Woolman Semester Email Update – July 12, 2009

Dear Friends,

I last sent out an update on April 6, and I was planning to send the next one out on April 25 or 26. I was going to write more about the Peace Studies documentary we were producing and tell you about our upcoming Food Intensive. As most of you know, however, my father passed away unexpectedly on April 22. I got the news of his death before breakfast, and I was in Philadelphia that night.

We buried my father the next day and held a memorial service for him on that Sunday. I flew back to Woolman the next day. I wanted to return to this program where I had been for the last three months, and I knew that my father would have wanted me to do the same. Losing a parent is extremely difficult, and at Woolman, I found the support I needed. I was able to continue my studies and process my feelings. I apologize for not sending out another update from Woolman, but I was going through so much. In this update, I will discuss the major parts of the semester that did not make it into my previous updates and attempt to give some closure to this life-changing experience.

In my last update, I briefly described the Peace Studies documentary we were creating. I was in a group that was looking at how eating locally benefits communities and the environment. We shifted our focus a bit and produced an exposé on the local food movement in Nevada County (the county Woolman is in). We interviewed the mayor of Nevada City, two farmers in the area, someone who teaches local food cooking classes, and the Garden Manager at Sierra Friends Center. Other groups made documentaries on the prison system in California, the disparities in public education based on economic condition, and the proposed reopening of a gold mine in downtown Grass Valley, CA. Each documentary was roughly ten minutes long, and we presented them to the Woolman community on May 8.

The week after my father passed away was our Food Intensive. This does not mean that we spent the week eating as much food as possible. Like our World Issues Intensive when we went to Mexico to look at border politics, we traveled throughout northern California looking at the agriculture industry. This Intensive was for both Environmental Science and Peace Studies. We toured the packaging plant of Amy’s Organics and saw workers preparing meals on assembly lines. We talked with someone at FarmLink – an organization that connects young, aspiring farmers with available land. In one morning, we saw the UC Davis student-run organic garden, the UC Davis feedlot, and the UC Davis biotechnology lab – where research on genetic modification is done. We were also going to witness a slaughter at the UC Davis meat processing plant that day, but they canceled on us. As with some days in Mexico, we were hit with so much conflicting information that day. It was hard to take it all in. On our way back to Woolman from the Bay Area / Davis, we stopped at Full Belly Farm for a tour. The week culminated on Friday night with a Locavore’s Dinner at Woolman. Local food was donated from many farms in the area, and people came from the wider community to hear from us about what we had learned during the Food Intensive and to support the school.

The end of the semester quickly flew by after that. We presented our Peace Studies documentaries the next Friday, and graduation was the week after that. The night before graduation was called Bachelorette. Each student shared something from the semester that was important or meaningful to him/her. Some presented their Commodity Chain Analyzes, water and population projects, or artwork they had done while at Woolman. Another student and I presented our Peace Studies documentary.

The next day was graduation – a time for celebration, reflection, and farewell. My mother and grandmother came out from Philadelphia, and some family friends came up from Berkeley. Each of us delivered a speech. There was a song and a short meeting for worship. Then it was over. I remember commenting afterward at how odd it felt not to be a student at the Woolman Semester anymore.

I want to close this update by asking you to read my graduation speech. I can think of no other way to summarize the experiences I had while attending the Spring 2009 Woolman Semester. I want to thank my teachers and fellow students for facilitating my growth and learning. I want to thank the Woolman Semester for being a place where people can go to discover who they really are. And, I want to thank you, my friends and family, for supporting me in this journey. So, with that, here is my speech. Enjoy.

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.

My speech is also available here.