At University High School, we began this school year with a question: what makes a meaningful life?

Over the summer, students and teachers read The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks, and in August we talked as a school about Rebanks’s journey to discovering his meaningful life.

This notion of a meaningful life, of course, has been examined for centuries. In January, Scientific American ran an article by Emily Esfahani Smith, a journalist who is intrigued by our pursuit of finding meaning. In that article she writes, “The happiness frenzy distracts people from what really matters, which is leading a meaningful life. Human beings have a need for meaning. We’re creatures that seek meaning, make meaning, and yearn for meaning. The question is—how can we lead a meaningful life? The route to meaning lies in connecting and contributing to something bigger than yourself.”

John Noltner at University High School

A-Peace-of-My-MindTo continue our school’s exploration of a meaningful life, we invited award-winning writer, photographer, and peace activist John Noltner, to University. Best known for his work, “A Peace of My Mind: Exploring the Meaning of Peace, One Story at a Time,” Noltner exemplifies the notion of “connecting and contributing to something bigger than yourself.”

Noltner arrived on October 20, and with the help of several students, he set up his display and went right to work, talking with students and teachers, working in classes and addressing the school community during an assembly and the greater Indianapolis community in an evening event. The students in Creative Writing class toured the exhibit and created poems inspired by the images and stories of the people in the exhibit. In the leadership class, students considered their connection to leadership and service and heard from Noltner about his. Freshman Language & Literature students had class with Noltner, learning about the tenets of authentic storytelling.

A photographer by trade, Noltner also set up a mini photo booth on our campus. Asked to consider what makes a life meaningful, students, faculty, parents and alumni met with Noltner who took their photographs and created a video that helped to answer that very question. I encourage you to watch the video below. It shows a side to our school that you may not know — and in fact, it opened my eyes to the genuine spirit of who we are and what we believe in.