Summer Reading Author Joyful Wamariya Visits and Inspires Archmere Community


Mr. Chuck Anerino P'23, P'26

Editor-in-Chief Natalie Gildea interviews Wamariya after all school assembly. Wamariya spent the day at Archmere and enjoyed a reception after school with faculty and staff.

Natalie Gildea ‘23, Editor-In-Chief

As Archmere’s students and faculty gathered for an in-school assembly on September 14, they saw a stage set with flowers, art, and a projector-screen image of Joyful Clemantine Wamariya, author of the school’s 2022 school-wide summer reading book The Girl Who Smiled Beads. This assembly would be quite unlike any that they’d previously experienced: the author of the book would speak to them all about her story. 

Like the rest of the Archmere community, I was excited when I heard about Joyful’s visit through an email notification over the summer. Most summers, I would read the school-wide book and let the story live only in my mind, not talking about it with classmates or completing assignments on it for English class. Yet I found myself leafing back through the book, amazed that the author of this story would soon be standing before me in a familiar space, answering questions that students wanted to discuss. 

But the “school-wide book” concept seems like something to be embraced rather than cast into the background—in the words of principal Madame Thiel, it’s a “special facet of the Archmere community.” Part of the goal of that initiative is to encourage students to enjoy stories outside of the English curriculum and expose themselves to the unique thoughts and viewpoints of others. As Joyful herself notes in The Girl Who Smiled Beads, “We need to see beyond the projections we cast onto each other. Each of us is so much grander, more nuanced, and more extraordinary than anybody thinks, including ourselves.” 

And the subject of this year’s school-wide book seems relevant, considering current political conflicts from war in Ukraine to turmoil in Ethiopia. By taking a close look into how war affected Joyful Wamariya’s life—particularly since she is close in age to high school students, having graduated from college in 2014—Archmere students can better understand the continuing effects of global conflicts. “As kids in America, we learn a lot about World War II,” Madame Thiel notes, “but we haven’t really avoided repeating those mistakes in other parts of the world.”

In spite of the traumatic experiences described in The Girl Who Smiled Beads, the most striking lesson that most people found in the memoir was the positive spirit running through its grim narrative. “I was just shocked by her optimism, after all that she’s endured,” Madame Thiel says. And this optimism was palpable when Joyful walked out on stage on September 14 to applause. I heard whispers of “She’s so sweet” and “I love her!” reverberating in the audience as she spoke about the power of using self-reflection and creation as a way to maintain faith in difficult times. “Hope is a meditation—hope is not magic,” she says.

Joyful’s genuine happiness seemed to touch many in the audience—even principal Madame Thiel, who sat with Joyful for a Q&A session after her talk. Covering topics from Rwandan wedding traditions to favorite high school memories, their discussion allowed Archmere students to take a step beyond Joyful’s book and learn about her everyday life. “I really felt like she was herself,” Thiel says. “The way that she was on stage was exactly the way she was with me, just one-on-one in conversation.”

Throughout the event, Joyful encouraged students to continually build and rebuild their unique stories and identities. “We’re all invited to create — we have to constantly create ourselves,” she said, stressing that “all of us are creative — true survival of the body, soul and spirit requires creativity.” 

As if to underscore this sentiment, several Archmere students created their own artwork to accompany the event. Inspired by scenes or quotes from The Girl Who Smiled Beads, the vibrant drawings and paintings provided an apt surrounding for Joyful’s optimistic spirit. Archmere student Jace Walker ‘25, whose painting is entitled “Her Turn”, noted, “It was my wish for [Joyful] to see a response to what has become her mission. I will always do my best to make truly beautiful works that evoke emotions in people and inspire them to express themselves in their own way.” CC Kittila, ‘26, who also created art for the event, said, “I hope to inspire others with my art’s expression of story and emotion… I want to inspire people to learn, read, and feel more.”

It is clear that The Girl Who Smiled Beads had a profound impact on Archmere students. Joyful’s visit helped bring the book to life and ensure that the messages of the book will resonate with students through the year. The event might just have the effect that Joyful hoped for and discussed during her talk: “My dream is that this conversation will turn into action.”