Reflections on the International Student Meeting 2013 at the Goetheanum

The grade 12 class from TWS arrived at the Zurich airport in the early hours of the morning on May 29th and quickly got on board one of the famous, punctual Swiss trains heading towards Basel, then to Dornach, the home of the Goetheanum and our final destination. . We took bus 66 up the very steep hill (it became steeper every day) to the Goetheanum and arrived at the impressive sculpted building designed by the founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner.  One student expressed his reaction to  all the beautiful, carefully designed buildings and grounds as a feeling of being at home. There is a well known idiom that says, “Home is where the heart is” and indeed this trip and conference were about finding the universal heart of humanity. The heart is the organ that lives between extremes. The interplay of contraction and expansion, above and below, east and west, light and dark is at the heart of Waldorf education and the education of our young people today. The students were asked to rethink their notions of Time and  Money  – the title of the conference. They were asked to find the heart of the matter with respect to these concepts.

 The old town of Dornach is nestled among rolling hills between the Alps and the lower flat river valley of Basel. The young people attending the conference were called upon to find the balance in all things and act out of insight and not out of external laws and codes: “I do what is right because I love the action, not out of fear or punishment.”

The students toured the building of the Goetheanum which has  its orientation to the west  and a markedly square front that is changed and lifted into dynamic  forms towards the east. They saw the seven pillars showing the metamorphosis of form from Saturday to Friday and they saw the artistic attempt to see the relationship between time and space in the creative act.  They saw beautifully etched, coloured windows and they saw that they were part of the modern world  that they have the potential to shape out of their own idealism.

The students were delighted, at the first evening dinner gathering, to meet their fellow Waldorf students who hailed from Brazil, The Philippines, Italy, Finland, Sweden, The Ukraine, Sweden and Japan. There were,  as well, a few young people who found themselves drawn towards the experience even though their schools chose not to attend as a group and among these were some students who had attended our school through the exchange program and just couldn’t get enough of us fun-loving Canucks. We all  settled into the conference the next day with an early breakfast and  a lecture by Florian Osswald,  head of the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum. He spoke about the meeting of past and present in creating the experience of the human soul, as expressed in the ever becoming moment. He gave an enlivening picture of the human being as only an experienced Waldorf teacher could. He shared a lovely story of a girl in his senior science class holding her arms up for the duration of an hour while all her classmates dropped theirs from exhaustion, however determined they were to meet the challenge. When she was asked why could she hold them so long in the air, she replied “II imagined hot air balloons holding them up”. Florian went on to explain that it is our consciousness that helps hold us upright in the world and it is our imagination that can help solve the numerous challenges that face  young people of today. The students received many such pictures and thoughts that helped them to take hold of all the rich experiences of their Waldorf education and transform them into self awareness and pride. The ugly duckling is in fact a Swan. The isolated Waldorf student of Thornhill is now a world class citizen with a rich tool bag of capacities to bring to bear on the world.

The students had many opportunities over the course of the four days to share their cultural backgrounds. They saw dance and plays, heard songs and music from, Japan, Ukraine, Philippines, Brazil, Italy, Sweden and  Finland . Our Canadian group shared many songs and filled in, when there was suddenly some extra time available, by teaching the lovely song ‘One Voice’ to the international group. I had tears in my eyes as Savannah Tonigussi signed (spoke in ASL)  a verse that Rudolf Steiner  had given to the first Waldorf graduating class. The students shone in all the lectures and workshops. The Eurythmy teacher from Holland told me that she had never worked with such a fine receptive group of students and said that “your school must be located in the country”. “An oasis of sorts,” I replied. How could I explain that the abundance of forces came from the love and support of parents, family, friends, teachers, administrators and the Board helping to hold it all together. The glowing accolades from abroad and from the organizers of our recent community service trip to Detroit tells you something of the quality of their education.

They received a lecture from the CEO of Triodos Bank in the Netherlands, Peter Blom. He  empowered them to embrace their ‘inner banker’ and know that they are at the epicenter of change by working with each other and using social media and social conscience as a tool of change. He told them that conscious consumer choices leads to conscious CEO’s in banks.  The farmer-activist , Ueli Hurter, leader of the Agricultural Section at the Goetheanum,   gave the young people a profound picture of a moral technique for change. He showed the power of working with placing ideas in the centre of a circle of community, with an emphasis on the need to form the circle as one of alliances with all members of a community, even those that one might feel  at odds with,  and having the individuals stand around to embrace the  transformation of past into the future.  He shared the idea bringing the world into the farm and developing new festivals of sowing and harvesting.  Constanza Kaliks, leader of the Youth Section at the Goetheanum,   spoke about the history of virtues and described the virtues that youth need today. She quoted the words of Dag Hammarskjold, a former UN Secretary-General who said “For all that has been, thank you. For all that is to come, Yes!” She was able to weave all the previous lectures from the other presenters into a quality of enthusiasm for the times we live in and the courage to walk towards and through the challenges that lie ahead.

The evening performances of Faust, a violin, cello and piano trio, and the Eurythmy performance of Momo  was an enriching of the days’ activities and helped show the depth with which “art can help reveal what nature conceals”. The students had late evenings with an open mic café and even a travelling Russian rock band, following the great hall performances. Our students worked hard and engaged in numerous conversations with the students from around the world and have received many invitations to visit far flung places. They walk away knowing that they have received many gifts from their Waldorf education but also the great responsibility to help achieve an awareness of the whole and the importance of the strong individual today.

The students then took the remaining four days to travel to Colmar , Basel, Interlaken in the Swiss Alps and Freiburg. They saw many a profound work of art and architecture. They tasted the varying culinary cuisines. They had their breath taken away by the sheer power of the mountains and stunning waterfalls, as did I!

The students handled themselves with great decorum and began to see the relationship between individual need and the needs of the whole .

This summary doesn’t do justice to the experience but hopefully gives you a small window into the inner and outer landscape they experienced.   A deep heartfelt thank you to Michelle Frank whose initial e-mail caused the conference to happen; Helene Gross for all her supervision equanimity and wisdom; Robin, my son, for his love of travel and laughing in the halls of the Goetheanum; The grade 12 parents, and especially the Rajsky’s and Dunk-Green’s for their extra support to enable Michelle and Robin to come along with us; and  my colleagues for holding the fort here while we were gone.

I would like also to thank Lisa Seidel, Friederike Jung,  and Constanza  Kaliks for all their generous support and help in making it possible for our students to attend.


Leed Jackson Grade 12 advisor

Toronto Waldorf School