Garden rocks unite our differences

Samantha Hyde, Abbey Kowalski and Lindsay Scott show off their finished rocks.

By Peggy Hogan-Rao, Managing Editor

One Bat Mitzvah teacher who taught junior Alexa Zappia about kindness has inspired a movement of bringing together everyone no matter what our differences may be. After having schools and her religious school decorate rocks to express themselves, she brought Rocks of Unity to St. John Fisher on Tuesday March 21, from 7 to 9 p.m.

At first, one may not think small garden rocks can bring about change, but it has been seen all over the United States. On CBS This Morning, a community in Ohio paints rocks, hides them for someone else to find, and then when someone finds a rock, they paint a new one to hide again. This rock movement in Ohio is a way to spread kindness, just like Zappia hopes to do with Rocks of Unity at Fisher.

Zappia goes on to explain how her movement with rocks is different than others that we have seen on the news: “I want to do something together that unites us together in a positive way. I want to do something that is more than just a movement, but a positive art installation.”

Zappia’s Bat Mitzvah teacher Susan Wehle instilled lessons of kindness and acceptance within Zappia before Wehle passed away from the flight 3407 plane crash from Newark, NJ to Buffalo in 2009. As a way to carry on her legacy, Zappia wants to teach young kids the importance of kindness through painting garden rocks.

Zappia says about Wehle: “She always taught me that you have to spread kindness, spread unity, spread acceptance, but you have to do that first and foremost with our kids because they will carry on our legacy.” Zappia believes that by getting kids involved in painting rocks in their own unique way that we can spread a message of kindness and acceptance.


This was a different event than most events at Fisher. Most events at Fisher such as a magician or comedian or a guest speaker sponsored by Campus Life do not have a large attendance from faculty or a large attendance overall from students.

In the first hour and a half of Tuesday night’s event, there was over 300 people in attendance. Just about all the tables and chairs in Mainstage were full of people painting rocks. Thursday March 23, there was a pop up event in Campus Center from 11-2, in which over 200 people came to decorate rocks.

The interesting part of this Rocks of Unity event was that it was not just for students, but also for faculty and staff. There were some professors, Lackmann staff and a couple librarians who came to the Rocks of Unity event Tuesday night. Dr. Rossi of the Education Department and Professor Jane Snyder of the Philosophy Department were both seen painting rocks on Tuesday night. Kourtney Blackburn, one of the librarians at Fisher, came to paint a rock. Dr. Bill Waddell of the English Department even take a night off from his Sabbatical to paint a rock, and to support a cause.

To see Lackmann workers talking to students and talking to professors’ young kids is something that is very unusual at a Fisher evening event. Zappia can only explain this unusual occurrence by referring to her slogan for Rocks of Unity: “our differences don’t divide us, they unite us.”

Every time someone painted a rock, they were given a t-shirt with this slogan on the shirt. Along with having faculty and staff come to paint rocks, a few professors helped Zappia to coordinate the event.

“She always taught me that you have to spread kindness, spread unity, spread acceptance, but you have to do that first and foremost with our kids because they will carry on our legacy.” – Alexa Zappia

As soon as Zappia told Professor Jill Swiencicki of the English Department about her idea, she was fully on board. After seeing Swiencicki on Tuesday night, she truly was full of hope. She said, “I was motivated to do it because of the white supremacist flyers that were circulating on our campus, and tonight I feel that Fisher can handle any kind of intolerance with unity and resistance.”

Dr. Barbara Lowe, associate dean of arts and sciences, got very excited when she heard about the event. Along with Swiencicki, Lowe helped with the behind the scenes of putting the event together. Lowe said “I feel like this is a really positive thing to be doing right now at a time when sometimes we’re more divided than together.”

Jennifer Pluretti, School of Education’s director of advisement, also helped coordinate the event. Pluretti is the faculty advisor for Teacher Education Student Association (TESA). Zappia smiles when she talks about the help from her committee: “But I also had my TESA Committee, who has stood by me through it all.”

Although TESA was a huge help to Zappia, she wanted to get another big group on campus involved. Residence Hall Association (RHA) wanted to get involved. Junior Alex Fredenberg talks about how RHA is helping with the Rocks of Unity event, “RHA is helping to finance both the advertising of the event as well as we are here today to give them the manpower to actually put it on.”

Freshman Leah Karn paints a rock.

Fredenberg goes on to explain that as a “Big Four” organization on campus, RHA was able to provide more resources to help with Rocks of Unity. RHA helped to distribute Chipotle at Tuesday night’s event.

There are two ways that these rocks will be a part of Fisher forever. One is that the rocks that have been designed on Tuesday March 21 and Thursday March 23 will be on permanent display in concrete on the wall outside the library. Zappia explains, “you are leaving your mark permanently on campus in a visual way.”

Starting this September, incoming freshman will get to decorate their own rocks. Zappia said “incoming freshman will be given a garden stone the day before matriculation, and they will decorate it to represent them. The next day is Matriculation. Their gym will be lined with all their rocks, and each class on campus will have a permanent place on campus for their four years here where all their rocks will go.”

From left, Danielle Bedford, Baylee Desjardins, Leah Jasek, C.J. Wild.

Zappia hopes to spread this message of unity and kindness to kids outside of just Buffalo, Rochester and Western New York. She brings it is an important message that should be spread nationally, through national media outlets.

There is a Rocks of Unity Facebook page, Twitter page, and Instagram page. Zappia even has a website for her movement of uniting everyone through our differences:

One of Zappia’s biggest goals is to get to the Ellen Show. Ellen Degeneres is one who Zappia looks up to when it comes to spreading kindness. In planning this Rocks of Unity, Degeneres posted three tweets that gave Zappia the extra motivation to get her through the planning of this event at Fisher.

At the end of every show, Degeneres ends with telling her audience to “be kind to one another.” Zappia truly has taken this message to heart, and Degeneres is her inspiration.

To learn more about Rocks of Unity go to any of the social media sites, or her website and use #RocksofUnity.

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