Catching Leaves (third 2010 thesis)

(Fairhaven School has just graduated five students. As a way to celebrate the class of 2010, over the next month, we will be posting the theses that they  successfully defended. In italics below is a brief description outlining how somebody earns a Fairhaven diploma, followed by the seventh and final thesis. Enjoy!

Students who have spent at least three years at Fairhaven School may earn a diploma by defending the thesis that they have prepared themselves to become effective adults in the larger community. Diploma candidates must declare their intent to graduate and answer questions at a special winter Assembly of parents, students, staff and public members. They also meet with their individual graduation committees, and defend their written theses before a Diploma Committee made up of three experienced staff members from other Sudbury schools. A majority of positive votes from the Committee is the final requirement of  the diploma process.)

Catching Leaves

“In the blink of an eye, babies appear in carriages, coffins disappear into the ground, wars are won and lost, and children transform, like butterflies, into adults.”

–Brian Selznick

My art is not writing, it is telling. I tell stories through my artwork, but today I am telling you a story through my words.

I believe that an effective adult is a self-sustaining being, who does not need to rely on anyone but herself, and who knows responsibility and self-discipline. She is also aware that every action she makes has a reaction that will affect others and she is successful, meaning she is satisfied with herself and how she lives her life. An effective adult is also able to communicate her needs and feelings in a respectful and mature fashion, and can work and compromise with others to obtain contentment for all involved. She is also very adaptable, able to work with any type of situation easily and efficiently.

I was born July 16th 1994 and I was given the name Lillian Ashanti Lani. I lived and learned from my experiences. When I was four years old I decided I was ready to travel across the Atlantic Ocean and the United States by myself. I flew from Kauai, Hawaii (which was my home then) to Delaware where my grandparents lived. That journey gave me a greater sense of responsibility for myself and my actions; it also quenched my thirst for independence and made me hungry for more. Ever since that trip I have loved to travel. I am captured by the thrill of experiencing new places and different cultures and I can acclimatize very easily.

In the summer of 2004 my mother and I moved to Maryland so I could attend Fairhaven School. I was very nervous, I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t know if I would “fit in.”

My first day at Fairhaven went like this: I was walking into the office with my mom and out of nowhere popped this boy with long curly hair, bare feet and mud on his clothes. Zack Bennet. He looked at me and literally screamed, “HEY YOU’RE THAT GIRL FROM HAWAII RIGHT?!!” He didn’t give me a chance to reply. He just introduced himself, “I’M ZACK! YOU’RE GOING TO LOVE IT HERE!” Then he ran off. I remember being excited that I didn’t have to wear shoes and being terrified of that Zack creature. I also thought about what he told me, “You’re going to love it here.” I was skeptical; I had been to so many different types of schools and so far none of then had worked out. I had been uprooted and transplanted so many times it was hard for me to believe those words. But he was right, I loved it.

My first week at school I spent in the Art Room by myself. I was so happy I could just draw all day. ALL DAY!  I loved my new freedom and I fit perfectly into Fairhaven’s unique system. I watched; I played; I learned; I grew. I was no longer a child, not in my eyes, no.  I was a….  Well I wasn’t exactly sure what I was yet, but I was sure I wasn’t a child anymore. Why?

Because I had an opinion, I had a voice, a vote equal to those older than me; these are all things that were and are very important to me. I have always wanted people to listen to what I’ve had to say and I have always had an opinion about something.

At Fairhaven I also had the right to do what I wanted to do with my time, but occasionally what I did with that time landed me in J.C. My first time in Judicial Committee was as a plaintiff. I had written Jared Luczak up for repeatedly taking things out of my cubby. The other times I was there as a defendant. I went through a period of time when I lied. See, I was accustomed to the “you don’t get caught, you don’t get in trouble” policy, but at Fairhaven if you get caught and then you don’t tell the truth, you’ll get in much bigger trouble. When people found out I wasn’t being honest I got scared. I thought everyone was going to hate me for it.  But no, they didn’t.  I soon learned that it was okay to make mistakes as long as you learn lessons from them and that at Fairhaven School everyone is just learning together. Even though they might be learning very different lessons or might be at very different stages in their lives, we still all learn together and help one another along. I wasn’t I anymore, I was we, a part of the most amazing community I had ever experienced. When I figured out that J.C. wasn’t against me and out to get me, the judicial system was so much easier for me to work with. J.C. helped fine tune my ideals of respect, my actions and the reactions to them (in this case room restrictions and community service) and the benefits of telling the truth.

This year I found myself clerking J.C.; in previous years I had been interested in clerking or alternating but I just wasn’t ready to commit that much of my time. Julia Rubin and I were elected together. Clerking on the Judicial Committee really helped me improve my communication skills, and my patience. J.C. also helped me determine the most efficient ways to hear everyone’s thoughts and feelings and meet all their needs. I hadn’t ever really run a meeting before, unless you count a Music Corporation meeting comprised of three people. I had watched J.C. and School Meeting run so many times that I knew the theory by heart. So I dove into clerking and I loved the experience.

When I was younger and to this day I was given art supplies and puzzle games instead of a TV, so naturally when I saw the Art Room I thought I had walked into a dream. I have always been a very creative person and just being at Fairhaven inspired me to put my talents to greater use. I mean the entire campus is a beautiful work of art. I love to paint, draw and make 3D art. Working on my art projects enables me to dive into my imagination and just let go of all the stressful things in life; and it is amazing where my imagination takes me. This school year I went to School Meeting and got an attendance acceptation to have more time to work on my larger pieces of artwork. Art is really a passion of mine and I am basing my career off of the things I love because I believe that in order to be successful in life you need to enjoy your occupation.

I made a lot of amazing friends at Fairhaven. One thing that really helped me to do that is that I could just be myself at school and I didn’t have to worry about anyone judging me. After I had gotten comfortable with myself and my surroundings I started to be more outgoing.

Once, this girl, Josette Jackson, and I spent two weeks in the shop building a jump so we could play horses. Josette and I later became very good friends. We were inseparable, we played all day together, we ate together, and we practically lived with each other. She helped me learn and grow, and I likewise, helped her; it was a great friendship. Fairhaven showed me it was okay to be an individual. It was not a bad thing to stand out of the crowd and say, “Here I am. Accept me like this or don’t at all, but I don’t care because I am just me and I like who I am.” The school also helped me learn how to connect with lots of different types of people and cope with all their different habits and needs; I also gained courage to make new friends. At the age of twelve I even had the courage to take a trip to Tanzania, Africa, with my mother; we volunteered in the schools everyday for a month and during those days we were separated by miles. I taught my own class of twenty-five kindergarten and preschoolers who spoke mostly Swahili (the common language in Tanzania). I wasn’t afraid at all. I just took things as they came to me and worked my hardest to teach the children in my care. It was an amazing experience living there for a whole month. A lot of people that we met didn’t want me to leave and I seriously considered staying.

It was late spring 2008 when my mom told me I had matured enough to carry my secret name; she also told me we were moving to a different house. We had been living in the same house for four years. When we had lived on Kauai we had moved from house to house a lot, so I was kind of excited for the change. During that last school year at Fairhaven I had been debating whether or not to change schools, and in mid-summer I made my decision. I was going to try something new.

A new house, a new name, a new school.

So at the beginning of the new school year, instead of getting in the car with my mom and driving to Fairhaven, I got on a school bus for the first time in my life and headed off to the local public school, Southern Senior High. My first month at Southern I didn’t say a single word; all I did was listen, observe and memorize. This was such an abrupt change for me. I had attended public school on Kauai for second grade, but elementary school on an island is a whole lot different than a high school on the “main land.” I knew no one, and when I say no one, I mean every single person at Southern High had no idea who I, Salvia Lani, was. All of a sudden after four years of running barefoot though the woods, jumping in the stream and having Munchkin wars, I had a schedule. I had classes, I had homework, and I had to be there on time. It was kind of a culture shock at first but I adapted well to the very different school system and I thought it was a lot of fun.

I confused the teachers more than anything. No previous grades, no classes, no preparation and straight A’s! That is another thing I really love about Fairhaven, you just learn even without realizing it sometimes. Also I am just, “stubborn” as my mom calls me. If I want to do something I will work as hard as I can until I finish it or I will fall short, then I will get right back up and try again until I succeed. I am a very determined and self-motivated person. When I was very little I figured out that I can do anything I put my mind to no matter how difficult it is and no matter who tries to stand in my way.  With my artwork I like to set myself tasks and deadlines in order to exercise my self discipline and keep the gears in my brain well-oiled. That year in the public school system was really enlightening. It made me realize just how lucky I really was, how much freedom I had, and how much trust I was given at Fairhaven School. I learned some valuable things at Southern High School, and I met some people that I won’t ever forget and a lot more things that I can’t forget soon enough, but by summer I was ready to go back to good old Fairhaven.

I really enjoy working; I love the satisfaction of getting the job done even if it is extremely difficult. At the moment I hold two seasonal jobs, one in a catering kitchen and the other at a local café. I also provide child care for a couple different families. I am a very quick learner; you can show me how to do something once and I will be able to do it or you can take me somewhere once and I will be able to get you there again no problem.  This has been very useful for me in my places of work as it allows me to move up to the harder tasks quickly, plus I am a walking GPS.

When I was younger I would always answer that question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” with something different. Now that I have to answer it for real the list has become insanely long. (But everyone has to start somewhere, so here goes.)  I am going to get a full-time job for this summer in order to save up money to pay for my schooling and housing down the road. Then in the fall I will switch to part-time so I can attend community college, either AACC or PGCC.  My reasoning for this is because I would like to have a few credits under my belt before I start a four-year university. Next fall I am also going to take EMT training; I feel that I will learn a lot of very useful information and I really like to help people. That is another possibility for a job. In the field of four-year colleges I am looking at schools that major in art. I am very interested in a career as a fashion designer, an interior designer or a chef. These are all things I take pleasure in doing and I believe they will make lucrative careers.

Attending Fairhaven School has given me amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  It has taught me to speak out for what I want and what I believe in. Fairhaven gave me the opportunity to focus on one subject or endeavor for as long as I was interested, and allowed me to follow my passions. It has helped me establish and govern my ethics of independence, self-discipline and responsibility; my efficiency and negotiation skills, my adaptability, awareness and self satisfaction. The school has helped me learn and grow throughout all my stages of childhood. It has helped me become who I am today, an effective adult ready to move on to new challenges and experiences in the larger community.

Even if I get nervous about taking the next step, I know all I have to do is take a deep breath, hold my nose, jump into the cold water, see where the current takes me, and work with it.

“It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”

–Ursula K. Le. Guin

by Salvia Lani

Fairhaven School Class of 2010

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