Scott Allenby wrote a terrific blog this week about the importance of listening, of widening perspective, of hearing the other, and the emotions that students who are the minority feel when they navigate a community like Proctor. I want to pick up that theme and share some thoughts on affinity spaces, those places where those who share a common cultural or ethnic background can gather, rejuvenate, and simply be without being the “other.” These are important spaces.
In Spain, France, Costa Rica, and on Mountain Classroom, the Winter Term rolls forward and those on campus all feel slightly left behind. What’s happening over there? Those lucky sophomores in the Cloud Forest of Monteverde, the artists who have landed in Aix, the Mountain Classroom students just coming off the river El Paso. They are out there, out doing. On campus the temperatures will drop to near zero this weekend. It is closing in on Jack London To Build A Fire cold. Those who feel the distant pulse of the off campus programs with the greatest poignancy are likely those who were off campus in the fall. They have left pitching decks and strolls across the plaza in Segovia for the icy, huddled, hunching runs across campus. That bond they felt, those adventures they were living, where did they go?
The end of an era? A recent piece in Proctor’s student-run publication Hornet’s Nest, posed the question. Rumors on campus swirled, snippets of gossip coalesced into definitive opinions about what decision the school would make around a program that has seen regional numbers decline, our own numbers half from a high-water of 50 student athletes in 2013 to the lean squad of 25 this past season, and growing concerns around health issues. I heard rumors the school was going to axe the program. Definitely. Irrevocably. Talk that the deck was stacked. That Administration, Admissions, and I were turning our back on the program. That it was done. Finished. Football was over. Well…not yet. Not at Proctor.
Who doesn’t know about the Chris Van Allsburg Polar Express? The story about a mysterious train arriving in the middle of the night, a trip north through jagged mountains and cold winter landscape to the North Pole is a classic. It should be required seasonal reading along with A Christmas Carol and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Yes, required. There, at the pole, Santa stands in a square, sleigh loaded and surrounded by throngs of elves to present the first gift of Christmas to a small boy. The sleigh bell that he gives out is promptly lost to the utter dismay of the boy, and if you don’t know the ending of the story...it’s time to dig up your old copy. It’s a children’s story, but it’s a timeless life reminder about the importance of belief, wonder, and the power of the imagination.
It’s an early snow year this year, one of the earliest I can recall. While we are used to the New England vagaries of weather, the November cold and snow caught many by surprise, and it’s a bit of a delight to be honest. Who doesn’t like a good storm, the trees covered, the plows rumbling by on Route 11? But sometimes I think we are hardwired for slower changes, more gradual transition when the night temperatures gradually dip and the first snows come with the brush strokes of flurries. Why? Because that seems more the nature of life’s temporal changes; they rarely happen in a rush. But we will roll with this early winter and transition to skiing, basketball, and the ice rink and the new vibe. And we like it.
It may have been the last jog through the woods before snow, a slow amble up from behind the tennis courts on Tuesday afternoon, the woods offering quiet solace in this transitional time between seasons. Up over wooden slab bridges, past the cut off for Wilson’s Wonder, up to Mud Pond and the Adirondack shelter. The dog rustled through the fire pit looking for bits of what? Marshmallow? Graham crackers? Scraps of discarded oatmeal from Wilderness Orientation? In the shelter, wood duck houses that students built were stacked, waiting to be set up later in winter.
It is good to remember that the lightness of being is nearby, ready to balance out challenge. Sometimes you catch it in the glimmers of sun sheeting across a field and a mood shifts. Or a day. Of course you have to be open to the possibility, and sometimes you have to actively look for the lightness of being. Sometimes the moment simply seems to fall in your lap. Fortunately, at Proctor, there seems to be a high density probability of encountering one of these uplifting interludes.
On a trip to Georgia and Alabama this week, Director of Development Keith Barrett '80 and I took a dogleg route from Atlanta to Birmingham, though the city of Montgomery, Alabama. We stopped to visit Danny Loehr ‘09, who currently works for the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) founded by Bryan Stevenson. EJI seeks to “end mass incarceration and excessive punishment, challenge inhumane and violent prison conditions, and confront the history of racial inequality and injustice in America.”