This weekend, I took a little break from training and attended my 20-year high school reunion in Exeter, New Hampshire. I missed the 15-year reunion, so when this one was announced, I put it on my calendar. I don’t often get to the northeast and desperately wanted to set foot on my old campus.
Growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas, I was at the top of three different high school classes with little effort. At Phillips Exeter Academy, I did quite well, but it took a great deal of effort. I learned to study there. I learned how to learn. I read, wrote and studied every day and always felt a few paces behind but not in a discouraging way. The place inspired and challenged me.
Leading up to the reunion, I thought about the faculty I hoped to see. My priority list consisted of Ms. MacMullen (my dorm head), Ms. Keeble (my dorm faculty and math teacher), Mr. Parris (my math teacher and cross country coach), Ms. Robinson (my Art of Protest teacher who delivered my favorite mediation my senior year), Coach Farnum (my tennis coach), Reverend Thompson (a religion teacher and minister at Phillips Church on campus), and Mr. Schubart (the former head of admissions for whom I babysat in high school). I learned that Ms. Robinson is spending the year in Jordan, and I didn’t manage to track down Ms. MacMullen or Mr. Parris, but I did connect with the others, either through planning or chance.
|With Coach Farnum.|
|With the Rev.|
|With Ms. Keeble.|
These were people I know cared for me when I was a student living a couple thousand miles from home. Twenty years later, they still care for me.
I also made a point of visiting my dorm, Moulton House. On Sunday morning, I knocked on the front door. Twenty years ago, you could walk in the dorm during the day, but security is tighter now. A student let me in and went back to her studies. Feeling like I had intruded, I walked through the front hall into the common area, intending only to take a quick peak before leaving. There I ran into another student who was coming upstairs from the basement where she was doing laundry in machines that we didn’t have when I was a student. This girl reminded me of my roommate Karyn when we first met. She had long blond hair and was athletic and had a smile that drew me in. She seemed thrilled to have someone visiting the dorm and immediately pulled out a yearbook from 1991 (my upper or junior year at Exeter). I showed her the Moulton House photo from 1991, and she showed me the Moulton House photo from 2011. Another student decided to join us, and we talked for about half an hour about the school then and now and where I was and where they were headed. I sat on the common room floor laughing with these girls and felt at home once again.
I have never let go of that experience of sharing space with strangers who became friends and, ultimately, family. Twenty years later, I still wear my class ring at times, particularly on days when I need to feel smart. I carry it with me everywhere because moments of insecurity pop up. That little ring is a reminder of times I worked hard and managed to succeed, academically and personally. Like Ironman, to me that ring is a symbol of anything being possible.
That’s not to say that the experience was perfect. I struggled at times with friendships and relationships there. I remember jogging down the pathway between Elm Street dining hall and my dorm, trying to catch up with friends so I wouldn’t have to walk by the mean dorm by myself, and tripping and falling face-first and being ridiculed in exactly the way I’d hoped to avoid. Even this trip, I managed to face-plant running the trails behind the school on Saturday morning. Thankfully, my fall wasn’t witnessed by classmates, and I bruised only my leg and not my face, so no one had to know except my doubles partner, Sarah, whom I still felt I could trust with anything. I also felt overwhelmed socially, much like I did at times in high school. I preferred the one-on-one conversations over anything in a large group.
Even with the challenges and insecurities, Phillips Exeter Academy became a home for me. It remains a home for me. I think it always will be.