Those of you who were lucky enough to be in the Community Hall for Grandparents Day on the morning of May 12th were treated to a wonderful talk by the talented Class of 2012 alum, Liza Simmons. Liza has since graciously shared the transcript of her talk with us and we are including it below.
Grandparents Day Address by Liza Simmons (Class of 2012), 05/12/17
Good morning everyone, my name is Liza Simmons and it is wonderful to be back here again. I attended Maine Coast Waldorf School from kindergarten through 12th grade. I happened to be in the third class to graduate from the high school. We were essentially the guinea pigs. Many people were concerned that we would not be prepared for college and the real world, but I am here to tell you that we were more than prepared.
After graduating from Maine Coast in 2012, I attended Wheaton College in Massachusetts, where I studied neuroscience, pre-medicine, and theater. I am excited to tell you that this fall I will be starting medical school at the University of New England, something that I have been pursuing since my junior year of High School. Maine Coast brought in Dr. Skavdahl to tell us about her profession during one of our monthly forums. After listening to her speak and eventually interning with her for my senior year internship, I was confident that I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, and here I am.
Looking back on the 13 years that I spent here, it is evident to me that one thing that has been critical to all of my success throughout college and getting into medical school is that my teachers here, believed in me, just as they believe in your grandchildren.
Picture this, I arrive at Wheaton, eager for this new page in my life. During the first week, I attended a meeting with about forty other students intending to study pre-medicine. Instead of receiving a warm welcome with suggestions and encouragement, the Dean of students says “Hello everyone, right now you think that you are on the path to becoming a physician. Well, let me set you straight. You will fail. If you don’t drop out now, you will over the next four years. I advise you to get out now before you waste your time and energy.”
I was of course stunned by this introduction, especially when I realized that he was not joking. Four years later I realized that he was right, most of us did eventually give up the pre-medical track. Fortunately, I never thought to believe him for a second because my teachers here showed me again and again that I could accomplish whatever I put my mind to.
Even now, modern neuroscience can explain how and why this confidence building in young children is so effective. From what I have learned in my neuroscience courses at Wheaton, the manner in which our teachers guide, encourage and praise us, creates neuropathways in our brains, especially young developing brains, that serve as a template for how we perceive ourselves, our own capability, and can make all of the difference in a person having the courage and motivation to pursue their passion.
Back at Wheaton, during the long hours that I spent studying the brain, biology, and chemistry, there were times that I wanted to fling my laptop against the wall and give up. Even to this day, when I begin to feel this way, the voices of my teachers come back to me.
I can still hear Mr. Saccone’s voice, our games teacher who taught me from 1st through 12th grade. Whether it was at a cross country race, our circus arts or if he had snuck into the community hall to watch our play practice, I can still hear him saying, “come on Liza, you’re almost there!” With as much enthusiasm has he could muster.
I will always remember the feeling of pride I had, when my class teacher Ms. Moser, who taught me from first through eighth grade, would stand, looking over my work with her gentle, loving demeanor, wearing a little smile on her face that told me she was proud.
And course I will always be able to hear the voices of Mr. Sloan, one of the high school English teachers and Madame Whittlesey the high school French teacher encouraging me with all of their enthusiasm. “Liza, we know you can do, so just go do it!” Usually when I was about to perform or give a presentation.
I know this sounds cheesy, but during the moments when I start to think that becoming a doctor will be too difficult for me, it is the voices of my teachers, who know me inside and out, that help me remember my own ability and give me the motivation to keep going.
I think this important for you to know because, like myself, your grandchildren will have the benefit of teachers, who understand their individual capabilities and who will encourage and support them to pursue their dreams. This is an invaluable part of the Waldorf education.
The expansive curriculum and free-thinking environment that Maine Coast cultivates are other unique parts of your grandchildren’s’ education. I remember arriving at school with my classmates eager to continue learning the stories of the Greek God’s in fourth grade. I recall the shock that my class experienced in our high school botany class when we discovered that most plants are gendered and then our excitement to go outside and draw them.
When you get to high school, each student creates a project with their desired medium that in some way embodies the content of the course. One of us would be making sculptures out of clay, while another painted pictures and another wrote a poem. I really took for granted my classmates’ ability to think outside the box and to come up with creative ideas.
This became apparent to me at Wheaton. For any project we were assigned, the results were usually the same, constructed from candy or clay. When asked to create a model of the brain, with each section of the brain to scale and labeled, all of my classmates used clay. I convinced my group to use flowers of different sizes and colors. Our professor was so thrilled that she paraded our flower brain around for all of the other Professors to see.
It is important to mention this because Waldorf’s emphasis on encouraging creativity and out of the box thinking is becoming one of the most valued assets that employers are seeking in the workforce today. This is because, as you may have heard on the news recently, computers and robots are taking over many jobs, but fortunately for us, computers cannot yet calculate creative solutions.
Another valuable aspect of my Waldorf education also became apparent to me while in college. I was surprised to find that most of my classmates at Wheaton, felt so much pressure to have the top grades in the class, that many of them suffered from anxiety attacks during exams and would consequently fail. By my second year, nearly half of the pre-medical students required anxiety medication to get through school. Reports from other college campuses have made it clear that this is a problem nationwide. Students are feeling more pressure to succeed than ever before.
I was fortunate enough to avoid getting swept up into this panic mania because all of my time at Maine Coast had already helped me to become confident in myself and my ability. I was there to learn and to pursue my dream for myself, not for anyone else.
I am comforted to know that there are still many students, including your grandchildren, who will graduate from this high school with similar values. They will have a much greater chance of being able to avoid this crippling atmosphere of pressure and fear that interrupts so many young people’s lives.
They will be able to delve into their college courses with interest and a deeper understanding of the material. They will have the confidence to pursue what they love and put their heart into it. They will be able to go out into the world and make a difference.