I spent last week visiting various Darrow alumni and friends in the Pacific Northwest, at the opposite end of this continent from the Mountainside. I met people who graduated (or had a spouse who graduated) in the 1940s, 1950s, 1970s, 1980s, 2000s, and 2010s. Some of these folks did not graduate from the School, and yet were still interested in getting together to share their memories of Darrow and learn about what is happening here today.
Given their distance from Darrow in both time and miles, I started wondering about what makes us so attached to the places of our youth. I think the answer is simple: it’s where we build and discover ourselves. Boarding schools, in particular, offer a crucible for self-formation unlike any other. Without the direct influences of parents but surrounded by caring, involved adults in a supportive community, teens have the structure and the independence that they need to develop and stretch towards adulthood.
So, even those who didn’t graduate from their boarding school, or who may not have returned to campus in decades, recall those formative years like an ancestral memory—the teachers, the coaches, the fields, the seasons, the friends, the classes, and the buildings. The drift of the ensuing years may carry them far, but like salmon swimming upstream they will always remember where they became who they are.
As we approach this season of giving thanks, I realize that I’m thankful for the chance to be an integral part of that time for the students who are here now, and for those yet to come.