I first want to thank everyone involved in making this conference happen, including the Center for Green Schools, the Green Schools National Network, all of the individuals on the planning committee, and many of the organizations that you see in your program…and I have to give a big shout out to my colleague, Andrew Ellsworth, who has put so much time and effort into making this successful. Including securing funds to provide up to 50 scholarships…because we believe that equity is also about access and inclusion. I also want to thank Mary Schrag and Teresa DeFlitch, who are also part of the Green & Healthy Schools Academy team and make our work possible. And of course, the many amazing, inspiring people throughout Western PA and West Virginia who have done such great things in their schools and communities...these are the people who inspire me every single day. I wish I had the time to tell you about all of their inspiring stories.
In preparing for these very brief remarks, I consulted with my speech writer. He told me to focus on inspiration…and the powerful values and ideas of wonder, joy, happiness, empathy, but above all else…Love. He has a lot to say at 13 months, as you can see. When I found out that I was pregnant, a dear friend of mine who also happens to be the head of a school, said to me, "your child will be loved here at this school." It’s not because we are friends, or have worked together for years, but because this is the same thing she tells every parent who walks through their doors. As a mother, this literally warmed my heart and lifted so much anxiety. And then, I felt sad because I started to think about all students, and all children, and wondering if they are happy and if they feel loved…at home, in their schools, and in their communities.
Through my work, we try to help schools create inspiring, healthy, and high performing places of learning. And the reason WHY we do this work…is because we truly believe that all students…all children….deserve to be happy, healthy, and above all, loved. When I take the time to be silent, and think about the faces, the hopes, the dreams, and innocence of many, many children in this world…and that many of them may grow up to be…or feel right now…unhappy and unloved. The gravity of that situation is intolerable to me. I feel like our ability to get to a better, brighter, happier, just, and thriving future is dependent upon loving all of our children, loving each other, and of course, loving ourselves.
Sometimes we need to define the things that are intolerable to us, in order to discover our WHY. Our why is what drives us, what gets us out of bed in the morning, what enables us to inspire and engage other people, and it is essential to connecting on a deeper level with ourselves and with others. We’ve spent the past two days talking a lot about the WHAT and the HOW, but we need to have the COURAGE to start discussing the WHY. The WHY is what is going to build this movement, and sustain it. Most of the time, our conversations or differences live in the areas of the what and the how. Regardless of our differences, we can usually connect on the deeper level of WHY.
Yesterday, I decided to do a little research. I was curious. And for those who know me, I don’t always follow the rules. So after the plenary, against our instructions…I dropped my bag in a session and told my colleague that I would be right back…but found myself finding the large crowd of people….I hid my badge inside my jacket and cut in line for the political candidate rally. Now, this is not about politics. But, I was curious as to WHY there with 8,000 or more people lined up…very early in the morning, I might add…and enthusiastic about a rally for a person and his vision for all people. And it made me think how amazing and excited I would be if those people were lined up to get into this room to learn about creating healthy, sustainable, beautiful, green schools for all children. I made my way into the room, and it was filled with energy and excitement. My experience made me think about how important it is to define and create a vision and narrative that brings so many people along with you. I challenge our narrative within this movement. “Green Schools” are not the end game; they are just the what or the how. The WHY and the vision is what people are looking for. Every great movement in our history had a vision that inspired people and brought many of them along.
I believe part of our vision is about creating a happier, healthier, just, and thriving future for every single person...a future where all people have access to opportunity, engagement, and a high quality of life. In order to get there, we need to create and foster empathy and love within all of our students. For many of us here in the room, we happen to believe that creating green schools, healthy schools, sustainable schools…or basically, investing in education and the places where children learn…and designing our buildings, curriculum, learning, culture, and relationships in a way that make people great…is a pathway to achieving a greater vision. It’s not the full answer, but represents a path.
This entire green schools movement exists because we have failed in so many other places in our society, most of them systemic. I want to stop discussing the symptoms (like poor indoor air quality, disinvestment in education, inequality, hungry children, lead in the water, and on and on), and get to the real cause. I happen to believe that the solution lies with LOVE. Loving ourselves, loving each other, and loving the places that we share…including places like our schools, our communities, and our earth. Because none of us will fight to save what we do not love.
I hope you all have the courage to leave here and connect with your big WHY. There is too much to lose not to. The stakes are too high. If you have a hard time finding it, just keep asking yourself…WHY? And if you don’t know what I mean by this, hang out with a young child who is filled with curiosity (after answering every questions, their response is usually “why?”). And then connect to others…and have real, deep, meaningful conversations. And find their WHY. And this will help us build a stronger movement. And the vision for a stronger future. If we can shift our narrative to one of beauty, equity, empathy, and love…these are the values and ideals that will help us to transform our places, people, and mindsets. And one year, this conference is going to have a line of 8,000 or more people waiting to get together and connect over this very inspiring work… this essential work…and the possibility of a future for all people.
In order to get there, we need more edgewalkers. People with courage. People who are willing to be vulnerable. People who are willing to challenge the status quo. People who want to better understand themselves, and others. People interested in their OWN humanity, and ALL of humanity. People who are willing to take the time to build deeper connections with and listen to others. If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room. It’s time for us all to get out of our comfort zones. And to connect, and work together towards a beautiful, inspirational vision. The stakes are too high not to.
And with that, I want to thank you again for coming to Pittsburgh…a place that many of us love dearly. I have enjoyed meeting many of you, and engaging in some deep, and meaningful conversations. And I hope this is just the beginning, and that we can connect on this journey forward.