#7 Stories, Self-reflection, and Stevia

Four hours ago I left high school for the last time. I’ll leave behind a few tangible things, like the art projects I didn’t want or that Nalgene I lost freshman year. I’ll also leave behind a few bits of knowledge that didn’t quite stick; perhaps a couple of plot details from The Great Gatsby and a trig identity here or there. Actually, maybe all of Calculus. But there’s a lot I won’t leave, including the lessons I learned and the friends I made from What’s the Story.

Self-Direction:

I’ve learned that What’s the Story is what you make of it. You can dedicate hours to a 1/4 hour clip of film or spend a couple of minutes making minor edits on the group Google Doc before a work session. You can shut off your phone, ignore your homework, and be fully present in discussions, presentations and meals with friends or you can think constantly about that essay that’s due the next day. I would be lying if I said I didn’t do a little bit of each of these this year.

We were given a lot of things in What’s the Story: food, time, space, support, encouragement, seemlingly endless resources and opportunities. We weren’t given a lot of specific directions; nobody was hovering over us telling us exactly what to do and how to do it. Navigating this new and unfamiliar learning environment was the most difficult part of What’s the Story for me, and it required a lot of self-direction. I was used to detailed assignments and rubrics, which I never really questioned or challenged before beginning this class. I realized that prior to What’s the Story, I had been mainly motivated by grades, not by passion for a subject. When the grades, specific instruction and immediate approval were taken out of the equation, I was left feeling lost. As a result, I had to find a subject that I felt passionate about, and develop my own organization techniques and tools to help me achieve my goals. And when I figured out how to do this, I felt…free. While I had once desired the constraints of assignments that made me feel grounded and comfortable, in What’s the Story I was forging my own path because I could and I cared. That’s the difference between those minutes I spent on the Google Doc and the hours I spent on the documentary; one was driven by meeting expectations and the other was driven by the impulse to get the story right. In college, it would be great to seek out subjects that motivate me to learn for its own sake and not just to do well on assignments.

Responsible and Involved Citizenship:

Over the course of What’s the Story, I had to talk to a lot of different people about a lot of different subjects. Before beginning the class, I think I had about two ways of talking: my quiet, nervous voice I used to talk to adults and peers who intimidated me, and my quiet, cute voice I used to talk to animals and small children. What’s the Story pushed me out of my comfort zone more than any other educational experience I’ve had. I learned how to send professional and succinct emails, conduct interviews with very knowledgable people in order to obtain meaningful information, talk in front of a bunch of high schoolers who (for the most part) didn’t want to hear what I had to say, and push through in uncomfortable situations. I learned that I have to listen in order to learn, and that building a cohesive group that works easily together is no simple feat. I hope after my experience in What’s the Story I will seek out group work because even though it’s challenging it is very rewarding. I also hope to build on my third voice: my confident voice. 

Informed and Integrative Thinking:

This section of the rubric feels the most familiar to me, and a year ago I would have found refuge in its exactitude. Change a few words, add a couple of sentences, and it’s a rubric for an essay on Heart of Darkness! I will admit it is still the easiest section to write about, but it no longer brings me the same joy it once would have. Sure, as per the expectations outlined in the rubric, I took long interviews about complicated subjects and chopped them up and pasted them together into a coherent video that tells a story. The documentary is organized into chapters, and it shows different perspectives and arguments. But I no longer care that it does those things, as I would have a year ago, I care why it does. I care that it tells the story of those who are food insecure and the urgency behind their situation. I care that it brings attention to the massive amount of food waste that we produce, and I care that it offers a solution to the two issues in way that could feel accessible to anyone who watches the film. Mostly, I care that it has potential to make change in the world, and if in creating it we may have crossed off a few boxes along the way, great. In the future, I hope to take on new challenges where I can creatively work to solve problems.

Clear and Effective Communication

The topics of food waste and food insecurity are not the most controversial, but I learned that it is still important and necessary to think about how I present them. When we were preparing for our presentation at Rutland High School, my social action team had to figure out the most relevant aspects of our research to cover. I realized that as a person who is not food insecure, and who has not done extensive work on the subject, I may not be the best person to talk about food insecurity. I had to imagine what it would feel like as a food insecure person in the crowd to hear me talk about a topic I don’t know personally. This allowed me to see the situation in a whole new light. We decided to only focus on food waste, because it is a more universal issue applies to almost anyone. It was really fun to come up with ways to connect to the students in the classroom about food waste. I talked about the MUHS cafeteria and then asked about their own. I talked about where I waste food, and prompted them to think about where they do as well. We ended up getting a conversation going with the group, which felt great! I hope to continue to bring out the passions and opinons of others as part of connecting people to social issues and challenges.

Unexpected Learning:

I learned that M&Ms are a good midnight snack. I learned that Bat Mitzvahs are fun to crash and Party In The USA never gets old. I learned that friends can be made in minutes. I learned that homework just doesn’t happen at 11 in the Eco Lodge when people are discussing politics. I learned that brown marshmallows require a lot more patience than I have but black marshmallows aren’t all that bad.

I learned that I have passion for a cause.

This morning I yelled at my dad. And I don’t mean I scolded him or criticized him. I yelled at him. Loudly. Oops.

A little context might help, though it won’t make me look any better and it’s not supposed to. This morning I was pouring some tea and I glanced over at my dad, who had just thrown away a whole box of stevia packets because “we don’t eat stevia and I don’t know why we have it”. True and true. But I still yelled at him. A year ago I would have done nothing to stop the stevia from making home in a landfill somewhere. I may have even added “what even is stevia?!” but I certainly would not have yelled at my dad.

I’ve already touched on how What’s the Story has taught me to do things because I want to and not because I have to, but I’ve learned that stevia in the trash is bad and I care about it. In all honesty, it’s not all I care about and I don’t think I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to solving the issues of food waste and insecurity. I will, of course, practice small acts in my own life to reduce food waste and encourage others to do the same. But I learned that caring, truly, deeply caring about a cause feels so good. It almost makes up for all those times people ask me what I want to major in at college. Almost. I want to tell them: I don’t know yet!!! But I care! About something!

I learned that I have a lot to learn. I learned computers can only teach you so much and people can teach a lot more. I learned handwritten letters are powerful and I should write a few before I go to college. I learned group work can be frustrating and rewarding and inspiring and disappointing all at the same time but in the end it is so worth it.

Featured Image by Luke Leung

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Katherine

2 Responses to “#7 Stories, Self-reflection, and Stevia

  • Dixie Goswami
    4 years ago

    Clear and Effective Communication

    “The topics of food waste and food insecurity are not the most controversial, but I learned that it is still important and necessary to think about how I present them. When we were preparing for our presentation at Rutland High School, my social action team had to figure out the most relevant aspects of our research to cover. I realized that as a person who is not food insecure, and who has not done extensive work on the subject, I may not be the best person to talk about food insecurity. I had to imagine what it would feel like as a food insecure person in the crowd to hear me talk about a topic I don’t know personally. This allowed me to see the situation in a whole new light.”

    Dear Katherine,
    What a pleasure to read your post: You have style and voice—and know how to tell a story that helped me see What’s the Story Vermont? with new appreciation. One sentence stands out for me: “….I may note be the best person to talk about food insecurity. I had to imagine what it would feel like as a food insecure person in the crow to hear me talk about a topic I don’t know personally.” This statement allowed me to see WtSV in a whole new light. Educating the imagination. Radical empathy. Writing with purpose and power. Thank you. Thank you, WtSV! Dixie

  • Dear Dixie,
    WtSV really has allowed me to engage my curiosity and approach all situations with more empathy. Thank you for helping make this experience possible! Katherine

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