There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Even the teachers who were presenting the awards were choking back tears. Every June as school draws to a close, the Living Wisdom Schools at Ananda Village present one of our most inspiring and heart-opening events of the year — the School Awards Day Ceremony.
Community members, family, friends, and neighbors gathered together in the temple on June 4, 2010 to watch the joyful, excited children filling the front rows waiting for the ceremony to begin.
Their faces were radiant, and their friendship and support for each other were evident. Even in their excitement, each child was natural and comfortable in him or herself.
They were living testaments to how children can rise to their highest potential when they are educated with conscious awareness and with love.
Every one of the nearly 80 children from kindergarten through High School received an award from their teacher in recognition of a quality they worked hard to develop. As we heard the stories behind the awards, we were deeply touched by the understanding, kindness, and determination these children have developed — qualities that many adults have yet to express.
Swami Kriyananda’s book Education for Life — Preparing Children to Meet the Challenges, is the inspiration and the practical handbook that has guided the development of our Living Wisdom Schools worldwide.
In it he writes:
Because our society equates education and wisdom itself with mere knowledge, and because we see this accumulation of knowledge as the be-all and end-all of education, we fail to recognize life for the opportunity, the very adventure, that it is: the opportunity to develop ourselves to our full potential as human beings; and the adventure of discovering hitherto unknown facets of our own selves.
Drawing from his words, the schools focus on four central themes: Service, Adventure, Excellence, and Self-Discovery. Here are some stories from the School Awards Day that we’d like to share with you.
As part of their school activities, the students regularly take part in service projects such as serving in Soup Kitchens, living and helping in an orphanage in Mexico, cleaning up California beaches, or visiting handicapped children.
A beautiful story of selfless service came from the 3rd and 4th graders. After their teacher told the students how his college-aged daughter had just run a marathon, a third grade boy, who has a perpetual crooked grin and a mischievous twinkle in his eye, announced that he was going to run three miles — a distance beyond anything he’d ever done before.
Another boy in the class — a quiet, thoughtful child — decided on the spot that his friend needed support to achieve his goal and offered to run with him.
Later that day when the “support” runner came home from school, his mother discovered that he hadn’t eaten his lunch.
He explained, “Oh, Mom, I couldn’t eat today because I had to run with Sam. It would have been very hard for him to run that far all by himself.”
Throughout the year each class goes on camping trips where they learn about nature, face challenges to their strength and endurance, and bond together as a class.
During the 5th and 6th graders camping trip to Pt. Reyes, California, it was raining most of the time. The two teachers tried to make the children as comfortable as possible, making sure their tents were covered with tarps and their sleeping bags were dry.
One night as the rain continued to beat down, one of the teachers was surprised to see a student peeping into her tent. He said, “Kathy, I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Last year the High School boys journeyed to Peru and rode bicycles up Machu Picchu. Their experiences were funny, amazing, and sometimes harrowing. Later one of the boys commented: “An ordinary trip is when everything goes as planned, but when things don’t go as you planned — that’s an adventure.”
In so many ways, the students have achieved excellence — academically, athletically, and musically.
The High School students scored in the 92% percentile nationwide. In a well-known local youth music competition, Music in the Mountains, one Ananda student received the award for the best overall solo performance. Another group from our school was recognized as the best string quartet, and many others won awards as well.
A different kind of excellence was accomplished by the high school student leading the “White Light Kirtan Band.” This kirtan (devotional chanting) group was started a few years ago and has performed across the country.
The boy leading White Light this year is the kind of person who pours total dedication and concentration into everything he does. He worked hard to master the guitar, harmonium, and drums and to work with the singers, but he felt that something was missing in the group’s chanting.
Then he realized, “I could lead the group, and play the instruments, but I hadn’t mastered the instrument of devotion for God. When I focused on that, our kirtans were beautiful.”
“Little Self — Big Self” is a game our kindergarten children play to discover their own lower and higher natures.
The “Little Self” is that part of us that doesn’t want to share, gets angry, wants its own way, and is never happy. The “Big Self” loves to share, thinks of others first, tries to be calm no matter what, and finds itself always happy.
The children work hard to remember the difference throughout the day, and remind each other when there is a disagreement to be the “Big Self.” One day a kindergartner, with an understanding beyond his years said to his teacher, “You know, I can’t even remember my ‘Little Self’ anymore.”
Hope for the Future
If we could all live in the “Big Self” how different our world would be!
When the future seems bleak or uncertain to you, remember that a new generation is emerging that has been trained with deep love and understanding to live in harmony with the world and each other.
Recently we were telling Swami Kriyananda how the Education for Life system has transformed our students. He replied, “Systems don’t change people. People change people.”
So we close by thanking the teachers and parents who, through their loving, selfless work with their students and children, are bringing higher consciousness into the world and reminding us to all live in the “Big Self.”
In divine friendship,
Nayaswami Jyotish and Nayaswami Devi