Hundreds of years of history and a resemblance to America’s most respected universities form the campus of Phillips Academy. Great swaths of manicured lawn unfold in front of you, promenades push towards the immaculate cream-colored columns of our landmark building, Samuel Phillips Hall. The campus is beautiful, and yet as I walked into the oasis that is the Riverside School, I wondered if Andover’s revered campus nourished its students in the same way as the colorful buildings in Ahmedabad.
Among the stone buildings of Riverside, vibrant yellow railings led me to the library, purple steps called me to investigate the science labs, and the red frames of doorways welcomed me into a space to create and collaborate with my classmates. Instead of blank brick walls or stately paintings, student artwork plasters the Riverside walls. If I walked through Riverside without seeing a single student I would like to think that as opposed to Andover’s blank corridors, I would still leave with a sense of their voice and identities. Where gold embossed lists of donors, prize-winners, and alumni line the lobby of Samuel Phillips Hall and dozens of other buildings, again, student artwork appears more than anything else at Riverside. The students come first at Riverside, in its deepest core values and in the most visible ways. Imagining myself as a Riverside student, amidst the greens and blue of the hallways, before the tacked up self-portraits and mosaics, I wanted to paint. I wanted to draw. I wanted to create.
After our two articulate tour guides adorned in lime green polos led us through the campus, two other students and I entered into a first grade classroom. Before knocking on the door, we passed the pane of the classroom’s front window, spiraling with blue leaves, dotted stems, and purple names. Reviewing the day’s activities the classroom’s teacher asked the students why they had painted the window. The teacher posed: “Did we paint the window for the visitors, to gain their praise or awe, or did we paint the window for ourselves? Eventually, all the students agreed that the process of making the art was for themselves. The self-purpose instilled by this simple question at the first grade level shocked me. Not only was I envious of the hues of their campus but also their development as first graders facing questions I struggle with at sixteen. And I wondered, walking back onto the dusty street, who I might be if I had been surrounded by the creative design of Riverside’s campus as opposed to the sterile places of my education.