Today's blog post is offered entirely by alumni with the body text written by a graduate of last year's class, Will. The relationship of alumni and their academic experiences at Proctor is truly impressive. Thank you to Will and the other alums for their contributions to this blog:
Almost a year since graduation, and I still think about Proctor daily. I spend lots of time -- too much perhaps -- reflecting on my four years, trying to sort out how they shaped and changed me.
Sifting through the memories, what stands out most from my time at Proctor are all of those moments of doing, the moments of active, hands-on engagement. Already, the fatigue from hours of late night study has faded, all but the most entertaining assemblies have blended together, and the seemingly endless number of transitions from class to class to lunch to class to sports has become a fondly-remembered, four-year blur.
But those instances of actual, physical engagement with the world, they remain seared in my memory with crystalline clarity: the trip to the New London peat bog on that cool, overcast fall day for the ecological succession unit of freshman biology. The fever-inducing stomach butterflies brought on by the prospect of my Lynne Kenney World History class public end-of-the-year presentation. Learning Celtic dance steps in the Stone Chapel on an unseasonably warm November day and making crêpes in the dining hall as part of our French culture study.
The month and a half spent planing by hand the white pine boards for my blanket chest in George Emeny’s Hand Tools class. Meditating and writing along the shores of the Blackwater and Elbow Pond, fingers stiff with cold as Tom forced us out of doors for Ecological Literature even in the bitterness of early November. Clearing the sugarbush and tending to the Mac house garden with Woods Team. A full day of multi-pitch climbing at Smith Rock in Oregon, and sliding through the rapids on the San Juan River in Southern Utah.
As I contemplate the next four years of my life, my college education, here’s the perpetual and persistent question that arises with the onslaught of these Proctor memories: what did Proctor mean for me, to me? My attempt to answer the question is long and circuitous and begins -- inconveniently enough -- with another question: what is the best education?
It’s probably the most important question my generation and future generations can ask. For what they’re worth, here are my two cents: the best education is one that instills a desire to constantly interact with the world, one that instills the desire to strive to better one’s environment and one’s community. The best education is one that fosters both a hunger for knowledge about the world and an intuition about its workings. It is one that encourages critical thinking, creativity, and the ability to problem solve. It creates solution-oriented thinkers.
But once the question of what is answered, another question springs up to take its place: how? Often times, and in my opinion, to society’s detriment, “classroom learning” and “experience” exist in strict dichotomy. But the best education actually occurs when “classroom learning” and “experience” overlap, when the two are mixed to the point of colloidal suspension, when they become, for all intents and purposes, one and the same.
So how to construct the environment where the the ideal balance between classroom and experience --and hence the best education -- can be attained? My answer would be this: Limited Structural Construction Necessary. The world about which any student is striving to learn is directly in front of them. Behind them. Around them. The goal, then, of any educational institution -- up to a certain point -- should be to facilitate a student’s interaction with the world and to provide a skeletal framework to guide their initial explorations.The role of teacher --especially at the high school level -- is more that of a facilitator and guide than it is master or instructor. A teacher exists to give context to experience. The focus should be on encouraging an overwhelming sense of curiosity and on unlocking a student’s sense of wonder about the world.
Proctor gave me all that. It was, for me, the place where the boundary between classroom and experience dissolved, where I was able to shed my limited, two dimensional perception of the world and in its place I began to perceive an incredibly beautiful, rich, and complex third dimension. My time at Proctor left me with an intense desire to explore and experience the world outside of my small-town New England roots. From the red-rock desert of southern Utah to the white-washed cement walls of my Physics classroom, the Proctor experience instilled in me at each and every turn an insatiable hunger to learn, a determination to push the boundaries of my knowledge and understanding.
After I graduated from Proctor, I deferred from college until this coming September for a “gap year”. I spent the fall volunteering in Cocos Island National Park in Costa Rica, learning Spanish, and traveling through southern Central America. I took a Wilderness First Responder course in the White Mountains over the Christmas holidays. Since mid-January, I’ve been living in Johannesburg, South Africa, working in an internship with a non-profit organization that is closely involved with the South African Department of Health’s HIV and tuberculosis treatment programs. And this summer, I’ll be working in the AMC huts in the White Mountains.
Proctor was -- and it’s impossible to understate this -- seminal in my development as a human being, and nowhere is its impact on me more evident than in how I chose to spend this past year. It was in French class with Stacey Viandier and Eric Cole-Johnson that my fascination with languages and culture was cultivated, and in the biology classroom of Sue Houston and Heide Johnson where I developed a passion for the workings of the natural world across all levels of scale, from the immune system cytokines in the cellular cytoplasm to the human impact on the biosphere. Mountain Classroom affirmed my love of the wilderness and my need to escape into it on occasion, and Ecological Literature cemented my commitment to writing.
All that being said, I don’t think I’ve answered my question -- what did Proctor mean to me? -- in full, and indeed probably won’t be able to for some years to come. But this much is clear: Proctor has left an indelible mark, an insatiable hunger for knowledge obtained by experience, the feverish desire to do with my own two hands, to experience the world in its raw, objective form. The mark is indicative of the irrevocable change that Proctor has wrought on me, a change that will continue to enrich and enhance my life as I move through college and beyond, a change for which I am, and always will be, deeply thankful.