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Pharrell's 'Happy' Video Shows Amundsen in New Light

By Patty Wetli | March 17, 2014 8:21am | Updated on March 17, 2014 8:42am
Amundsen Gets 'Happy'
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Daniel Sullivan/VikingTV

LINCOLN SQUARE — Amundsen High School is a happy place.

Happy in the hallways, happy in the gym, happy in the library, happy on the stairs.

A recreation of Pharrell Williams' video for the song "Happy" — with students, staff and administrators taking on the roles of dancing fools — has become a viral hit on the Internet, nabbing more than 14,000 views as of Monday morning.

Shot by student David Sullivan, "Happy" is the senior's bid to impress upon people that Amundsen isn't the same place it was two years ago.

"A lot of people ditched my freshman and sophomore years," said Sullivan, who lives in Uptown. "You showed up just because you had to, not because you wanted to."

 Amundsen student David Sullivan is the filmmaker behind the school's "Happy" video.
Amundsen Gets 'Happy'
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A new administration — Principal Anna Pavichevich was hired in June of 2012 — brought immediate and noticeable change inside the school's walls, but outsiders' perceptions have been slow to catch up, Sullivan said.

So appropriately, given his role as president of Amundsen's new film club, the teenager responded with "Happy."

The clip posted to YouTube on March 13 and immediately spread via Facebook and Twitter. While its views are a few shy of the 120 million Williams' grabbed for his version, Sullivan considers his mission accomplished.

"The most important thing is to be shared ... so everyone can see how Amundsen is," he said. "We still have that misconception that the school is still crazy. Although the video is somewhat wacky with people dancing all over the place, it brings a smile to everyone's face."

Sullivan and Howard Binder, a physical education teacher at Amundsen who also serves as faculty sponsor of the film club, came up with the idea for a "lip dub" project but it was club co-sponsor David Chinchilla, the school's attendance director, who suggested doing a take on "Happy." The song, coincidentally, is being played in the school's hallways during passing periods as part of his "get to class" strategy.

Recruiting students, staff and administrators to appear in the video was a challenge at first.

"A lot of people, they didn't really want to when I was like 'Hey do you want to dance?'" said Sullivan, who shot the video over the course of a couple of days using his personal camera, a Canon T31 primarily intended for photography.

He succeeded in persuading members of the school's softball, soccer and water polo teams to participate in the project. After making a one-minute preview video to demonstrate his concept, others began to jump on board.

Following the video's success, "I'll tell you a lot of people are pissed off; they want to be in it," said Binder.

"Yeah, now they do," Sullivan chimed in.

Though he doesn't appear in the video himself, Sullivan exemplifies the revitalized Amundsen his "Happy" depicts.

"I, for like the first three years ... I wasn't really active in the Amundsen community," said Sullivan. "He [Binder] really convinced me to help him start this club, and ever since then my grades and everything have really gone up, my attendance and everything.... Finally people notice who I am."

"He wasn't engaged in school," said Binder, Sullivan's homeroom teacher since freshman year. "The more kids we get in film club, or AVID, or soccer or football or anything the better it is. We want this school to be bouncing after 3:05. We want active, happy kids, and we need outlets for them."

To that end, he and Chinchilla have big plans for expanding the film club into a sort of Amundsen TV, with television screens mounted in the lunch room broadcasting student-filmed projects, including school plays and sporting events. Ultimately Binder envisions creating a visual archive of the school from video collected over the years.

But first, his students need professional-quality video cameras, microphones and editing software — the sort of "basic stuff that every suburban school has," according to Binder.

Sullivan and Chinchilla made a list of necessary equipment — "I like to get involved in the techie part," Chinchilla said — and Binder wrote a grant for Donors Choose (found here).

Though not intended as a fundraising tool, the "Happy" video has had that, well, happy effect. Within 24 hours of the clip appearing online, Binder noted four new donations.

"That's huge," he said.