Speaking of stories, my year at The John Thomas Dye School reminds me of my favorite book, The Island of Dr. Libris, by Chris Grabenstein. I first read this book in first grade, while I was stuck at home with the flu, but I still find myself referencing it often, comparing its themes to the books I am reading now and imagining what adventures I would have if I were the main character. The Island of Dr. Libris is about a boy named Billy who expects to have a boring summer while traveling far from home and visiting a secluded, lake-side cabin. As Billy reads the books in Dr. Libris’ library, the literary characters come alive on a secret island in the middle of a lake that only he can see and travel to. Like Billy, I began this school year in completely new surroundings—a new coast, a new house, a new school. And like Billy when he first stepped into the enchanted library, I began my story at JTD greeted with new and wonderful sights, sounds, and traditions passed down from Cathryn and John Dye. It was exciting and overwhelming, but I could tell that all of the adults in my life wanted me to feel comfortable and that I belonged. My mom and dad listened to all of my stories about my days and gave me pep talks on the drive to school. My new teachers and principal checked in with me often to make sure that I was comfortable with my new schedule and learning the rules. My classmates helped me to find my locker and explained the significance of JTD’s different traditions. Lucky for me, my favorite tradition happened every single day: the Salutation of the Dawn. Because I came from a Friends school on the East Coast, I have learned to value moments of silence and reflection, often in small groups. But JTD’s beautiful and awe-inspiring tradition of taking the time every morning, as an entire school community, to reflect on such wise words allowed me to start each day with a sense of calm, connection, and confidence.
In The Island of Dr. Libris, during a particularly frustrating time away from all that he knows, Billy’s mom says, “Just relax, sweetheart. Lighten up. Go with the flow.” I think this is the hope that JTD has for its students as they go through their days. Life is filled with so many things that we have no control over. At JTD, I learned that not only does it take kindness, hard work, and self-control to manage the day-to-day—like homework, relationships and sports—but that those same basic concepts will help us to manage the bigger challenges in our lives. Coincidentally, right now everyone around the world is battling the medical, financial and social challenges of a global pandemic. And what are the things that are helping us as citizens of the world to get through, but kindness, hard work, and self-control? Kindness: nation to nation, person to person, to share food and scientific information to battle COVID-19. Hard work: as doctors, businesses, politicians, parents, and teachers try to figure out how we can come together again and share spaces in our neighborhoods. And self-control: this is a time when we have to check in with ourselves and make sure that we are not just healthy on the outside, but on the inside, so that we can be our best selves and manage the stress and pressure that comes with this situation. And so, as Billy’s mom advised, we should “relax” and appreciate the blessing of being ALIVE to “Look to this Day.” We should “lighten up” and shed the burden of all of the things distracting us from what is most important in our lives, and we should see the wisdom in sometimes “going with the flow.” Instead of growing tired fighting the river’s current, let’s use its strength to power the causes that we know can benefit humankind.
Back to my journey here at JTD. After the first few weeks of school, as I woke each day and put on my JTD uniform, I could feel myself transitioning from a new student to a full-on JTD kid. I had grown more comfortable with my surroundings, classes, and JTD’s philosophies, and now it gave me time to concentrate on other things. I began to focus less on the academic and social experience that JTD could offer me and more on how I could contribute to JTD. How could my being a JTD student benefit the JTD community? Having attended four different schools in four years, I knew that there were so many different dynamics. There would be people who like me and people who don’t. People who find my height an advantage in sports and people who would find it intimidating. People who would find my jokes funny and people who would find me annoying. People who would assume that I was smart because I got in and people who thought I got in because I am “different.”
In The Island of Dr. Libris, Billy also has to figure out where he fits into the mystery of the island. Who are his real friends? Who should he take advice from? What power does he possess? And do his actions influence the other characters? Just like me, Billy was wondering how he fits into the story. Despite the apparent limitations of his situation, his mother gives him the best advice! “Some people refuse to accept the limits given to them by others.” By writing myself into the story of JTD and its traditions, I began to appreciate my own value and the power that I possess. I began to connect more and more with my science teachers as we shared an overwhelming enthusiasm about the universe and thinking about questions that we don’t even have the answers to yet.
In Global Greyhounds, I learned the importance of being able to discuss sensitive topics in a safe space, to learn as much as I can about many different people’s experiences and perspectives before I form an opinion, and how to share my experiences with others.
In P.E., I learned that even though I have spent years doing water sports, there are many sports that I am not (and never will be) very good in, but what is most important on a team is to play fair, do your best, and support your teammates.
In F.A.T.E., I found comfort in having a different type of teacher who cares only about what I am feeling on the inside, reminds me that all of my feelings are normal, and that it is okay to not have all of life figured out yet.
In Debate, my JTD coaches supported me, as I learned that not all winning arguments are good arguments and that how you win is more important than winning itself. I learned that I possess a power and how I use it influences those around me.
And in school, I met a student who probably doesn’t even realize how much she meant to me. She is only 12, just like me, and she showed me that I don’t have to be embarrassed to be me and that I don’t have to hide or pretend I don’t exist or that I am not different in order to make other people feel comfortable. She taught me that sometimes it can just take one kid to see something that needs to change and to step out and do something, and that even if no one else follows behind you, it still matters that you did what you knew was right.
And now here I am. It has been only 9 months since I started at JTD and now I am preparing to leave. My chapter at JTD is coming to a close and I must reflect on the moral of my story. What will I take with me? What should be left behind? What will I remember and what is best forgotten? And perhaps most importantly, what will people remember about me? As Billy’s adventure on the island is coming to a close, he suddenly becomes nervous in the next step of his journey. What type of character has he developed into? Where will he decide to go? What does he consider the greatest reward in his journey? These are questions that I must answer and commit to not just as I graduate from JTD, but every day for the rest of my life. Will I decide to be the villain or a hero? Will I stay close to the familiar and what is comfortable, or will I explore new places and lean into discomfort? What is the great reward that I will work toward each day? Money? Happiness? Power? Integrity? Love? To help answer these questions, Billy gets the best advice from the two characters he is closest to, and I believe that this advice reflects the seeds that John Thomas Dye has planted within me to nurture as I grow older: “Each of us can choose who or what we shall be. We write our own stories… We write them each and every day… And if you write it boldly enough others will write about you, too.”
Thank you, JTD, for being such a wonderful chapter in my story.