Commencement 2017 By Commencement Speaker, Merna Hecht
Thank you to Merna Hecht for her many years of storytelling and support at Lake and Park. This year it was an honor to listen to Merna share her remarks with our community during the graduation celebration on June 9, 2017.
I am so deeply honored that Camille invited me to speak at the June 9, 2017 graduation. She is truly a visionary thinker and educator. I could have easily gone on at length about this extraordinary woman and the privilege of witnessing how her initial dream of establishing a unique learning community became today’s flourishing Lake and Park School. I truly think that the School’s motto should state,” If we can imagine it, we can create it.”
This brings me to thoughts about creativity and what it means to educate our children to become the kind of citizens who are motivated to create a more humane and just world. In part, a tool they must have is the ability to imagine possibilities. And this comes only with the kind of schooling that nurtures children’s abilities to play, because in play young children begin to imagine possibilities. To create from engagement in play without the imposition of expectations or evaluation in an environment that understands play as an aspect essential to learning for all children is a necessity too often overlooked. So I want to add yet another shout out to Camille and all of the Lake and Park teachers for understanding that play exalts possibilities and begins to equip children to imagine a better world.
Watching the slide show from the 2016-17 Lake and Park School year confirmed just how real, relevant and rewarding learning can be. It was thrilling to see how natural science learning was embedded in and extended from a school-wide field trip connected to the study of mushrooms. And, I was heartened by hearing young children sing the songs of the civil rights movement knowing that they learned about non-violent movements for social justice by marching and picketing with signs they made themselves!
I left the graduation ceremony uplifted and filled with hope and gratitude. Hope because I know that the Lake and Park students are supported to the fullest in developing respectful compassion for others who are different from them. I know they are on their way to becoming creative and critical thinkers who will want to find peaceful solutions toward caretaking the earth and all who live on it. And gratitude because of the rich and layered gifts of learning that build community and engage the whole child that are provided by the Lake and Park teachers and staff and embraced by a wonderful group of parents, families and supportive community members and friends.
Here Merna's talk begins:
"First a shout out to the four graduates of Lake and Park School…it’s your day! It is an honor that Camille has asked me to speak for this special occasion and it is an honor to claim a long affiliation and affection for the Lake and Park School. I’ve had the distinct privilege of knowing Camille for many years, long before Lake Park was first a vision and then a wonderful thriving reality. That in itself is a story. And, speaking of stories, I think that each Lake and Park group to whom I’ve told stories knows that they are the best listeners I have encountered. Yes? And here’s another story. Some seventy plus years ago and some seven thousand plus miles from Seattle, in New Zealand, there lived an amazing woman named Sylvia Ashton Warner, though for my story I will simply call her Sylvia. She was both an artist and a teacher who delved deeply into the art of teaching and she was a woman before her times, pushing through with ideas about schooling that some thought shocking. Before our use of the word organic as in kale, or milk, or eggs, or chicken, Sylvia brought this word to pertain to education. She said, in education an organic approach means that we bring light and nourishment to what is strongest in each child. I’m sure you understand I mention Sylvia and her thinking about what organic really means—to bring light and nourishment to what is strongest in each child because of the influence she has had on Camille’s thinking and the other amazing, world traveling, award winning teachers at Lake and Park.
Sylvia also insisted that learning must be real, relevant and rewarding—three things that are clearly a cornerstone of the Lake and Park School. Real, relevant and rewarding. These three “r’s”are very different from the “old school” three r’s of “reading, writing and arithmetic and far more essential to learning.
I want to say a few words about rewards by going back to storytelling—think about a main character in a story you love who must go forth to overcome challenges and obstacles. In almost every story like this, when the young hero or heroine sets forth on a challenging quest small gifts are given along the way before the end goal is reached. These small treasures often have magical powers to help the story’s main character succeed. On each difficult journey these little rewards keep the young person going forward and support him or her on their quest. This story pattern reflects a process similar to how the best of learning takes place. In these teaching stories the goal really isn’t about gaining bags of gold, or the right to inherit the kingdom, or, in terms of schooling, for the A+, or the high test score, but, it is rather to grow surer of oneself, wiser, more knowledgeable and confident in one’s strength and finest abilities. Each step and each small reward for keeping on becomes an integral part of a journey toward wholeness which is one reason why this pattern within stories is repeated and used as a time-honored teaching tool in cultures worldwide in schools like Lake and Park that remain connected to the deep roots of holistic learning with the many meaningful and small rewards inherent in learning along the way.
If you’ve visited the school of late and viewed the community effort from the youngest to the oldest student, you can see the way that imaginative possibilities and a fully integrated curriculum and community endeavor are brought to life. When I was here telling Silk Road stories just a few weeks ago I told a tale of a magic garden that came into being for several main reasons. One was the generosity of two old friends who had mutual respect for each other and for the land they shared. When gold was discovered on the land they had their first argument—each wanting the other to keep the treasure. And so, they went to the wise man. There they heard a young boy talk of his dream of using the gold, not for profit or gain, but to plant a lavish garden that all could enjoy—young and old, animals and birds, where beauty and nourishment would flourish. How many of you remember what happened when the young boy went to the great Silk Road marketplace to buy seeds for the garden he dreamed of using the gold with which he had been entrusted? Anyone? Yes, he saw birds in captivity and instead of buying seeds he bought the birds in order to free them. In time out of gratitude for his compassion and the many risks he took to free them, the birds carried exotic seeds from afar to the garden and using wing and beak and claws planted the garden themselves. So the garden was a result not only of generosity and respect, but of compassion and risk taking. This story is real and relevant and rewarding for our times and it holds the timeless values on which education should be founded, because if we do not instill compassion for others, love for and experience of the natural world, and awareness and respect for different cultures, different viewpoints and ways of life our relevance, our sense of reality will become clouded, and the rewards of living in the embrace of vibrant communities of goodwill might be at risk. Before I close, I want to thank all who are part of the Lake and Park School community for living and teaching these values.
To today’s four graduates celebrating their passage on to other schools I know you will keep the lively experience and the relevance of what your learning community at The Lake and Park School has instilled in you; and I know you will keep the joy of learning, the richness of imagining other times and lives, and the ability to imagine what you will become and to believe in yourself and then walk forward bearing the gifts you have to give."
~Merna Hecht, June 9, 2017