I visited six freshman seminar classes in Shirley Hall this week, enjoying the chance to get a read on who will help us build and sustain the Proctor community over the next four years. The intent of this one term program is to help ground these incoming students, answer questions for them, and help them center down for the next four years.
Each class I stepped into had a common openness and a list of questions for me. The “niners” wanted to know more about Proctor, how I arrived, what I had done before arriving on campus, what my favorite color was, how we could tackle vaping. I was asked to share any words of wisdom I might have for the next four, complex years, so I gave the following, simple advice: find mentors, stay humble, retain the ability to laugh at yourself, and find a passion that’s yours - not your parents, your grandparents, or your friends - yours. Advice I wish I had heard earlier in my high school years.
High school was over forty years ago for me. An age ago. Generations ago. To put it in perspective, color tv was kind of a new thing. When I stepped on to my campus, it was after spending five years bouncing from country to country since the age of nine - Japan, Hong Kong Singapore - and school after school after school. I had learned snippets of different languages, seen wildly different cultures, and learned what it meant to be kid from the U.S. in the time of Vietnam. It was eye opening and intimidating. At fourteen, I stood scrawny and clumsy, wore big black-rimmed glasses, and carried a world of self doubt. The seniors at my high school looked like faculty, the faculty looked ancient, and I felt like I absolutely did not belong. Do I remember high school? Who doesn’t? It was a frightening time.
The mentors that I found back then, the voices that resonated and guided me, are still with me today. Those are the voices that taught me to rock climb, took me sugaring, got me into the mountains, gave me the confidence to think that my words mattered. They taught me how to ski and to drive a team of oxen, speak French (just a little) and muscle through Shakespeare. They reminded me that little things are big things, that life can be hard, and tenacity matters. I learned the value of shoveling a walk in the pre-dawn light of bitter February mornings and the joys of reading a novel alone in the depth of the library. My mentors - that handful of life shapers - helped me find a confidence I did not know I could possess. Did I ever lose the self doubt? Never entirely. But I see it today through the lens of humility and value it as the antidote to hubris. Visiting the 9th grade classes this week, all those feelings and memories crowded back.
I asked what they loved to do for sake of doing? What centered them? Pushed them intrinsically? I heard about skiing, playing music, being with horses, hockey and art. They asked what I did, and I shared how writing matters for me and, recently, the role sketching and painting can play in grounding me. I realized that I had been the Head of School at Proctor for almost as long as they had been alive, which made me laugh for some reason. I listened to the students, felt that irrepressible and squirrelly energy, and was thankful for Terry and Maggie and Junior and the work they are doing with these neophyte high schoolers. The freshman seminar program is something I could have used when I was 14, and it thrills me that this is such a significant part of the 9th grade experience at Proctor.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School