For fifteen years I have been going to Ocean Classroom sendoffs. We’ve had them in Boothbay, in Gloucester, in Portland, In Boston. There’s the milling around on the docks, the t-shirted students, the nervous parents.
There have been tours of the cramped quarters below decks, the tight berths, and in the old days and on a different boat, the Huggie diapers stapled to the underside of the deck to sop up the occasional drip that might have otherwise snuck through chinks in the deck caulking to torment sleep. There have been sendoff days that have been picture perfect, one memorable day when we had two boats, The Harvey Gamage and The Spirit of Massachusetts, running for a term with over 40 students at sea. There have been the odd blustery days turning umbrellas inside out and giving students a sense of what might await outside the sanctuary of harbors.
I have missed that this year. We are pinned down in the relatively safe harbor of New Hampshire during the Covid storms. We have been searching for normal rhythms in different days. It’s hard to find normal when it is all and always - as it should be - about the masks and hand washing and social distancing, but there are moments in our days when the masks come off in dorm rooms or sports or when we are out exercising or sitting in contemplative solitude. And for fleeting moments it feels almost like it used to, but mostly not so much. Even if we embrace the new normal, we buck acceptance.
It is curious to me that on Ocean Classroom the normal has also been upended for our students but is readily accepted. Why is that? What makes us more tolerant of one change than the other? What makes one more palatable? Students have been placed on watches, are getting up in the middle of the night, are sleeping in spaces smaller than the family sofa or the backseat of a car. The decks roll, the stomachs roil. They have no phones, no showers, no privacy. How is it that this is embraced while so many simply struggle to put masks on to pick up groceries or get gas. I believe it is the magnitude of change Ocean offers, the true adventure so uncommon in these times, and no “opt out” exceptionalism that dials students in. Ship. Shipmates. Self. It’s pretty clear.
But life isn’t always that way, even as we navigate campus days in more structured Covid times. Even in times of daily wellness checks, borders are slightly less defined. There is more choice afforded to students as they tack from class to class, afternoon activities to dorm living. Even in these structured times, campus is less rigidly defined than Ocean Classroom. I find this balance between the highly structured and the more autonomous to be good. Students need both, particularly as they are finding the structures that hold and sustain them, nudge them towards the intrinsically driven life.
The combination Proctor offers students helps them find their sea legs for life.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School