Wellesley High students commit to inclusivity with ‘Flags of Representation’

When entering the Wellesley High School cafeteria, you’ll see 252 miniature print-out flags lining the walls, each flag representing various places around the world and highlighting different cultures and identities. Prior to this past school year, those flags were not there, only having appeared after three WHS students decided to take action.

Rising WHS senior Ivy Wang was sitting with her friend of Indian descent in the cafeteria at the end of her sophomore year when they both noticed that neither of their country’s flags was hanging from the cafeteria ceiling.

Ivy Wang putting up flags


Wang, who said she is Taiwanese, wondered why only a few countries’ flags were hung and others were not. She went to the principal in November, and he supported her in undertaking a project to put up all of the flags that represented the student body.

Sharon Gray, the Coordinator for Public Engagement for Wellesley Public Schools, wrote in an email to Swellesley that when the new WHS opened in 2012, there were 16 flag holders to display the flags of all countries where current students were born—since then, flags have been rearranged and switched out annually to reflect changes in the WHS student population.

WHS Principal Dr. Jamie Chisum said that he is appreciative of Wang’s “creative solution” to hang up more flags, especially since he has long wished there was more room. “We can never get enough flags up,” Chisum said.

Wang said she started this project out of personal experience and to help other students who may not feel seen, but that her small committee still encountered initial challenges such as the pure logistics of space, numbers and world politics.

“I’ve always thought this would be more of an art project but it had more math to it than art. We had to find all the flags that represented the students, and it was more than just countries. For example, Taiwan I don’t think is recognized as a country by the UN, but it’s still its own separate culture so that got complicated,” Wang said. “… Also, the pillars in the cafeteria are not circular, they were rectangular. So we had to find out how many flags were on the long side, how many flags on the short side, what the border length is and how big the flags would be.”

Nica Alimzhanov, a rising junior at WHS, was co-vice chair of the flag project. She also handled photo editing, and creation of the flag vinyl stickers and printouts. 

Alimzhanov said that she also wanted to help increase representation, especially when she realized her nation’s flag, Russia, was not displayed.

“It was great to see everybody’s nationalities being in the cafeteria, and it just becomes a much more welcoming place. I got to see my heritage up there,” Alimzhanov said. “I had even students come up to me and say, ‘Oh, have you put up the Swedish flag?’ for example, and I’d point them to where it was and it’d be a bright moment of their day for a little bit, and I think it was really rewarding.”

Wang also said that the flags they put up were more than just the flags of countries, emphasizing accessibility and diversity.

“When we talk about the flags that we put up we say ‘flags of representation.’ Because it’s more than just countries,” Wang said. “So we had the American Indian Movement flag, the Disability Pride flag, as well as the Black Lives Matter flag and Pride flag that we that was already up in the cafeteria.”

Alimzhanov said that before they settled on printed-out miniature flags, there were many iterations of what the flags would end up looking like.

“Originally, our idea was actually maybe even hand painting all of the flags in collaboration with Mr. [Brian] Reddy and his after-school art club, but just in terms of time constraints and the actual organization of having to hand paint 252 flags, we thought it would be much more budget-friendly and doable to do high-quality resolution pictures,” Alimzhanov said. “Then I individually photoshopped each one into the correct size on multiple pieces of paper that we then later printed out and then put up.”

Sydney Baugh, a rising junior at WHS, worked on the project as well.

“It was mostly student-driven. We worked a lot of outside-of-school hours… and there were tons of teachers who encouraged us through the project,” Baugh said. “One of them is Christine Carpenter. She came up to us and thanked us for the work that we were doing. I would say it was the encouragement from staff and other students that was very helpful.”

Baugh said that she is excited to see more student feedback when school is back in session, and that she hopes to further the goals of making students and faculty feel represented in the Wellesley Public School system through future projects.

“It was a big task to take on and it took a very long time,” Baugh said, “but I’m very proud of us and I think that what we set out to do at the beginning of the project was achieved.”