Grade 10 Watercolor - Canoes

High School Senior Tapestries

May 01, 2019 in Inside SWS

My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
-Carole King

Like tapestry, our lives often gain focus after we step back to take in the entirety of the picture. Many high school students begin to see the patterns in their own lives as they read about the lives of others. For others, this understanding takes shape in the writing of the college essay.

Every year, students leave the close confines of SWS for international exchanges within the Waldorf community. For Celina, her time in Spain challenged her to balance security and community, and she wrote about this recognition in her college essay: “The doors were one of the first things I noticed. Each of them, from the small red metal gate with peeling paint in front of the house to the big wooden front door with the chunky doorknob in the middle, was locked. Always. At school, we were surrounded by tall stucco walls. There was only one way to get in or out: a gate that opened for the beginning and end of the school day. At all other times, it was locked. Only the teachers had keys.

“I could get used to a new country. I could get used to a new language. I could get used to a family and a culture so different from my own. I could get used to eating lunch after school and dinner at 10 p.m. What I could not get used to were the doors, the walls, the gates, and the fences.”

Journeys offer us all chances to examine our assumptions and our capacities. Whether students venture to other countries or other environments, they often return home inexorably changed, filled with the knowledge of a new place and a level of self-knowledge they had not experienced. In her application essay, Sophia reflected on the sense of empowerment she gained through time in the wilderness:

“I used to be my greatest enemy. I did not think of myself as smart or talented and worried constantly that I was too dumb to survive. I hated my body. When my parents weren’t home, I would stand in the mirror and pinch my belly, examining every inch and calling all of it flawed. But one day after finishing my first canoe trip, I looked back on the summer and acknowledged the strength it took to complete my journey. That was when I realized the power and beauty I possess. Canoe tripping has empowered me to be my truest self and to love every stretch mark, scar, and perfect imperfection of myself. I found that the world around me was beautiful and powerful. And under the horrendous smell of me, I had realized I was beautiful and powerful too.”

Not all journeys involve time zone shifts or language barriers; even a daily commute can lead students to growth and self-knowledge, as Luc wrote in his college essay: “I had lived on the same remote and forested island my whole life, but the school that I attended required a four and a half hour commute to and from the mainland by ferry, train, and bus. At 5:00 a.m, I’d leave my home and walk a mile down a country road in the dripping darkness to take an ancient, rusty bus to the ferry, then board the rattling heavy rail train into Seattle. Academically, I had to learn to manage my time with diamond precision, but I could handle it as long as I could endure less sleep. Socially, my commute was harrowing. I couldn’t stay after school, and sleepovers were few and far between. I am a natural extrovert, but the geopolitics of friendship prevented me from building deep relationships. I loved my home island, where I could taste sea salt on the breeze and inhale the deep mossy funk of the forest instead of the city’s car exhaust, but for me, place could not replace people.”

Luc eventually found the connection he sought when he discovered boxing, first as an solo outlet for his energy, then at a Whidbey Island boxing gym, where he was able to nurture friendships and improve his physical well-being. Now he is one of several students enrolled in Braided Lives, a term 3 elective for juniors and seniors that incorporates autobiographies. The course is taught by SWS Head of School Tracy Bennett, who stepped in after staffing changes led to the departure of teacher Ingrid Orlow. “My hope for them in this course is two-fold,” Tracy said; first, she hopes students can explore the stories of writers whose politics, eras, and geography differ from their own. Second, she hopes autobiographies provide “a springboard for students to explore their own personal stories.”

For our soon-to-graduate SWS seniors, exploring their own stories has allowed them to appreciate their own power and envision the next chapters of their lives. Luc used boxing to temper and channel his emotional upheaval. Sophia gained a new understanding of beauty, one that incorporates strength and possibility: “What I do is subversive. I am fortunate to be able to take myself out of my normal routine to reconnect with nature every year to challenge myself. I become wild. I have been able to heal, draw out many answers, learn about the world and who I am by working with this community of women in nature.”

And Celina’s tapestry turned into a map to both familiar and unfamiliar places, one in which her own possibilities became boundless: “I have fallen in love with Spain and its old buildings and tiny winding streets. I want to return, I want to explore. Should I ever find myself again in a place where the walls around me are insurmountable, I can form my own community inside those walls, or I can break them down. And if all else fails, I can always check to see if someone has left me a key under the mat.”

As the Class of 2019 weaves their way through the big and wonderful world, they take with them their energy, creativity, and our hopes that they’ll retain an everlasting vision of their time at SWS.

-Karin Swanson