On the cusp of exam week, students will be looking back to reflect and collect the knowledge accrued over the term. There will be final projects, final fall performances, and final exams. The library will bustle. Review sessions will be packed. The stairs to Learning Skills will continually creak as students transit up and down. All of this is part of a normal term, part of an opportunity for students to put forth their best work, to celebrate excellence. These are the expected takeaways from a term. But what about the unexpected?
Of unexpected takeaways, there have been many. Here are a few:
#1 The inconvenient is not always an inconvenience; sometimes it is a necessity.
When asked to wear masks, social distance, and endlessly wash those darn hands, the Proctor community stepped up and accepted the inconvenience. It became a necessity. Students have done a good job and need to know this. Perfect? Perhaps not. But when I think about where we were a year ago and where we are today, our students deserve a lot of the credit for us being able to stay up and running this fall, being in classes, playing sports. Our students, boarding and day, have a lot to do with that. They have risen to the challenge of the ask; they have learned to embrace the inconvenient for the greater good.
#2 Engaging community with kindness can help bend the arc towards positivity and possibility.
I have seen faculty step up to make a difference, and have seen students do the same. The acts can be as small as making sure everything is cleared off of a table after a meal, or jumping in to help out in the dish room. It can be writing a note of thanks to the kitchen crew. It can be the gift of a scone from the Bluebird Bakery. It can be helping a friend who is anxious and struggling. Or can be finding one’s voice to try to make the community a better place as evidenced earlier in the fall in rallies and meetings around language and race. Students know the community is still in the process of becoming, and as they have engaged with kindness and caring (yes, sometimes that caring can have an edge), they have helped Proctor become better this fall. They can carry that knowledge forward.
#3 Proctor is not an island, but is attached to the main.
This is a takeaway for all of us, even as we like to think of ourselves as having created a bubble (which we have) to keep Covid and the world’s challenges at bay (which is an impossibility). We have weathered - so far - the challenges of a pandemic and a contentious and bitter election cycle, but we have felt the reverberations of the larger world. In a typical fall, that might not have been the case. Maybe that loss of innocence has helped us grow up to recognize both our privilege and our responsibilities. In part, it has humbled us. Definitely it has made us wiser and more thoughtful and more willing to engage.
There’s a lot in the media these days about what students are losing, particularly those who have engaged in learning remotely. Are they up to the mark in Algebra or American Literature? Have they slipped behind? Will they ever catch up? Maybe this exam week won’t be like other years, but there has also been tremendous growth and maturation in the student body. Those are lessons to carry forward. Those are life lessons that will have currency in the years ahead, and, yes, some of them are hard, but learning them now will put this generation ahead in many ways. If we can carry them forward, it will put all of us ahead.