In a 'Human Library,' Books are Alive

At a combination of a no-pressure career fair, a bring your parent to school day and a meet and greet, students had the unique opportunity to experience a "Human Library."

During the one-day event in the Academy Learning Commons in Cooke Library on March 16, students visited with adults from the community one-on-one or in small groups to chat about life's different paths.

The mentors, or "books," were spread out around the Learning Commons at tables. Students could go from table to table or consult the catalog of "books" to find a person who shared their interests.

"The concept of a Human Library was originally created to dispel stereotypes," explained Ashley Saculla '01. As part of her professional development this year, the Academy Social Studies faculty member was interested in incorporating more experiential learning into her classes, building empathy and showing diversity.

Saculla visited a Human Library in Canada and brought the idea back to her students in their Capstone class. They liked it and took the reins on coordinating one of their own.

From a polygraph examiner to local comedian Augie T, the range of "autobiographies" was wide.

Eighty-year-old Alton Slater, a former piano tuner, shared how he's made meditation a part of his daily life. Meditating upwards of 4 hours a day, Slater has over 20,000 hours of meditation under his belt yet humbly claims he's "still a beginner."

At another table, Academy mathematics faculty Douglas Kiang '87 told students about a less calming activity: skydiving. "I was addicted to jumping," he said, and would do four or five jumps in a single day. He used to skydive "like some people surf," bringing his rig to school and driving to the drop site as soon as he was off.

Surprisingly though, after hundreds of jumps, the adrenaline rush wears off. "The excitement comes from the perception of danger, after hundreds of jumps, you lose that," Kiang explained.

Nearby, John Contini, a financial advisor, was giving one student advice on a career path. The student, who operates a successful tree-trimming business, wondered if he should continue with it after graduating.

"Discover what brings you joy and go from there to make a determination about your career," Contini offered. "Journal and spend time in nature contemplating that." Contini, a guest teacher at Punahou and comedian, also told students, "You don't have to tie yourself down to one thing."

On the other end of the Learning Commons, Kathy Ryder, a doctor of internal medicine, was giving similar advice, commenting on the different avenues of medicine and how she found the right one that fit her personality. "There's something for everyone," she said.

Pediatrician Dr. Diane Ching echoed that sentiment in describing how she balances having family with a career. "You have control over your lifestyle," she said. At multiple points in her life, she's stopped to ask herself, "What can I let go of?" and made adjustments based what was realistic for her schedule. "That way, it's less likely to lead to burnout."

Meanwhile, Ed Tejero, was being open with students about the struggles of being laid off at the company he'd worked at for 25 years. "Appreciate what you have and don't take it for granted," he said. "Be prepared and be on top of your game, no matter what."

Post-it notes covering a wall near the library's entrance gave insights about what students took away from the event: "Some people have very different and unique lifestyles;" "There's a lot more to life than I thought;" and written in all capital letters, "It's ok to not know."