Kimberly Freeman (SC '15): One Wild and Precious LifeMarch 21, 2016
This article originally appeared on Lessons In Lingering, the blog of South Carolina Milken Educator Kimberly Freeman (SC '15). It is reprinted here with her permission. Above, Freeman (center) at the 2016 Milken Educator Awards Forum in New Orleans with Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation, and Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards.
This week has been a strange juxtaposition between the deep yearning for more and the deep sadness of inadequacy. While sitting at a table with one of this nation's forefront education philanthropists and progressive thinkers, part of my heart was at home with a situation in which my very best intentions and efforts did not seem to be enough. I wanted to both crawl in a corner to cry and apply for job with the U.S. Department of Education all at once. I wanted to quit and I wanted to move forward. (And I promised I wasn't quitting just a few weeks ago, remember? I meant it then and I mean it now. That does not mean every day is pretty and easy.)
This weekend, I had the chance to spend a few days in New Orleans with the Milken Educator class of 2015, along with many members of the Milken Family Foundation, including the chairman and co-founder Lowell Milken. It is rather difficult to put into words what happened while we were there, but as writing is processing for me, I'm going to try. Unlike a traditional conference experience, it wasn't about new classroom strategies (though I certainly learned a few) or project ideas (though I brought a few of those home, too). It wasn't about a new system of teaching or assessing or reaching a particular type of learner. At the end of the day, it wasn't exactly about learning.
It was about thinking. It was about dreaming. It was about doing.
In different words from different people, there was a continuous message. What is the impact I will leave on my chosen and cherished profession? Is it possible to broaden that impact? Am I taking my responsibility seriously enough?
The past year or so has been a series of moments that have challenged my complacency. From mentors who have been honest enough to tell me I am not pushing myself to professors who have encouraged me to broaden my perspective, there's been a sense of urgency that there is more to be done. Brilliant educators from here in South Carolina and all around the country have inspired me to be a part of shaping the coming years of education in our state and beyond. I don't know exactly what that means. I know I need to continue to refine my practices, and I know that I need to be more intentional in speaking into educational policy. As Tom Peters once said (and Mr. Milken referenced), "If a window of opportunity appears, don't pull down the shade."
Isn't it so easy to become complacent? To get so lost in the chaos of the moment that we forget there's a broader perspective? A deeper dream? A greater passion?
Mary Oliver wrote a beautiful poem titled "The Summer Day." You can read the poem in its powerful entirety below, but the last two lines hold special meaning today: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
Maybe you, like me, need a reminder that whatever passion drives you is worth the effort and attention you pour into it. Maybe you, like me, need a reminder that growth is hard but essential. Maybe you, like me, need a reminder that you're enough – more than enough – to make a difference. Maybe you, like me, need a reminder that you have a responsibility to press forward, broadening your perspective and standing willing to leave the shades up when opportunity arises. What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?
"The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean —
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down —
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I am so thankful for Mr. Lowell Milken and the Milken Family Foundation. Each member of the group brought encouragement and purposeful challenge, both of which I so desperately needed. The Foundation's investment in teachers and education at large is breathtakingly meaningful, and I am honored to have spent time with these leaders in our field. I also can't say enough about the Milken Educator class of 2015. These talented educators will change the world, one student – teacher – policymaker – leader at a time. My time with them was filled with hope for tomorrow and confidence in the days and months to come.
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