By Margaret Zheng
Time is surreal in the moments of letting go. In just a few days, I shall be in cap and gown formally drawing my years as a student of Council Rock to an end. In just a few days, my life as a child will in a momentous way come to a close – though I will still only be 17. In just a few days – a blink of eternity.
I am far overripe for a change of place, for new soils to nurture my unwieldy talents and creative spirit. So why does my heart ache for the same – institution – that I so often critiqued in this publication, fiercely, bitingly? Why, despite my history of a total lack of homesickness when traveling away from family – a pattern which began with little me exclaiming to my intensely worrying mother after the first day of kindergarten that “No, I didn’t miss you!” – do I already feel pain and nostalgia in letting go?
I think it is because though my biological parents have lovingly raised me and have nourished my body and warmed my heart, I feel that my schools, or rather the kind and thoughtful people who have been my teachers and counselors and administrators in them, have really been the parents of my intellectual, spiritual self. Council Rock is truly my alma mater – my mother of spirit.
Increasingly, as I prepare for flight from the mother’s nest, questions about “my future” have excited me, haunted me, or left me in utter confusion about what am I to aim for or to become. I seem capable of devoting myself to neither reason nor passion alone. The plea of “Pursue your passions!” only brings me unease, as does the dictate of doing what is economical for society.
More and more I see myself as a patchwork of selves, a synthesis of many different and often conflicting ideas and worldviews, yet also as one who resists the fragmentation of self, striving instead for some not-quite-fathomable whole. How I shall assemble and reassemble the diverse elements of “who I am” in the years to come is uncertain – and even when I believe I have answers, those answers are apt to change.
Council Rock has trained me to pose questions and seek answers yet never to be satisfied with the answers I am merely given. If my alma mater has nourished like a mother my introspections and psychological growth, it has not been with honey-cream, but a pungent-spiced spiritual milk.
Teachers, educators, did you stoke our minds and stimulate our spirits just so that we would tread an Earth throbbing like yours, leave unsolved the problems your generations did not – would not – fix, live blissfully complacent in the world as it was and has been – as if we were not already in danger, as if a diploma or two or three were all that is needed to guarantee a safe and fulfilling future for us?
No, you wanted more for us. You taught us to think, carefully, critically, interdisciplinarily in the spirit of a liberal education. What you did wasn’t perfect, in part because the systems in which we function are flawed, but at least in my view, you have done something good.
By nature, I am a philosopher, partial to a life of the mind. Throughout my eleven years in Council Rock, various teachers, counselors, club advisors, and even cherished classmates (philosofun!) have encouraged my instinctive intellectual and artistic pursuits of truth and beauty. I thank you greatly for this and for supporting me emotionally when intense thinking and feeling produced not answers but a scary existential storm. Yet no human lives merely upon thought, upon pure philosophy and art.
To be human is inherently to create and enact for oneself a code of ethics, beginning with a crucial and powerful self-imperative: I shall live.
To be human and live among other humans is to be political, even in inaction, for lives intersect with lives, decisions shape other decisions, meanings and morals circulate endlessly in our communities and greater societies even without us willing.
Yet to be human and consciously human is to will: I shall live as I believe I must.
I believe I must fight for a better, brighter, more beautiful world.
This is what Council Rock has taught me: to be political, but not politicized. To think deeply, to empathize, to engage in dialogue, and then to act, mindfully, powerfully. It has led me to first activate my civic powers through tackling issues of education, starting with my own school community and then connecting with nationwide and even global activism by and for the youth.
Sometimes I have been hesitant to act, frightened by the potential consequences and the weighty meanings of action, doubtful that I could really have the right and power to make change or that the change I imagine is even the proper change to pursue. But teachers, administrators, and school board members have encouraged me on and have listened to my voice calling to awaken the voices of others.
Some of you students might dispute me, as you have in conversation, and claim that adults are not yet supportive enough, particularly towards the most vulnerable of us youth. I say that your perspectives, true to your personal experiences, imply not apathy or a “giving up” with school.
Rather, I say they compel you to share your experiences, confront our community with your truth, and insist on change. Knowing Council Rock, a complicated mixture of conservative and liberal impulses as many are, I advise you that change shall be difficult – but if it is right, and if people believe in it, then eventually, it will start to happen. Just ask the GSA.
Dear Alma Mater, I am not done with you yet. For one thing, I still have a younger brother for your schools to shape. But more importantly, you are not done yet. There is still more room for you to grow.
There is much more room for all of us – the Class of 2019 as well as the rest – to strive for our stars, to listen to and care for one another, to create for ourselves and our posterity a happy, healthy, harmonious Earth.