Yours Truly, Ripley

Josten's San Diego Workshop 2018


Mike McLean

It’s Official! Upon arrival at the conference, each school was asked to grab some gear & get their photo taken. Rylee Nicoletti, Brigid J. Ripley & Morgan Rock are all smiles at San Diego University.

Brigid J. Ripley, Adviser

“Oh, my gosh!  You’ve come so far and we’re so excited to have you!  I recognize you from your videos.  Welcome!”  That warm, enthusiastic, personalized greeting rivaled the bright San Diego morning sunshine.  I have to say, Morgan, your clever, unique ideas in filming, certainly set the bar high.  Let me backtrack for just a moment.  Back in Wisconsin…after our attendance was confirmed, I received an e-mail from Sara Sausker, one of the directors for the workshop, requesting that we send in videos of ourselves dancing to a song.  Those clips would be complied into a video that would be shown during the opening session of the workshop.  The timeframe was a bit tight but my delay (gasp!) in opening my e-mail decreased the available hours considerably.  To the point that we had just one afternoon before the clips were due. Oops!  Was I worried?  Well, only a little.  Why?  Because Morgan and Rylee, for two years, have proven just how committed they are to creating and sharing the story of the year.  Multiple Snapchats (can I interject here & note, for the record, this is not my preferred form of communication!) later, Morgan agreed to meet after work.  Rylee was a bit tougher to pin down but with some parental assistance, we got her clip done too.  I even got in front of the camera, an admittedly uncomfortable place for me!  Back to the west coast, Tina Cleavelin, a director of the workshop, was clearly enthused about our presence.  And we were honored when she told us in hushed tones that we would be staying in the coveted apartments, which meant that we had our own bedrooms and bathrooms!  This was a big deal because the workshop took place on the campus of San Diego University.  Many of the other conference attendees stayed in the dorms.  Truly, we felt very special and grateful.  When we had a moment to ourselves waiting in line to get checked in, Morgan noted that well, actually, she only recognized two of us.  True story, but talk to Morgan to get the rest of the story!

And thus started our four days of intense learning.  Rylee and I were both in the intensive track, so after the opening session, we wished Morgan well as she headed off unaccompanied but in good company to her advanced photography track, promising that we would catch up with her on the lunch break.

Scouring our campus map, we made it to our destination: a little classroom on the lower level of Serra Hall.  Each group was assigned a table by way of the school name written on butcher paper, rolled across the length of the table.  There we were, South Shore, in big red letters.  We had arrived!  Rylee and I were both immediately taken by the “Twisted Sisters” who would be our guides for the next 40 hours of training.  Eva from Michigan and Sharon from Texas shared that they had been co-teaching for many years, forming a sister-like bond.  They were powerhouses and we learned a ton from them, gaining more appreciation for the process of creating a book that captures the events in a year at a school.  Armed with computers, highlighters, pencils, notebooks and desire, we thought we were prepared.  A quick initial query of the room noted that our preparations fell short of others as we had no theme or any of the other details worked out.  We had a lot to do.  But we lucked out with kind, thoughtful and considered responses from our instructors.  Day in and day out, Eva and Sharon encouraged, challenged and ignited our love for our story and Eva’s session about marketing inspired Rylee to the point of fuzzy goosebumps.

Breaking for lunch, we were super excited to connect with Morgan and see how she was doing.  Turns out, she was doing well!  Each day, she shared tales of challenging assignments, resources and a friendship that I sincerely hope will last a lifetime.  I have to give Morgan a lot of credit here because her track involved hauling a five pound camera, her laptop and books around, walking from one end of campus to the other, documenting the stories of the workshop one snapshot at a time.  Photography is about so much more than capturing moments.  It’s about telling a story, talking with people and then recording it all in images.  Reading a post on Morgan’s photography Instagram account about sharing her ice with someone who had passed out from the heat during an afternoon basketball game almost brought me to tears.  But in a good way because she included that the players were public defenders.  She talked with them and got to know a little of their story.  As a teacher, I couldn’t possibly be more delighted.

Our days started by 7:00 a.m. and routinely ended around 10:00 p.m.  Would you believe that we actually had “homework” that was assigned?!?  Again, true story.  And again, I know it will come as no surprise when I say that Morgan and Rylee completed and turned in all required assignments on time.  In the closing session, awards were given out to individual students and schools for their work during the conference.  Morgan was awarded a first place for her workshop experience photo and a second place for her feature photo.  Rylee took first place for her design development and she and I took first place for South Shore, theme development.  The teacher in me was thrilled to have her inner thoughts validated.  While the atmosphere was congenial, collaborative and inclusive, the challenge to compete was also there and two students from a tiny little space in northern Wisconsin stood out.  I always knew they would.

I should mention that the superior accommodations came with just one caveat.  The apartments were located on the far side of campus – read: a LOT of walking! – and required the inhabitants to trudge up a set of 66 stairs that in scorching, relentless sun – we were there during a heatwave that saw temperatures top out in the upper 90s – seemed to go straight up and left us huffing and puffing, pausing at the top to catch our breaths before continuing up the incline (seriously!) to the air conditioned meal hall and the not-always-air conditioned-classrooms beyond.  Thankfully, busy schedules limited the need to traverse back and forth to just one trip up and one trip down, per day.  And I was worried about not getting in enough exercise. Pishaw!

This trip began as a whim on a warm May afternoon, just Morgan and Rylee and I after school, talking about what next year would look like.  Words cannot possibly express how grateful I am to Judie Moyer who really motivated me and championed our trip, and to the South Shore Lions Club, Norvado and Karina Thompson, Karleen Tjepkema, Leann Hess, Mary Childs, Bill and Ann Trautt, the South Shore Education Foundation, Halverson Fisheries, Shawna Olesiak, Judy Kerr, James and Patti Stemwedel, my Mom and sister-in-law, Sapanna, Missy, Tim, Deb and Terry, Justine Broderson and all the people who came and got their car washed or purchased food , your financial assistance made this entire endeavor a reality!  If I could hug all the board members, I would do so because your vision and progressive outlook made this all possible.

In closing, it has been my experience at South Shore that brought me closer to family, connected me with and expanded my love for design, challenged me to expand opportunities for the students and connected me with truly talented, committed students who have shown me that being a teacher is both a humbling and rewarding profession.  Thank you for everything.

Yours Truly,

Brigid J.


Thank you, Sharon, for your insights and motivation; we appreciate you!