By Meara Cline

I graduated from Friends School of Minnesota in 2012 and went onto DeLaSalle High School. I am now a sophomore at the University of Minnesota. I jumped from a school of 160 students, to one with 800 students and now I’m at one with 40,000. These were all very different spaces with diverse missions and unique students. I am convinced that my ability to navigate these unique places and form strong communities in each of them, is grounded in the education I received while at Friends School of Minnesota.

It’s fun to explain Friends School of Minnesota to new people. Often they ask, “Did you take friendship class?” To which the answer is “No.” Then they’ll always ask if I had a lot of friends at the “Friends School” and to this day my answer is, “Yes, I absolutely did.”

Being with the same small group of people for nine years of my life is something so unique and valuable it’s hard to put into words. When the class lists came out every August, the question was not if you had friends in your class, but which friends you had in class. I didn’t just know the names of my classmates, I knew their parents names and what pets they had.

In my 2012 graduation speech I tried to reflect on my time at FSMN. I felt such angst as I spoke to the FSMN community. It was hard to leave a space where I felt so at home and so valued. But, honestly, explaining what FSMN means to me, still overwhelms me today. It was only after leaving that I was able to appreciate the unique experience I had at this school. I soon realized that graduation was not a goodbye. You can’t really leave the FSMN community, and for that I am grateful.

I found it was not just the memories I made before graduation, but the way all of my experiences there shaped my life after leaving. I still see friends from my grade. I still fall back on the morals that I developed at FSMN in difficult times. I still find myself looking at hard issues from multiple angles, trying to understand the very complicated world we all live in.

Part of the FSMN Mission is to prepare children to embrace life, learning, and community with hope, skill, understanding and creativity. Hope is the trickiest topic. How can you teach hope? I think hope is less of a mindset, and connects more to grit. After failing you try again. In tough times you look forward and not backwards.

After the last presidential election, I had a hard time feeling hopeful. Luckily, I had a group of friends who felt the same way. They were worried about the same things I was, and they were equally confused about how to go on in a world that felt so different than the one we grew up in. These people were all from my grade at FSMN. It was the conversations I had with them, the actions they were taking, the productive ideas and unique insights they had, that helped me feel hopeful. They taught hope by exemplifying it.

For me, developing hope cannot be separated from building community, because in my hardest times it has been in the community around me, that I have looked to for hope and strength.