Because of the depth, color and wide ranging accomplishments of our graduates, I often imagine The New School over time as a tapestry, that colorful woven cloth so often descriptive of important people and events.
Tapestries are made on a loom. The rectangular loom has a warp, tightly pulled, strong yet thin threads running parallel with the sides of the loom. It is designed to support and help define the energy in the tapestry it holds and nurtures. Ours is a big, big tapestry, 25 years along and growing.
This means that it has to be built of strong conceptual stuff. And it is. Included in its structure is the work of Ted Sizer and Howard Gardner, in addition to Paulo Freire and others upon whose work we have built. The loom provides the conceptual and philosophical underpinning of the tapestry.The loom would be useless were it not for the many strands of the warp running vertically with the frame. Everything is woven around the strands of the warp. Those strands are our teachers. Always there, always willing to support the weft the students weave around them…while understanding the educational brilliance of those minds making up the frame of the loom.The weft is comprised of the various strands intertwining the warp to create the picture, the work of art that is the tapestry. The weft can include green, gold, yellow, red—any color, in almost any weavable material.Every student, every teacher, every parent who has been part of this wonderful effort is, in one way or another, woven into the tapestry that makes up The New School. Yes, every graduating student, every parent, every grandparent, every brother, every sister somehow has helped shape our graduates. Everyone who helps make up the school has their particular energy and support woven in.
Some background on how The New School was started:
In 1989, inspired by some of the great educational minds—Sizer and Gardner in particular—I found a small abandoned day care center in Vienna, Virginia and took out a $5000 loan to start a school—my second. I needed help and students. Slowly the crucial support began to arrive.
Two teachers, both with advanced degrees, volunteered to work for a year for no pay.
Several parents from our 10 enrolled families took brooms, mops, paint and brushes and gave the building a completely new look before we started in September. Yes, we were poor, but I had a strong feeling that this very humble effort would transform into something that might prove to be as unstoppable as it was beautiful to contemplate.
Those two teachers and that small cadre of parents breathed life into our fledgling school. The teachers devoted themselves to the students, believing that ideas like ownership, equality, a sense of oneness, critical thinking and the complexity of intelligence would stick, mature and thrive. A quarter of a century later, the tapestry is rich. We left the small, run down day care building in Vienna after three years and slowly built what you see around you.
Two weeks ago we held a 25-year reunion here at school and I learned more about this tapestry than I ever imagined. Members of our school family in their twenties, thirties, and forties reconnected as though no time had elapsed.
Here are some of the brilliantly colored threads woven in over the last 25 years:
Purple and gold weft threads from Billy and Joanna, New School graduates, each of whom has worked here just shy of a decade, rooting us wonderfully in our own history.
And a blue weft thread from Charlie, working toward a doctorate in clinical psychology. I suspect KC, a primate specialist at the national zoo, would provide a weft thread made of orangutan hair.
And then there is Kara, recording oral histories of South American migrant communities now in this country. Felipe, who works with the European Union, and Sarah, a consultant on Middle Eastern affairs. Becky, an art therapist, goes to South Africa twice a year to help people in impoverished local townships. The threads they add are rich, multi-textured and exotic in color.
Alan, a robotics specialist for the Navy, takes time out to help high school kids master the basics of robotics. Carlos is a builder, renovating houses and apartment buildings in Washington, D.C. Their threads are thick, sturdy earth tones.
Jamie is the Senior Effects Artist at Microsoft Games. Working in the Unreal Engine he has created waterfalls, fireballs, and a bazillion additional effects.
I could go on and on. The students who have graced us with their presence continue to add more and more brilliantly colored wefts.
So, to you, the class of 2015, you have already added color and richness to this cloth of the mind. The Laramie Project, this year’s major theatrical production, is an example of that richness, as are the math competitions, debates, musical events, science fests, and myriad community events. As are your unique personalities. Your writing. Your art. Your self discipline. Your wisdom.
We celebrate you today, but keep in mind that you will continue adding to this widely admired tapestry even after you have moved on. You are an indelible part of our design, which simply keeps growing more beautiful.
I look forward in one year or five years or ten years to seeing the amazing things you have added to our New School tapestry as you weave in your new weft threads around the warp supported by the frame built on the foundation of great educational minds.