November Retreat: Eager to Get To Work

The best conversations are those which end in excitement—and the feeling that they’re not over yet. Measured in conversations, last weekend’s retreat was a huge success that left me eager for the future.

I came into the weekend ready for my pitch and dead set on my topic of the pipeline. I was excited, but nervous that nobody would want to join my group and apprehensive that I wouldn’t find something else I was so passionate about. I like to follow through with what I’ve started, especially when I have such an amazing pathway guiding me as What’s the Story?. And when I find something I love, I get attached. Hence my attitude about my pipeline project. But I knew that people wouldn’t necessarily feel the same way, because after all, everyone had started their own topic.

I felt good about my pitch on Saturday, and people seemed to like it, but I wasn’t surprised when nobody was jumping to join a group. To make matters harder, the pipeline is a pretty stand-alone topic, not something that’s easy to combine with other topics, like migrant workers or mental health. Although plenty of people wanted to tackle environmental issues, the environment is big and we each had found our own niche that we weren’t too willing to give up. I had a good conversation over dinner, and we discussed ways to combine the topics of invasive species, Lake Champlain, and the pipeline. All of the issues are real and important, but I couldn’t see myself pursuing any of them but the pipeline, and the combinations just didn’t seem right for me.

Thankfully, another topic had stood out from all the fantastic pitches: education for new Americans and English Language Learners. As Clara gave her pitch, I found myself thinking, I could see myself working with her on this topic. Not only was the content interesting and important, but the way she presented it was thorough, prepared, and excited. Some of her passion for the subject seeped through and found its way to me.

Flash forward to after dinner. I brought up the pipeline in front of the entire group, asking if anyone would like to join–and I was met with almost complete silence. Contrary to what I had expected, I wasn’t that disappointed. If nobody else was as passionate as I was, it was for the best that we didn’t work on this issue. I was not going to let go of the pipeline or dismiss it as unimportant, but I was fine with letting it go for now and moving onto another story. And soon enough, I found it. Migrant workers came up, and with it, education for new Americans. We peeled off into a separate conversation, we split (exactly in half) into two groups, and somehow it worked out perfectly. I was now in a circle with Clara, Kati, Petra, Erin, and Nate, with a topic of Cultural Communication in Schools. Before we even knew it, we were operating as a group, and it felt right.

This weekend, I moved away from one topic I loved, but into another one. I am so ready to dive into the issues of cultural communication in Vermont schools: learning and teaching about other cultures, talking to students and teachers from around the world, and initiating other conversations. The prospect of researching this topic excites me, and that is a very good sign. I don’t yet know much about it, I don’t yet know what we can accomplish, but I know that we can do something, and I know that I care. That’s how I know this is the right choice.

Just as importantly, perhaps, I moved into a group that I love. I think that I fit with these people and will work well with them, because we are all organized, we are all ready, and we are all passionate. I worried coming into the retreat that I wouldn’t find that group. For even though every person in What’s the Story? is passionate about SOME issue and will work well with SOME group, it takes the right focus and the right combination of people to get anything done. It’s rare that that happens, but when it does, you can feel it. Like I said, this feels right.

Now, this is where I go beyond the weekend, and use it to my advantage that I’m writing this post late. (Nobody gave me permission to be political, but right now, I feel that we have to be, so tell me if this isn’t the place but otherwise I’m going to assume that it is.) So much has happened over the past four days, and it has made our work more important than ever. We have to stand up and take action, especially us, the middle and high schoolers who care. And this issue—communicating about culture, welcoming those who are different than us, constructing better education systems, making sure Vermont and America are safe and equitable for everyone—THIS is what is important. If the next president of our country won’t do it, we will, from the bottom up. We can make a difference. I have never been more grateful to be part of What’s the Story?, and I have never been more eager to get to work.

Greta Hardy-Mittell

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