Community September 13, 2016

Senior Projects 2016 – Finding My Inner Calm

Serenity and self-knowledge through solitude


Editor’s note: From a simply educational point of view, high school senior projects provide an opportunity for students to apply skills and knowledge they have acquired over four years to achieve a specific goal. Perhaps more important, though, is the fact that they often inspire students to pursue their true passions, some they may not have known they had before embarking on a senior project.
In a series of articles, we present excerpts from some outstanding projects of the 2016 graduating class.


Annika Landis

High school: Community School

Post-graduation plans:
Middlebury College

Project title: Finding My Inner Calm: Serenity and Self-Knowledge Through Solitude

Annika Landis focused her project on a variety of topics concerning the transition into adulthood, including the challenges of knowing oneself, recognizing the important things in life, and finding one’s place in the world. The climax of the project was spending seven days alone at Coyote yurt in the Smoky Mountains. She lived simply, reflecting on her life, and absorbing the calm of the mountains. Below are excerpts from Annika’s presentation, which included journal entries and reflections before, during and after her stay.


I oftentimes feel that I am moving through my life too quickly to really appreciate it because I am always focused on all of the tasks—athletic, academic and otherwise—that consume my day-to-day existence … This year, I was overwhelmed with a need to slow down and make sense of the transition from the past 18 years to the next four and beyond.

Day 1

Dad and I skied into Coyote yurt this morning … I was reluctant for him to leave because then there would be nothing but silence.

Day 3

The hardest thing for me so far is the silence. Well, it’s not silence, but it’s not noise either. I think what it is is the complete absence of any human-made noises. The only sounds are of the birds, the wind, the melting snow, and my own breathing. I miss the sound of people talking … But I feel that even talking aloud would be a strange disruption … the yurt was overflowing with the wonders and uncertainties of solitude. Solitude is a strange companion. One moment it eats at you with loneliness and the next, it comforts you with inner peace.

Day 4

I feel lonelier today …

When I finally left the yurt, the beauty from the day before was transformed into a forlorn landscape. As I ate lunch at the top of a nearby peak, a colony of ladybugs emerged from the rocks and began to crawl over my legs. The brick wall of terrible loneliness faltered and my senses opened to the unexpected beauty in the simple existence of the landscape … It wasn’t so much a discovery of physical beauty as it was a simple affirmation of what I already knew: that being alive is beautiful and I felt beautiful because I was, as author Richard Louv states, “alive in a larger universe, alive in time.”

Day 5

Out in the wilderness, stripped of most material items, technology, and even my family, I felt a sense of loss but also a sense that I had gained something irreplaceable. I gained a deep appreciation for the simplicity of just being.

Day 7

I am reluctant to leave. I am waiting for Dad to come skiing into the yurt. Deep down, I feel like he is an intruder in the newfound comfort of my solitude … I can hear the snow hitting the roof of the yurt. The moisture drips down the sides but other than that the world is lost in the muted silence that comes with snow. Everything is all put away and packed up and there is nothing left for me to do but wait, anxiously, for the spell to be broken.

Post trip

In only a week, I fell in love with the seductive stillness of a world not preoccupied with time. I was overwhelmed with the thought of leaving until I realized that nothing forbade me from bringing part of that world back with me. If anything, it begged me to do so. What I came away from this project with is something that I know will be important for the rest of my life. I carved out a little place within me for pure and utter calm; a bliss that only comes from a complete surrender to simplicity.

… I believe that only through an honest reflection was I able to create a place of balance.

This article appears in the Fall 2016 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.