~On June 6 Conserve School semester 6 came to a close with a ceremony celebrating the accomplishments of the wonderful students of CS6. Three students, selected by their peers, shared a few thoughts with the gathering of students, staff, family and friends. Here are those thoughts.~
Josh Smith (Austin, Texas)
Good afternoon, I am the Lorax and I speak for the trees. Wait… that’s not it. Let’s try that again. Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon, my name is Joshua Smith and I speak on behalf of sixty three students who have been blessed with an incredible opportunity. The opportunity to come together at a boarding school in Northern Wisconsin and experience the magic of the natural world, the opportunity to become friends with people from around the nation, and the opportunity to grow with those friends and become a family. I invite you to close your eyes and let me tell you a story. This story is about a country boy from the middle of the Lone Star State. Now this boy was not a normal boy, he held within him a deep love for the natural world. A love so strong that he applied for the a fore mentioned school in Northern Wisconsin. He arrived on campus having never seen snow before and was greeted with a seven foot wall of it outside of his window. The first thing he noticed was that all of the thermometers up here were broken. They all had a little dash before the number. He then discovered that all of the people up here are magical because they had somehow figured out a way to walk on the lakes. He learned that people speak different up here, that snowshoes are evil creations, and that skiing is significantly harder than it looks. He has made lifetime friends, broken a few bones, and made everlasting memories with the incredible people he has spent the last four months with. He will remember this place and cherish his time here for the rest of his life. He arrived on campus as a simple country boy; he now leaves as a redefined man. This place changed him, and he is all the better for it. But enough about that boy from Texas, he wasn’t the only person touched by this place. Each and every one of the students sitting in front of, beside, or behind you has been touched as well. I’ve watched as people who began as shy and timid souls morph into outgoing and inspiring people who improve the day of anybody they come in contact with. I’ve watched as people have slowly come around to tolerating the country music that plays whenever the three cowboys get together. We hope to convert them all before we leave. I’ve watched as Drew’s pool shots have gotten increasingly luckier, and as Jason’s Soccer skills have increased drastically. I’ve seen a genuine love of the natural world develop in the hearts of the Semester Six students. I could keep talking but I think I’ve made the point I was trying to. This place has changed us. Who knew that four months in the frozen Northwoods could so deeply affect a person? Or group of people? I don’t know the answer to that question but I’m sure somebody does. This place is amazing, and I believe that every student out there in those seats will agree with me. However, this place wouldn’t be what it is without the people. Without Robert, we wouldn’t all be likin’ the lichen now would we? And how many of y’all out there are thankful for Nancy’s numerous offers to help out with the phenology maps? The people of Conserve are what make this place special, without them it would be a beautiful patch of land. With them, it’s become a home. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m in the same boat as those little green aliens from Toy Story. This place has changed my life, and I am Eternally Grateful.
Mak Kaldhusdal (Oconomowoc, Wisconsin)
Good afternoon. I’m Madison- but everyone calls me Mak. I come from Southern Wisconsin, and from the City of Oconomowoc, and I’ve been given the honor of sharing a few of my thoughts with you, now that Semester Six’s journey here is reaching its close.
Four months ago, my fellow students and I followed a candlelit path down a snow-frosted road to participate in a ceremony where, with the campfire roaring and breath misting in front of our faces, we shared, one by one, our goals, our hopes, and our dreams for the semester. Everyone’s goal was different, unique. Some students wanted to learn how to best protect the beauty of the Northwoods- the environment that we had just begun to be a part of. Others shared simpler, but just as important, objectives- learning how to ski, to snowshoe, to balance every part of a teenager’s life independently.
My goal was split into two parts. To become someone I could be proud of, and to be myself. But now that I look back on it, I think that what I really wanted was to find myself.
I wanted to learn to protect the Northwoods. I wanted to learn to ski, to snowshoe, to find that equilibrium between social time and schoolwork. But while I was doing all that, I wanted to answer a question that, I’m sure, has found its way into everyone’s head at least once in their lifetime: who am I?
As it turns out, there wasn’t a more perfect place I could’ve gone to find that answer.
Community is a big part of our lives at Conserve. We all eat together. We learn together. If we come across a challenge we think can be solved, we’re able to talk it out in a Community Meeting or a House Meeting- even if we complain about how long those can get.
Anyway- we’ve got a Community- and we’ve got this connection that comes with it. We call the teachers and administration by their first names. We’re all comfortable with one another, even if it’s on different levels with different people. We laugh- a lot.
There’s a reason that this school is different than others. I thought about it for a long time, and I think it goes a little deeper than community. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a better word for it than that. We’re a community- but we’re also a family.
We prank each other: chucking axe-bombs and cramming furniture into our friends’ rooms- and if we’re pranked, we make sure we get our revenge. We push the limits of our curfew as far as we can. We bicker over clothes borrowed for far too long, complain about the messy- and sometimes smelly- Loon Wing, and grumble about how our roommate is watching Pitch Perfect or Donnie Darko or Scott Pilgrim at two in the morning with the volume turned all the way up.
We fight. Then we make up. We’re a family if I ever saw one.
The question I came here with? And my goal, to find the answer? It was found here, on this campus, with this family, through tears, laughter, silliness, and honesty. I know who I am- and I’m pretty sure I owe it to every single person on campus who’s made my time here possible and more worthwhile than I ever could have imagined, but there’s two people in particular that I want to acknowledge. Michael, history and weather buff extraordinaire, and Andy, who is The Master Commander of Environmental Science and who abstains, as much as humanly possible, from chick-flick moments.
There were a few days here that got a little rough. I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t focus. I lost all motivation- all I wanted to do was lock my door and curl up under my bed and sleep. I was, to put it plainly, somewhat of a train wreck, and they were the two who, whether it was consciously done or not, were able to put me back on track.
Michael, you were my teacher, but you were also my advisor, and my mentor, and, well- my Conserve Dad- or my dad-away-from-dad, if that makes any sense. You could always tell when something was up, and you encouraged me to talk about it. You let me open up and pour out my fears, worries, doubts. When I needed someone, you were there.
And Andy- even though you’re not here and even though you hate chick-flick moments, I’m gonna say it anyway: you were there for me, too. You were hilarious, first off- you made me laugh even on the worst of days with your sharp humor and ever-present enthusiasm for whatever it was you were teaching. And apart from that, you did one of the best things that anyone could have done: you understood. For that, I can’t thank you enough.
Family doesn’t end with blood- not in my book, anyway. I’ve never felt more accepted- or more loved- than I have here. From teachers to students, I’ve been supported and given a guiding hand. And CS6, I want you all to know that when I think of all of us, together, I don’t think of sixty-three students, or sixty-three friends. Because I’ve got sixty-two more siblings than I had when I arrived here on the very first day.
I guess, at the end of it all, what I really want to say is thank you. For letting me find myself. For letting me be myself. And for letting me be proud of it.
Sequoia Ponzio-Young (Burlington, Vermont)
Hi, I’m Sequoia Ponzio-Young, although here, people call me Squid. I’m from Burlington, VT. And, I’ve noticed that after living with the same 100 people for four months, we’ve shared a lot. There’s the obvious similarity in our interest in the outdoors. But, there’s our mutual agreement that graham crackers and Nutella is the best snack this side of the Mississippi and that kazoos are not real musical instruments, nor will they be permitted in Bobcat wing ever again. We’ve shared hairstyles. I think the current count of people converted to dreads is 4.5… We’ve shared frustration as Northwoods weather swings between 80’s and sunny to snowing in mid-May. We’ve also shared items. If you need to get anywhere on campus, just use Drew’s bike. And, I’m pretty sure every girl in Elaine has borrowed at least one cute skirt or tie-dye pair of pants from Cassidy. We’ve shared laughs, we’ve shared hardships, we’ve shared things with each other that we wouldn’t have with our friends back home. I think we can all agree that we are all closer to most people here than any of our peers from our sending schools, no matter where that may be.
There’s something about boarding school– living with everyone, seeing everyone all the time– that introduces you to a whole other side of your peers. Sure, that doesn’t set Conserve apart from other boarding schools, but solos, exploration week, tree planting whenever the forces in charge find it possible, that does. Andy’s extremely snarky, yet informing, lessons on planting bee and butterfly habitat aren’t like any normal science class. They’re applicable, they’re useful. Conserve prepares us every day to be leaders, to be changers, to be innovators. We shared the opportunity to leave our homes and come live here, in beautiful Lowenwood. We now share a responsibility to put those four months of preparation to use, and to go out and make a difference.
It occurred to me that people keep telling us that Conserve is our gateway to greatness, but unless you possess some special knowledge that I don’t, you have no idea how to actually put in place this superior plan to change the world. Now, I’m not going to pretend that I have any idea how Conserve will turn us all into greats like Ghandi or Wangari Maathai, but I’d like to believe that I’ve gained at least a little understanding from this semester. Andy has educated us on the problems in the environment currently threatening to doom us to an awful end. Jeff has taught us many ways of using our “wilderness voice” to bring attention to these problems. Through these classes and more, we’ve become budding activists. This is our contribution.
But, it’s only thanks to Mr. Lowenstine, the faculty here, and our families that we were able to come to Conserve, to be introduced to the world around us, and how to go about righting the things that need it. So, to James R. Lowenstine, your gift of a great school, plus scholarships, are much appreciated. Thank you so much. To Jeff, four months of showing us strong wilderness voices and teaching us to use our own has paid off. I’ve already seen plans being formulated to go home and speak up. To Arjen, math class was hilarious, fun, and educational. But more importantly, were the weekend trips you planned with the students. Over and over, I heard nothing but positive things from them when they returned. You’ve done a great job getting comfortable with the student body, and Conserve is going to be one great teacher, leader, and friend short next semester. To Kathleen, I don’t know how you do it, but somehow you seem to be able to do everything. Spanish class is not only vocab, we’ve looked into culture, examined environmental practices, and eaten great food. Plus, your work as Academic Dean just puts you at a productivity level of magical. To the rest of the admins too, Conserve relies on you the most, so thank you for not letting the whole school fall apart. And, to our lovely grad fellows, where would we be without you? You’re our friends, our mentors, our wake-up call when we sleep through breakfast. I know that this is also the end of your time at Conserve, and that that means something different to each of you. But, know that your grunt work for the school shows, and that on behalf of the entire student body, I wish you luck in the next segment of your life and thank you for guiding us through this one of ours.
The next part of our lives that we face is returning home. While we’re there, families may notice that their student has changed. I’m sure they’ll be glad to be back. But, they’ll be experiencing culture shock while trying to adjust back to their home life and if you walk into their room one evening to find them crying and mumbling about a brown girl in the ring and a choice between front hand and back hand, don’t be alarmed. I know I’ll be there, as will most of the students here. I may try to run away, and hitchhike the 800 miles back to campus, but don’t worry, I probably won’t succeed. It’s going to be tough, but we can call each other, and have bi-daily Skype meetings with each other. There will be reunions. We will meet up with each other. So, this isn’t just goodbye. This is “until I see you again.” So, CS6, have a great time making a difference. And, I’ll see you soon.
~Conserve School is a semester school for high school sophomores and juniors who share an interest in environmental stewardship and outdoor activities. Students come to Conserve School from across the U.S. and around the world. Thanks to the generosity of Conserve School’s founder Jim Lowenstine the majority of student costs are covered by scholarships.~