Forsthoefel leads an AP Psychology class in Langley’s library during the day’s first breakout session. In a circle, Forsthoefel asked students to share the name of a person for whom they chose to dedicate their “walk,” or their day.
Photo by Maia Spoto/The Connection
Andrew Forsthoefel, author of the novel “Walking to Listen,” told hundreds of upperclassmen in the Langley High School auditorium that they were beautiful during his visit on Oct. 11.
“Breaking through our walls, not keeping everything close to yourself, bridging the gap with other people; that’s a message that Langley needs to hear.” —Tanya Punater, Langley Senior
Juniors and seniors read his work, the designated Langley Read novel last summer. “Walking to Listen” is the ninth annual Read, but this is the first year for one of the program’s authors to speak with Langley students in person. Forsthoefel’s novel collects stories from his 2011 walk across the country, from Pennsylvania to California. While trekking through highways, rural roads and cities, Forsthoefel recorded life lessons, anecdotes and encouragement from the people he listened to along the way, and came to realize the importance of personal understanding as a catalyst for peace.
At the beginning of his day at Langley, Forsthoefel told juniors and seniors in two, thirty-minute speeches that they do not need to walk to start listening.
“The world is more beautiful when you can slow down and actually look at someone… Don’t wait to graduate before you can start seeing yourself and the world in this way,” Forsthoefel said.
SENIOR Tanya Punater expected Forsthoefel to recount specific events from his journey and remain within the confines of his novel. “I was pleasantly surprised that he took a more personal direction, tried to connect with us,” Punater said. “Breaking through our walls, not keeping everything close to yourself, bridging the gap with other people; that’s a message that Langley needs to hear.”
After he addressed the upperclassman community as a whole, Forsthoefel conducted four breakout sessions in Langley’s library. Small classes sat in a circle as Forsthoefel interacted with them on a more personal level, to practice the art of human connection. In his first session he asked each member of a class to name the individual for whom they walked.
AP Psychology teacher Allison Herzig said she has grown accustomed to seeing her students as students. “Hearing who they walk for emphasizes that they’re other things, too. It’s a deeply personal experience, to hear someone as a brother, or a sister,” Herzig said.
It’s only possible to care for someone, Forsthoefel said, when one truly understands another person, beyond initial perceptions.
“To me, in those sessions, we got a little glimpse of what’s possible when we start listening to each other. …It was beginning to hear: ‘Oh my gosh, right. Every one of us has a story, a history, a family, people we care about, people we are worried about. It’s so easy to forget that,” Forsthoefel said.
ENGLISH TEACHER Vivian Jewell was instrumental in selecting “Walking to Listen” as last summer’s read, and she organized Forsthoefel’s visit.
“I was hoping that, by bringing in this writer who is alive, rather than the many we read who are dead, it might get the students engaged with reading. …I had a very limited goal. My goal was always about the Langley read. What Andrew gave the community was a lot more,” Jewell said. “I’ve noticed even today, the day after Andrew’s been here, my conversations with my colleagues are lasting a little longer. They are a little more meaningful. I think Andrew has made the staff rethink being kind and taking time to really listen to people as a priority.”
Senior Nina Talwar said, “Sitting down to see another person as another person, not just as ‘someone who’s not your friend’ or ‘someone who’s in another friend group’ is something that high schoolers could really benefit from.”