My Speech at the Woolman Semester Graduation

May 23, 2009

I want to begin today with three images. The first is of the main room of a college athletic fieldhouse. Fluorescent lights are buzzing in my ears and the bright green artificial turf is a shock to my eyes. The second image is of the hills of the Nova Scotia coastline. Fog is settling over distant mountains as my mother and I drive south. The third image is of an enormous tree. The branches, once full of flowers, now bear fruit.

So, what do these three images have in common? The answer is this school. I learned about the Woolman Semester at the 2006 Friends General Conference Gathering in Tacoma, Washington. Kathy Runyan, the Admissions Director, gave a presentation at the high school business meeting. The meeting took place, of course, in a large athletic fieldhouse. Lights were buzzing in our ears and the artificial turf was uncomfortable to sit on. I clearly remember Kathy’s presentation. We learned of a school in the Sierra Nevada foothills where students study peace, justice, and sustainability. I was in awe of the curriculum and what the school had to offer, but I never expected that I would attend. California is far away from my home in Philadelphia.

After I first learned of the Woolman Semester, I was reminded of it on several occasions and dismissed it each time. Then, my mother and I were visiting friends in Nova Scotia. As we were leaving, one of our friends, who happens to be here today, asked me if I had ever heard of Woolman. I told him that I had. Knowing that I was into peace and social justice, he encouraged me to consider attending. That was all it took. As my mother and I drove down the Nova Scotia coastline, with the mountains in the distance, I saw that attending the Woolman Semester was a unique opportunity that I could not turn down.

Kathy’s presentation at the 2006 FGC Gathering was when the seed was planted. The seed was watered in Nova Scotia, and today it has become a giant tree, bearing fruit and contributing to the earth’s ecosystems. But, as we learned in Environmental Science this semester, agriculture is not perfect. Fruit trees don’t contain many correction enzymes. When you plant a seed, you can never know what the tree will look like. You can never know how many flowers the tree will have or how juicy the fruit will be.

Well, I’m here today to tell you that my tree flowered like crazy this semester. With each piece of information we leaned, with each research project, with each moment, new petals grew. New petals grew as we formed community on the Mendacino coast. New petals grew as we saw the effects of globalization in Mexico. New petals grew as we learned what it means to be white in America. And, new petals even grew when, on a Wednesday morning one month ago, I learned that my father had passed away.

New growth is new life, and the flowers on my tree have grown into beautiful fruit, holding the knowledge of the entire semester. Some of the fruit will be picked by those who recognize its value. Other fruit will be picked by those who stumble upon it and taste it before knowing what is inside. I will pick some of the fruit when I need a remainder of this extraordinary program. The rest will fall to the ground and feed the earth where, on a summers evening three years ago, my seed was planted. Thank you.