Alum Corner with Julia Wilby

Julia Wilby initially pursued a degree in Fashion Design but switched to Philosophy with a minor in Art History during her undergraduate studies at Capilano University and later at UBC. After graduation, she travelled extensively in Europe and worked in Amsterdam for a year. Despite initially resisting becoming a teacher, Julia has taught at Burnaby North Secondary for over 15 years, specializing in Art, TechEd, and Special Education. Her varied experiences and skills from her time at Waldorf have enriched her career and family life, with three children and a fulfilling job as an educator. Julia fondly remembers her teachers, class plays, and trips from her time at the Waldorf School.

I graduated from Vancouver Waldorf School in the Class of 1988. There were 16 of us, 8 of whom had been there since grade 1 (and some even preschool). I started at Capilano College (as it was called then), intending to go to Parson’s in New York to study Fashion Design. My English professor identified me as a Waldorf graduate by the 3rd class. My Philosophy and Art History professors were outstanding, and by November, I was doing a degree in Philosophy with a minor in Art History. I transferred to UBC in the third year and graduated with a philosophy degree in 1992. I was a serious student at UBC and spent lunches at lectures in Classical Studies, Art History, etc.

After graduating, I went to Europe for a few months. It was a wonderful experience. I was voracious for Art History and did all kinds of art, historical and architectural research. I discovered the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes in London. While I was never accepted for my Master’s there (you need proficiency in Latin and several other languages), it motivated me to return to UBC and do my post-bachelor Diploma in Art History. By this time, I had the Europe bug, as did my then-fiancé from New Zealand and posted in Amsterdam. We spent a year based in Amsterdam working for Contiki. Amsterdam has hundreds of art museums, and you can get an annual pass. We travelled a lot on days off and did a four-month trip, stopping where we felt like, before returning to Vancouver to live. I am now married to my high school sweetheart from Germany, Ralf. We have three children, “Meine, deine, unserer”. Meta, Ralf’s daughter, 16, is still in Germany, Hamilton, 7, my son, is in Grade School at VWS, and Sofia is three years old.

I swore I would never become a teacher. My mom, Elizabeth Wilby, taught in the Waldorf school for 30 years, which looked like way too much work. But, here I am, 15 years in, and I love it. I am a teacher at Burnaby North Secondary, where I teach Art, TechEd, and Special Ed. It’s a large school of 2300 students, with its challenges, but the benefit is running specialty courses and programs. As a Waldorf graduate, the “specialty” classes are where I keep ending up. I never pursued Special Education; I just kept landing there. I had some interesting experiences as a result. I taught art and cooking in the youth detention centre – yes, there was a school inside the jail facility. The students were very nice to me as the cooking class was the only decent food they got. Then back in Burnaby North, I ran a program for grey area students who could not function without a bit of assistance in the regular stream of students but were not severely special needs. It was really fun. It was kind of like being a mama bear. I got to haul them out of Starbucks if they were skipping and hug them when they graduated.

I have been at the school in Burnaby long enough now to have carved out a niche for myself. Hence, I get to teach all the sculptures in the Visual and Performing Arts department and a Creative Wood Metal Art class in Tech Ed. It is more like an art class where you use real tools. We cast jewellery, weld steel sculptures, and create wood carvings like a Waldorf high school crafts block. I also run the stage crew for our school productions. We are blessed with an excellent stage with a fly system, so I run a student crew each year to create the sets. When students ask me where I learned to do this stuff, I tell them I painted my first set in the seventh grade for Joan of Arc.

I’m grateful for the variety of experiences I’ve had: travel, study, career, and the crowning glory — my children and family. I am one of those lucky people who would choose exactly the family I have. They are all over the world, but we all meet up frequently and have a fabulous time.

In the Waldorf school, everyone gets to do everything all the way. To manage these skills, you are taught balance and respect. In many walks of life, I am often called upon as the person who can do anything. While it is flattering, it can be big shoes to fill. It’s been vocationally valuable too. I have had jobs where I painted murals on walls, worked in the film industry, was a ski instructor, a waitress, a ‘handy’ person in a hotel, was a concierge for the Waterfront Center hotel, cooked for groups in a youth hostel, cleaned rooms, painted the buildings, arranged flowers, worked in an Italian restaurant attached to an English pub, washed dogs, did photoshoots of events, etc. All hires were based on experience or training I obtained at the Waldorf school. Oh yes, I also did cocktail service to German tourists for Dutch folklore shows during tulip season. I wore the whole Dutch costume, including wooden shoes. They hired me because, thanks to VWS, I had German.

My fondest memories from school are my teachers, class plays, and class trips, of course! You don’t have such a range of experiences afterwards unless you pursue them. I saw my first opera in Grade 9 with the school. I also liked playing my cello in an orchestra and the Christmas Fair. I like that I can still walk into the school and feel at home. I like that all the teachers still know who I am when I run into them at the Christmas Fair, the coffee shop, or the opera.

Compiled by Ronaye Ireland, for Development, March 2013

Julia Wilby
Julia WilbyClass of 1998

The Vancouver Waldorf School provides an experiential, age-appropriate approach to education based on the insights of Rudolf Steiner that inspires students to love learning, to be creative, open-minded, and compassionate. With a curriculum that integrates all academics with the arts and social learning, Waldorf Education develops not only the left and right hemispheres of the brain but the whole human being. A child’s social, emotional, physical and intellectual development is considered equally, supporting a conscious unfolding of the individuality within each student. Waldorf graduates possess capacities for empathy and clear, creative and independent thinking that enables them to carry out a chosen course of action with moral courage and social responsibility.