On Wednesday of this week, August 17th, we welcomed Class 29A to AFEA. It’s been an intense number of weeks finalizing acceptances, putting financial aid in order, and preparing for the arrival of the new students.  And Day One is as emotionally charged as you would expect. New students are nervous, excited, and sometimes slightly overwhelmed with the fact that they’re actually here.  Upperclassmen get to stop for a moment of nostalgia as they remember their first day and contrast it to where they are now. Faculty reflect on their own journeys as students and as practitioners (There’s a lot of, “Well on my first day…”). And I finally get to meet in person all of the lovely people I’ve been emailing and talking to over the phone for many, many months.

The first day of the first intensive is a very, very special day here at the Academy. We celebrate the milestone that it represents in our students’ lives, and we welcome the newest members of the Five Element community, those who will carry on this lineage. After breakfast and administrative odds and ends, we move into the classroom for the Opening Circle, which is my favorite part of the entire admissions process.

The Opening Circle is the official beginning of the program where the new class is inducted into the community. Faculty, staff, and current students introduce themselves and talk about their experiences, and new students share what brought them to study Chinese Medicine. It’s remarkable to me how different, and yet how similar, all of the converging paths are.  The desire to help and heal bonds everyone together, no matter how they got here. The Opening Circle is a deeply inspiring moment, and there are usually tears at some point along with much laughter and joy.

The faculty and staff don’t plan what they’re going to say ahead of time. We don’t coordinate it, and yet somehow, a theme always emerges that the students carry on. Since I’ve been with AFEA, I’ve listened as people have spoken about community, about family, about healing. This year, the theme was the journey, specifically, the journey of 1,000 steps and how it begins with one step.

It’s sometimes easy to forget that applying to the program is the first step, or that showing up to the first day is. But in reality, there is a story and a journey for each student just to bring them to the point of applying.  I get to hear a lot about that journey during the application process, but it’s a different experience hearing all of the stories alongside of each other. It was humbling and beautiful to hear some of our new students speak of the 10-, 20-, and 30- year journeys that finally brought them to acupuncture school. There is such heart, passion, perseverance, and joy in those stories. And I consider it privilege to watch people settle into the place they’ve been trying to get to, however circuitously, for so long.

Journeys begin with one step, but they also require the courage to keep moving forward once that path has been chosen.  I congratulate everyone in Class 29A for not giving up and for arriving. Welcome! We wish you much success on this part of the journey. We are here to support you each step of this way.