There are certain memories of certain climbs that still make my palms sweat, still make my heart rate pick up: the crux pitch on Pingora in the Wind River Range, a harrowing descent from the summit of the Grand Teton in a thunderstorm, the chimney pitch on Castleton Tower. Those moments of physical challenge coupled with mental focus create strong, sticky memories. The only thing that has ever quite replicated that sensation for me in the same manner is public speaking. Delivering in front of a crowd.
And that gets me to the Hays.
On Monday night of this past week, seven sophomores stood up to give their speech as part of the annual Hays Speaking Prize. Elected by their classmates, watched by the majority of the school, they competed for the Hays Prize established over 15 years ago to honor former board member and gifted speaker, Bill Hays. It’s not an easy honor to embrace. For many, it is terrifying to stand and talk about the intensely personal, but there is something to be said for taking up the Hays challenge. To not be afraid, to put yourself out there, to push to the edge of comfort zones and beyond… well, that is something we talk about from day one at Proctor.
It also turns out that the act of writing through the personal journey, and by extension putting that writing out to others, can be good for us.
Coincidental to this week's contest was an article in the New York Times, Writing Your Way to Happiness. Writing can help reconstruct mindset, and it goes beyond simply writing a blessings journal (which can also be remarkably beneficial). Writing expressive narratives shapes - or reshapes - how we see the world and our interactions with it. Pieces can be a powerful agent for self-awareness and self-change, which English teachers have always believed, and now science finally (finally!) has caught up to what they have always intuited. The definitive benefits can range from increased academic performance, decreased college dropout rates (see the Duke study in the article linked above), and increased physical health.
Illness, body image, wealth, and family history – these are some of the topics parsed by the Hays participants on Monday night. Each participant came to the podium with remarkable poise, delivered their thoughts with clarity and passion, and sat down with notable relief. The mapping of, and sharing of, inner landscape, a cartography of courage, may have impacted them in more ways than they know.
It certainly inspired the community.
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Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School