When new students arrive at RedCliff Ascent, they are in a vulnerable place. Many students are scared, uncertain, or angry. Within the first two days that students arrive, staff and other students welcome the newcomers with a ritual called the Spoon Ceremony.
Field and Experiential Director Justin Swensen brought the welcoming ceremony to RedCliff Ascent. During the Welcome Ceremony, RedCliff staff and students welcome newcomers to the program during the Spoon Ceremony. When the ceremony begins, everyone sits in a circle. They pass around a handmade wooden spoon. Someone at RedCliff Ascent carves each spoon. Typically, the spoons are carved out of a wood found locally or in the course area that the students’ explore.
The people in the group pass around the spoon. Each person that touches the spoon puts a hope or an intention into the spoon toward the newcomer to welcome them into the program. The leader of the ceremony talks about the metaphor behind the spoon. For example, you can use a spoon to nourish yourself or someone else. By doing the hard work of participating in a program like RedCliff, students are also learning how to nourish themselves and others.
Another metaphor that is discussed in the ceremony relates to transformation. Generally, the spoon begins as a rough piece of wood. When woodcarvers look at rough pieces of wood, they see something beautiful inside. By expertly removing the unnecessary pieces of wood, woodcarvers eventually get down to the where they are just fine-tuning this usable thing that was inside of the stick.
Similarly, students who come to RedCliff are often a little rough around the edges. However, although the students might have some poor behavior patterns when they arrive at RedCliff, there is something beautiful and unique inside them. By helping them and encouraging them to let go of the unnecessary things, staff and students help the newcomer to strengthen the good things they already have within them. With the rough edges smoothed away, the newcomer can become the beautiful person they had inside all along.
“It’s hard to explain to someone who has not already been through it. With the ceremonies that we do, there is a token from each one, and the first token that they receive basically is the spoon. So, when students graduate, the ceremony and tokens help them to share that experience with their families. Students can say, ‘Look this is the spoon that I received when all of the students came together for my benefit and allowed me to feel safe emotionally, mentally, and physically.’”
The ceremonies, and the tokens that the students gain from each one helps students to understand the process of transformation they experience. Ceremonies like the Spoon Ceremony help to make the process of transition feel real. They also better enable students to share these transformative experiences with the people who love them.