For a few hours on a cold night last week, the center of the world could be found on stage in Laurel High's auditorium.
More than 200 people turned out for the school's annual International Night Jan. 24, a showcase of the food, music, dance and customs of the 44 countries represented by Laurel High's students and staff.
"Laurel High is unique, more so than any other school in Prince George's County," said Kenneth Barrie, co-chair of the school's International Committee. "We represent the world. It's important to celebrate our diversity."
There are students and staff from every continent in the world except Antarctica at Laurel, Barrie said. So while others might be caught off-guard to walk down a hallway and hear conversations in numerous languages, at Laurel, "it's our daily existence," he said.
At International Night, Laurel celebrated the culture and diversity that flows through its hallways day in and day out, first with the culinary students serving various ethnic dishes and then with a cultural entertainment program featuring about 150 students.
"We are a very diverse high schools and we celebrate and embrace our diversity," Laurel Principal Dwayne Jones told the audience at the beginning of the program. "We feel that our students have an advantage over others when they're going out into the world because of our diversity. ... As our world becomes smaller and closer with the advancing of technology, the job market becomes increasingly international. Students who accept this, promote this and learn from this become better citizens of the world and more employable. [Our diversity] also leads us to be more understanding of our differences and more sharing of our similarities, which I hope in time will lead to more peace and love on this tiny little planet called Earth."
The international committee kicked off the evening's events by lighting a candle in the center of the stage, which showed Laurel's wish to "spread light, love, peace and beauty," said Rima Garg, co-chair of the committee.
Student performances ran the gamut, from a Fusion Fashion Show mixing traditional and modern styles; to an Afro-Venezuelan Diaspora Dance; a Model United Nations skit; bachata and merengue dances from the school's Spanish Club; and an Indian dance from the Asian Student Association.
Students in the audience cheered loudly for all the performances, which is a "confidence booster," said senior Viren Chaddha.
"It helps boost us up," said Chaddha, who's been participating in International Night for four years. "This is Laurel High School. We're always like that. We stand up for each other and with each other."
Garg said that since Laurel High is "like a melting pot of so many cultures," students get excited when they see their own cultures highlighted.
"They get excited," she said. "They want to show where they come from, where they belong. We try to make them feel proud about their countries and their culture. ... With this, they see themselves as part of a larger group."