March Retreat: There is Nothing More Important Than This

I’ve thought those words over the past months more than I ever have in my life, and every time, it’s been about the same thing: What’s the Story.

Almost exactly a year ago, I was in your position. Approached by a friend, forcefully handed a pamphlet, told that What’s the Story would change my life. If I had known that was actually true, I wouldn’t have hesitated. As it was, I leafed through the pamphlet, gave it a couple of passively-interested-but-unconvinced nods, and told my friend that I was sorry, that if things were different I would do it, but that I was just too busy.

Flash forward a few months. As August drew to an end, a series of last-minute doubts about my junior year schedule culminated in the very thing I had so casually brushed aside: signing up for What’s the Story. It was meant as an interesting experiment, a way to get the credits I needed while freeing up some time in my day by taking fewer conventional classes. I thought little about what the course actually meant. At the very beginning of our first retreat in September, we were asked to write about why we were there. I started jotting down some things about how I enjoyed English and this would teach me a new type of writing. Then the girl next to me—the same girl, I might add, who is now one of my best teammates and closest friends in the course—said something, simple as it was, that would make me think: “I mean… what about social justice?”

If I could point to one reason why I now care so much about the world’s issues and am prepared to take steps to solve them, it would be What’s the Story. I couldn’t have signed up at a more opportune time in my life and in the history of our country. Too often the world’s problems seem to loom over us like a mountain, and especially as a teenager, it seems that there is little I can do. But thanks to What’s the Story, I have been given a pickaxe and a grappling hook to help me scale that peak, step by step. And as the year has gone on, I have realized that I’ve been climbing my own mountain, too, and that the destination has been emerging from the fog: a life goal of changing the world.

Yes, it sounds cheesy, and more so, impossible. But a year ago, back when I was in your position, I would have thought it impossible that I would be making a documentary about a critical issue in our state: equity for the education of English Language Learners and new Americans. I would have thought it impossible that I would have organized and carried out a full day of interviewing students, teachers, and liaisons at the two most diverse schools in Vermont. I would have thought it impossible that I would be responsible for sending a message to teachers, administrators, and legislators, and that the message could make a real impact. Never mind the fact that a year ago, I didn’t even know what ELL education or liaisons were, or that any schools in Vermont were diverse. I certainly didn’t know that the fate of new Americans would become one of the most urgent issues of our time, and that I would be on the ground floor making change.

Believe me, What’s the Story isn’t confined to one class. It isn’t even really a class, not in the way that you can imagine before you’ve taken it. In no other class do you get to spend entire weekends in the woods fired up about social action and video editing and telling stories. In no other class do you get so close to your classmates, so comfortable in a group project, work so perfectly as a team, that you’re still having brainstorm sessions at nine PM—just because you want to. And in no other class do you get to eat free, delicious food all day, and end the night with the best game of cards you’ve ever played.

Still, What’s the Story doesn’t end here. The best thing that the course has done for me hasn’t taken place during a weekend retreat, it hasn’t even been around the same topic that I’m pursuing in my social action team. But the spirit of it, the confidence that it took, has been purely What’s the Story. For if I wasn’t a part of this course, I don’t know if I would ever have had the drive and the passion to stand up for social justice in front of a crowd of thousands at the Women’s March on Montpelier. I’ve been a writer for as long as I could hold a pen. I’ve been a feminist for as long as I knew what it meant. And I’ve certainly always cared about the world. But the readiness to stand up for my beliefs and do anything I can to make a change: that I credit to What’s the Story.

It’s been almost two months since that day, and it’s felt like a lifetime. But the passion I felt in front of that crowd burns on, and it flares brightest whenever I’m working on my project for What’s the Story. Whenever I lose perspective, bury myself in the deadlines and stress that come with the life of a just-too-busy high schooler, I take a step back. I think about the good work I’m doing with What’s the Story, and I remember: there is nothing more important than this.

Greta Hardy-Mittell

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