Luke Skywalker, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Bilbo Baggins, Siddhartha, Odysseus, even Marlin from Finding Nemo.Luke Skywalker, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Bilbo Baggins, Siddhartha, Odysseus, even Marlin from Finding Nemo.
You likely associate one, if not all, of these characters with his or her adventure. Luke sought to destroy the evil empire; Odysseus wished to return home to Ithaca after battling bravely in the Trojan War; Marlin searched the seas for the lost Nemo.
Indeed, each of these individuals pursued a quest.
The quest motif is, in fact, age-old. Renowned scholar Joseph Campbell identified 17 stages of the hero’s journey traceable to the myths of the most ancient people.
In his The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell described the hero’s journey this way:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
In just a few weeks, 1140 heroes attired as Parish students return to our campuses, which for now serve as the primary settings for the unfolding life journeys of these young adventurers.
In fact, for each of us a new school year offers the opportunity to embark on a hero’s quest. True, days at Parish may lack the “supernatural wonder” of The Hobbit’s Lonely Mountain or the “fabulous forces” of the river in which Siddhartha discovered enlightenment. Ideally, though, for our students in particular, a more refined list of quest elements will be experienced between now and next May:
Princess Leah beckoned Luke Skywalker through a holographic message played by R2-D2. Which individual or what class topic, cause, or experience this year might call our students to “venture forth” to explore a world new to them? Will they be ready to hear and answer that call?
The call evokes a vision which captivates the hero. This treasure – the hopeful aspiration of a more perfected form of self or place – fuels the quest. For Siddhartha, for example, attaining enlightenment powered his lifelong journey. Are our students able to articulate the higher form of themselves they hope to attain by the time school ends next May? Is it something more ennobling than “make an A in math?” For parents, the urge to hear the call for our children or define the object of their quest can be overwhelming. We should strive, though, to poke and preserve: Poke our children from what Campbell calls the “conventional slumber” of their present condition while preserving (and celebrating!) their autonomy to choose their journey’s direction.
Events and circumstances confront the hero and raise doubt that the treasured state will ever be attained. Odysseus and his sailors encountered innumerable challenges and threats such as the lotus-eaters, Cyclopes, and Scylla and Charybdis. Our students, too, will face trails this year – lapses in focus; peer antagonists; rejections and runner-up finishes. How will they respond? It can be most painful as a parent to watch our child endure such trials. We can offer safe harbor amidst the storms and should do so while recognizing that we cannot control the weather conditions our heroes – our children – face during their journeys.
Teachers, sages and protectors offer guidance and assistance to the hero at critical junctures in the quest. Gandalf advised Bilbo as the dwarves sought to reclaim the treasure from Smaug in The Hobbit. Dory offered assistance to Marlin as the search for Nemo unfolded. As an educator and parent, I’ve discovered a piece of wisdom: other adults may be better positioned to mentor my boys and in doing so will not diminish my effectiveness or worth as a parent. As we parents grow more comfortable letting our children go to the influential sages who appear along the path, we are better positioned to join our children in offering gratitude for that mentor’s presence and counsel.
Ultimately, the hero returns – transformed in some significant and permanent way. Odysseus returned to Ithaca a man more measured and humble after enduring seven years on the island of Calypso and the trials of his journey home.
Each year, we capture first day photos of our students as they depart for school. As you do that this year, note in writing some other feature of your child beyond the physical ones conveyed in the photo. Track this trait – be it patience, sociability, tolerance for risk or self-confidence – and see how it evolves over the next nine months. Chances are, come May, you will be as amazed by the evident transformation in this feature as you are in his or her physical growth. Of course, places – your business, church, favorite charitable organization – undertake quests of their own. Parish is no exception.
We have heard the call to Reimagine how students experience school. We envision a more perfected learning culture – one which inarguably prepares the students of today for the complex global society they will lead tomorrow without sacrificing their level of engagement, love of learning or mental health. Our journey has crossed the threshold. We have begun piloting different time models and methods of instruction. Each new experience helps us understand better how to fit a student’s learning experience to his or her needed level of challenge; or how to build powerful, enduring learning habits beyond the ability to memorize content; or how to feature engaging, authentic learning experiences which, in many cases, students help shape and direct.
None of us know for sure what this year holds in store. That, in essence, is the thrill associated with any journey. As we prepare to depart, we can be prayerful that our young heroes embrace the opportunity before them and, with your help and ours, advance their journey to becoming the impactful people God has put them on earth to be.