Prayers, hopes and dreams. Final exam anxiety and seasonal stress.
Students and staff members at Charles Wright Academy in University Place took the last day of the school term Friday to bury them all – literally – in the snowy school grounds.
The hope was that negative feelings could decompose and dissipate, allowing the positive wishes to take root.
The symbolic ceremony sprang from the mind of school art teacher Brian Hutcheson, who said he saw it as a way to nourish people’s spirits during a hectic time of year.
Earlier this month, he installed his interactive sculpture titled “The Wall” in the private school’s Ted Sanford Art Gallery. The piece, made from plywood panels that were laser-cut with a honeycomb-like design, hung on the gallery walls.
Members of the school community were invited to write a message – a prayer, a wish or a worry – and leave it in the hexagon-shaped pigeonholes of “The Wall.” Hutcheson pledged that the messages would remain private and unread, and students said they respected that wish.
“I was inspired by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, where people come and stuff prayers into the cracks of the wall,” Hutcheson said. He said his research revealed that written prayers left at the wall, also known as the Western Wall, are periodically removed and buried.
He said his “Wall” was designed as a space for Charles Wright students and staff to write down their joys or troubles.
“Write it down, roll it up, leave it at the wall,” were the instructions posted alongside the art work, along with a table bearing pencils and sheets of purple and blue paper.
Hutcheson said his first inspiration was to collect the messages and make them into a book. But after speaking with his wife, a public school psychologist, he felt the need for something more symbolic of closure.
He considered a ritual burning of the messages, but finally hit on the idea of burial, again inspired by practices at the famous wall in Jerusalem.
“I had no idea how people were going to respond to the piece,” Hutcheson said. “It was important that people interact with it.”
As of Friday morning, he had counted nearly 200 notes.
On Friday, just after students finished exams, Hutcheson removed the notes and placed them in boxes, then carried them to a special spot behind the school.
The Charles Wright campus stands on a large piece of property that was once the site of a peach orchard. Hutcheson decided to bury notes from “The Wall” beneath the property’s one remaining peach tree.
He and a small group of students and faculty were joined by school chaplain, the Rev. Mike Moffitt, for a brief ceremony. Moffitt read passages drawn from three faith traditions – Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism – each with a message of blessing and peace.
Everyone took turns shoveling dirt into the hole beneath the gnarled old peach tree.
Tenth-grader Becca Kihara said the closing ceremony brought home the message of letting things go.
Classmate Kaylee Kim, also a tenth-grader, said it was a fitting way to put to rest the stress of a tough semester. She said “The Wall” showed her that she wasn’t the only student struggling to make it to the finish line.
“It brought our high school, our community together,” she said.