Letter to the Land: from a John Woolman School Alum
I would like to share about my experience of going to Woolman to visit with current students and staff in the spring of 2010.
I had a great chance to share my experience of being a student at John Woolman School in May of 2010 on location at Woolman during their Spring Semester.
I had a positive life-changing experience as a student at Woolman and I thought it would be great to give an idea of what it was like when I was a student to the current students in the one semester program. It was also a great time to introduce my wife Heidi to Woolman, which she had certainly heard a lot about :o)
Once I got on campus 24 years after graduating, I realized that so much was the same though some things were different. The environment was still beautiful and well-kept. Walking out in the meadow was great. I did wander through the Manzanita to the location of the student-built "Treehouse" and found it lying in a pile on the ground. Close by was a fire circle with fresh wood and was obviously lovingly maintained by someone. ( I am not recommending open fires in a CA grassland.) Years had passed and some things were different, but the energy of the place was still about learning how to be in a world that needs your help.
I was invited to speak after the silent meeting which happens in the middle of the week. This part of the day is controlled by students and is also a community meeting addressing various needs, like scheduling and keeping aware of upcoming events or responsibilities of students and staff. In addition to staff, students, and interns-Ted Menmuir, current pottery teacher and occasional principal and teacher over the years was there. He was the only contemporary of my time at Woolman who was present.
I spoke about the expectations that Woolmanites had of each other when I attended and of the traditions we honored. I spoke of how much we learned to respect each other and develop healthy relationships with the staff, animals, and environment around us. I talked about how each student experienced being valued as an individual at Woolman, and was empowered to follow his or her own way of being in the world. That we had these ideals made for a unique environment. I shared that student conduct at Woolman was not so much about rules as understandings about how one lived in community and took advantage of the opportunities of being in the community. While we were students after every break or vacation we would hug each member of the community the first time we saw him or her when we returned to campus.
Mostly, I talked about being encouraged to follow my heart and take responsibility for my life. About taking my studies seriously, working hard in the Woolman community (workjobs), and being an activist in the larger community as I was led to do so. The work for peace, social and environmental justice just naturally grew out of that.
I also talked about being at Woolman and having the experience of community was something one did as an individual, but it was also in the presence and tradition or lineage of others as well. I compared it to the Native American/First Nations tradition of being in a sacred space with "all my relations." Though the students were there now, the energy of those who had been students and staff before, and even by extension the families of the students who had been touched by the Woolman experience, are present on that land and in that community. Especially at Silent Meeting and graduation, it is clear to me that students take their place in relation to all those who have gone before and even into the future. Such a precious time it was for me at Woolman and speaking there with the students and staff I felt that they knew this preciousness too. They did not have the luxury to experience it for three years as I did, but they clearly appreciated their time at Woolman. I encouraged them to use it well and not get too distracted by the actions which could get them in trouble or out of harmony with the community.
I thanked them for coming to Woolman and taking the time to learn and use their study to help others as well as themselves. I thanked them for the projects of education and activism that they are involved in. I thanked them for listening and half-heartedly apologized for being so emotional.
It is a memory I shall not soon forget.
Love, Peace, and Granola,
John Malcomson '86