Mulberry Alumni Julia Lemke Shares Her Story
by January Handl
This past Saturday I got to sit down to interview Julia Lemke, a Mulberry Alum. While I was head of school and she was in high school, she approached me with a proposal to do a cooking class with students after school. She met with me several times, worked out the curriculum and expected outcomes, and delivered a wonderful class. I remain quite impressed by her vision and focus, as I do of so many of the students who have attended Mulberry.
January Handl: How old are you?
Julia Lemke: 25
JH: What year(s) did you and your family attend Mulberry School?
JL: I started Kindergarten in 1995- 5th grade, 2001, and then my brother left in 2007 and went from Jk-5th.
JH: Why did you choose Mulberry School? How did you hear about it?
JL: I had intended to go to another school, and there was a little bit of bullying and my parents wanted a strong community that was emotionally safe. They heard about Mulberry through friends who were there and loved it.
JH: Now, looking back, what was your greatest challenge as a family/student at Mulberry? What was your greatest joy?
JL: I can’t think of a challenge- I just thought of one- I have this memory of learning to deal with conflict in a healthy way and that was challenging, but a good challenge. Those moments when I had to take responsibility for my actions- and dealing with other’s personalities were difficult but important. I just loved school! I never understood why kids wanted to stay home sick because I just wanted to be at school. I would beg my mom to leave me in extended care because I loved it so much. I don’t remember feeling any academic or social pressure, I am really grateful looking back on my childhood knowing I didn’t have to deal with that. It was a huge privilege. Some of my fondest Mulberry memories were the unstructured time- like when it was hot we could run around in the sprinklers or rains, the whole school running around. The playtime and freedom were so valuable to feeling connected. Later at other schools, I felt the transition from “free play” to “structured learning”- at Mulberry, I never remember feeling that. Foundationally, this meant I understood learning happened all the time, and in relationship.
JH: What gifts do you feel you were offered at Mulberry School that are unique or hard to find at other schools?
JL: I feel like it instilled in me a love of learning. Also, creativity and passion toward discovery, excitement to be constantly learning. The balance between structured and unstructured learning time seemed perfect at Mulberry.
JH: What was your transition to another school like? How did you choose your “next” school?
JL: I went to the Girls’ Middle School, in Mountain View, the only big shift was it was only girls. The transition seemed smooth. I felt academically and socially prepared.
JH: What are you doing now? Where are you continuing your education or career? How are you doing?
JL: College was great, I started at Parson’s in New York studying Graphic Design, but it wasn’t the right fit. I came back to California to the Academy of Art in San Francisco (I still have a block-long video installation on New Montgomery and Mission Street.) This was a much better fit for me. Academy of Art gave me some great opportunities -I was recommended to a job for Adobe- An art installation and ad campaign for the Creative Cloud. It was a world-wide campaign that came out when I graduated and I wound up with plenty of job offers immediately. My portfolio received awards from AAU, and from AIGA (overall winner or Northern California). I took a job at Rapt Studio, doing graphics and interiors for tech companies, but I kept getting approached for a lot of freelance work and felt limited by the 9-5. I’ve been full-time freelance for a year now, taking on a wide range of projects: textile installations at Gap headquarters, a mural in Haight Ashbury, my own brand of ceramics & homeware (Totem-totem.com), travel photography some local camp brands, and several branding & website projects.
JH: Is there something about Mulberry School that you still reference or use?
JL: Mulberry’s Roxaboxen Summer Camp still comes up ALL the time. I just got the book again- it is so representative of Mulberry to me. You can have all the loose materials and you can make whatever you want from that. It helps me follow my own path, and even if it’s different than others, it’s OK. I think Mulberry gave me that confidence. Especially being an artist. It can be confusing to compare yourself with your peers. I feel having artists for parents and then having the experience of Mulberry supported me in not being too focused on the expectations of others.
JH: Is there something about Mulberry School that your sibling still references or uses?
JL: I’m not sure. I know that the space of Mulberry is important to both of us. Our experiences were different- but the magical idea of that community and space is important to us to this day. I can see a picture of him in my mind, with his friends, covered in tye die- happy.
JH: If you could tell prospective or current families one thing about Mulberry School, what would that be?
JL: It’s the community, and I’m still in touch with so many of those people who were friends, mentors, teachers. I don’t really care about the academics – the way you think, the way you communicate, and relationships will always be – well it’s hard to understand, but everyone I know who attended Mulberry feels this unspoken love and community for our time there. Those relationships and other community offshoot groups (Red Tent women, summer camps) are still very important to me.
JH: What success have you achieved that you attribute to Mulberry?
JL: A lot of my personality was developed: Sensitivity, intuition, curiosity, compassion, and communication- all of those things I was able to recognize in myself early, and they weren’t crushed- they were celebrated and built. Those are the traits of my personality that are important to me, make me an artist, and contribute to my career and relationships now.