Season of Gratitude, Question of Trash

IS Families,

Feeling very thankful for the ride so far. Being here continues to be an endlessly interesting combination of people and possibilities and chances to think differently. Maybe it’s a sign of being too impressionable, but the truth is that it’s hard to remember much before arriving at Island School. This place pulls you in. But there’s one thing that I just cannot figure out, and knowing that you will trust me enough to let me be honest, here it is: there is trash all over this campus. That just doesn’t fit with the rest of the experience. Here’s my call to action: 

Let’s begin with the basics. It’s pretty likely that our school occupies one of the most objectively beautiful spots on the planet. Just look around. What a stunning combination of mountains and meadows and trees and plants and even some water. The buildings, by contrast, are serviceable, modest, functional spaces that don’t even try to match the splendor of the natural space. They just settle in and do what’s needed. And around all those buildings, the indoor and outdoor environments blur, since we rarely need much protection from the elements.

And on the lawns and lanais, it’s an everyday experience to see wrappers and papers and lost socks and half-consumed cartons of milk, among other items. And we’re all so busy that we just walk by them, day in and day out, worn down by the persistence of their presence. Such a stunning contrast when you look down after looking up at the skyline. Probably without anyone ever deciding that it would be the case, not noticing all that stuff has become an unspoken part of our culture, maybe as a form of not taking ourselves too seriously? Same holds true for the lost and found items that make commons areas look like the back seat of someone’s car. Lately, though, I just reached the point of not being willing to accept the litter as inevitable, and my walks from place to place here include stopping a lot.

It's absolutely true that we use these acres super hard, and that school is messy. Wealthier places would probably just hire someone to come in and pick up after us every day after classes. We are not and hopefully will never be that place. More defeatist places would just kind of give up and take the mess as a fact of life. And we should never be that, either. We become what we repeatedly do, said Aristotle, who is said to have been a pretty good teacher. I honestly don’t see this as anyone’s fault in particular, I just wish we would count more on each other, choosing to not live this way. Our seniors, actually and importantly, appear to have committed caring for their space. 

Years ago, in a far different setting, a security professional from Louisville of all places told me, after an extensive (and expensive) audit, that if we wanted to keep a campus safe the best single thing to do was to keep it clean, since folks looking to take advantage of others look for sites where no one seems to be paying attention. I never forgot that advice, and here I am, thousands of picked-up wrappers later, writing to you.

Here's my humble plea—make time to talk around the table about taking care of our physical space, wherever we go, living the right example. My guess is you do that some already, in this fragile paradise we get to call home, and Island School should be a case in point. Really such a doable thing. Our students will be, ironically, tidying up the campus today before they depart for the break. How about if there was nothing to pick up in the first place? We have so much to be thankful for. This would be one nice item to add to that list.

With much aloha,