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A Matter of Will: Ella Wechsler-Matthaei, PSP'20

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Prevention Science and Practice reflects on her time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Ella Wechsler-Matthaei

Ella Wechsler-Matthaei: "This photo is of me. The being immersed in finals season of fall semester, running a small business, and in NYC for a photoshoot for the launch of Ms Ella’s debut EP, '333.' And yet still finding time to pause and think... "

Photo courtesy of Ella Wechsler-Matthaei

The Intellectual Contribution Award recognizes 13 Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. Ella Wechsler-Matthaei will be honored with the Intellectual Contribution Award for Prevention Science and Practice (PSP) at HGSE's Virtual Commencement on May 28.

Senior Lecturer Mandy Savitz-Romer, faculty director of PSP, comments on Wechsler-Matthaei's selection: "I am thrilled that Ella has been recognized by the PSP community for her intellectual and community engagement. She has been described by her classmates as 'courageous,' 'loving,' and 'radical' in how she approaches her work as an educator and an activist. In cohort and class conversations, Ella is just as likely to be found interrogating assumptions about educational practices or mindsets as she is to eagerly welcome feedback and new ideas that expand her own understanding. In so many ways, Ella embodies PSP’s commitment to being student-centered, while also actively interrupting systems of oppression that undermine human development or opportunity. Her presence, her voice, and her love made a big difference to many in PSP, and I have no doubt will make a huge difference to the communities she enters."

We spoke to Wechsler-Matthaei about her time at HGSE, her future plans, and what the new normal in education might look like:

What does the photo above mean to you?  

Ella Wechsler-Matthaei: This photo is of me. The being immersed in finals season of fall semester, running a small business, and in NYC for a photoshoot for the launch of Ms Ella’s debut EP, 333. And yet still finding time to pause and think…. Shifting away from the thinking that overanalyzes each moment from a place of fear or perfectionism … to becoming a witness to my thinking. To my full being. A witness to my thoughts, feelings, actions ... and those of others. This shift in my way of thinking allowed me to see that I was truly living out the life I wanted to and had intended to since I was a young gal. The life that is inclusive of my three main passions in this lifetime: music, dance, and education. That I can do many things. That I am capable of whatever I put my mind to. It’s just a matter of will. Will I do what I want? What others want? Or is there a way to be inclusive of all wants since I am because of you because of them because we are.

What are your post-HGSE plans?

EWM: Surprising to some, I will not be returning to the classroom. The formal classroom that is. I will be taking time to tend to the three areas of my life I’ve been putting on the backburners for many years now. I will spend time meeting with people of Cambridge to inform the afterschool and summer camp programming I’ve been developing. Keep your eyes out for the launch of LYT in 2021. I will put more time and energy into Soca Fusion LLC, a dance business I started in 2017, to see its journey transcend. And lastly, I will give more time to writing. Songwriting, poetry, streams of thoughts ... pieces of writing. Writing to nourish my curiosity, to expand and deepen what I know and still crave to know.

The artist, my inner child, my light ... all have been sparked and I am ready to dive into this next chapter of life, living through my values. I might fail in doing so every day, and yet I’ll get up, learn again, and do better. Living to be. Being to do. Doing to love. Loving to live.

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education?

EWM: Pause to reflect, gain insights and understandings, and move forward with the lessons learned to inform our doings.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School?

EWM: Gretchen, Upchurch, Stern, El-Amin, Harouni, Honan, Reimers…

Martha, Paul, Parastoo (P-Moneyyy), Nathan...

Danyelle, Tailour, Frances, Kim, Lucia, Gigi, Elijah, Sandra, Anwar, Mani, Armoni, Ashley, Melissa, Samyuktha, Emanuel, Arman, Kimberly, Azmera...

All of these humans and more held my learning and holistic being at various points throughout this year. They centered, uplifted, and reaffirmed my lived experiences as valid points of reference in this work. We danced, laughed, argued, disagreed, agreed, challenged opinions, screamed, spoke, took a stance, reached out, supported, loved, cried, jumped, created, healed, shifted, took risks, and transformed. As you can see from the names listed above, I was surrounded by professors 24/7. Majority of them being under 30 and yet I needed all of the generations to inform and impact my experience at HGSE.

I thank all of you. For your time, energy, and support you’ve given over the varying amounts of time we shared over this semester. Keep doing the work. I can’t wait for the many more office hours we’ll share in this lifetime. This is only the beginning...

"Where have our imaginations gone? Where is that collective and urgent energy needed to actually put a halt to these systems to create new ones? Where are the beings that study, theorize, and speak on oppressive systems so much, to actually DO something about it?" – Ella Wechsler-Matthaei

How has the pandemic shifted your views of education? 

EWM: I’m not sure if the pandemic has shifted my views ... if anything it’s highlighted what we already knew to be true. These systems we live in and teach in are oppressive on so many levels. They do not care about the well-being of humans. And what blows my mind up to this day, is that we’re still discussing ways to disrupt, dismantle, transform these systems, even though we have plenty of research that affirms the need for change and different ways we can implement change. And we’re not leaping ...

I have been reminded that we are capable of shifting. That if something “goes wrong” that we can get back on our feet and do things differently to address the needs of the current time. Whether we like it or not, we can and we have done just that with virtual learning. Not saying the way we’ve shifted is the right way, I am just recognizing that we can shift and move in new ways that to some may be unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable.

I also want to mention that since the moment learning moved online, I’ve witnessed a group of three high schoolers, from CRLS, create a platform of joy within one week to combat this tense time. I saw them put their imagination and creativity together and move urgently considering there was no time to waste. I was and am truly inspired by these three young beings and their sense of urgency and agency.

This then made me wonder ... Where have our imaginations gone? Where is that collective and urgent energy needed to actually put a halt to these systems to create new ones? Where are the beings that study, theorize, and speak on oppressive systems so much, to actually DO something about it? Where are we as a unit? Where is our love? Where is our joy? Where is our fight? Where is the curiosity we each once had as a child? Where is that risk-taking energy we once had? It seems to me that the very people whose curiosity and fight has not been fully drenched by social conditioning and are needed in this fight for justice, are the same people that these oppressive systems condition to not act out, be a distraction, or speak at all. What are we doing effectively to hold these systems and people accountable? Are we pausing, to recognize our own doings, learn again, and reroute? I could go on for days and yet I will stop for now...

So again, while my views have not shifted ... my wonderings and inner knowing have become louder during this pandemic. I’ll leave yall with this...

We don’t have time to wait. We don’t have time to wait around for yall to find yourselves beneath the narratives we have been taught to know as true. We’ll be with the people who are making shifts. Those who are speaking and acting out their values. The human beings who see each other as holistic beings with unlimited potential to be and know even more. We will be in love, peace, and joy, with respect, trust, and accountability. Where will you be?