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Happiness could be a warm school symposium

How happy are you?

For that matter, what exactly is happiness, how do you attain it and why does it pervade some people or societies?

Those are the types of questions 100 students and 20 faculty members hope to discuss and possibly find answers to during 'The Pursuit of Happiness' symposium Monday and Tuesday at Catlin Gabel School.

The event is unique in that it's the first time such a gathering has linked together students from eight area public and private schools. It's the outgrowth of meetings between superintendents and the heads of the private schools who have been meeting every few months for the last two years.

'You usually don't see that kind of collaboration,' said Beaverton School District Superintendent Jerry Colonna.

Participants include the public school districts of Beaverton, Tigard-Tualatin, Riverdale and Hillsboro, along with four private schools: Oregon Episcopal School, Valley Catholic, Jesuit High School and Catlin Gabel School. Also represented will be members of the Oregon Council for the Humanities, which is sponsoring the event.

Nadine Fiedler of Catlin Gabel School said her school is looking forward to hosting the event and praised the frequent meetings between the heads of the public and private schools.

'It's really lovely the way they listen to each other and respect each other and bounce ideas off each other,' she said.

The idea for the symposium followed a Willamette University model that focused on hosting seminars on critical thinking for incoming freshmen. The group then spent extensive time discussing a possible topic.

'We talked with the people at the humanities council and we had four or five different ideas,' said Colonna.

Finally, the topic of pursuing happiness was agreed upon, a subject that Colonna said he's delighted he was selected.

'The topic is so interesting,' said Colonna.

The opening session begins with Lark Palma, Catlin Gabel head of school, and Colonna delivering opening comments. Christopher Zinn of the Oregon Council for Humanities, will then speak on 'Intellectual Inquiry as a Process.'

Since Beaverton is the largest district, it also will have more than 20 students represented, some from its Talented and Gifted programs as well as other students the district believes will benefit from the event, said Colonna.

Have some fun

Students and faculty prepared for the symposium by reviewing a packet covering the subject of happiness. It includes excerpts from Darrin M. McMahon's book 'Happiness: A History.' The book jacket blurb says that, 'McMahon argues that our modern belief in happiness is the product of a dramatic revolution in human expectations carried out since the eighteenth century.'

Other packet materials include information showing that a country's wealth is not always an indicator of the happiness of its people, and statistics displaying that although the median income in the United States is higher today than 30 years ago, not everyone is reporting increased levels of happiness.

But the symposium won't include only cerebral endeavors, officials say.

Both days contain a recreation period with Monday's activities to include students getting a chance to cool off on a Slip and Slide along with an appearance by Comedy Sportz, an improvisational comedy troupe.

'Talk about happiness, they're going to have some fun,' Fiedler said.

If successful, Colonna said he hopes similar symposiums can be replicated in other parts of the state.