I think back on my middle-school days as the worst part of my youth. My school (like most middle-schools I’m sure) was a sea of insecurity. Kids combatted their fears of exclusion by labeling and othering. These categories created a sense of security and belonging for some, and a sense of loneliness and longing for others. I became more concerned with how I was being seen by others than figuring out my own interests and passions. I thought one day, after observing a popular eighth-grade boy named John strut through the halls with a confident swagger, this kid knows who he is, he has it all figured out. I later mimicked his mannerisms, constructing my identity around what appeared to be the culturally accepted and lauded one.
The constant pressure of social comparisons and curating our own digital reality weighs on us. As we work to build a healthy environment for adolescents to thrive, we must look beyond seeing technology as a cause of anxiety and instead view it as a symptom of the underlying struggle so many of us face today: true connection and meaning.
I have three walking sticks in my office, each with a slightly different meaning, each reminding me of the support needed to navigate different aspects of the life journey. I talk about the life journey and Proctor journey and the challenges that will come at the start of every year. I bring a walking stick to make the point. We like to believe in the myth of “I got this,” that we can do it alone, that we are self contained (or should be), an independent collection of consciousness sailing through time. Totally self reliant. And the truth is that we’re not and we need others on the journey.
Last Sunday I parked the truck on the hairpin on the Kancamagus, hauled my pack out of the back, and started down the trail to meet Brooks Bicknell. He was coming out of the woods to tend to Ocean Classroom business; I was headed in to pick up the group for the second leg of the trip. Wisps of clouds began to knit together when I handed the truck keys to Brooks. I had a sense of what the next two days would bring. Rain.
How does the culture of an organization sustain over time? Is it the people? Is it the mission? Is it the programs offered? What is it that allows Proctor’s unique culture to thrive year after year? How do we cultivate continuity when we welcome new faculty, staff, and students to Proctor’s community each year?
Society encourages us to live quickly. We consume media by scrolling, expect wifi everywhere we go, even order groceries online so they can be delivered to our cars in the name of efficiency. We operate under this misguided belief that faster is better, and yet feel an ache for connection that previous generations embraced in their slowness. As Generation Z comes to age in front of our eyes, we must think critically about young people’s ability to connect with each other and how Proctor can nurture in these adolescents a love for learning, for experiencing, for risking failure, for persevering, and for each other.
August is knocking on the door. Tomorrow we will have to answer. And we all know that when August arrives, our focus shifts to the start of the school year: advisor letters, roommate assignments for new students, start of year faculty meetings, Wilderness Orientation prep, firming up syllabi. We cling to the hot, humid days of July, anticipating the busyness and energy that accompanies each new school year.