Many members of our community come to Woolman seeking a powerful experience. Others come without expecting it and are perhaps even more deeply transformed than those who do. One of the students of the Spring 2015 semester illuminated his journey at Woolman through a poignant metaphor during his graduation speech. He described his semester as a marathon. At Woolman, we focus heavily on connecting theoretical learning to real world examples and to our own lived experiences. Earlier this spring, one of the interns, with whom this student had particularly connected, ran a 50-mile marathon, which made this metaphor even more relevant.
A marathon, he explained, begins in a manner similar to that of the beginning of a Woolman Semester: you might be a bit anxiously excited about being there, you're not quite sure how the rest of the journey is going to go, and you see that many others share a common goal of making it to the finish line. The 26 miles of the marathon will definitely have lots of steep uphills and long downhills, as will the 16 weeks of powerful learning and living in community. At times you might feel like giving up or wonder how you could possibly make it through, but just when you feel like you've hit the lowest point, another runner might pass by and say, “Way to go!”, or a classmate might reach out and give you a piece of advice that is the little bit of needed motivation to keep going. Then, all of a sudden, you're at the finish line. You've reached the end and look back and think, how did that possibly happen so quickly? And while the simple task of completing the marathon of a semester is an achievement in and of itself, what stuck out most for this student was that through loving and pushing each other, feeling struggle and frustration at the low points and singing joyfully at the high points, they were still all together, right to the end.
While the intern who ran the marathon may not have felt the 50 miles exactly in this way, and while the hills and valleys of the Woolman Semester certainly manifest differently for each student each semester, what is most meaningful for me as this student's advisor was how much reflection comes from this 16-week journey. Both self reflection and reflection on the systems and structures that govern our society, which I teach in depth in my Global Thinking class, are where I see real growth happening at Woolman. And yet I realized during this graduation ceremony that it's called commencement for a reason: commencement means a beginning, and I often wonder if the deepest reflection and growth of our students is only just beginning when they leave our campus.