The Time Capsule Project
Introduction to the Time Capsule Project
Photo of the assignment worksheet given to students
I taught Social Living - a largely unstructured, open, daily discussion of problems, thoughts, and challenges of teens - at two Bay Area high schools.
I began the Time Capsule Project in 1979 and it continued until my retirement in 2002. But it actually extended for decades beyond 2002.
The students were assigned the task of writing a letter from their current self to their future self, to be mailed to them on a date of their choosing. It could be a year or two down the road or decades later. Over the past 40+ years, including my 20 years of retirement, I have mailed approximately 15,000 letters to former students.
Frequently I run into a former student and the first thing they will say is “I still have my letter.” Many students have emailed me or messaged me on Facebook after receiving their letter. I love hearing their reactions to their 15 year old self.
I’m not sure who has had gotten more out of the project—-me or the students.
Following a letter: Stories from students
Below are a few stories and reactions of students opening their letters. For some the journey was far from linear, but in the end everyone was able to experience the magic of receiving a letter from their younger self.
Nina Yu wrote a letter to herself in 1991 and asked to have it mailed to her 10 years later. Somehow it was returned to me. Over the years I tried to locate her but failed. Mike Mayeri, former student/amateur sleuth extraordinaire, found her! I asked Nina to document receiving her letter. This was the first time I have ever seen anyone open their letter---so exciting! Nina's letter was "only" 17 years late.
Mailing the letter (again)
Nina finally receives her letter (full reaction on FB)
Jeremy (then Jimmy), wrote his letter in my Social Living class in 1989 and asked for it to be sent 12 years later. Jeremy reached out to me to relay the excitement of opening his after all those years (pictured on the left). The images below capture the envelope he decorated, as well as some of the pages of the letter itself.
Following up: Responses from students
As soon as email came into widespread use I started putting my address on the back of the students’ letters. I asked them to email me and let me know what life after high school was like for them. I was always thrilled to know they received their letter and get an update. There were amazing tales of how the letter eventually got to them. There were extremely sad stories of letters arriving after a student had died or gone missing. Mostly I enjoyed looking back, with each student, on what had transpired since they left Berkeley High.
I printed out their email responses and I’ve included some here. Both at home and at school I did my best to recycle paper. Therefore, most of the printouts were on the back of a previous assignment so you may see some of that.
Most of the students said I could use their names but a few have been changed or left off if I was unable to reconnect and get permission from them.
One former student wrote: “Reading this email I wrote 24 years ago is like getting another time capsule letter, wow!” Two other students wrote almost the exact same thing.
Click images to enlarge