children was bullied in first grade on the elementary school playground because of his difference. 

“This was the moment for me,” said Zucker. “In my mind, I wanted to figure out how to get these bullies to get to a place of not doing this. I thought a lot about what motivates a bully, including insecurity and happiness. You need to fill up your cup first so you’re not knocking others down.”

Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It is a nonprofit organization based in Bayonne, NJ, and dedicated to advancing acceptance, understanding, tolerance, and respect for people’s visible or invisible differences. 

“Living with one finger on each hand is all I have ever known,” said Zucker. “My parents raised me to believe I could do anything I wanted to do. I played piano, trombone, sports, and more. I truly have never felt myself as limited.”

However, Zucker admitted that as a child people did stare at her physical differences and some were even cruel, including one day on the New York City subway when was pushed down and ridiculed for how she looked.

“I hid my arms in pictures as a child because I didn’t want any imperfect pictures of myself,” said Zucker, who said by the time she entered her early 20s, she fully accepted that her difference was a gift.

“I eventually realized, however, that my difference is a gift,” said Zucker. “Only the most generous, kind, and thoughtful people wanted to be in my life, and this was an enlightening moment for me.” 

Melissa Miller, Oak Knoll’s Director of DEIJ, said that Zucker’s talk was important.

“It touched on the imperativeness of respecting the dignity and uniqueness of each person, as highlighted in Holy Child Goal 5,” said Miller. “I particularly admired her ‘Dignity Tools’ and the reminder that the road towards inclusion is one we have to work on and commit to every day.” 

After Zucker addressed grades 7-9 and 10-12 in two separate assemblies, students broke into their advisory groups where they participated in talks, exercises, and discussions about empathy, friendship, and embracing differences.

Prior to Zucker’s assemblies, 10-12 grades watched the TEDx Deerfield talk, “The Power of Kindness,” by high school student Raegan Hill. In their advisory groups, students journaled and shared reflections about their own journeys with kindness. The goal was for students to practice sharing their thoughts and feelings, like TedTalk author Reagan. Sample journal prompts used included, “When I tend to disagree with someone, I usually …, I can be better at understanding others’ perspectives by …, and I can be a good listener by …”

Upper School Counselor Christine Mahoney said that Zucker did an outstanding job in relaying the importance of kindness and empathy toward others and their differences. 

“I believe Zucker’s talk sparked many positive conversations amongst our students and in turn, also reinforced the power of inclusivity,” said Mahoney. “This presentation was a good reminder of what we can do here at Oak Knoll to foster and embrace this message within our community.”

Read more about Oak Knoll’s social and emotional curriculum in our latest edition of Review magazine!