Waldorf: a home

By Sophia Meiners, November 2019

Extracts from the speech of Sophia Meiners, pupil in class 12 of the Nuremberg Rudolf Steiner School, at the festive ceremony of the Bavarian Waldorf schools for Waldorf 100 in Nuremberg on 23 March.

Foto: © mathesch/photocase.de

Ladies and gentlemen, dear guests,

It is a pleasure to be permitted to stand before you and be part of the festivities for Waldorf 100. I have been asked to come here as a representative of the school students and describe everyday Waldorf school life from the perspective of a pupil. That is not so easy since undoubtedly every pupil has their own individual thoughts about the subject of Waldorf. … I would like to illustrate for you today why it means something special and valuable for me to be a Waldorf pupil, why I am so grateful to be able to go to school here and why I say with pride that I am a Waldorf pupil through and through.

I am very much involved in the field of education policy and thus come into contact daily with many different young people from state schools. When you introduce yourself as a Waldorf pupil, you always see the same surprised, sadly often also slightly amused looks and the same questions are always asked: “Isn’t that where you don’t get any marks?”, “Can you dance your name?”, “What’s so cool about Waldorf?” I then explain patiently that we only get proper marks in the high classes, but before that reports with individual written assessments by each teacher. And I love it when my acquaintances and friends from the state schools then look in surprise with envy and admiration and say they would really love to have that too. Full of pride, I explain what eurythmy is and contradict everyone who ways it is useless. 

To me, the Waldorf school, the Waldorf system is so much more than a school. For me it is a place in which I always, despite occasional stress, feel secure, a protecting space – it is like home. That may sound silly to some. But it is the truth. When I think of my school, I smell the scent of lavender, fresh wood and wax crayons, I see bright colours on paper and beautiful jotters and books we have made ourselves, and I hear laughing children and, sometimes slightly off, recorder playing. When I think of my school, I cannot help but smile. The variety offered by Waldorf is absolutely unique. I don’t hear from any other young people that they have so many work placements as we do, so many practical art lessons, that their strengths and weaknesses are individually supported and they are not just reduced to marks and numbers, but that really they themselves and above all the human element is important. 

When I’m asked about my teachers, I can of course name names like everyone else and say something about the teacher concerned and their subject. But I learnt above all through the lively lessons, the wonderful blackboard drawings and the school books which we were able to fill year after year in every main lessons with essays, stories and pictures. During my time in school, I was with Goethe in Italy in German lessons, and what a time that was! I sat with Faust and the Devil in the inn drinking beer and secretly hoping that Faust would not fall into the fiendish trap. I recall an evening some years ago on which I came home and told my family in a shocked voice that Schiller had died today. I will never forget the surprise on my parents’ faces when they saw how much I had been moved by the way our teacher told us about his death.

In the history main lesson I empathised and suffered with the victims of the Second World War, thought I could feel the impact of the falling bombs and the naked fear, and was ashamed to belong to a species which was able to inflict such evil and horrific suffering on our world. In English, I visited Queen Elisabeth with Shakespeare and watched as my beloved Globe Theatre burned down – twice. I grieved with Juliet for Romeo and hated Lady Macbeth because she was such an an evil and scheming woman. In French I fought for a better future at the side of the rebels, in geography I calculated my ecological footprint and at home made us stop using plastic bottles. I discovered a bowl and salad servers in a block of wood and wove colourful wool into a rug. Even in mathematics I was carried away – and that is saying something where I’m concerned – if only to picture to myself that I had to divide a piece of cake between an infinite number of people in order to determine as a result that the limit value is close to zero.

Do you know these typical invisible friends whom children have in the course of their childhood and who disappear at some point as they enter puberty? Shakespeare, Schiller and Goethe were my invisible friends. For years. Oh, and can you keep a secret? Sometimes they still are …

I don’t want to claim that – like at any other school – there might not be the odd thing to learn or improve on here too. And it’s normal that as pupils we sometimes look forward to the weekend and the holidays, I’m no exception there either. But I believe that few children and young people can truly claim to feel themselves in such good hands in their school as I do. It is an honour and a privilege for me to be able to attend a school at which I enjoy learning and lessons grip and inspire me, and I truly have the feeling that I am not just learning for the exams but for life.

I am proud to see the world with the eyes of a Waldorf pupil and to follow my path with a heart that is open to diversity and individuality. Without this school I would not be the person that I am today. So a great big thank you and all good wishes for the hundredth anniversary!