Adolescents are designed to change. The students who arrived on campus on Registration Day were not the same who came out of the woods with their Orientation groups on Sunday afternoon, and they will not be the same that walk across the graduation stage. As we find the rhythm of a new academic year, we embark on a journey of self-discovery alongside our students.
Last Sunday I parked the truck on the hairpin on the Kancamagus, hauled my pack out of the back, and started down the trail to meet Brooks Bicknell. He was coming out of the woods to tend to Ocean Classroom business; I was headed in to pick up the group for the second leg of the trip. Wisps of clouds began to knit together when I handed the truck keys to Brooks. I had a sense of what the next two days would bring. Rain.
Wilderness Orientation groups finalized packing in the Teddy Maloney ‘88 Rink early Wednesday morning before loading onto busses and departing for their four night, five day adventure in the White Mountains. The busyness of Registration Days had faded into the backdrop, and while the unknown of Orientation weighed on some nearly as much as their packs, a reserved excitement hung in the air.
From the earliest moments of welcoming our first child into the world, my wife and I realized parenthood would be filled with contradictions. We desperately needed sleep, but craved those moments of solitude when our son would finally stop crying. Eleven years later, we know he and his siblings need independence, but feel hardwired to protect them from the unknown. This dichotomy of parenthood we experience daily pales in comparison to the emotions our incoming families experience on Registration Day. Even when you know Proctor is the right school for your child, saying goodbye is far from easy.
How does the culture of an organization sustain over time? Is it the people? Is it the mission? Is it the programs offered? What is it that allows Proctor’s unique culture to thrive year after year? How do we cultivate continuity when we welcome new faculty, staff, and students to Proctor’s community each year?
For the 48th consecutive year, Proctor Academy has kicked off the school year with a five day hiking and backpacking trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As is the theme of so much we do at Proctor, small groups work best as eight students and two faculty allow for relationships to develop that are simply not possible in a larger setting. Tech free, shower free, and with no shortage of challenges, Wilderness Orientation pushes even the most confident of new student outside his or her comfort zone.
Thursday evening I hit the trail to drop in on a Wilderness Orientation group. It was getting dark, but I knew where the group had camped along the Pond Brook Trail in the Sandwich Wilderness. I knew the swimming holes, knew the rerouted section, knew the waterfalls. I jogged up through a tree farm a little after 6:30 pm. The sun had dropped down behind the Sandwich Range, and where the Guinea Pond trail angled left, I hooked a right on the Bennett Street trail to run along Pond Brook in the softening light. The dog stitched back and forth through the pines, and after a mile or two I caught the sound of laughter against the brook. It was Patty Pond and Lori Patriacca’s ‘01 group.
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!