East Bay Waldorf School, Class of 2008
By Seth Miller
Dear Class of 2008:
I would like to ask you a question: Why are you here?
Despite pretending to be a part time philosopher, I mean this question quite practically. Why do your parents pay thousands of dollars every year so that you can be at a place like this? Your parents may already be somewhat familiar with this question.
Of course I cannot answer this question for you, nor your parents—and there are many possible answers. But I can give you something of the perspective of a teacher, or at the very least, my own perspective.
You have, in your year or years at the East Bay Waldorf School, been exposed to a wide variety of subjects and activities, from normal topics like history, geography, literature, science, and so forth, to more … unique aspects that are not commonly found in say, the public school system, such as projective geometry, Parzival, advent spirals, Michaelmas, and introductions to a wide variety of arts like drama, painting, sculpting, music, and so forth. And of course we can’t forget your favorite Waldorf activity: eurythmy.
Perhaps, in your time here, a few of the facts and details concerning these areas of experience have made their way into your brains in a more or less permanent fashion. And it is true that we teachers would not be displeased if this turned out to be the case.
And yet… despite the obvious importance of the individual details of each subject that you have encountered here, I would in all honesty count this the least important aspect of your education. Let me be clear—your are not here simply to learn specific facts. I say this for one simple reason, and it is this: What you know gets in the way of your knowing. You may have asked yourself, on more than one occasion, “Why are we learning this??” or “When am I ever going to use this knowledge in my life?” And sometimes the most correct answer to that question is: Never.
Does this mean you have been wasting your time here, and your parents have been wasting their money and effort? After all, they could have sent you to a public school where you could have forgotten what you may have learned for free! I think it should be obvious that I feel the answer to this question is no. This is because at the Waldorf school we are not in the business of filling your head with facts—if you just want facts, stay home and do Google searches.
Rather, we are more like artists of experience, and we attempt to paint a rich landscape for you to wander through and discover, created both from the pallet of the facts of the various disciplines and from the unique way in which we guide you through its various paths. We have attempted to introduce you to all the major realms of human experience, and from as many perspectives as we can, and in a way that involves not just your ability to think, but also your ability to feel and to do. We recognize that you are each uynique, and that you are each whole human beings who are in a process of continual development and transformation.
Everything that we have tried to give you as a part of this education has been in service to this development—it is the reason for the existence of this school in the first place, and also the last place.
What sets us apart from other schools is that our aim is not narrow, but is both wide and far, because what we aim for is not simply the communication of knowledge, but the building of capacities. In this sense, you have been given a truly unique education: you have the capacity to relate effectively to your fellow human beings, the capacity to listen deeply and openly, the capacity to think deep and complex thoughts, the capacity to appreciate the human need for beauty, and the capacity to create such beauty.
You have the capacity to love, to be generous and compassionate, and to be silent. You have the capacity to appreciate the wondrous depth of the natural world, and our responsibility to the Earth. You have the capacity for sustained work, and for gratitude. You also have the very important capacity to learn.
Yet these are capacities—they are not yet actively filled with your experiences and activities. They are, in a very real sense, things that lie deep inside you as potentials. And here is the crux of the matter: will you activate these capacities, or will you remain satisfied with what you already have, with the knowledge you already know?
In particular, I mean this in the following way: will you be content with your knowledge of who you are already, or will you open yourself to discovering that you are infinitely more than could ever be contained in a thought, or even an infinite series of thoughts?
This graduation ceremony is a recognition of the fact that the facts are no longer the most important thing, and that increasingly from here on out, the depth of engagement with your own life—and through it with the lives of others—will be what determines whether or not you discover your deepest and truest potentials, and activate them as gifts for yourself and for the world.
In this endeavor you will be continually helped by what has flowed into you through your education here, in particular by one of the most important capacities of all: the capacity to build your own new capacities. This is what Keats referred to as negative capability, and will provide you with the ability to go beyond the limits of the known, the fixed, the already thought and experienced, into… well, that’s up to you to create and discover!
Suffice it to say, no one will, or can, do this for you, nor will much of the world support you when you do so, perhaps because so many are scared of their own potential. And for you too, fear will be your greatest obstacle. Many opportunities will come to you that you do not pursue, and the world will present you with a thousand reasons why you should remain seated, with your limbs firmly inside the vehicle, and most importantly, with your mouth closed.
But do not let this be a source of worry, cynicism, anger, or guilt. Know that failure is both unavoidable and necessary. We are indeed meant to fail, so that we are not so occupied with our own successes as to make the mistake of thinking that we do not need to continue being active in our own self-evolution. In this, Lao-Tzu was correct: success can be as dangerous as failure. You have the resources to persevere, and what’s more, to do so in a creative and open way that can inspire others.
This is precisely what the world needs, and you—make no mistake—are in a unique position to provide the development of your own negative capability to the world, whether it be through art, economics, psychology, international relations, dance, environmental studies, or adventure, to name just a few of your professed interests.
So in a sense, class of 2008, I would like to address you as the class of 2038, or perhaps 2058, because the foundations laid in your education here are meant to provide for your learning and growing for your entire lives.
So if you find yourself asking the question: “Why did I have to learn eurythmy?” – GOOD. Keep asking these questions—because it means you are interested in the development of your own capacities, in your own learning and advancement.
It is my sincere hope and wish for you all, class of 2058, that you never cease in following your curiosity and wonder, that you learn as much as you possibly can about yourself and the world, that you find the courage in your heart to engage deeply with all the wondrous capacities that you have already begun to develop, so that you may be a unique source of healing and help in a world that so desperately needs it, that you yourself find help through your friends, your family, your community, and beyond, and lastly that you never forget: what you know limits your knowing.
Thank you, and congratulations!