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NOV. 28, 2017

“I am grateful for … “

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I wrote this as the students of Semester 45 gathered on the Salt Mines porch waiting to get picked up for Thanksgiving break. They held so many emotions—excitement to see their families, sadness to part (even for a week) from their OA friends, and trepidation to navigate a familiar environment with new ideas, clarified values, and a stronger sense of self.  As their numbers dwindled that day, I was reminded how much they are the heart and soul of our school, and I feel grateful for the opportunity to learn, live, and lead alongside them.

At our community meeting prior to Thanksgiving, I asked the students and faculty to participate in a reflection on their gratitude for the joys and challenges of life at the Outdoor Academy. Their words communicate the richness of the experience we create here:

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to walk in as strangers and leave as family.”

“I am grateful for the way my thighs burn as I climb to the top of a mountain, for the magical forest surrounding the peak, and for the incredible community of people who support me to keep climbing.”

“I’m grateful for Semester 45’s willingness to push me outside of my comfort zone.”

“I’m grateful for that moment when someone has to say something important in community meeting and their voice shakes and their eyes look like they might fill up with tears, but they speak anyway.”

“I am grateful for the environment OA creates that encourages learning but reminds me to not stress.”

“I am grateful for this beautiful campus and the outdoors becoming a daily part of my life.”

“I am grateful for a community that seeks to understand each of its unique members, love them for who they are, and appreciate what insight and perspective they have to share.”

“I am forever grateful for how OA brings together people who are all genuinely curious and open with each other. There’s no sense of being ‘coo cool’ for here.”

“I am very grateful for dinner clean up—everyone at work—focused, energized, moving intentionally—a dance at times—with the community’s needs at the center.”

“I am grateful for having faculty that really care about your well-being and are very understanding when life issues appear.”

“I feel gratitude at OA for the discussion. No matter if it is about the Ottomans, Cold Mountain, or caffeinated tea, we always have meaningful discussion where everybody contributes.”

“I’m grateful for all of the amazing sunsets and sunrises I’ve shared with OA students and co-instructors in Pisgah, Shining Rock, and Middle Prong.”

“I am so grateful for the faculty at OA. They have made so many accommodations for me throughout the semester. In other places, I would feel like I was such a burden, but everyone here is so understanding and kind.”

“I am grateful for the conflicts and challenges we have here at OA and the willingness we have to discuss and work them out as a community.”

“I am grateful for the passion, love and enthusiasm that this community brings to every activity, class and interaction.”

“I am grateful for all the food and the people who make it: Mark, the residents (and backup residents), student helpers, and the rest of the faculty. I am so thankful for the three banquets we have a day and the fact that I am never hungry.”

“I am grateful for the small random acts of joy and silliness that permeate every day. Tossing a Frisbee, dancing, spontaneous handstands, high-fives, and silly faces.”

“I am overwhelmingly grateful for the community the OA has created and all the love and joy is has brought into my life. I am also grateful for the outdoor programming and the opportunity to be with ourselves in nature and push ourselves towards growth.”

Gratitude is one of the seven principles woven throughout the fabric of the Outdoor Academy. We take time before every meal to give thanks and we share specific expressions of gratitude at our faculty and community meetings. We try to remind ourselves regularly how fortunate we are to be with each other in this place for a semester, and to savor every moment. We cultivate gratitude, not only for the good parts, but for all parts of our experience, knowing that our challenges help us grow into the best versions of ourselves.

-Kaela Frank, OA Resident & Wilderness Educator