“Try Your Best”
By Sarah Babcock (Graduated from Developing Virtue Secondary School in 1995)
On the day of my graduation from Developing Virtue Secondary School in 1995, the students of both Instilling Goodness and Developing Virtue Schools held candles and sang “It’s Called the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.” Tears came to my eyes by the third verse. I was leaving my school of nine years, leaving the community of friends and teachers I’d grown up with, and I felt overwhelmed by a mixture of gratitude and regret. I realized I would never really know how much the school had done for me; I'd never know the amount of work and care that went into giving me an education which united academics and the formation of a good character. How was I to repay something that I could never fully know?
Today, over ten years later, I still feel that the positive influence Instilling Goodness (IGS) and Developing Virtue Schools (DVS) had on my personal growth and education is impossible to express. Nevertheless, the proud occasion of the schools’ 30th Anniversary, inspires me to describe some of the highlights of my experiences and attempt to articulate my gratitude for the unique education I received.
From the beginning, schoolwork did not come easy for me. I had a very difficult time learning to read and was held back a grade before coming to IGS. Once at IGS, I worked hard to catch up to my grade level, and the teachers encouraged me in various ways. One afternoon, one of my teachers, a nun, asked me to come up to her desk. Thinking I was going to get a scolding, I timidly went up. She didn't say a thing, only pulled out her recitation beads.
“See these beads,” she said, “see how shiny and dark they are? When I first got them, they were rough and light, but day after day I used them to practice, and gradually they have become like this.” I admired the beads for a moment before she sent me back to my seat. I was bewildered by this encounter. The nun was the strictest teacher in the school, and we were all afraid of her. I didn't understand why she was showing me her beads. Was she bragging about how much recitation she had done? It was only years later when I was going through some really difficult times that I remembered this incident and realized that the nun had showed me how daily hard work could make difficult tasks easy, just like consistent recitation polish rough beads. Throughout my life, her words have helped me to persevere when things get tough.
In the early years at IGS, I often heard the slogan, “Try Your Best.” When I was struggling with something difficult, or getting nervous about a test, there was bound to be a teacher at hand to remind me that the key was to “try.” I was a perfectionist and so felt my “best,” had to be really, really good, so I tried with all my might. Eventually, I caught up to my grade level, and the simple idea of "trying my best," helped me overcome many academic challenges.
During my years at school, I was also studying ballet at the local dance studio. More of an artist than an academic at heart, I gradually grew to appreciate ballet more than anything else. Due to the time and energy spent at ballet, my schoolwork suffered, and I often missed school because of extra rehearsals or performances. My teachers at IGS/DVS were supportive of my ballet studies, but I always felt they valued my academic education more than I did myself. I believe the fact that they continued to care about my academics even when I wanted only to dance, influenced me to later take my education seriously, go to college, and enter the teaching profession myself.
Another influential aspect of the schools is the fact that the teachers are cultivators, i.e., they are working on changing their negative habits and perfecting the good qualities emphasized in Buddhism right before the eyes of their students. There was one teacher who I never saw get angry, despite the fact she was teaching a class of rather unruly and disrespectful girls. Another teacher used to use colored chalk to draw the most amazing pictures on the black board to illustrate inspiring Buddhist stories. And I will never forget the soft-spoken, gentle taiji teacher who could do “chin-to-toe” and perfect splits; she embodied a balance of physical and mental health. Not all my teachers were so inspiring, but even the less experienced and talented ones taught me something just by their hard work.
Most of my teachers were volunteers, those that received a salary weren't paid very much, and yet I never felt that they resented this. They were educating 100 percent for the well-being of the students. As a student, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the care and dedication that must have motivated their work.
Constant contact with people devoting their lives to education and self transformation was inspiring to me. I graduated feeling that the purpose of life was to figure out how best one could personally benefit society and get busy doing it. After receiving a rare education which nurtured a natural inclination for goodness, I felt almost burdened with gratitude. I determined that the only way I could begin to repay the kindness I had received was by living in accordance with the good principles my teachers taught and embodied, and to emphasize, like they did, the search for wisdom within one’s own heart.