Our Wildwood, Summer 2018, Volume 43

ALUMNI REFLECTION by Tessa Westfall ’14 Leaning Into Something New? Community Is Key A cornerstone of my Wildwood education was the emphasis on community. I remember Ms. Tsap (Melinda Tsapatsaris, former assistant head of school) at an All School Meeting breaking down the word community for everyone: common, unity. This rang true, and it stuck with me all these years later because community at Wildwood was not just administrative jargon—it was built by all of us, all the time. Together, we debriefed the importance of community. What did we want our community to look like? How could we make it happen? The Habits of Heart were about grounding the intellectual experience of the classroom in the lived reality of learning with other people, of learning within a community. We extended our reach into the community outside of Wildwood by engaging with our neighborhood, like building relationships at local senior assisted-living homes and working the polls on Election Day. I loved how the password for all the library resources was “community” (and I’m sorry if this article means that IT needs to change it now).

Though my friends and I sometimes joked about how much we focused on community, I feel lucky that I was raised in a school that provided me with that framework. From 7th to 12th grade, I learned to tell a story of myself not as an isolated individual but as a person within a larger ecosystem. Wildwood hard-wired my brain to consider ways that my feelings, words, and actions can influence the landscape outside of myself. This kind of thinking allows me to feel influential in my world, even in situations that may have the potential to render me otherwise. The empowerment and sense of place that I felt from this community-oriented mindset made me want more of it. In choosing a place to land after Wildwood, institutional attention to community was nonnegotiable. I picked Bowdoin College in Maine because I heard echoes of Wildwood in its mission—a commitment to intellectual discovery in service to the common good.


In college, I gravitated toward extracurricular activities that allowed me to plan events that served the people on campus and toward jobs that put me in the nitty-gritty of working with children in Maine and elsewhere. Wildwood instilled in me an attachment to community, and I joyfully developed that feeling through my activities at Bowdoin. When it came time to think

about life after Bowdoin, I knew that I wanted to be in a place where I was a part of something bigger. I wanted to find my place in a new community where my actions could facilitate growth and progress. So I’m starting a master’s program and two-year teaching fellowship at a progressive charter school in Brooklyn, New York. I am excited to be going into progressive education, where the pursuit of knowledge and social justice coalesces with community. It is easy to become disheartened by the news, by big scary new cities, by changes and transitions and goodbyes. Wildwood taught me that communities are all around us. Knowing that and, more important, knowing how to find and engage those communities has given me the courage to dive headfirst into new challenges.


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