New Beginnings and Unclipped Wings

Posted by Scott Allenby


Today started with a teary goodbye for my daughter’s first day of kindergarten and ended with a hug and pride-filled smile of a little five year old who knew she had encountered a really hard thing, and conquered it. As our new students said goodbye to parents yesterday afternoon and embarked on Wilderness Orientation (a five-day, tech free, small group hiking and camping adventure in the White Mountains), there were plenty of looks of uncertainty on the faces of both parents and students; looks not too dissimilar from the tear stained gaze my five year old had on her face this morning. Entrusting your child to a school, especially a boarding school whose first responsibility with your most precious possession is a five day camping trip, is an incredibly hard thing. And our message to all those new parents at home right now is we are proud of you!


What we have learned from five decades of conducting Wilderness Orientation trips (Proctor’s first was in 1971) is adolescents are capable of so much more than we think they are. Their tenacity for embracing the unknown and tolerance for the uncomfortable far surpasses our’s as parents. When orientation groups return Sunday afternoon, there will be three certainties within each group: some sort of unimaginable hardship overcome by the group, at least a dozen hilariously embarrassing stories that have been sworn to secrecy within the group, and strong, deep relationships formed that will serve as a foundation for the rest of the group’s Proctor experience.


As Head of School Mike Henriques welcomes new families to campus each fall, he often talks of the white space around the map, that fertile ground where self-confidence, curiosity, and a healthy reliance on others grows with reckless abandon. Proctor seeks to bring students into this whitespace on a regular basis. Wilderness Orientation is the first and most obvious of opportunities to do so, but our hope is that each student repeatedly returns to that white space throughout their journey at Proctor. 


Studying abroad on an off-campus program, making an assembly announcement, taking a new class, trying new sports or afternoon activities, engaging with student led clubs -- the possibilities for this white space experience at Proctor are endless as long as students are looking for them and parents encourage them.


This is where the catch is for us as parents (whether we are the parent of a five year old heading to kindergarten or a fourteen year old heading to boarding school). We spend our entire lives working to make sure our children have the best experiences possible. We sacrifice so they attend the right school for their learning style, so they can try new activities, attend camps, and experience the world, all while seeking to minimize the friction they experience along the way. We do this out of love, out of a deep, deep desire to see our children happy, to protect them from the inevitable challenges they will encounter as they navigate life. And yet unless we are careful, in our best-intentioned efforts to clip the obstacles from their path, we clip their wings as well.


While we each have dozens of amazing examples of parents to look up to in our own lives, there is simply no manual available for parenting our individual children. The same goes for educating a diverse group of 370 students. We have fundamental beliefs that guide our approach to education, but each student is wholly unique in the gifts they have been given and how they will experience Proctor. Our only desire is that through the framework of support, relationships, and unparalleled programs available, each student will emerge from their Proctor years with unclipped wings, ready to take flight. Here’s to a great first step in that process: Wilderness Orientation!

Check out photos from Registration Day 2018 here!


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