April 11, 2013 by Bailey Thomson
Greetings from Johannesburg, South Africa, where fall has officially begun! While the College is getting warmer and the Sunken Garden is filling up with sun-soaked students, I am turning on my space heater and bundling up in my cottage. I often wish I could just move from place to place following summer on its annual journey across the globe.
Since I last posted, we opened a school! On January 14, Spark Ferndale Primary School opened its doors, and three months later, we are going strong! The school serves 161 students and their families and employs 9 incredible educators. Our students hail from across Johannesburg; they are eager to learn, absolutely hilarious, and so kind. Our teachers are hard working, mission driven, do-what-it-takes educators committed to their students. I continue to be grateful to serve on the eAdvance team, a visionary crew with a no-excuses attitude. The second school term (of four) began this week, and we are in the midst of celebrating our students’ academic and personal progress from last term. That’s a very short way of saying much has happened since I posted in October, and I have much to be proud of and thankful for.
During school term holidays, I had the opportunity to return to the United States for about ten days. I spent half the time in California, where I visited friends in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Oakland, and San Jose. I also got to see and teach my former students at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary School during two afternoons. Then, I flew to Richmond, Virginia for the last half of the trip. There, in addition to spending time with family, I had the privilege of speaking at TedxCollegeofWilliamandMary, an independently organized TED event at the College.
Let me give you a peak inside my brain for a moment: I got to return to the place I love the most (the College) to speak at a conference licensed by my favorite “ideas organization” (TED) about the cause I am most passionate about (education reform) alongside the people I most respect (William & Mary students, alumni and professors). I was absolutely thrilled—and also seriously nervous.
What I should have anticipated was that my talk was not even close to the highlight of my Tedx experience. My talk was the last in a 4 hours series of thought-provoking talks on innovation in storytelling, data-driven international aid, myth in religion, community engagement, gender equity and more. By the time my talk about education reform and habits of innovation came around, I felt like much of what I had to say had been expressed over the course of the afternoon by the other speakers. It’s a beautiful thing to feel like the essence of your ideas is also encompassed in the ideas of others. This community conscience – one that simultaneously values tradition and newness, and in all things, seeks to serve others – may be the William & Mary-est thing about William & Mary.