Speaker: Patrick Cook-Deegan

Re-Imagining School and Wayfinding Purpose

“So much of our current high school system values achievement over exploration and competition over cooperation. So it is little wonder that many students leave high school and continue to drive toward external achievement without a true sense of self or deeper level of motivation."

Patrick Cook-Deegan is an educator, speaker, and wilderness guide focused on helping young people live more meaningful lives. A former lecturer at Stanford's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, Patrick writes and speaks about boldly re-designing the American high school for the 21st century, drawing on neuroscience, purpose learning and human-centered design.  His articles have been featured in national publications including the Stanford Social Innovation Review, where his article was one of the 10 most popular articles in 2016. Patrick writes and speaks nationally on the importance of purpose learning for adolescents, re-defining high school, and re-defining masculinity.

At Stanford’s Design School, Patrick launched and now independently directs Project Wayfinder, which seeks to inspire our next generation to become intentional meaning-makers empowered to contribute to the world around them.  Project Wayfinder works with schools, offering kits and educator workshops to help equip students with the skills, knowledge and confidence to become purposeful navigators of their lives and the world. It also offers summer institutes at leading universities for high school educators, to equip them to lead students on the Wayfinder Journey and reflect on their own paths as wayfinders.

The term “wayfinding” comes from an ancient system of navigation used by Polynesians to voyage thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean. In order to determine directions at various times of day and year, these wayfinders learned to recognize important signs and patterns in the natural world, such as the position of specific stars, weather and climate, wildlife species, the nature of ocean currents, colors of the sea and sky, and cloud formation relative to land mass.  Wayfinders share a common value system: respect for the earth, an understanding of the interconnectedness of nature and people, a sense of wonder and a spirit of exploration.

Patrick came upon the concept during his own extensive travels in the Far East.  As he writes in a chapter of the anthology book, Purpose Rising: A Global Movement of Transformation and Meaning (2017): “The approach taken by these traditional navigators resonated deeply with me. I admired the navigators’ skills greatly: their connection with the land and sea, their heightened ability to read the natural world, and their pure stamina (wayfinders only take catnaps on weeklong voyages).  These navigators cultivated many skills that I valued—attunement to nature, creative problem-solving, self-awareness, empathetic connection, and risk-taking. My industrialized education taught me these skills were useless, obsolete, and ancillary. In truth, they turn out to be as important as ever, especially in the quest for a purposeful life.”

Having grown up in Annapolis, Maryland where he was an All-American lacrosse player and captain of a state championship lacrosse team, Patrick went on a journey to find himself after his sophomore year at Brown University, and then again on a longer travel journey after graduating college. For five years, he traveled alone to countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, North Korea and Rwanda — including a 2,800 mile solo bike ride through Southeast Asia. His interest in international adventure and global justice inspired his work with human rights activists in Myanmar, his founding of a program for low-income U.S. students to volunteer overseas, and the launch of the Social Innovation Initiative at his now-alma mater, Brown University.

Patrick was deeply affected by the injustices of the world he witnessed during his travels, and while in Cambodia, a friend suggested that he do a 10-day meditation sit that radically changed his life. With a new sense of purpose, Patrick returned to the social sector energized to help other young people have their own transformative experiences.

In 2007, he began speaking with high school students about the importance of global citizenship, leadership and self-awareness. He has since taught semester-long mindfulness programming in public and private schools, and has led mindfulness and backcountry trips with Back to Earth and UCLA-Mindful Awareness Research Center. Patrick was the West Coast Director of Inward Bound Mindfulness Education, where he helped launch its first wilderness-based retreats. During his Stanford Design School fellowship, Patrick worked with the Palo Alto Unified School District to develop a purpose-learning curriculum for high school students, which resulted in his incubating Project Wayfinder.

Join us in conversation with this inspiring and purpose-driven youth leader!

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