Japan, Chapter 6: Kyoto

Day 4: Kyoto, Makiko’s parents, and academic partners

When Nagao-sensei and I were first putting this trip together, I mentioned my affinity for moss and bragged about the moss on Mount Desert Island. “I too like moss,” she replied, “and so we will stop in Kyoto on the way back to Tokyo.”

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Sugidama in the train station: Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria spp.)

That journey began with cancelled ferries from OK due to high winds and crossing on the last jet boat from the island before that service was cancelled as well. We then climbed over a high, snowy pass to the station for the bullet train — shinkansen, or “new train.” My ethnobotanical nose led me right to the sugidama, a ball of cut and shaped Cryptomeria that’s used to publicize the freshness of the last saki batch. A green sugidama denotes fresh and a darkened brown, aged.

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The bullet train, shinkansen

My nose for high speeds (plus Nagao-sensei and the need to get north quickly) brought us to the bullet train, which was unfortunately running at half speed due to the snow. Our arrival in Kyoto was delayed a few hours, but we still had time to visit the Silver and Golden Pagoda. Though both places were aesthetically brilliant, the crowds of tourists left me with that Disney World stomach. I found more favor in the 500-year-old Buddhist temple on OK.

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The Golden Pagoda: As if I were the only one there

If you’re a moss, January is your hardest month and you wouldn’t want people judging you on your looks during that month. But — wow — the moss in Kyoto gives MDI and the coastal forests of Oregon a run for their money. For me, the moss work here in Kyoto is emblematic of all that is great with the traditionalism of Japan I spoke of earlier in this series. I snapped a few photos and sent them off to my colleague Rodney Eason, the director of the Land and Garden Preserve back on MDI, which overseas the care and curation of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Gardens, my high water mark for moss.

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A masterpiece of moss, the Silver Pagoda moss gardens in Kyoto

We spent the late afternoon and evening in the hotel lobby. Nagao-sensei’s colleagues from her old place of employment at the Women’ College were there – a geographer and art historian. Jay Friedlander had met with them previously and they struck me as the perfect collaborators. The Japanese use an expression “s/he has the same smell” to mean that a person is sympathetic to your own way of being – these guys smelled like us.

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Dr. and Mrs. Yoshida

The highlight of the evening came at 8pm, when I had the opportunity to meet Makiko Yoshida’s mother and father. Makiko is a second year student at the College of the Atlantic – a terrific young woman who is also currently COA’s All College Meeting moderator. Her parents were wonderful – smart, thoughtful, kind, sincere. Makiko’s mother actually graduated from the UWC-Atlantic College in Wales. Dad is a faculty member in the social sciences at Osaka-prefecture University. Both, fortuitously, are focused on inspiring educational reform in Japan. The apple does not fall far from tree. The whole family may very well turn out to be important partners in our efforts here.

Japan, Chapter 5: Hiroshima

Day 3, Part 2: Hiroshima

Japan has a complicated relationship with the atomic world that spawned precisely at 8:15 am on August 6, 1945. At that moment an atomic bomb named Little Boy detonated 1900 feet above the city center and incinerated 80,000 lives. I suppose there’s no good name for a bomb, but that one seems about as bad as it can get.

Over the next three months another 70,000 died from exposure to the radiation. Countless others perished in a most gruesome way as the months and years passed. The event is venerated in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

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View from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum – Little Boy exploded across the field and 1900 feet in the air.

Following the tranquility of the zen center, the excitement of the signing ceremony, and the ferry and car ride to the city of Hiroshima, I had a 45 minute window to see the museum before having to head out and meet the governor. Those unfortunately hurried 45 minutes flipped some switch inside – something I’ll expound on in the conclusion to this series.

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A 14-year old girl’s clothing who died from the bombing – this was the exhibit that hit me most personally

I won’t go into too much detail about my experience at the museum. I will say that when I came to exhibit #21, which features the clothes of a 14-year-old girl who perished in the event, the personal nature of the connection between that poor girl and my own 14-year-old daughter Maggie was unbearable. It was hard to hold back the tears from that point on and I’m sure the governor wondered about my swollen, reddish eyes. Or, on second thought, perhaps he’s quite used to it.

The governor was a thoughtful, generous, smart, and highly refined guy who had studied at Stanford Business School not long after COA board chairman Will Thorndike. More serendipity. Governor Yuzaki is championing educational reform and wants to make Hiroshima the HQ for the country’s move in that direction. I proposed that Nagao-sensei, the Governor, and I co-author a short piece about how the Fukushima disaster inspired educational reform and outlining some of the early elements of that reform. Though we only had thirty minutes with him, the governor was wildly enthusiastic about supporting the unfolding relationship between COA, Ashoka Japan, and the municipality of Osakikamijima.

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From left to right: Okamoto-san (OK businessman and partner), Nanako Watanabe (Head of Ashoka Japan), me, Hidehiko Yuzaki (Governor of Hiroshima Prefecture), Nagao-sensei, and Courtney Lawrence (DSIL) – looking at three different photographers.

We then drove back to the ferry, crossed back onto the inland, drove around in the dark, and somehow found our way to an amazing restaurant. I could never find it again if I had to. It was a one-table restaurant, run out of what felt like the living room of the chef’s house. I was spent from the long day. The sake didn’t help. I ate more raw fish than I ever thought possible and ended the meal with shabu-shabu: thin slices of raw meat you submerge in boiling water and then douse with a ginger- and vinegar-spiced soy sauce. I slept very well.

My last thought as I finally closed my eyes: College of the Atlantic’s co-founder Father Jim Gower originally intended for the college to be called the Acadian Peace College.

Japan, Chapter 4: MOU

Day 3, Part 1: Meetings and Idea Formation

My third day in Japan was an 18-hour affair. I’ll split it in two sections for this blog.

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Onsen – an inspiring if impractical place to write.

I woke up with another onsen and was inspired to bring my notebook and try and capture the conversations we had yesterday. We needed more form to our ideas. The exercise was very productive, though the water in liquid and gas forms at the onsen made writing a bit of a challenge. This is what that session produced:

 

 

 

A College of the Atlantic-Ashoka U Changemakers Lab in Osakikamijima, Hiroshima       

Goals:

  1. Seed educational reform in Japan with young minds committed to strong, independent, multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural learning.
  2. Inspire the economic and intellectual revitalization of the Seto Inland Sea of Japan, with tangible economic, intellectual, and cultural benefits accruing to Osakikamijima Island and other communities in the region.

Some of the specific ideas we discussed included:

  • Begin small and excellent
  • Consider incorporating high school students in the mix
  • Pursue a 1:1 ratio of students from Japan and abroad
  • Tap the expertise, name recognition, and human resources from Ashoka, the College of the Atlantic, Designing for Social Innovation and Leadership (DSIL- Center for Executive Education (CEE) at the United Nations University for Peace and Conflict), and Osakikamijima Island.
  • Begin with a ten-day summer pilot program in 2016 with two dozen students
  • Balance the long-standing commitment to tradition in Japan with the openness of globalized education.
  • Initially focus the curriculum on the economic sustainability of Osakikamijima Island, Energy and Food Security and Sustainability, and human ecology.

I read this summary to my colleagues on the way to the zen center. They were happy and felt it reflected a consensus in a way we hadn’t been able to articulate before.

We prayed and practiced zazen in the early morning. The immaculate temple was built in 1545, but neither the antiquity nor the beauty helped my knees and stubby legs find their way to the full lotus position. I sat cross-legged and my mind wandered, but it was a great experience and the monk was a generous, thoughtful, inspiring guy.

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The Buddhist temple on Osakikamijima

We then went to the town office where we were scheduled to sign a Memorandum of Understanding. Such a signing always makes me nervous. I never want to promise more than I can deliver and felt a little odd signing something where there’s been so little discussion with my COA colleagues. But signing something was important to the mayor who generously paid for my entire trip. After some careful wordsmithing and negotiations, we settled on the following language:

“Osakikamijima municipality and College of the Atlantic will explore ways to establish an Ashoka-recognized college on the island of Osakikamijima based on the College of the Atlantic pedagogy.”

We signed away. It felt like we were signing a peace treaty, bombarded by camera flashes from the crowd. I think the MOU was appropriately vague and useful — there was certainly the sense in the air that the municipality was excited to support any efforts that might emerge.

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The OK mayor and I with our signed MOU

My colleagues felt they could garner financial support for the ten-day pilot as laid out in the summary above. To me it seemed like a low-risk experience that could raise the profile of COA, offer an exciting opportunity for COA students, and be a good “first step” toward doing something larger if there was continued interest among our faculty, staff, students, and board. The benefits to the island and to the educational system of Japan as a whole would be further off, but this pilot program could very well set the stage for those larger goals. That the College of the Atlantic began with a similar pilot program focused on the future of Bar Island in Frenchman Bay, Maine was not lost on me.

We bowed and headed for the ferry and Hiroshima City.

Japan, Chapter 3: Getting to know the island and the mayor

Day 2

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Map of Japan, showing approximate location of Osakikamijima.

Osakikamijima (henceforth OK) is an island in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan about a third the size of MDI and home to 8000 year-round residents. Some absurdly high percentage of that population is over 65 and most young people leave for the cities after high school. People make a living primarily from the ship building industry, by growing citrus, and by cultivating blueberry (yes! blueberries — high bush, not low bush — coincidence?). The idea is to bring a new “industry” to the island: education. In the minds of my guests, this island and Hiroshima Prefecture as a whole will be the sharp edge of the wedge for the educational reforms I spoke of yesterday. Education is also meant to be the lifeline for a much-needed renaissance on the island; not too different from the model inspired by Les Brewer, Father Jim Gower, and founding president Ed Kaelber for COA and MDI back in ’69.

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Panorama shot from Mt. Kannomine

Today I learned the lay of the land here and met the other primary drivers for this reform: Nanako Watanabe (head of Ashoka Japan), Okamoto-san (the island’s “Les Brewer,” a businessman on OK), and Courtney Lawrence (former faculty at HJU and education expert/consultant). OK is indeed beautiful and the calm waters of the Seto Inland Sea are certainly an inviting backdrop. Better than inviting — gorgeous. The finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) calls these waters home. We summited the island’s highest point, Mt. Kannomine.  At 453 meters above sea level (1486 feet above sea level, just 50 feet shy of our own Cadillac Mtn.), one can see 105 islands. But, if there’s one word to describe the place, it’s quiet … very quiet. Granted, it’s Sunday and January is a cold, grey month. I suppose it’s not very far removed from a cold, winter day in the streets of Bar Harbor or any other hamlet on MDI. But here there is not the same influx of tourism, summer residents, and the surge of summer we feel back home.

Maybe more than any other country in Asia, tradition has something of a strangle hold on Japan. In many cases that tradition has bred true excellence: in craftsmanship, attention to detail, work ethic, respect, etc. The Fukushima disaster has started to loosen the grip on the more problematic results of traditionalism. In terms of education, it reminds me of what happened to public education in New York City toward the end of the last century. The poverty, crime, and income inequality there was wreaking such havoc with the public schools that the city all but threw up its hands and said, “All right then. We don’t know what to do. If you have an idea or an experiment, have at it.” That sense of newfound openness is what gave rise to the myriad experimental and innovative schools we see today in NYC. Hopefully the same might happen here, just not inspired by poverty, crime and income inequality.

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The meal that made Eddie proud (and envious)

I ended the day feeling as if I’d been bathed in that “fifth taste,” umami. I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of seafood and generally despise things of the olive-pickle-fish-tasting family. We had an enormous, formal dinner filled with fish where the mayor and I were the honored guests. Thankfully, my anthropological instinct and training kicked in. I watched a live abalone be set upon a flame and squirm to its last breath. After dousing the shriveled bi-valve in lime juice, I ate it, chased it with saki, and then texted COA-alumnus Eddie Monet. He was envious. I wish I could relish in the cultural novelty that is Japanese cuisine. Intellectually, perhaps. I ended the day with an onsen (Japanese hot spring bath) before hitting the hay.

Tomorrow is probably the most important day of the trip.

Japan, Chapter 2: A Day of Travel and Understanding

Day 1: Travel from Bar Harbor to Bangor for 5:25am flight, Bangor to LaGuardia Airport, LaGuardia Airport to JFK Airport, JFK to Tokyo, Tokyo to Hiroshima, Hiroshima to Osaki-kamijima Island via ferry

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A long day of travel, but one without incident

As if the title doesn’t explain it, today was a brutal travel day; brutal, but without incident. I met Dr. Hiromi Nagao (hereafter and correctly Nagao-sensei) at the airport in Hiroshima and had a few hours of travel time with her to begin to understand her own goals and the state of education and educational reform in Japan. The key takeaway from these conversations involves the Fukushima Nuclear disaster of 2011 – what the Japanese refer to as “3/11.”

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Reactor control room at Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant in Japan This photo was taken on June 23, 1999 during a tour of the plant. Creative Commons License 2.0, generic.

That catastrophe inspired a lot of things but, curiously, it also inspired sweeping educational reform. The reaction to the event from the various ministries was that, of all the failures, it was the educational system that failed first and foremost. The string of bad decisions and general human error were tied back, in the opinion of the federal government and Nagao-sensei, to an educational system that placed too much emphasis on rote memorization, specialization, and information acquisition over true understanding. The managers of the power plant itself and those involved with the response to the disaster lacked the ability to lead multi-disciplinary groups, lacked the power to innovate and think creatively, and lacked the experience necessary to absorb large quantities of information, data, and ideas and respond to them with an appropriate degree of experimentation and adaptive management. Those large gaps inspired Nagao-sensei’s interest in Ashoka and social entrepreneurship. They also inspired her interest and Hisohima Prefecture’s interest in the College of the Atlantic and that is why I am here today. That makes this trip even more interesting than I originally imagined.

Japan, Chapter 1: Introduction.

I spent six days in Japan exploring a possible relationship between COA and an evolving educational entity in that country.  I will encapsulate that experience in a series of 6-8 blog posts beginning with this introduction.

Introduction

It’s Jay’s fault. Jay Friedlander, COA’s Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business, convinced me to attend the Ashoka U Presidents’ Experience at Brown University in 2014. Ashoka is the organization founded by Bill Drayton in 1980 to foster a change in the way the world understands entrepreneurship. The world would be a better place, Drayton surmised, if the power of creativity and innovation in the business world could be applied in full force to the social (read: human ecological) difficulties we face. Among the throngs of these social entrepreneurs at the conference, we met Hiromi Nagao.

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Dr. Hiromi Nagao

From 2010 until just recently Dr. Nagao was president of one of the most admired women’s colleges in Japan. Like every other women’s college in Japan, Hiroshima Jogakuin University was more of a finishing school for girls, where the finality was for the alumnae to become the wives of the business elite. Dr. Nagao wasn’t satisfied at all with that end-state and managed to champion some significant reforms during her four-year term at HJU. Annoyed by what they considered to be a radical bee in her bonnet, the all-male, all-octogenarian board chose not to renew her contract.

Though close to a retiring age, Dr. Nagao wasn’t going to go down quietly. The 4’11” woman is a whirlwind of intensity, smarts, and vision and is entirely focused on educational reform in Japan. After meeting Jay and me at the Ashoka U meeting, she became enamored with the College of the Atlantic and thought we might have something at COA that could help realize her ambitions.

Six months went by before Jay and I heard back from Dr. Nagao. To be honest, when I received the email from her in the summer of 2015 I had somehow managed to forget her story. The email from Dr. Nagao asked if Jay and I would be interested in visiting her and her colleagues in Japan. I remember internalizing her email as: “we want to start a college in Japan based on the COA model.” I couldn’t afford to leave MDI in August, but Jay was able and excited. (It’s no secret that Jay thinks with his mind, heart, and belly. Japan was his gastrological Mecca.)

Jay made an enormous impact on Dr. Nagao and her colleagues during his short trip and further fueled Dr. Nagao’s interest in COA. In November 2015 I received a second invitation. In Japan, titles are meaningful. “We want the president and we’re willing to pay for your trip so we can discuss mutually beneficial collaborations. I still read, “we want to start a college in Japan based on the COA model.” Armed with a very serious dose of curiosity and a sense of pride fueled by Nagao’s interest in the college, I left for Japan on January 15, 2016.

Proceeding with caution, proceeding with a sense of managing expectations, but proceeding nevertheless felt right.

Income as a proxy for college excellence?

Dear Alumni:

Some of you may have seen an on-line college ranking that uses income after graduation as a proxy for college excellence. Given COA’s emphasis on values and service over the profit motive, it’s probably not much of a surprise to learn we didn’t fare too well on this list. There has been some discussion about this list on social media and I thought you’d like to hear my reactions.

First, it’s heartening to see our alumni question the validity of this ranking and the metrics being used. We aim to educate COA students to critically analyze the source and accuracy of any information – and there certainly exists a world in social media where “top 10” lists, like this one, misuse data out of context to draw dramatic conclusions and get more clicks.

The list in question defines success based solely on income six and ten years after starting college – or between one to six years after graduation, depending on one’s path. These data were originally collected by the US Department of Education and only include students who started as first-time freshmen, received federal financial aid in college, and filed a tax return during the years in question. Not included in the count: anyone in graduate school at the time that the data were gathered; international students; transfer students; students who didn’t receive federal financial aid; anyone who didn’t file a tax return during those years. Business owners declaring a loss in an early-year LLC or other such enterprises are included as income-negative.

In an effort to learn as much as possible from this ranking, we looked at our specific cohort of alumni and determined that, once you account for all of these factors, the sample size in question is somewhere between 15-30 individuals for the ten years post-start group, and an even smaller number for the six year group. That’s an exceedingly small sample size and an inappropriate way to accurately measure outcomes. And, because the data looks at anyone who started at the college in a given year regardless of whether they graduated, our results would also include some students who transferred elsewhere after a term or year, or decided not to graduate from college at all.

For the sake of comparison, and to get a better sense of what COA graduates are doing in the first years after they leave the college, we decided to look more closely at the graduating classes of 2005 and 2006 – students who may have been included in the data released by the DOE. Within this excellent group of alumni, six years after graduation we found a handful of educators, a public-interest lawyer, several artists and musicians, multiple new entrepreneurs, a park service employee, a free-lance journalist, organic farmers – exactly what you might expect our younger alumni to be doing. When I looked through this group and learned about what they were doing in the world shortly after graduation and what they’ve gone on to do since, I was even more excited and prepared to shout our mission and message from the rooftops.

Fold the other graduates into the group and the story becomes all the more interesting. We have a large number of students going on to graduate studies in science, education, business, law, medicine, art, and other fields. Recent COA grads seem to be choosing fields where they can continue learning and building their skills – and jobs where they can provide a service or make a positive impact on the environment or their communities. A recent survey of the graduating class of 2013 tells us that within just one year of graduating, 22% had gone on to graduate school and an additional 65% had started working at a job “in their field.” It’s what we love to see: COA students going out into the world and finding meaningful next steps for work or further study.

The ranking and the ensuing conversation on social media inspired us to have a closer look at a particular cohort of our alumni and gain an understanding about factors they’re facing as they graduate and move into life after COA. Do we want our students to be able to repay debt, earn a living wage, and enjoy the individual and familial security higher education can bring? Of course we do. We’ve recently implemented a more robust and consistent system to better understand how our students move through life after graduation. Part of the rationale for focusing as much as we did on alumni in our most recent strategic planning process (the MAP) was both to capture and use alumni data better and to support alumni more effectively in career placement. We certainly can make improvements to help our graduates find the path toward a job or a career that they’re inspired by and that helps serve the planet and humanity.

But placing undue emphasis on income as a metric of success undervalues the importance of careers in the arts, education, the environment, and – broadly speaking – those jobs we as human ecologists typically pursue. We certainly see human ecologists succeeding in business, medicine, law, and other more high-income careers, but adherence to a simplistic measurement of educational success such as income threatens to undercut the institutions and individuals dedicated to making a difference in the world.

There’s nothing wrong with collecting diachronic data and, to a certain extent, playing the game with such lists can help with our educational mission. I will definitely share any such news and my list-loving mind will likely be pretty excited about it. But do I think all of these lists and rankings tell the story of a COA education? No – and I hope you don’t either.

Be well,

Darron

The 2015 Common Ground Fair

Today was my ninth Common Ground Fair.  I logged four fairs as a student back in the day when it was held at the Windsor Fairgrounds and five at the site in Unity.  All were excellent and today did not disappoint. My seventh- and ninth-grade daughters decided to sit this one out.  Their loss was my gain.  I don’t think they could have stomached watching granite be dissected and split for hours on end anyway. Why can’t I get enough of the CGF? Well, I catalogued today’s fair and that answered the question easily:

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Biking to the CGF is a great option, especially on a day like today. $2 off the admission price, no lines, and they treat you like royalty when you arrive.

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I joined the Maine Stonecutters Guild and learned how to cut and grind granite.

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COA’s Peggy Rockefeller Farms Manager CJ Walke lectured on the ins and outs of using chipped hardwoods as mulch for apples.  I also saw our other pomologist, COA faculty member Todd Little-Seibold.  We know our apples.

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I let the dirt squish through my toes.

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I got to see Arika von Edler, COA alumna ’12: artist of this year’s CGF t-shirt and poster design.  They sold out of t-shirts.  I got the sense that that was rare and that Arika’s artwork was to blame.  I got a signed copy myself and I’m going to frame it and hang it in my office.

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I got to meet Ben and Jerry — yes, that Ben and Jerry.  They were selling ink stamps that read “Not to be used to bribe politicians” as part of their campaign finance reform work.  You’re meant to stamp the backs of US currency.  I cannot condone defacing US currency.  I may have bought one such stamp.

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Food.  Enough said. But I’ll say more: those fries and that ketchup!

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I ran into old friends.  Here’s Ryder Scott, class of 1997. I lead his OOPs trip.  Now he’s running the 4-H camp programs for the entire State of Maine.

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Yurts. More correctly, gers — the proper Mongolian terminology. I love everything about gers and think we need one on campus.  Today a group demonstrated a technique for bending the oak, maple, or birch trusses.

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More old friends: Genio Bertin ’97 and Sara Faull ’98. Genio, like Ryder, was also on that OOPs trip.  Clearly, I had a big impression on these guys.  I’m kidding. Genio and Sara are remarkable people and Mandala Farm is a CGF mainstay.

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I love hogs.

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I love dogs.

And there’s something in the air — something hard to capture in photographs or words — that makes the fair so special. Thank you MOFGA.  Next year I’ll drag my girls kicking and screaming if I have to. It’s just too good to miss.

Convocation 2015: Three Stories of Kindness

On Wednesday, September 9th the College of the Atlantic Community celebrated Convocation — the opening of the academic year.  Alumna Amy Hoffmaster (’06) addressed the community and faculty member John Cooper and COA student Eloise Schultz performed a set of mass standards.  Before heading off to the 25th Bar Island Swim, I offered these words:

I bought a boat. Three weeks ago. I named her Nunu, Egyptian Goddess of the Sea.

Despite the name, it’s a very modest boat – a 12-foot inflatable with a rigid keel and an outboard motor. This boat has turned my world upside down, and I thought convocation would be the perfect place to talk about it.

I’ve always considered myself a terrestrial person. Though I’m at home on rivers and ponds, the ocean seemed spooky and malevolent.

I’ve been on boats at sea, of course; but there’s something about being the captain and pilot of a vessel – whether kayak or freighter. It’s about the responsibility, the decision-making, and the freedom, and the complete change in perspective. The world looks entirely different from the ocean.

The magic I’ve experienced also has to do with the novelty. In piloting Nunu, I’m a child – in the sense that I know so little. There’s so much new to know: winds, tides, a completely new language. It’s fun to be forced to grow up all over again.

But, like a child, I’m vulnerable. Consequences are intimately tied to my decisions and are so much more severe than on the land.

You miss a knot in your shoes, you might stumble. You miss a knot on a mooring and, that’s it for Nunu. Tying that knot, stepping off the dock, adjusting the choke, filling the gas tank, requires ultimate presence. 326 million cubic miles of seawater inspires reverence and presence.

Despite the vulnerability, I’m now more willing to step into the unknown – and this is strange. It has to do, I believe, with the community of boat people – there’s a degree of remarkable kindness within that community. Everyone seems excited to help me, the child, learn to walk on water. Whether it’s Rosa de Jong helping with my bowline knot; Tom Fernald up in Allied Whale lending me gear to be safe; Toby helping me get set up on a mooring; my fisherman friend Dan Clark keeping an eye out for me on channel 7 on the VHF; Adam Hilton over at Hinckley who piece-by-piece tore apart my carburetors on the back of the boat so I’d be able to use it this fall. People want me to succeed. There’s a kindness on the water. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

My suggestions based on this revelation? First, don’t wait until your 45 to be a captain of a boat. Come to know the ocean and come to be a part of the kindness on the ocean. You’re in one of the best places in the world to do that. Obviously, do it thoughtfully, do it safely, do it respectfully … but do it.

***

That’s my first story of kindness. My second involves COA alumna Chloe Chen Kraus. Chloe graduated in 2013. I spoke with her yesterday and she gave me the green light to use her personal narrative.

In her second year Chloe went to Costa Rica as part of a field ecology course with John Anderson and Steve Resell. It was quite an adventure and, much like me in Nunu at sea, she experienced extreme vulnerability.

On the day students were set to begin their independent research, Chloe approached Steve and said, flat-out, “I can’t do it. I can’t go out there alone.” Hers was not an irrational fear, any more than my own fears of the ocean. The fer-de-lance is a snake as deadly as the cold depths of the sea.

“Will you come with me,” she asked Steve, sheepishly.

“No, I will not,” was his response. “Chloe, this is something you’ve got to do on your own. I know you’re ready for it. You’re prepared.”

It was the kindest, gentlest, most appropriate encouragement possible. That kindness and Steve’s expertise and knowledge were the safety net that made it the wisest decision in the world for Chloe to go off on her own.

That walk in the woods was transformational in the truest sense of the word for Chloe. It began a cascade of growth for her, unlike anything else she had experienced during her four years here at COA.

Two weeks ago, Chloe came back from her second field season of three months of independent research in Madagascar where she’s studying lemurs as part of her PhD program in anthropology at Yale.

That kind of transformation is something everyone should experience. It requires the kindness and support of a mentor and advisor. It requires risk taking and comfort with vulnerability. And, more often than not, it requires something we might call an “expedition” – something that takes us beyond: beyond our comforts, beyond our campus.

To facilitate these kinds of expeditions, we’ve created the student expeditionary fund. It will provide all students with $1800 toward such expeditionary work.

In week two – remember this is week zero – we’ll circulate a how-to guide explaining the details, but the basic outline looks like this:

  • The funds are for off-campus courses, internships, senior projects, or residencies of an expeditionary nature.
  • Use of these funds requires the negotiation with an approval of your advisor – that is crucial. You have to be in good academic standing and have all your bills with the college squared up.
  • First year students have to have been here at least three academic terms and transfer students have to have been here at least one academic term before they are eligible to use these funds.
  • For those students that have research and travel awards in their financial aid package, this money will not be in addition to those monies.

There are more specifics about frequencies of withdrawal, amounts, conferences, etc. and, like I said, a ‘how-to’ guide will explain everything precisely.

But for today think about Chloe; think about your version of her expedition. First year students, begin the process of developing a relationship with an advisor. And for everyone, think about that kindness again – that non-romantic, non-hokey, deeply empathetic kindness – that radical kindness – that helped Chloe venture into the woods.

***

My last story of kindness requires Sean Foley to stand up.  Sean is a new faculty member at the college and will be teaching drawing and painting. He’s teaching Drawing 1 this term.

Sean, we’re super excited to have you on board. About one-quarter into your job talk it was so obvious that you were spot on for this position. I’m so much looking forward to working with you.

Tim Liardet, would you stand up? Tim’s a poet and is on the faculty at Bath Spa University in the UK and is an author of 10 poetry collections. He did a poetry workshop for us last year and it was so good, we wanted to do everything in our power to get him here for a full term. So we did. He’ll be teaching Poetry as Synthesis this term.

And then there’s Abigail. Abigail Curless, can you stand up. Abigail is the next executive assistant in the president’s office. That’s my office. I’m very excited to have Abigail.

Finally, will all the new students stand up – transfer and first years? A welcome to you! All 105 of you; from all over the country and all over the world. You are an amazing bunch – welcome.

Yes, we have one of the most beautiful campuses on one of the most beautiful islands in the world; yes, we have one of the most innovative ways of teaching and learning. But the root of our success and excellence is about the people. This enormous wave of new people, new thinking, new enthusiasm, is something we celebrate on a day like today.

Heather Albert-Knopp – will you stand up? Wait a minute, you say, she’s not new. But, ah, yes she is – she’s new through experience, having just led the college through a new web redesign that went live today!! I wanted all of us to thank Heather for her leadership.

Today we also recognize that, at COA especially, we are all new. We’re all new through experience. Human ecology is about the expeditions, the encounters, the experiences that transform us. Me on Nunu. Chloe out in the tropical forests. But, also, Heath Cabot returning from her Fulbright in Greece; Ken Cline coming home from France; Dru Colbert, back from her ocean voyage.

Human ecology is about these expeditions, these encounters with the other, these experiences. It’s about becoming comfortable with complexity, with a lack of definitive answers. At COA we live in a sea of newness and vulnerability. And living in such a sea requires that kindness I’ve talked about today. Again, not the hokey “politeness,” but that deep, empathetic kindness that provides a definite and strong safety net for the risk taking we ask for.

It’s a kindness that’s about wanting everyone to succeed – about wanting to help everyone succeed – every student, every faculty member, every staff member. Thank you for listening and welcome to the new academic year.

Posy Stone’s “Curious Worlds: The Art and Imagination of David Beck”

My notebooks are filled with introductions: especially during the summer months, when I welcome and introduce dozens of speakers to COA.  I spend a lot of time on such pieces.  The goal? Rather than recreate someone’s CV in oral form, I strive to say something useful about the accomplishments and interests of the guest in question and creatively link those back to the mission of the college.  I’m not always successful in doing that, but I felt particularly good about my introduction of filmmaker Olympia “Posy” Stone and her new film on the sculptor David Beck. 

Filmmaker Posy Stone and Sculptor David Back at COA, August 10, 2015

Filmmaker Posy Stone and Sculptor David Back at COA, August 10, 2015

When this college was founded we were fixated on saving the world. Today we understand that the world will outlast our existence and, over the long haul, be just fine. The question has evolved: how can we be part of a better world – one that’s more just, healthy, more thoughtful, and more beautiful?

Science is key for understanding the tradeoffs we face. Business, long considered the source of the problem, we now understand as part of the solution. Policy or government: clearly also part of the equation.   But, in my eyes, finding our place in the world begins and ends with art; it begins and ends with tapping the curiosity, motivations, priorities, and the patient observation of the artist and the lover of art.

Posy let me take a sneak peek of tonight’s film and that viewing changed the way I think about the world. Most importantly, it underscored that, in art, everything can be interesting. Everything can be interesting provided we develop the mental and the manual competence necessary to understand the world around us. David Beck and Posy Stone both exemplify people who have cultivated the sense that everything is interesting.

If we all cultivated this sense, our motivations for living and our relationship with humanity and with the planet would be realigned and would be better. It took the artist, in this case David Beck, to underscore that for me. But it also took a storyteller, and Posy Stone is one of the best storytellers I know.

Posy is a storyteller and a filmmaker. I also think of her as an archaeologist.

Imagine the world of living artists and their artistry – thousands of living artists and mountains of interesting work. Posy could have chosen anyone, but she did what archeologists call a site survey and chose to excavate on David Beck.

But once in the right trench, she faced the task of troweling through David’s life and work and likely ended up with 80 hours of raw material. She then sieved, brushed, reexamined, and analyzed the raw material to put together an amazing story.

She performed that archaeology of ideas on the sculptor Elizabeth King; and on her father, Alan Stone, in the film The Collector. Two years ago, Posy came here and screened The Cardboard Benini – a film on Jimmy Grashow.

During that showing it clicked for me that, with films about art, you’re examining the process of a storyteller —  the filmmaker — superimposed upon the process of another storyteller — the artist. If those gears aren’t synched up perfectly, the film is either terrible or it simply documents. In Posy’s films the synchronized storytelling comes together so beautifully that you get so much more than a documented story about an artist or a piece of work or a collector. You get completely new information, new insight, new ideas that neither the artist nor the filmmaker could ever have produced independently. The product is compounded.

I’m so honored to have Posy and David here and am so excited to see what new information and new ideas and new stories you see through this tremendous film. Please welcome Posy Stone who will introduce Curious Worlds: The Art and Imagination of David Beck.