Service and Authenticity

Cy Harris

Today, our visit to Woodstock School in Mussoorie proved incredibly inspiring for me. This boarding school is distinguished by its commitment to various core values, one of the main ones being service. We discussed the historical roots of service, traditionally associated with religion, and considered its evolution into something sought after by colleges, often devoid of its original altruistic essence. This transformation reduces acts of service to nothing more than checkboxes on applications, devoid of genuine intent to help others. Woodstock tries to preserve the purity of service for its intrinsic value by encouraging students to start clubs and projects only with genuine interest in them, and to avoid creating these things simply to boost a resume. The teachers work closely with students, and since I plan to become a teacher, I felt that was something I would like to remember when working with students. 

Later, over tea, we had the privilege of conversing with journalist Ranjona Banerji, who highlighted a similar loss of authenticity in journalism. While the United States remains a “North Star” of authentic journalism, much of the industry has become solely for entertainment rather than delivering substantial news. Banerji emphasized the importance of confronting controversial topics and discussed the current trend of media catering solely to personal, preconceived beliefs, thereby stifling meaningful dialogue among diverse perspectives. Our society has become isolated, and we avoid contentious topics crucial for progress. Acknowledging and embracing our differences is incredibly important to prevent further fragmentation and foster genuine understanding. Banerji poignantly reminded us that despite our differences, fundamental human emotions remain universal. She urged each generation to appreciate the nuances of individual experiences, encouraging empathy and dialogue. She said, “Remember what you were like when you were young so you don’t lose that part of you.”I feel that was a strong theme today, not just as a person, but as a society. 

In conclusion, our experience at Woodstock School and the insightful conversation with Ranjona Banerji emphasized the critical need for preserving authenticity in service and journalism, fostering dialogue, and embracing diversity to navigate the complexities of our ever-evolving society. These lessons resonate deeply, serving as guiding principles for personal and collective growth.

Bella Sol Padilla

Towards the end of our India trip, while up on the mountain of Mussoorie, we had the opportunity to have a tour of a school called Woodstock. Similar to Mount Madonna, Woodstock is surrounded by mountains and picturesque scenery. Although the weather is usually mild and sunny, we visited on a cold and foggy day. As the mist of the fog blew, my classmates and I hiked up the mountain to the school. The school itself is well maintained, which I found interesting because Woodstock is one of the oldest international boarding schools in India. I would assume the students attending Woodstock would get their mountain legs quickly as our day was filled with climbing steps and trekking through woods. 

The leader of the tour, Jamie, who is the Director of the Center for Imagination, walked us through the beautiful campus. She spoke to Woodstock’s diverse community. India is well known for being a melting pot of diverse cultures and religions. Naturally, I wasn’t surprised when Jamie told the group that Woodstock fosters students from 36 different countries. It took me a minute to process as my classmates and I all come from the same state. 

Beatrice, one of my classmates, asked Jamie how Woodstock managed to fulfill the needs of students with different language barriers. Jamie explained that there is actually a project in the works that is about native languages and translation. The three main languages taught at Woodstock are English, Hindi, and French. However, it seems that this project will help create more space for students who speak specific languages. Jamie pointed out that through the process of translation, meaning can get lost, so students who participate in the project will have the opportunity to write a piece in their mother tongue, and translate it into English. The purpose is to observe translation and allow the students to express themselves in the language most comfortable to them. 

One of Woodstock’s main principles is service. Woodstock has historical roots as a Christian school, however, students of all backgrounds and religions are welcomed. Something I noticed is that the act of service or giving back to the community plays a large role in any religion, not just Christianity. Students are given the time and space to invent new ways to give back to the community. Whether through their annual fundraisers to raise charity, or through volunteering at local hospitals, students are surrounded by this culture of giving. 

It made me reflect on a community service project my class is involved in. At our school we have pioneered a project that will help restore the lake on campus, called the Lotus Project. This culture is not just prevalent in the school but in all of India as well. I hope to take this culture of giving back home with me and incorporate it into my own work. 

Sophia Manzur

For the longest time, I have found it difficult to feel empathetic towards individuals with opposing opinions. I think my family can attest to this, especially when I feel passionately about certain social issues. As humans, we crave, yearn, and fight for our individuality. That being said, it is easier to categorize ourselves with others who feel similarly, rather than finding a middle ground and coming to the realization that we are all human beings. People (especially politicians) have taken advantage of this and have used it for their own political agendas. We get so concerned with our own views that we don’t realize that sometimes, we are fighting for the same exact thing. 

Today my class had the honor of having a conversation with Ranjona Banerji. Banerji is an Indian journalist who is best known for her insightful and analytical writing. In her time as a journalist, she has contributed to prominent publications, giving them a unique perspective on various social, political, and cultural issues. Banerji’s thought-provoking pieces have set her apart from other journalists in the industry, establishing her as a respected voice in the realm of journalism. 

What I find most inspiring about her work is she tries to breathe humanity into the piece. When reading pieces about certain controversial topics, it is easy to lose the humanity within them. Although I think it is important to have pieces that have a sense of neutrality to them, I find it innovative of her to incorporate her own personality into the piece. 

Ranjona Banerji

Banerji also spoke on understanding the different generations. Younger people, like myself, have been trying to change certain customs that have been embedded into our society for hundreds of years. Banerji said that when she was young, her generation was trying to do the exact same thing that my generation is trying to achieve so she tries to remember her own perspective from when she was young to further understand ours. I found this quite beautiful because there can be a notion that you need to shed your old self to become something new. I also see that many people are ashamed or embarrassed of their younger self, which they shouldn’t be. 

Through this conversation, I gathered that even if the opposing opinion is hard to hear, you should still listen, ask questions, and try to understand it. You don’t necessarily have to agree, but it is a step further to finding our common ground. When I grow older, I hope to carry my younger self with me so I am able to understand others and hopefully bridge the gaps within our society.