Category Archives: Alumni

How We All Live To Let Our Lives Speak

2004_Jessica (Jess) M. Klaphaak

by Jess Klaphaak ’04

In recent years, I have come to be a rather active member of the Quaker meeting here in Copenhagen. Every Sunday I sit with Ulla and Mogens, both are over 90 years old, who lived through World War II and took part in the Danish resistance against the Nazis. It is quite an experience to listen to their stories of vandalizing fighter jets and sewing dresses from fallen parachutes to hide the evidence of soldiers escaping from battle. We have about ten regular members and at 30, I am the youngest of our little group by about three decades.

At the beginning of July, my family and I went to the Scandinavian Yearly Meeting in Gothenburg, Sweden. There were over 120 participants from Norway, Sweden, and Finland. The three of us went as the only participants from Denmark. One afternoon, I sat with the executive secretary of FWCC-EMES and we had a-one-on one conversation about the challenges that face all Quaker communities across Europe. I voiced my concern that our biggest challenge in Denmark is building community, getting people to stay and take on responsibility and that I personally struggle with a feeling of hopelessness for our community that has recently been affecting my motivation and drive.

Being a Quaker and going to Yearly Meeting and other Quaker retreats was such a big part of my childhood and teenage years, and subsequently my adult life, that it is difficult to witness the community that always seemed to sail so smoothly, struggle so hard to keep afloat. Here in Copenhagen, I often feel like I am alone on the mast of a sinking ship. What should I do? Should I jump into the lifeboat of mindfulness or Buddhism or should I climb down and repair the holes myself? For now, I choose to patch the holes. Quakerism offers something more than mindfulness and obviously something different from Buddhism.

As a whole, my experience in Gothenburg left me with the sense that we are all delicately connected—a connection that exists because we, as Quakers, reach out beyond ourselves to actively create community. Perhaps Quakers are particularly good at this because, in my opinion, a true sense of community is formed when we answer that of God in others.

Community is by definition something bigger than one’s self. It is a network of connections to which we belong. Even though un-programmed meetings face dwindling membership across the planet, the few who stick around often accomplish great things through service efforts and lobbying activities. Silence is merely a tool we use to listen to our inner Light, but it is what we do with the messages we receive that defines us, both as individuals and as a group. When a group of over 120 active and engaged Quakers meet, in spite of cultural and language barriers, it is impossible not to feel how we all live to let our lives speak.

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A Reflection on Life After Graduation

Sarah Kelly

by Sarah Kelly ’17 

On May 28 I graduated from George School. On August 17 I will be moving in to my dorm at Philadelphia University. This summer and the time I have had between these two dates has been probably the most exciting time of my life, as I gather up all my dorm supplies, meet new friends, find a roommate, figure out my schedule, go to orientation, and so much more.

But with this excitement, also comes anxiety. I grew up on this campus, from being at the George School Children’s Center, then Newtown Friends School, and then George School again. I have known some of my friends since I was 2 years old and a student in the Children’s Center. These 81 days between high school graduation and the start of my college career, have been and will continue to be strange. I am no longer a George School student, but I am still only barely part of the Philadelphia University community. This is the first time I will be in a community other than George School.

If I had to give advice to rising seniors of George School, or any high school for that matter, it is not to worry about this potentially awkward in-between time. Instead, use this time to focus and try to identify your own identity, not relating to what school or community you belong to. Although it may feel like you don’t belong to anywhere during this time, that is ok, because you learn a lot more about your own self during times like these. You will have plenty of time to shape your identity around a community in the next four, five, six, or more years in college. And if this task is too daunting, too scary, then don’t sweat it. Because once you are part of the George School community, you never really leave it. It is ok to be part of more than one community. Just do not let leaving this one, great, small, George School community make joining a new one difficult. Just because you graduate, does not mean you cannot talk to your old friends. Remember you are not alone, because everyone else is experiencing the same feelings you are. Trust me. I did too.

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Letting go of hierarchy: what I realized at my 20-year reunion

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This post originally appeared on www.DepthWorldwide.com

by Delilah De La Rosa ’97

A couple of weeks ago I attended my 20-year high school reunion. I went to George School, a Quaker boarding/day school (I was a boarder) in Newtown, PA. For those that are not familiar with Quakerism, no, it does not have to do with the Amish. It is a Christian-based religion that operates on the core belief that we all have the light of God inside us, ALL OF US. As G.S. explains on its website, “This straightforward, elegant idea basically means that everyone has the capacity to do good and the facility to be great. You just have to listen to that of God within you and recognize it in others.”

This core belief manifested in several ways while I was at G.S. (and still holds true today):

Everyone and I mean EVERYONE from students, faculty and staff addressed each other by their first name. This subverted the idea that teachers/staff/adults had authority over students.

Instead of being preached to or following orders/rules, our religious service was meeting for worship where we sat still in silence for quiet reflection, and if we felt moved, we addressed the people in the Meetinghouse with the inspiration coming through us.

Everyone, no matter what your economic status, had to do co-op, an on-campus service program where all students performed various tasks to help in the daily operations of the school; money saved through the program supported the school scholarship fund.

G.S. did not promote, in fact, rejected superstar culture academically, athletically and socially; cooperation/community instead of competition/hyper-individualism was stressed, thus, there was no valedictorian, sports hero or prom royalty. As a matter of fact, we didn’t have a prom. We had a senior-year dinner dance where all students had to ride a chartered bus to get to the dance hall in an effort to curb materialism and stratification among students.

While I came from a junior high school that instilled in me the importance of community, this high school experience challenged a core belief and overall consciousness I had deeply internalized: there is a hierarchical order to life. I held a (conscious and unconscious) belief that all living things were ranked in order of importance (i.e. the planet belongs to us humans, not we belong to the planet) and that some humans were better/worth more/mattered more than others. This originated from and was constantly affirmed by family, school, religion, culture and society.

Since this was true for me, I committed to the onerous, insatiable and futile task of being THE best (not MY best) so as to claim my position at the top of this hierarchy. I wanted to look the best, dance the best, be the coolest, be number one in my class. I remember that at the age of 9, I felt so humiliated for not receiving first honors after having so consecutively for a few years (beaten by the new girl in class) that I pleaded with my mother for me to not go back to school anymore.

So one can imagine how unfamiliar this idea of all of life matters PERIOD (no more, no less) was to me when I entered high school. You’d think it would offer a healthy reprieve from the consciousness I held that was causing me suffering. Instead, I resisted.

I wanted to continue being top of the class, but how could I be top of the class when there was no award ceremony or public announcement to honor those that performed the best academically? I was forced to focus on performing MY best without competition as the driving force; the driving force had to come from within. At the time, I couldn’t see how this would benefit my well-being and personal growth, and instead felt that the “fun” was taken out of the equation because I could no longer dominate.

I felt a bit shortchanged by not having a typical high school prom. After all, it would’ve been the perfect opportunity to showboat and see who could outdo who (with my striving to come out on top, of course).

I remember complaining to my advisor about the school’s lack of hierarchical culture (not in those words) and expressing my desire to go to an elite college institution that promoted exceptionalism, where I’d be among the best of the best. She responded with a reminder of G.S. values where “every soul is sacred and worthy of respect,” but in true Quaker fashion, didn’t force it down my throat.

Although I resisted, I was still immersed in this culture 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (most weeks) and it left its imprint. My driving force had to come from within, not from where I ranked among others. Inspiration became integral. I was able to connect with people from all walks of life in a meaningful way. I was able to connect with nature, which paved the way for what has become my love affair with trees. I was more emboldened in believing in goodness in all of life.

Experiencing life without the need for hierarchy was one of most liberating, creative, enriching, powerful and happiest times in my life. It was only when I held on to hierarchy that I suffered.

And yet, that’s what I did for many years after that, going to and getting caught up in the culture of an elite, top-ranking college and working in the entertainment industry where it’s unapologetically hierarchical and hierarchist. I became embroiled in the soul-sucking endeavor of being the best, being special, being on top (of others). I couldn’t resist the lure of hierarchy if it meant that I was winning.

In the last 10 years however, I started to develop an awareness of this being one of many ways to view and experience life, and that I was enmeshed in this particular consciousness. I started to see how this idea of there being a hierarchical order to life compromised my personal growth and well-being. I started to see how it caused suffering, being out of alignment with my true nature and the truth of we are one, and thus, real power that we all hold within. And more recently, I started to see the many factors–people, places and experiences–that fostered a sense in me of there being a consciousness that was more expansive, harmonious, loving and aligned with my truth, the truth.

When I went back to G.S. after nearly 20 years, I was deeply moved by the realization it was no accident I chose to immerse myself in a culture that challenged a limiting consciousness to which I was loyal. In my mind at the time of choosing to go to G.S., I was intrigued by the idea of going to boarding school, of independence, and having a college experience at the tender age of 14; I thought it was interesting and that it would look interesting, stand out as special. But I realized 20 years later that it was actually my soul’s way of having me experience a consciousness that was more aligned with my true nature and the truth.

I realized how much I resisted letting go of hierarchy, how I wasn’t ready to fully embrace this new consciousness at the time. The only way I knew to be powerful was to be exceptional, dominant, on top of the pyramid; I couldn’t comprehend there being another way to view and experience life. Since I longed for a sense of empowerment (like all of us) and held a distorted view of power, I felt the need to keep hierarchy in place, something I’d have to contend with along the path of embodying a new consciousness, the truth.

I also realized that while I can still hold on to hierarchy and vacillate between the old and new consciousness, I’ve been making my way back “home,” making a conscious commitment toward embodying this new vision of and approach to life that’s more aligned with the truth. This coming full circle struck me precisely as I stood in the Meetinghouse after 20 years. What I’ve come to know and embrace as my truth, the truth, and the several values and practices that keep me aligned with it, were rooted in this place. And I was destined to this place to make my way back home.

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“Be Authentic”

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Dana Falsetti ’11 during assembly.

by Bea Feichtenbiner ’19

Lots of college students have no clue what they want to do with their life. They wander aimlessly from class to class, stressed but not overly worried for their future. They commit to multiple majors before choosing a career. Dana Falsetti ’11, a plus-sized yoga teacher and Instagram blogger, was one of these students.

During her college years, Dana thought she wanted to be a lawyer. Little did she know, her calling was something else entirely. Now, instead of practicing law, she travels the world teaching inclusive yoga. Recently, she has been to Arkansas, Denver, Seattle, and Thailand. She is only twenty-three, yet she seems to have a world of knowledge.

“Growing up,” Dana said during a recent George School assembly presentation, “my life was defined by the numbers on the scale.” Dana struggled with her weight all throughout childhood. In her sophomore year of college, she lost over a hundred pounds. She expected to feel happier, prouder, and better. However, this was when she hit her lowest of lows. The expectation she had was shattered. She felt the same as before she lost the weight, just lighter.

It was the summer after her sophomore year when she started yoga, on a spur of the moment decision. A studio near her house was offering classes for the summer for a relatively low price and she just went to check it out. She expected it to be easy, but her expectations were again shattered. Not only did she struggle immensely in the class, but she blamed it on her weight. She hated the class, but she went back again anyway because she “had something to prove to myself.”

After taking yoga classes all summer, Dana started an Instagram account that now has over 280,000 followers.

Instagram now calls Dana a public figure, while Buzzfeed wrote an article called “19 Badass Instagrammers Who Prove Yoga Bodies Come in All Shapes And Sizes” that featured her. She has been on the cover of Om Yoga Magazine, she was nominated for a 2017 Shorty Awards for Excellence in Social Media (Health & Wellness), and she has a combined social media following of over half a million.

Her Instagram documents her life as a yoga teacher, body activist, and empowered woman with captions that read like journal entries. Each one promotes body positivity, confidence, and strength.

Social media has been a favorite of trolls and haters since its creation, but Dana does not worry about this. She ignores the comments against her by simply not caring about those opinions. She is happy with who she is and her goal is to help others be as happy as her.

So her best advice? “Be authentic.”

 

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The Things I Learned in the Silence

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by Shanti Lerner ’15

This post originally appeared here and was shared with permission.

The things I learned in the silence.

The attack on OSU last Monday definitely reiterated the idea that silence is important. During the event of the attack, I was sitting in a dance room that was under lockdown at the North Recreation Center with 50 other students. No one in the room was speaking to each other but I knew we were all experiencing the same emotions. Everyone was quiet, curious, and afraid. When the shelter was lifted I felt a sudden wave of emotions hit me. I realized that although I was not directly affected, I was definitely affected emotionally. I’ve seen stuff like this happen all the time on TV, but I never imagined I would be part of something like it in real life.  Days after the event, I was expecting many of the people I knew to be talking about it, however, I have yet to hear anything. I still wonder why it seems like the issue has been swept under the rug. Perhaps people are in shock, maybe they don’t have time to think about it, or they simply just want to move on from it. But I know that just because no one is discussing it doesn’t mean people aren’t thinking about it, which reminds me of the first place I learned about the value of silence.

Not so long ago, I was at a place called George School. For three years of my high school career, I attended a Quaker boarding school in Newtown, Pennsylvania. No, Quaker is not the same as Amish. The Quakers or the “Society of Friends” are historically members of the Christian religious sect but have more liberal understandings of Christianity. The Society of Friends is united in the belief that there is that of God in every person. Quakers don’t attend church, don’t read bibles, they avoid creeds, and hierarchical structures. However, they do attend meeting for worship.

Meeting for worship entails people coming together in a meeting house or any space and sitting in silence from 40 minutes to an hour. Usually, meeting for worship is set up in such a way that all people are facing the center of the room. During meeting for worship, if a person feels moved by the silence then one can share their feelings or thoughts to the people in the meeting house. I had to attend meeting for worship twice a week for three years. I wasn’t allowed to look at my phone, speak to the person next to me, or even fall asleep. It was just me and my thoughts. It’s almost like meditating except if someone in the room speaks and I resonate, there’s chance I can speak and share.

In my three years at George School I probably only spoke in meeting a countable number of times and every time I did it felt scary.  It was frightening to stand up and share my feelings, my thoughts, and my opinion on issues. But when my heart was beating fast and I was getting nervous I knew that’s when I had to speak. I had to break my silence and have the courage to set whatever it was that was in my head FREE. Once I did, it always felt amazing. I never felt judged because I knew for a fact that everyone was experiencing the same thing as me, people had feelings, problems, they were thinking, imagining, but were also frightened by the idea of standing up to speak in a vulnerable state.

I will admit that there were days where I dreaded going and it wasn’t until after high school that I realized the value of that silence. In my busy school schedule now, how I wish I had that chance to be able to go to meeting for worship and just relax and think to myself without any distractions. 40 minutes of silence may seem hard in this day and age but I think being able to just take a step back from whatever is going on in our lives is an important practice to maintain. It’s good for calming yourself, thinking, breathing, and forming an opinion. With all the technology and the constant interaction with people, we tend to forget to be holistically present with ourselves and our environment. While I was patiently waiting for the shelter to be lifted I felt like I was in meeting for worship again. The silence took me a step back from what was going on and it allowed me to realize that I was affected by this attack too and everyone I was with at the time.

Often times, people tend not to voice out their opinions on serious events to avoid conflict. Although I’ve been feeling bothered by the fact that a lot of people aren’t voicing out the magnitude of what happened or simply how they are feeling, I know all of this is happening in the silence. Which I realized is not a bad thing. Just like how it felt to speak in meeting for worship, its hard to voice out about an event like the attack that had just happened. But at the same time, its OKAY to just be silent and think about it and how its affecting you, your friends, and the greater community. Sometimes we need silence to be able to realize some things. But, if by chance your heart starts pounding fast, you get a little nervous, and you get the courage to speak out loud, go ahead. Breaking the silence might give you a feeling of relief.

Shanti invites readers to connect with her via email.

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Religion or Religions Department?

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by Tom Hoopes ’83 Head of Religions Department, Assistant Dean, Coach

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked this famous rhetorical question, and school children for generations have used it as a foil for considering the power and meaning of words and names.

It is a question that we in the Religions Department recently considered in a searching, deliberate process. You may have noticed in the previous sentence that I said “religions,” with an “s” rather than “religion.” If so, good catch. You might be wondering, “what’s the difference?” I am so glad you asked! Allow me to tell a story…

Some years ago I found myself in a hospital bed, having experienced a grave illness which was not diagnosed at first. (They not-so-jokingly called me “the House patient,” referring to Dr. House on TV, who takes the presumably unsolvable cases.) I felt deep, abiding gratitude for the care I was receiving from myriad professionals, including many doctors and nurses as well as the people who took my temperature and blood pressure and changed my IV tubes, the people who brought me food and those who changed my bedding. I was there for two weeks, so people came and went with regularity.

People were consistently friendly to me, and engaged me in light conversation. I decided this was the perfect opportunity for an experiment! Usually the question would come up, “what do you do?” I noticed a pattern emerging. If I said, “I teach religion,” they would politely acknowledge my response, and then gently change the subject or fairly quickly find a way to end the conversation and get on with their work and out the door. By contrast, if I answered with, “I teach world religions,” the response, almost uniformly, sought deeper engagement. People would say, “oh, that sounds interesting, tell me more” or “World Religions was my favorite subject in college” or, “which religions?” The variety of their responses was as diverse as the people.

Given that this was a large, urban hospital, I encountered a full gamut of skin tones and people visibly presenting as members of at least four different religious denominations known to me (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu), and numerous more discovered upon further conversation.

“What is going on here?” I thought to myself. Recognizing my vulnerability to confirmation bias and selection bias, I did my best to control these in the few days I had remaining in the hospital. Upon my discharge, I have continued this experiment in multiple venues for the last several years, with complete strangers at baseball games, weddings, shopping malls, parties, and anywhere else I may go. My results in the hospital have been replicated with extraordinary fidelity.

What I have determined is that the statement, “I teach religion” was consistently getting interpreted as a statement of my efforts to promote one doctrine or dogma at the exclusion of others, and many people find it to be a conversation stopper.

So do I. And so does George School. Our work in the Religions Department is to create a safe, stimulating and open context for students from all backgrounds to try and make sense of the dizzying array of knowledge claims they encounter on a regular basis in their lives. Learning about some of the major religious traditions of the world—including their symbols, practices, rituals and representations of the divine—is a wonderful portal into the discipline of becoming a world citizen. Alongside the rest of a George School education, courses in the Religions Department help our students to learn about their world and themselves, thereby equipping them to let their lives speak in ways that engage other people.

We do not “teach religion”—we do not teach what to believe, nor the right (or wrong) way to think. Rather, we teach the beliefs and practices of many religions, and we invite critical inquiry, so that students learn to appreciate and value the wisdom traditions that have come down to us through the ages, while reconciling them with their own experiences and family traditions. I have yet to have a student in class that did not learn a substantial amount about their own family’s spiritual and religious traditions; and in most cases the experience has deepened their appreciation for those traditions. Indeed, I would claim that most of the students at George School who identify as religiously faithful see me and the other members of the Religions Department as strong allies for their journey. May that continue to be so.

When we gathered to consider possible alternate names for our department, we considered a variety of options which are visible at other high schools that include, Religious Studies; Religious Thought; Contemplative Studies; Religious Life; Quaker Studies; and various combinations of each of these. While each of these has compelling justifications, as a team we were able to reach unity in support of “Religions,” because it had the greatest virtue of accuracy and inclusiveness for almost all of our courses. This includes Theory of Knowledge, which can be taught as a cut-and-dry philosophy course, but at its best it is fundamentally aligned with the Quaker mission of George School, to seek truth and to invite students to let their lives speak. While that may not be “religion,” per se, it is certainly congruent with the overall mission of the Religions Department.

Going forward, the Religions Department looks forward to the Quaker discipline of continuing revelation. In the last several years, we have begun to offer the following courses: Religions of the African Diaspora, Feminist Theology, and Spirituality and Sustainability. I am considering augmenting my current Peace Studies class to create one more explicitly focused on spirit-led non-violent direct action. A fundamental precept of Quakerism is the importance of staying open to new Light, and keeping the dialogue going. If you have ideas for courses that you think might be offered through the Religions Department, or other thoughts about this blog post, I look forward to hearing from you.

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George School Alumna Shares Touching Thanksgiving Story

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by Alyson Cittadino, with permission and assistance from A.V. Crofts

Anita Verna Crofts ’88 writes about her love of travel and food in her new book Meet Me at the Bamboo Table. Anita is a bicoastal educator as well as writer on faculty in the Department of Communications at the University of Washington and Associate Director for the Communication Leadership graduate program. She also curates the blog Pepper for the Beast which covers everything from breakfast in war zones to best practices for pie transportation.

Meet Me at the Bamboo Table includes a touching story about Anita’s 2001 trip to Berlin where she celebrated Thanksgiving. Anita was kind enough to let us share this excerpt with our readers. As families across America gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, we hope you’ll read and enjoy this heartwarming piece.

Wishing the George School community health, love, and peace this holiday season.

Learn more about or purchase Anita’s book here.

Connect with Anita on social media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/avcrofts

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/avcrofts

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/avcrofts

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Five Reasons to Attend a TEDx Talk

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by Alyson Cittadino

Are you considering attending TEDxGeorgeSchool but aren’t really sure if it’s for you or not? This might help. Happening on December 3, TEDxGeorgeSchool features thirteen passionate and remarkable speakers that are doing innovative work in the fields of design, science, and engineering. Speakers include a Nobel Laureate recipient, the co-chair of Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans, and co-founder of BalletX. In addition to the great lineup of presenters, TEDxGeorgeSchool will feature informative breakout sessions and opportunities to interact with George School students.

But, if we still haven’t convinced you, here are five reasons to attend a TEDx Talk.

It will expand your knowledge base. TEDx Talks have a theme, but the individual subjects are usually relatively different, making it a well-rounded event. For example, TEDxGeorgeSchool is focused on innovation, but subjects range from opera to bean breeding to engineering toys that inspire learning.

Attendance at TEDx builds community. Network with likeminded individuals, industry professionals, or leaders just like you and grow your professional (or personal) network. Plus, adding the experience of a TEDx Talk to a resume, shows future employers a desire to learn and a real interest in the industry.

The breakout sessions. In between each speaker session, TEDx requires breakout or “brain break” sessions. These sessions can include anything from learning tai chi or singing to dancing lessons and chocolate tastings. Audience members will not be disappointed with the wide selection of choices designed to get the juices flowing just in time for the next fascinating speaker.

You will meet really interesting people. TEDx Talks encourage a diverse audience to mingle with the presenters. TED requires an application-based registration process to guarantee that a good mix of professionals, students, and community members are in the audience. The unique format of the talks also allows ample time for attendees to interact with speakers and each other.

Experience face-to-face communication in a digital world. TEDx Talks allow presenters the opportunity to speak directly to a live audience; not through a camera or chatbot. Interact with these speakers in person, in real time, face-to-face, and learn about the innovative work they are doing.

Learn more about TedXGeorgeSchool here.

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A Note on the Need for Civil Discourse

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By Head of School Sam Houser

Anyone paying attention to this election season, regardless of party affiliation or ideological orientation, would probably agree that the quality of much of our political discourse is not what a healthy democracy deserves. Across the political spectrum, we have heard presidential and other candidates—and their supporters—make claims and statements that are sometimes shocking, disrespectful and insulting to individuals and groups of people. Often, such claims and statements shed little light on issues confronting the country and the world and therefore are of limited value to the electorate.

I write to remind everyone at George School that as an educational community, we are obliged to model in our own behavior and cultivate in others the ability to engage in honest and well informed but also civil and respectful discourse about a range of topics, political and non-political. We do this in order to increase our understanding of one another, of humanity generally, and of the wider world. As a Quaker school, we are devoted to seeking the Light of God together and discerning and honoring the inner Light in each of us—all in the manner of Friends who prize respect for the individual, intellectual and personal rigor, integrity, and the health of our community.

We need to remember that our community is comprised of people and families holding a variety of political perspectives, who support various candidates for office and policy proposals for many different reasons. In light of this, we should be careful to treat each other with respect and avoid the temptations of snap judgments, name calling, and dismissiveness. If we choose to discuss politics (as with anything else), let’s talk honestly, thoughtfully, and responsibly about our interests and commitments, and the worries and hopes we have for the world. We may not agree on what we discuss, and we might not persuade others to our own point of view. But I firmly believe that substantial, respectful, and civil conversations strengthen our community as they advance our understanding of one another’s life experiences, concerns, and animating passions. At their best, they mobilize us to improve the world without being held back by our differences.

Thank you for keeping George School safe, strong, meaningful, and good.

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Reflecting on Lessons Learned Through Service

by Jake Malavsky ’15

This summer I have been following the service trip blogs posted by current George School students. Reading their reflections caused me to think about my own service trip experience and how it has shaped my life after George School.

Every George School student spends a minimum of 65 hours participating in service learning. Some work locally while others travel around the world to locations ranging from Washington DC to Vietnam. In the spring of 2015, I joined a group of George School faculty and students on a trip to Mississippi to work with Habitat for Humanity. This trip would prove to be one of the highlights of my senior year.

Mississippi is the poorest state in the country and we traveled to the Mississippi Delta, one of the most impoverished areas of the state. Our trip lasted two weeks and we split the time working at two local Habitat for Humanity sites.

Having grown up near George School for most of my life, Mississippi was unlike anything I had ever experienced. This was evident when a few of us walked into a gas station convenience store to find jars of “koolicles” for sale. The bright red color of these pickles soaked in Kool Aid was an immediate sign of the difference in cultures. Instead of shutting down in the face of these differences we were encouraged to open ourselves up to them.

For me one of the most rewarding aspects of the trip was our interaction with the communities that we were serving. Years of volunteering in this area had created a neighborhood of Habitat for Humanity housing. Every day after we finished working the children of Clarksdale would show up in front of our house wanting to play games. The youngest ones would try and tackle us to the ground as we joined in on their after school traditions. I felt that, even more than the assigned physical work, our real service happened during those afternoons of tag and hide-and-seek.

When I think back on what I learned, I can boil it down to one main idea—I learned to be open. Since leaving Mississippi and graduating from George School I have carried this idea with me. With all the fear caused by recent events, it seems to me that being open to different cultures, ideas, and traditions is a lesson worth learning.

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