Dr. Grauer's Column - Coming of Age in Nature
Coming of Age in Nature
Message to the Grauer School 2023 Matriculates
In 1988, environmentalist, author and scholar Bill McKibben foretold the troubled fate of humanity’s ancient relationship with a pristine earth in his climate change book called The End of Nature.
Today, with our freshman class annual matriculation, we re-start nature. We can do this.
You are Coming of Age into a shifting planet. That made no difference to you in Kindergarten in the sandbox, but at this point people your age are discovering new visions and new emotions: love, dreams and fears you never felt when you were younger, and all these are forces of nature, these are your new sandbox. You are a force of nature. You must find the sources of courage to use that force for good.
High school is a passage to adulthood, independence, and your true self. Setting out on the path towards your true self is the point of initiation rites like today. Welcome to Matriculation 2019 for the class of 2023.
For 40,000 years or so, initiation rites like these have been seen as fundamental to human growth and development. Sadly, some cultures have lost them. In diverse cultures, coming of age has been marked by ceremony all over the world. But in diverse American communities, we cannot always find a shared, traditional culture left to pass down--we’re in cities, we’re mixed into a melting pot. We do not always have shared rites to pass down. And so today, we pass along our shared school culture to you, we celebrate with you, for you, and about you: this is your matriculation into high school.
We love to ask, what have coming of age youths done to mark this passage? And the answer: they have gone into nature. They have gone deep into nature. For millennia, humans have almost always celebrated our coming of age in nature—this is why The Grauer School holds the matriculation ceremony following our Fall expeditions. In a four-day Okipa Indian ceremony on the Great Plains, young tribesman start their ordeal by pulling buffalo skulls and hides around and around the village plaza’s central pole.
Coming of age is celebrated by a journey: going walkabout for several weeks across the Australian outback, going out to a north American wilderness vision quest alone with no food for four days, or hunting in the African savannah or jungle to kill a lion.
In more recent adaptations, Outward Bound has been a great way to go through this passage, as is the long running TV show Survivor, as is the School of Lost Borders, which takes initiates out to the wilderness for four days.
All of these coming of age ceremonies focus on one thing: the human being relating to the natural world, coming of age in the natural world, as many of you did last week. On many of your expeditions and on a series of eight high school expeditions over the coming four years, you will enter into phenomenal, diverse ecosystems and natural worlds. You will pass through beautiful, alluring, sometimes scary, sometimes threatening, liminal, or challenging environments like tunnels, like passages. And when you come out the end, you will be an independent adult.
Right now is a powerful, phenomenal, historical time to be in this zone. Our wilderness areas are under threat, or shifting: our oceans, our forests, our rivers, our deserts are shifting. In your life you may experience changes that call upon a sense of humanity and resourcefulness you were unaware you even had. You will face challenges and no parents or teachers will have answers for them. The answer will be your courage and resourcefulness, keeping your head. You are entering into an era that will call for environmental justice for people and places far and wide, for indigenous people, for wild animals, from wild places like Atlantic islands and the Arizona desert to inner city garden high rises, and to wild byzantine cities like Bangkok and Bejing where there is barely an inch of natural world left.
Many years ago, at the edge of the great Sahara in the middle ages, as a part of that great culture, Arab boys set out upon a great journey. Until a boy endured thirst and privation and crossed the desert, twenty days each way by camel, he could not marry or be considered a man. You are all at the edge of your great Sahara today, but much bigger. Your strength will be tested. In an endless ocean of Sahara sand, or ocean tide, or fires or storms or floods or migrations, you will come to realize that there is something greater than yourself, that you are not only a small speck in the universe... you are essential.
There are other rites of passage in lives and cultures such as birth, baptism, confirmation, Quinceañera, bar/bat mitzva, Hajj pilgrimage in Islam, black belt achievements, marriage, death—they are all valuable and life changing. But at our school we think the teen rite of passage is fascinating and powerful and maybe the most exciting. When you come out of this passage, you will be off into the world, and what will matter is how resourceful you are, and how kind and how good you are at having mentors. Those three. But, also how genuine and constant is your smile—that will make a gigantic difference. So it’s four things.
Here is a tip: You can gain all four of those life changers by just being in nature and listening—never forgetting that the earth is ours for the loving. If you want to see far, you can go to a mountain or ocean or desert. The ancients understood that, they understood that vision, spirituality, religion, joy, and human purpose come from the natural world: seeing more in nature, hearing more in nature, just being in the natural world and paying attention to the natural world.
Thank you all for attending today to celebrate these students.
Grauer teacher Jillian Bourdon also spoke about Rites of Passage to our Class of 2023:
In the words of Steven Foster, "the young are all in search of a story", a story that belongs to each individual. The stories that are simply handed to us by the current majority culture are not enough. While entertaining and exciting, our souls require something older, something without an agenda, something about what it means to be human and alive. For each student standing on this stage, this matriculation ceremony marks the beginning, not only of high school, but of a new story, a new set of questions, a new maturity and ability to choose for yourselves what you want to take with you moving forward and what needs to be left behind. Foster goes on to say that, "If we are to survive, the stories must all, in one way or another, be about how we came to love and understand ourselves, our earthly environment, and our places upon it." When you create your story, you create your world. In these next four years, what world do you want to create?
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