We spend an inordinate amount of our mental and emotional bandwidth working to align ourselves with our stated identities. Society repeatedly asks us to make declarative “I am” statements on surveys, medical intake forms, or social media profiles. In doing so, we risk becoming an identity that is as much shaped by others as ourselves. “I am white.” “I am married.” “I am employed at Proctor.”
Adam Grant’s podcasts and writing always encourage a critical look at that which seems commonplace. His recent interview with author and speaker Glennon Doyle discussed the notion of identity and her journey away from pinning herself to specific identities. Many of her points resonate (and the conversation is worth a listen), but to abandon all of our identities because we fear it might trap us? This mindset runs counter to Proctor’s educational model where we champion with our students the idea of “Who Could You Become?”. The premise that when we attach ourselves to an identity, we feel committed to it and are unable to grow it simply does not hold up at Proctor.
Four years ago, the Class of 2021 embarked on Wilderness Orientation and began their Proctor journey. The four year seniors above (and yes the photo above is missing some due to quarantines and off-campus programs) are not the same individuals who arrived on campus in the fall of 2017. None of our seniors are. Their paths have been nonlinear, as every high school experience should be. There have been bumps and twists and turns, with the occasional washed out trail and mudslide that has really tested their resilience. They have pursued passions, tried new sports, studied off-campus, taken new classes, pivoted, and pivoted again. Teenagers are designed to change. We all are designed to change. And Proctor allows that evolution to take place without locking students into an identity that was never meant to be permanent.
Who we are today is not who we will be forever, regardless of our age. But the core of who we are, the mark left by our experiences, the relationships we have had the privilege of cultivating, the sense of place that is created when living and learning at a place like Proctor - that core never goes away. It seems there is a fine line between feeling trapped by an identity and acknowledging the experiences that make us.
Throughout the spring, Proctor’s Alumni Office has hosted a virtual engagement series of “Back To Your Roots” events. These zoom meetings have connected alumni with specific faculty, staff, and former employees for open conversations about Proctor, life, and days gone by. Beyond the obvious goal of keeping alumni connected, they have served as a beautiful reminder of how we can celebrate evolving identities, while remaining rooted in common ground.
In twenty-two days, the Class of 2021 will walk across the stage at Proctor’s 173rd Commencement. To a person, they cannot wait for that moment. They are, understandably, eager to move on from Proctor and begin the next chapter of their lives. Just as their identities have evolved over the past four years, their next four will afford even more opportunities for growth. But in all of their excitement about “what’s next”, we also know there will always be a part of them that embraces the “I am” statement that ends with “a Proctor graduate.”