Yes, that’s me. I retired from teaching at Stanford last December and became a faculty “elder” – an emeritus professor of education. Part of what I wanted to do in retirement was to devote more focus and energy to Sacred Rok, working with Ron and my wonderful board colleagues to elaborate on the meaning of “Education Nature’s Way” through our trips and activities.
It so turns out that the Stanford Faculty Emeriti Council had a program to encourage us to get more involved with the undergraduate Residential Education program, and I filled out a form indicating that I was interested in helping out as a way to stay connected with Stanford students. My name on the list of emeriti volunteers got the attention of Anthony Antonio, who is a Professor of Education at Stanford and lives at the EAST House Residence as a residential fellow, and who knew about my involvement with Sacred Rok. So an idea was born for a connection of Stanford students with Sacred Rok.
Daniel Scott Smith (a graduate student who staffs the programs at East House) wrote a proposal that connected the philosophy of Sacred Rok to what Stanford students might appreciate about spending time with us and submitted it to the emeriti program. We put together a weekend that was appropriate to what students in the last weekend of spring quarter might appreciate, given upcoming final exams, term papers, and in the case of the seniors, graduation. We hosted them with good organic food (me serving as guest chef working with our most amazing cook and COO Katie Lambert) – chicken and vegan curry and “taco truck” out of our camper for dinner, egg muffins and soups for breakfast, and healthy vegetarian Thai rolls and trail mixes for lunch.
Our connections to nature resonated with their need to slow down and reflect. We avoided the most crowded waterfall areas, and instead found solitude along various spots known to Ron along the Merced River, Cascade Falls, and El Cap Meadows. We made time for the students to meditate, write, and sketch. And on the final day, we found time to share our experiences – and Katie shared some of her climbing videosthat absolutely captivated the students because of her commitment as well as humility that elicited a “Really, that’s YOU?”.
Wrote one student: “One of my most memorable experiences was walking barefoot along the riverbanks and through the meadows, stopping along the way to pick wild mint leaves. The simple act of feeling the grass under my feet and having to adjust how I walked made me think a lot more about my body and its connection to nature. I had to pay more attention to where I walked, which made me more attuned to each little sensation underfoot - the pine needles, the dried grass, the cool water, the sharp gravel. This made me feel like a part of nature rather than something just trampling over it, and that feeling gave me a sense of internal peace. “
And another: “We were truly blessed to be able to contemplate life in such a beautiful place with such beautiful people. I learned so much about nature and myself.”
One student offered us a quick sketch that she had done while sitting in El Cap Meadow, as she contemplated medical school.
For me, this is exactly how I like to integrate my life. I have spent my whole career working to improve formal education systems. Now is my time to focus on education through the laws of nature, and the insights and appreciations that they afford for full human development. Whether our young people are in prison or a university, simple contact with the elements of nature can spark our humanity in amazing ways.
- Kenji Hakuta, Professor Emeritus, Stanford Graduate School of Education