I admit it. I'm jealous. I never thought I would be jealous about a piece of furniture, but I am.
When I saw the podium that we have since shipped to South Korea as a gift to commemorate the opening of St. Johnsbury Academy Jeju, I was struck with a serious case of podium envy. Made by Academy woodworking teacher Matt Stark and his students, the podium is a replica of the Fuller Hall podium, only made out of American cherry. It's absolutely beautiful—the kind of furniture piece you want to run your hands over: polished, smooth, warm. Too beautiful to just look at, it invites you to touch it.
The podium also has several artistic touches that are a testament to Matt's creativity and careful design, characteristics that made him a prominent furniture maker in Hollywood for clients like Arnold Schwarzenegger. First, the podium has three black bars on each side, representing the three solid bars on the flag of the Republic of South Korea. These bars symbolize heaven, east, and fatherhood. On the front, Matt used three broken bars, also a symbol on the Korean flag, symbolizing earth, west, and motherhood. His message is clear: our partnership with St. Johnsbury Academy Jeju is a transformative event, joining heaven and earth, east and west, male and female in a common venture.
The wood Matt chose for these bars is also significant. They are made of Nigerian mahogany, to represent the international nature of both schools, and they are stained a shade of black meant to imitate the color of the volcanic rock for which Jeju Island is so famous. In addition, he found a piece of Vermont poplar, which had both green and white hues, and turned that into a circular seal, upon which appears the St. Johnsbury Academy Jeju seal (depicting the Colby Bell Tower), created in our Maker Space with the help of Science Department Chair Dr. Elia Desjardins. Again, Matt was able to capture some the essential elements of our school in these choices: international diversity, Vermont roots, and comprehensive programming that combines the arts and technology. All of these will be elements of SJA Jeju as they enroll a diverse student population, become intimately connected to their local community, and promote a comprehensive curriculum, including their own Maker Space.
Finally, on both sides of the podium, Matt carved the three planks of our mission (again with Dr. Desjardins' help in the Maker Space) into the beautiful pieces of mahogany: Character, Community, and Inquiry. These three words, which embody the three promises we make to our students and their families, are perhaps my favorite part of the podium and the part that ties our school to SJA Jeju most closely. Both schools promise to do all they can to help young people become the best people they can be and live lives of integrity, compassion, respect, and responsibility; become the best learners they can be and find something they love to learn; and become part of something bigger than themselves as they strive to leave the world better than they found it. Joined in living out these promises, our schools are connected in a profound and powerful way.
So I want one of these for Fuller Hall. Matt knew I would; in fact, he said when he presented the podium for me to view for the first time, "You're probably gonna want one of these, huh?" Yup. And more than that, I want to celebrate the work Matt does every day and especially this beautiful testament to his talent and our school's new international partnership. Matt might have made more money as the furniture maker to the stars, but he is making a much greater impact as the furniture maker to the world. I am sure his work will inspire generations of SJA and SJA Jeju students to create meaningful beauty of their own.