Compass Day 2013 at Waterville High School

Waterville's senior class at Compass Day presentation. (Jacque Clements photo)

Waterville’s senior class at Compass Day presentation. (Jacque Clements photo)

| By Dan Lopez |

“Reach for the stars! Shoot for the moon! Do your best!”

These are expressions commonly heard during graduation from schools, colleges, universities, advancement to a higher level in training, or when starting a new job. And it’s great to hear our colleagues, friends and family encouraging us and urging us on to reach for the stars and to do our best. So, once the excitement and the hype are over, what does it mean? How do you “reach for the stars?” Of course it is a metaphor and not to be taken literally but what if there were a concrete method to answer the intangible meaning of the metaphor of how to “shoot for the moon!”

Joseph Campbell, former university professor at Sarah Lawrence College and expert in his field of comparative religion and mythology, has developed a framework of the hero’s journey which is a symbolical, sequential reference to the journeys that we take in our human experience. Through extensive research of cultures from around the world, he has designed a grid that is followed by all stories in mythology which demonstrates the similarities of “story” regardless of differences in language, geography, history, time and culture. In the “story,” the hero separates from his known world (leaves home in search of a dream) and enters an initiation phase where he faces challenges and tests that must be overcome by solving problems, adapting, modifying and adjusting to circumstances at hand. A goal is accomplished and internalized then she returns either to her home or a metaphorical home. Campbell examines well-known heroic stories in history from the ancient Greeks, from Arthurian legend, to modern day Hollywood blockbusters like “Star Wars” and “The Hobbit.”

Many entities around the world have found the framework of Campbell’s 17 stages to be helpful for their businesses and organizations as they align their visions and mission statements with their desired end of a heroic outcome. We have also adapted a version that exemplifies the human experience in the modern world by creating a moral compass with 16 universal and timeless virtues along with a map adapted from Campbell’s framework and an explanation of each stage that an individual must face as he embarks on his journey. The purpose is to illustrate the correlation of Campbell’s original work in classical mythology and the archetype of the hero in all of the narratives to the common person in the present world. The map serves as a guide to anticipate the next step in a person’s journey which will allow one to prepare and act proactively. The compass serves to remind us symbolically of the fundamental core of values that we must adhere to once we realize what we stand for and then to take a stand.

Compass Day has become a ceremony to observe the point in time of crossing the threshold into the unknown world (moving on to a new phase of life). It is a time to discuss the roles that we each play in our respective heroic journeys when we act with integrity. It is a time to reference stories and encourage and urge participants to reach for their potential by becoming engaged in their own lives. Put simply, “you” are the hero of your adventure. As Doc said to Marty McFly in the movie “Back to the Future,” “Marty, you only have one future, make it a good one!”  In other words, we get to choose.