I had the exciting opportunity to travel with nearly all our high school and staff members to Washington, D.C., for an entire week. There we met groups from all the other Ambleside high schools around the country. In the same hotel, no less. If that sounds rather insane to you, it is because it is a rather insane idea. If you were staying at this hotel by some strange coincidence, and you are somehow reading this, please accept my humble apology. Reflecting on this experience, as I am still sleepy and my feet still hurt, is perhaps risky, but I do feel up to the task.
In short, it was a beautiful experience. We stood before the Space Shuttle Discovery, retired to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum after 39 missions in space. We packed lunches and took a river cruise down the Potomac, landing at George Washington’s Mount Vernon residence. We toured inside the Capitol Building and sat in the Senate during the confirmation of a federal judge. I unexpectedly came face to face with Vincent Van Gough’s self-portrait in the National Art Gallery and was moved to tears. We visited at least two museums or more each day and squeezed in as many monuments as possible. It was busy.
I am sure every student has many great stories and photos of the historical things we were able to see. But as I reflect on the week, the thing that really impacted me more than any other aspect was the communal time I got to spend with students. We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together for a solid week, riding the metro and walking for miles each day. I found myself excited to get on the elevator and see who was at breakfast in the lobby, even on the last day. While the collection at the National Gallery was amazing, it was more impactful seeing our students in awe while standing before works of art. I watched them reading captions at the Holocaust museum, letting the history infiltrate their hearts and appeal to their humanity. It was moving. Who are these amazing humans we have at this school? They really are interesting, thoughtful, and surprising people.
The week was full of adventure and introspection together, but it was also full of heartfelt appreciation for one another. We paid tribute to our second class of departing seniors on this trip. It is a good thing that they have grown and that they have completed their work. It is a good thing that they are leaving and moving to a new stage of life. I find myself excited about what they will encounter. But it is also a sad thing. How people leave says as much about the health of a community as anything else. The flip side of seeing growth is having to let go. When these students leave, there will be a profound sense of loss at the start of the next school year. With that loss comes the chance for new growth. It was all the more special to have the opportunity to share this trip with them before they graduate. I hope it helped them to be seen and that they can carry that with them as they face the trials of what comes next.
On the final day of the trip, we also paid tribute to the director of our high school, Stephen Zedler. Mr. Zedler is the person who brought me to our high school. He has been a friend and mentor for almost as long as I have lived in Ocala. Next year he will be working full-time with the Pearl Project. I remember he and Joy sharing this vision in my living room during our little home group with our church. To see how it has grown in that time is beautiful. It is a good thing that Mr. Zedler is leaving and moving to this new stage of life, but it is difficult to imagine the high school without him.
Mrs. Shew worked with staff and students to compile a book full of memories, stories, and photos of gratitude to Mr. Zedler. We ambushed him with this in a public restaurant on the final day of the trip, when we were far too fatigued to fight our emotions. Again, the students really showed their depth as they shared moments of appreciation and affection for him.
The thing I am trying to convey in all of this is that I am incredibly proud of our students at this school. I am incredibly proud of the work that is being done here. I am so happy I get to play a small role in all of it. There was no shortage of risk in taking a group of nearly 40 on a trip like this, but I think they rose to the occasion. I saw growth and gratitude and friendship and grace displayed in them. It was encouraging. I am tired. I missed my family very much while we were gone. But I am glad I got to have this time with my students. I know many people played a large role in making this trip possible, and I want you to know that your efforts greatly impacted our students. Thank you.
“We must live in community because the spirit of joy and love gives us such an urge to reach out to others that we wish to be united with them for all time.” -Eberhard Arnold (Why We Live in Community, 1925)