Academic Lens: Our Differences Are Our Strength

Posted by Scott Allenby


Almost exactly two years ago Jacob Dombrowski ‘13 (Middlebury College) gave a senior speech in assembly.  During his eloquent delivery, he shared, “If there is one bit of advice I can offer you all before I end my time here it is this: Do not be afraid of who you are. You’ll never make a difference in the world until you find out what truly sets you apart.”

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Jacob went on to say, “I, too, once felt that the fear of being different constituted a weakness. Now I understand that our differences are our greatest strengths. Only at a place like Proctor, where our differences are not only tolerated, but embraced, can we discover the best ways we are able to contribute to the world at large.

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During the 2014-2015 academic year, we have learned new concepts in our classes. We have had new experiences, and learned how to win and lose games with grace. We have spent terms abroad, survived Wilderness Orientation, and had moments of creativity, sadness, and jubilation. We have been living life with all its ups and downs as individuals within a cohesive community.

This emphasis on ‘living’ is what makes a Proctor education different, and as Jacob encouraged us to do in his speech, it is what we embrace. We know our educational model does not fit in the traditional prep school mold. By spending our time and energy capitalizing on our differences rather than following industry trends, we believe we are making a difference in our students’ lives.

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Fifi ‘15 posted the final blog from European Art Classroom Sunday afternoon. In the blog comments, Dean of Faculty Karl Methven shared the following insights, “I was reading in Carol Dweck's book 'Mindset' this weekend about being open to new challenges and understanding that it takes time and great effort to make the most of our abilities. One example early in the text made me think of you: She says, ‘I once went to an exhibit in London of Paul Cezanne's early paintings. On my way there, I wondered who Cezanne was and what his paintings were like before he was the painter we know today. I was intensely curious because Cezanne is one of my favorite artists and the man who set the stage for much of modern art.’"

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Karl continues to quote Dweck, “'Here's what I found: Some of his paintings were pretty bad. They were overwrought scenes, some violent, with amateurishly painted people. Although there were some paintings that foreshadowed the later Cezanne, many did not. Was the early Cezanne not talented? Or did it just take time for Cezanne to become Cezanne?’ So imagine one time one of the people that set the stage for modern art was just like you! Dweck says in the line leading up to that passage, ‘And that's just the point. How can we know where effort and time will take someone?’”

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When we combine the growth mindset in Karl’s comment with a culture deeply rooted in celebrating differences, a pretty special school, like Proctor, emerges. It is the type of school that not only has an impact on each student’s journey, but on everyone it touches: parents, faculty, staff, alumni, and countless others. Here’s to continuing our trajectory of being different!

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