I went to a Quaker high school. If your AP U.S. History knowledge has since failed you, perhaps the most notable Quaker is the Quaker Oats man, smiling benignly out from the grocery store aisle. Modern Quakerism manifests itself mainly in white, liberal, L.L. Bean types that are mostly concentrated in the American Northeast. It also has a legacy of private schools.
My high school, Moorestown Friends, is one. The “Friends” part (Quakers are also called Friends) has been pretty open to interpretation. There is no governing body decreeing what exactly a Quaker school should be like. Therefore, there are no obviously religious aspects to the school except its name, the required ninth grade Quakerism class, and Meeting for Worship.
Meeting for Worship is the Quaker version of a church service. On fourth period every Wednesday, my entire high school would migrate to a place called the Meetinghouse, a sloping, brick building from the 18th century. There was no pulpit or lectern, just rows of wooden pews facing each other. During this period, we sat in silence until someone felt moved to speak. You might think that a collection of teenagers would not take this practice very seriously. You are only partially correct.
During the first Meeting for Worship I ever attended, a girl stood up to speak about her aunt and uncle dying in a car crash. I remember the spell that everyone sat under for the rest of the period. But it differed widely from that. We had a Meeting for Worship after our school participated in the walkout for Parkland. During this, the daughter of a former congressman stood up and said (her words, not mine) that she didn’t understand why we were all so upset about gun control when thousands of babies were aborted every day. The silence that fell after her comment was distinct. People shuffled around in their seats, uncomfortable and agitated. Because we were in shock, or because we were too polite, or because no one wanted to directly acknowledge the terribleness of the comment, no one responded.
But those are the extremes. Most often, Meeting for Worship was a time where I fell asleep during AP season, lulled by the warm sunshine and comfortable silence. Most often, it was used to gain extensions on assessments. More than once, a new teacher has been convinced to schedule a test during Meeting for Worship, only to be shocked come Wednesday, when her classroom is empty.
Meeting for Worship was, generally, a time of easy complacency, only seldom punctured by the unpleasantness of the real world. It is a fitting metaphor for Moorestown Friends.
My graduating class was seventy. It was frighteningly intimate. You go on a date with someone, and four different people you did not directly inform will make sly comments about it the next day. You call your teacher by their first name and babysit their kids on the weekends. You fight with one of your friends and see them around every corner, during every period. You cannot exist as a stranger in my school.
It forcibly turned me into a people person. By senior year, I embedded myself in a safety net, in which I could go from class to class always accompanied by someone. I could walk into the dining hall at lunch knowing there would always be people to sit with. I could make a Starbucks run before school or stop by the soccer game after school cocooned in the knowledge that someone would be there.
I know that not everyone else has this high school experience, but it was so all-encompassing that it is easy to forget. The Moorestown Friends School bubble was a comfortable place. Warm. A familiar face around every corner. But intimacy didn’t necessarily mean accountability. No one ever wanted to break the unspoken convent of civility, myself included. Returning to the girl who made comments after the Parkland walkout, I think no one ever did confront her. I sat next to her in my watercolor painting elective. I saw her on the weekends at parties. I cheered for her at basketball games. God forbid I make a crack in the smooth facade of our school.
Serena Lin | firstname.lastname@example.org