By Jennifer Oakes, EPS English Faculty

We asked Jennifer Oakes, an Eastside Prep faculty member new to the school in the 2022-2023 academic year, to reflect on her first year at EPS. What follows are her reflections on our school, our students, and more.

  1. I’m wearing a baseball hat as I sit on a bench next to Green Lake. I don’t want anyone to recognize me because I want to be unaccountable and anonymous on a sunny day. I am doing some of the loutish work that writers do: watching the world, drinking coffee, looking at faces and leaves and water, creating stories about the people walking by, being a witness to the wide-open whatever of the day.I am also holding onto the idea that hats make us unrecognizable, so it’s unnerving when a woman I don’t recognize slows down and smiles at me in apparent recognition.

    “Kirkland?” she calls over. I shake my head no because my name is not Kirkland. She looks confused and walks on.

    A few minutes later a different woman remarks, “We love that school!” and keeps walking.

    I’m wearing my EPS hat. Kirkland.

  2. A week before school started, I was in TALI when a student greeted me. Like, really greeted me: wide smile, direct eye contact, warm welcome. I didn’t know she would soon be my student. When I stepped into my classroom on day 1, there she was, and recognizing just one face was all I needed. The air no longer felt compressive, and the day opened. We got to spend the year together. The year opened. It ended just as the peonies were blooming everywhere, and I thought, yes, this is what it’s like: look at these beautiful, chaotic blooms that just make you stop and marvel at what it means to become. I got to spend a year with people just like that in my classes. Oh, wonder. Oh, absolutely yes.
  3. I share an office with six people. We are not grouped by any other discernable logic except that we work at EPS, a desk was open, and we needed a place to sit. So how did it work out so well? We each have an assigned desk, though others come and go when a desk is empty and their own office is far away. A desk is always open. There is always space for one more. There is always something to puzzle through, laugh about, or share. Here’s a question that needs attention, an assignment to refine, a book recommendation, an apple, a brownie.
  4. At Green Lake, at least two geese stand guard as a glob of hungry little goslings root into the grass and snap up insects and whatever else goslings eat. The two guard geese are vigilant and will challenge a rottweiler as readily as a bike. It makes no difference to them: they know who they are there for.
  5. Something that makes me weepy, pretty much on cue: parents watching their kids do something their children are proud of. This year, I’ve gotten teary during volleyball games and plays, in conferences, and, most recently, at graduation. I’m moved by people who show up and by the enormity of what it means to be present. The days fly by, and one day we find ourselves suddenly outgrown as our children move on. But when we show up, we put a pin in the map of our memories. We were there. The EPS community shows up, so now I am habituated to carrying Kleenex in my bag.
  6. On my birthday, a rainy October Saturday when the leaves were fifty-three kinds of red, I tromped around the Arboretum with a handful of Middle School students. We walked through puddles and under sodden boughs. Later, as I ate my sandwich, I contemplated that this was how I had elected to spend my birthday. And why not? Who better than Middle Schoolers to help me see an entire season anew?
  7. At the Puffs performance by the understudies, I overhear one of my students in the seats behind me tell his friends he is there to support the performance of his friend. In my class, this same student can work with anyone: happy to change groups as needed, content to lead from the side as he listens and then provides input, willing to share his own experiences in a way that opens the door for others while also tethering us all to a commitment to be authentic, humble, curious, true. I wonder if his friends think of him primarily as an athlete, which is part of who he is. I see him as a person who shows up. And how much this matters. And how he inspires others to do the same.
  8. At the Twentieth Anniversary barbecue, my family finally meets some of the people whose names they’ve heard over the course of the year. And they meet the cardboard cutout of Terry, which of course isn’t at all the same (though, as you know, this cannot be said about everyone). They see the cafeteria where the faculty and students gather for breakfast and lunch, and where the chefs remember everyone by name. A long time ago, I moved to a city, but I didn’t really belong there until I walked into the coffee shop on my block and the barista said, “Good morning, Jen!” and handed me my drink before I’d ordered. At that moment I was from a place. Did that also make me weepish? Yes, of course. To be remembered, and, eventually, to be known. Is there anything more capable of nestling right into the heart of the heart than that?
  9. It’s early. I arrive on campus before I am properly fit to be among people. However, when I walk into the LPC, Javier has my little bowl of oatmeal already waiting for me, and I am suddenly ready. The day begins again.
  10. A student loves poetry. And shares a poem. My heart sings. So many students are willing to try poetry out. To love it. To wade into its mouth where who-knows-what will happen next. Something always happens next.
  11. I trade poems with a student and his mom. Is this a good life? Yes. It’s the entire point: do what you love, let it exist, see how it gathers us. All the student clubs, affinity groups, teams, casts, performances, dinners, and presentations. We gather. This is the point.
  12. All the little goslings of Green Lake are now ungainly, with new feathers starting to poke out so that they look like uncomfortable furniture. Halfway between adorable and stately, the way geese are. They don’t stray far from each other, and they’re starting to pay attention to the world, to look out for each other and after themselves. I go there once a day because we all have a body of water that understands us, and mine is a lake. I still wear my hat, but only on days when I don’t necessarily need to be anonymous. Otherwise, I wear it as an invitation for people to ask me about a place I love because its people show up.