May Peace Prevail on Earth

peace poleUntil a few days ago, I’d never heard of the Cu Chi Tunnels.  Our friend Kevin, a former Seed teacher, sent me a photo of a peace pole in Vietnam.  He said it reminded him of ours at the Seed.  The one he spotted in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) was located near the Cu Chi Tunnels.  As it turns out, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a triple-decker network of tunnels built in the 1940s and used extensively by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.  During the war the tunnels served as hiding spots, a place to store weapons, hospitals, kitchens, command centers and living quarters.  One source stated that an entire village lived within the tunnels under terrible conditions (http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/cu-chi-tunnels).  This 150 mile maze of tunnels was where our enemies lived.  Fighting for a cause in which they believed, they inhabited a tight space infested with “bats, rats, snakes, scorpions, centipedes and fire ants,” some of which were used with bamboo sticks to make traps for GIs entering the tunnels. (http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/vietnam/ho-chi-minh-city-and-around/around-ho-chi-minh-city/the-cu-chi-tunnels/)  Malaria and intestinal parasites were prevalent.  I can see why a peace pole was erected in this place.

At the peak of the Vietnam War in 1969, I graduated from high school.  Other than one of our hometown boys being killed in the war, it was an abstract event in my life at the time.  However, backdropped by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, it was then that the seeds of peace came alive in me.  So much of what the Seed is all about has roots back to this era.

The Seed’s peace pole was a gift from a family in the early 90s.  For many years we kept it in a rolling container in the building until it finally found a permanent home in Gwen’s Castle.  It’s the perfect spot for it, surrounded by trees and lively children, in a space created by love. This past week I’ve learned that “There are tens of thousands of peace poles in 180 countries all over the world dedicated as monuments to peace.” (http://www.peacepoleproject.org)  Peace poles are in places like Ground Zero in NYC, Mt. Everest in Nepal, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, a Nevada nuclear test site, and Baghdad, Iraq.  Peace poles are at places of hope such as schools, parks and museums, and places where great loss has occurred.  Places like the Cu Chi Tunnels.  Extraordinary humans like Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Wangari Maathai, the woman who inspired massive tree planting trees by women in Kenya have been photographed beside peace poles.

As I’ve learned more about the Peace Pole Project and the Cu Chi Tunnels, interconnection comes up again.  The father from the family that gifted us our peace pole was Kevin’s mentor who told him about the Seed, the same Kevin who is now teaching in Vietnam and sent the photo of the peace pole at the Cu Chi Tunnels.  The peace pole is a symbol of all we’ve done at the Seed to make the world a more peaceful place, and a steady reminder to keep at it.  It’s an honor to be a part of this network of beings living with peaceful intentions.

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Becky’s Bragging Tour

BeckysummerBecky was a magnet for my children’s allowance.  Long before she started teaching at the Seed, Becky and her husband Steve had a shop on Mill Avenue.  Each Saturday after their dance class, my girls migrated up the stairs to Dollars to spend their weekly allowance.   Becky was always cheerful and friendly as she helped them make their purchases.   Within a year or so, our paths crossed again, this time at an ASU class where I was a guest speaker.

As Becky worked on her Arizona teaching certification, she soon realized that she wanted to teach differently from how she started out.  Hearing about the Seed opened a door for her and once she stepped through that door, she never turned back.  Even though she had a Masters degree, Becky chose to be an assistant for two years to make sure she had a grasp of what all was involved in teaching holistically.  One of those years was with me.  It was a most memorable year, my first year back in the classroom after graduate school in 1988, and it was such a time of deep learning.  Becky and I kept a dialogue journal all year.  She wrote her questions and thoughts throughout the week, then I’d take it home and respond over the weekend.  For years after that, when Becky took over as the 1st grade lead teacher, she used that journal as her “manual” for teaching first grade.  Just a few weeks ago Becky mentioned that she still has the journal.

Over the years, Becky has been a key figure in sustaining the Community nursing home project.  Year after year, she’s prepared her students with a study of aging to ready them for their monthly visits to their elder friends.  She’s collected their stories, delighted in the children’s insights and been inspired by the responses of the residents.  Even during the challenging years when her own mother was in a nursing facility, Becky stayed with it because she understood the value of the program for her students.

There are a hundred ways I could describe what has made Becky Lewis an extraordinary teacher.  She is kind, humble, ethical and dedicated to her work.  One of Becky’s most important qualities is that she’s never stopped being a learner.  Any time I’ve given her reading material, she’s followed up not only by reading, but also with a conversation to process it.  When we switched to the Common Core Standards two years ago, Becky embraced the change with enthusiasm.  She had the same response to our introduction of the STEAM curriculum and has spent the year learning about it.  At a time when most teachers entering the latter part of their careers shift to automatic pilot, Becky is still a lively learner.

Becky delights in her students’ learning as well as her own.  She’s famous for her “bragging tours,” mini-parades around the school to celebrate her students’ progress.  Just this morning she dropped in with two students who have made enormous growth as readers.  All three were grinning from ear to ear.  Becky knows how to celebrate what matters.  Now, as she prepares to step into her next chapter of life, it’s our turn to celebrate her.  In years to come the “Becky years” will be among the Seed’s finest.

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Outlier

MaryhawaiiIt wasn’t easy being my mother.  From the get-go I was a strong willed, scrappy, passionate outlier.  Malcolm Gladwell (http://gladwell.com/outliers/) describes an outlier as someone “so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.”  That’s how I felt most of the time growing up anyway.  On more than one occasion I was informed that I was “too much.”  In school I was frequently in trouble for talking, often dealt punishments ranging from standing on tiptoe with my nose in a circle drawn on the chalkboard to copying pages of the dictionary.  With the exception of one elementary teacher and a handful in high school who “got me,” school was pretty much a waste of time.  Thank goodness I had the parents I did.

I’ve written a lot about my dad over the years, about our sailing adventures, going to the river, and his energy level for a 90-year-old guy.  I’ve frequently expressed what an important role model he has been throughout our lives.  However, as I’ve thought about teachers (Teacher Appreciation Week), and prepare to travel to Nebraska to see my mom and three other remaining women elders from my childhood, I find that it’s my mother I’m inclined to write about this week.

As I mentioned earlier, at times I was a handful.  I was bossy and did things to my siblings that weren’t necessarily kind.  Nevertheless, I had redeeming qualities and one of them was my creativity.  I have my mother to thank for that.  Sometimes it wasn’t so much what she did to promote our innovative thinking as it was what she didn’t do.  She didn’t buy us coloring books and overschedule us.  My mom didn’t restrict our use of tools, paint, boards and nails.  She didn’t prohibit our building tree houses and forts.  When we flooded a ditch in the back yard on summer days to create a world we called “The Stream,” she didn’t mind the mud, sand and water on our clothes and bodies.

What she did do was give us time and space to follow our imaginations, to learn about things that were interesting to us.  If I wanted to spend the day in the basement creating miniature environments for my dolls, she allowed it to happen.  When I was bored with ballet lessons, she took me to Lincoln to buy tap shoes.  She sent us outside to play, regardless of how much snow was on the ground.  And when we brought snakes and mice home, she remained calm.  She, along with my dad, gave us a childhood.

To say that this kind of upbringing influenced our work here at the Seed is an understatement.  In the last few weeks I’ve been collecting stories and photos from our alums, many of whom would call themselves outliers.  Now in their twenties, thirties and early forties, they are using  their creative, extraordinary qualities to make the world a better place.  They have their parents who have supported and continue to support their uniqueness.  I also know that, like a mother who allows space for an outlier to grow, what we do at the Seed is also playing a role in helping these extraordinary beings become fully who they are.

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Toddler Tweens

compostersWhen I think of tweens, kids in the nine to twelve-year-old range come to mind.  At the Seed we have our own group of tweens, our Preschool 2.5/3s.  They start the year looking more like toddlers, some still in diapers and barely talking.  At the beginning of the year they need extra support with lunch containers and self-help skills.  At least for some, learning to speak up and use words requires a good bit of adult intervention.  This time of year it’s a whole different story.  Diapers are a thing of the past and everyone knows how to use the potty and wash hands.  And the language floating around…well, it’s hard to believe what comes out of the mouths of these three-year-olds.

On Monday I sat in on the Preschool 2.5/3s as they finished up circle and transitioned to snack.  As children got up to wash hands, their teacher asked them individually to tell her what they did over the weekend.  She wrote the survey results on the whiteboard.  One child moved in close to explain, “I had frow up.” She then elaborated by telling everywhere she vomited, including her car seat, her mom’s car, and her dress.  Not to be outdone, the next child described her sickness as well and added that she got Frozen bandaids.  Other activities included playing a game with their mommy or daddy, going to visit grandparents, and seeing Belinda, the pickle lady, at the farmer’s market.

As they joined their friends for snack, children were offered the choice of sauce or no sauce with their pasta.  There was constant conversation.  They spoke, listened to friends’ comments and asked for more pasta.  When one student threw his head back (obviously a common practice, since the teacher response was quick and well-articulated), a reminder about keeping heads up to avoid choking while eating was offered.  The reminder inspired the same girl who told the “frow up” story to recount how her dad had to stick his fingers in her mouth once to retrieve something on which she was choking.  In the midst of the conversation, the teacher counted, “1, 2, 3, big bite!” and several students took bites of their pasta.  When the pasta was all gone, out came leftover crackers and then pretzels until all appetites were satiated.

The conversation switched to the garden as the teacher said, “I checked the flowers. Can you guess what color they are?”  After a discussion about whether or not a milk carton was recyclable, the teacher handed a small bag of home compost to the child who brought it.  The child needed no directions regarding what to do with it and where it should go.  She took the bag right over to the compost pile and dumped it into the rich soil.

I lingered outside with the class for a bit longer, as shrieking children were chased by a fellow “monster,” plants were generously watered, and scraps that had just been deposited in the compost pile were appropriately covered with soil. I marveled at these children, at what they were learning, how they were communicating, and the way they are with each other.  Like every other group of children at the Seed, this collection of three-year-olds is nurtured each and every day by remarkable teachers whose ability to dream big is surpassed only by the vastness of their hearts.

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Plastic Soup

ocean bottlesIt was a dramatic Earth Day at the Seed.  Maybe passionate would be a better word.  Those who had the great fortune of being with us were greeted by an “installation” of nearly 300 empty plastic water bottles, strewn all over the entrance area.  Some of the children were disturbed by the mass of water bottles and instinctively wanted to pick them up for recycling.  You probably saw a replica of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, created by our activist kindergarteners.  It was a galvanized metal tub with bits of floating plastic.  A sign reading “K-1 Garbage Patch, Bag the Bags” was posted behind the swirling soup.  The kindergarteners also made paper Earths, each with a message, that were attached to the front door.  The entrance display also included facts about water bottles and plastic uncovered by the 3rd/4th graders.

Throughout the morning, each class busily engaged in activities connected to Earth Day.  Toddler 1s used empty water bottles to make sensory bottles. Temporarily filled with colored water and other eye-catching items, they did a lot of shaking and observing.  The Toddler 2s made a lovely piece of art from found objects on the playground.  The Preschool 2.5/3s created a string of watercolored Earths, each with a pair of hands holding a heart with the child’s intention for helping the Earth.  At our all-school sharing of Earth Day activities, the Preschool 3s demonstrated their musical instruments personally constructed from recycled materials.  Blue water-filled bottles with a small piece of plastic bag inside were reminders from the Preschool 4s that plastic bags and bottles need to be recycled to avoid damage to ocean creatures and the Earth. The PreK students shared their graph they’ve been making all week, documenting use of reusable containers, recyclables and eventual trash from their lunches.  In addition to the front entrance display, the kindergarteners attended the meeting wearing plastic bag costumes (modeled after the Bag Monsters https://www.facebook.com/thebagmonster).  A display of plastic utensils used at the Seed picnic compared to reusable silverware was presented by the 1st/2nd graders.  And the 3rd/4th graders filled our heads with even more important facts about the impact of plastic on our planet.

We ended our sharing with “Celebrate Life on Planet Earth” and went  outside for a picnic.  Although the facts about plastic’s invasion of our environment were hard to hear, a feeling of hope remained.  The kids, especially the fours and up, for the most part seemed to grasp the idea that this is serious business and we can do this.  We HAVE to do this.  As I was leaving the Seed late Wednesday afternoon, one of the moms told me her son had found $80 and they were deciding how to use it to be helpful to someone.  After all of our studies about the impact of plastic on the ocean, he wanted to use it to help the ocean creatures.  I drove away that day feeling grateful and inspired, recognizing that the Seed is a wave already extending far out to sea.  In our own way we are taking on the plastic soup, that will hopefully someday be a thing of the past, in large part due to efforts of this generation of young ecologists.

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Earth Problem

lunch trashWe’re talking trash at the Seed these days.  Last week we collected the lunch trash for five days and I’m happy to announce that the entire accumulation fit in a smallish box.  You’ll be seeing a display of it in the coming days to further awareness of why it’s a good idea to utilize reusable containers.  In addition to collecting lunch trash, we’ve had several lively discussions about plastic, particularly one-time use plastic bags and plastic water bottles, and their impact on the ocean.  This video fueled the conversation:  (https://vimeo.com/100694882).

The first and second graders have been talking plastic, too.   Their April Scholastic News features a cover photo of a plastic bag floating in the ocean looking eerily like a jellyfish.  They’ve been learning how problematic this is for sea turtles, who can’t easily distinguish between plastic bags and jellyfish.  One of the second grade girls shared this spontaneous writing with me, titled “Earth Problem”:  “The world is so incredibly bad with plastic.  When people get a toy or something and the bag that the toy is in, some people just drop it and it goes in the ocean and sea creatures eat it and then it dies and if it is a fish, people eat the fish and then the people get sick and sometimes die.  And no more littering ever again!”

That same child, along with a classmate, took the initiative to pick up trash from the playground.  They decided they’d keep track of what they found all week and then make a statement about it.  I love how they are using writing, science and mathematics to further their social activism.  Social activism isn’t limited to the older children.  In response to our talk about plastic bags, one teacher shared a story of her three-year-old daughter who went shopping with her grandmother.  When the grandma took plastic bags for her groceries, the child said, “We can’t use these bags.  They hurt the Earf.”

As I researched plastics in the ocean, I learned that the average American uses 167 disposable water bottles every year (http://www.banthebottle.net/bottled-water-facts/).  It is estimated that only 38 of those 167 are recycled.  That means 129 go in the trash.  I also read that “5 trillion plastic bags are produced yearly. Side by side, they can encircle the world 7 times.” Only 1 to 3% of them are recycled.  (http://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/interesting-facts-about-plastic-bags)  These facts and lists of other facts from which they come are alarming to say the least.  It’s a problem that won’t go away without our help.  We will continue to make it part of our curriculum and our daily practices to reduce the use of plastics and increase awareness about recycling.  This is about the quality of our future and our children’s futures.  If we don’t take this on to help heal our planet, who will?

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Swarm of Human Bees

IMG_4131I encountered a swarm of bees on the playground this week.  Not the fuzzy black and yellow ones; they were human bees.  It was an intense swarm, with fierce negotiations around the hierarchy of a bee colony.  First there was the designation of the queen bee, as well as her responsibilities and privileges.  I heard one child say to the chosen queen, “You can sing all you want, because you’re the queen bee.”  As the swarm migrated from place to place, I heard additional assignments:  “You’re a carpenter bee,” with follow-up directions about where to go.  The bees continued playing harmoniously until the Power Rangers arrived.  I’m not sure what happened to the hive after that.

All of this bee business started in the PreK outdoor area, when a swarm of bees showed up several weeks ago.  Their presence ignited a passionate study of this significant species.  Throughout the course of the PreK’s bee study, they have utilized the arts to understand their topic.  They’ve created a paper honeycomb, made a larger-than-life queen bee and smaller worker bees.  Wednesday was Bee Day, a day of celebration for the PreK class.  They all wore yellow and black clothes, made personalized queen bee crowns, tasted varieties of honey (including some right in the honeycomb), had a picnic outside and gave a performance of their bee songs for Music Jay.  One “bee” was observed before school, immersed in his own imaginary world, flapping his wings and pausing to draw nectar from flowers in the kindergarten outdoor area.  No doubt, this child has integrated what he’s learned about bees.  During the musicial performance for Jay, which included a bee version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” I mispronounced proboscis.  The entire class resoundingly corrected me.  These kids know their stuff.

This study and the children’s passionate response, reminded me of a recent ASU Magazine article about STEAM education (https://magazine.asu.edu/march-2015/articles/featured-articles/gaining-steam).  The article makes a strong case for inclusion of the arts in science education, and, in fact, states that the arts offer a crucial perspective that is missing from a science-only curriculum:  “Arts-based inquiry is a very powerful way of exploring the world,” says Steven Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “We know increasingly from the learning sciences that the kind of pedagogy that has high impact for student learning is exactly the kind of pedagogy that has been part of an arts curriculum for a long time.”

Clearly, the arts-based approach to studying bees has worked in our PreK class, just as it does throughout the Seed.  What’s even better, which is typical of others  school-wide, is what their teacher has in mind next.  As we talked near the end of Bee Day, she mentioned ways in which she could tell how much they’ve come to understand about bees.  Her next project is to teach them what we can do as human beings to help the diminishing bee population.  It’s what we strive to do with each day at the Seed, take in the world and then offer back the best gifts of our heartfelt selves.

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Light It Up Blue

blue lightsA sea of blue greeted me this morning. Earlier in the week, I sent out a reminder to staff and families that today, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day.  Globally, we were invited to wear blue to promote this day of awareness, to “light it up blue.”  I thought maybe a few teachers might remember their blue shirts.  I didn’t know about the children or parents.  Many remembered.  What a feast for the eyes it was to see such a collection of blue.  Support for autism awareness and the families who are living with autism is alive and well at Awakening Seed.

For a small school, we have quite a few students on the autism spectrum.  Over the years we’ve made a commitment to serving as many children on the spectrum as we can.  The Seed has a system for carefully selecting which of them will be a good fit for the school, both for the child and for us.  We protect their privacy and offer our services to the best of our ability to meet their needs as well as those of their neurotypical peers.  Our students on the spectrum are a part of our regular program, embraced with the same inclusivity as we extend to any child.  Our goal is to help these and all children blend in, to be a part of the greater community.

Years ago I was on a graduation trip with our oldest class, which included a  student on the spectrum.  Near the beginning of the trip, a parent of another student asked me if I thought having a child with autism in the class might take away from the experience of the other kids because of the child’s need for extra attention.  I quickly said no, explaining that in fact it’s generally an excellent opportunity for the other kids to learn how to be with a child with autism, to learn empathy, kindness and patience.  Additionally, I went on to say that in many cases, the child with autism brings a unique perspective to situations and offers creative, innovative ideas for approaching life experiences.

With 1 in every 68 children currently being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, helping typical children learn about this disorder seems even more important.  They will grow up and live in a world populated by more and more adults with autism.  Our mission at the Seed is to foster relationships that far surpass tolerance.  As with all children, our intention is to develop relationships that celebrate each child’s uniqueness.  We are helping children learn to use their voices, so they can speak up for themselves and for their peers who may or may not have autism.  (check this link out for a child who has found his voice:  http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/27/health/cdc-autism/)

At the end of the graduation trip, the same parent who approached me with her question took me aside.  “I see what you mean.  He does bring something special to this group.  Now I understand.”  Our sea of blue at the Seed today, which is part of a global ocean, is our way of saying we understand.  And we will keep up the important work of helping others understand, too.

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Alumni Tsunami

sc000157602,207.  That’s the number of Facebook reaches for my blog last week.  It’s more than my last five or six combined.  What’s up with that?  I realize it could have been my catchy title, or the Facebook teaser about big news over spring break.  I’m certain a big part of it was the topic, alumni successes.  I’ve thought about it all week as the reaches and comments continued piling up.   On Monday I was reading a blog about blogging and learned that just because someone is reached with a blog post doesn’t mean they’ve read it.  Nevertheless, with more people receiving the link, I would think that means at least some increase in readership over all.

I don’t know who all my blog reached or why it was reached by so many more than usual.  What I do know, or at least strongly suspect, is that alumni news is important to my readers and the Seed alumni population is alive and well.  And interested.  Which encourages an idea I’ve been mulling around in my head for most of this school year.  Early in the year I met with two Seed parents who have an expertise in marketing and social media.  They have inspired much of the Facebook activity that has occurred on the Seed page and also introduced me to a website I totally love,  Humans of New York (http://www.humansofnewyork.com).  When I first saw it, I thought it would be a great way to feature our alumni Seeds.  I haven’t stopped thinking about it all year.

So when the tsunami of Facebook reaches happened in response to my blog about recent alumni news, I decided it’s time to get going on this idea.  I will need your help, my friends.  And your stories with a photo.  I’m still working out the details, which I’ll send you once I have it all in place.  Basically, I will want to know what you’re doing with your life, what your passions are, what makes you happy and how the Seed has influenced your life.

In addition to the enjoyment of hearing how you’re faring in the world, it’s important to remember that your stories are a significant part of the Seed history.  Furthermore, your stories are also a part of the Seed’s future.  What you are doing with your lives is living proof of what the Seed is all about.  Your passion for living in a way that sustains our planet is an inspiration to current students and families.  The acts of your generation will most certainly bring along those that will follow.  It will be an honor to help share your stories with the rest of the world.

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Hit by a Wave

waves on the shoreI didn’t make it to the ocean over spring break.  Nevertheless, I was hit by a wave.  Not the kind of wave that pounds the shoreline; it was a wave of good news.  It started with an email from  alumni parent Colleen Jennings Roggensack that included part of an announcement sent to her daughter, Kelsey, a Seed grad:  “I am delighted to inform you that you have been selected for a 2015-16 Fulbright U.S. Student Award to Indonesia. The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program of the United States.  You will represent the country as a cultural ambassador while you are overseas, helping to enhance mutual understanding between Americans and the people in Indonesia.”  Colleen went on to say, “With the great educational start Kelsey got at The Awakening Seed, all things are possible.”

I was still processing Kelsey’s news, when I learned that another one of our Seeds, 25-year-old Teagan Wall, just completed a PhD in neuroscience at Caltech.  Interestingly, this week as I was going through some previous students’ writing, I came across one of Teagan’s second grade journal entries:  “Today I became a scientist.  Mikey, Jesse and I were setting traps to try and get the bees out of the garden.  It was a dangerous job but someone’s got to do it.”  Like Kelsey, where Teagan is today has roots back to her days of expressing her curiosity at the Seed.

Within a day or so, one of Teagan’s classmates, Chelsey Wright, announced that she has been accepted to the University of Oregon’s PhD program in Music Theory with a Graduate Teaching Fellowship.   Chelsea’s musical talents were already emerging in this poem she wrote when she was just about to turn eight:

“I am sitting on a rock
Peacefully writing my
thoughts with the wind
blowing in my face in the
fall with two days in the
middle of today and
my birthday thinking what
fun I’ll have on that day.
I love just sitting on a
rock not talking to anybody
writing my thoughts on a
nice fall day in a spot
that’s mine.”

Later that week, I read that Indra Ekmanis, a 1999 Seed grad and now student at the University of Washington, has reached a milestone of PhD candidacy in Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies.  Her ease with multiple languages as a young child continues to serve her well.

The list of alumni stories keeps growing, stories of playwrights, artists, urban farmers, photographers, eagle scouts and young mothers with beautiful babies.  I am overwhelmed…and delighted to know that our Seeds are doing exactly what we’ve prepared them to do—follow their dreams, serve others and make the planet the kind of place where all humans can thrive and realize their highest potential.  I know this is just the beginning of the Seed’s impact on the world.  I look forward with great anticipation to what the next waves will bring forth upon the shoreline.

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