The first week of school’s energy changed the bustle of the lunchroom and groups forming at tables. The feeling of a different year overshadowed the feeling of a new one. In that first week, I recall an awareness that the senior class [and I in it] felt more fluid and homogenous—more one. And then there at the Senior Retreat we sat on the gym floor at Camp Skyline in Mentone, Ala.
We sat in groups assigned to us, but there were no strangers. Anyone we did not know already we soon met as we chased each other around playing team-building games and doing the ropes course together. Often, I have been a part of groups that try to bring everyone together in these sorts of games and activities, and it does not work because people do not buy in. Fortunately for the Class of 2016, we are already bought in. We already appreciate what we all have to offer without forgetting our closest friends.
Our skits on Sunday night were a great example of very different people coming together more or less seamlessly to work and have fun. In our groups, we designed and performed skits that addressed topics ranging from plagiarism to underage drinking. The students in every group taught, learned, and—most importantly—laughed together. I know that I spoke to other seniors and faculty members that I had never had the chance to get to know, and for that I am grateful for the opportunity. From my observation, I can say that many others had similarly rewarding interactions.
After the skits, the evening downtime led to a campfire in the cold and some discussion in the dining hall. Around the fire, students and faculty joked and made s’mores by the fire's light (many of them for the first time).
Mr. Evans and a group of us howled laughing remembering some of comedian Will Ferrell’s finest moments as Alex Trebek, facing off with Sean Connery on “Celebrity Jeopardy!” Students and faculty alike, staying warm by the fire, mingled while back inside, others engaged in a casual but impassioned discourse on politics. In another pocket was Karley Smallwood and a host of other students who talked about the value of their experience at Darlington Lower School on the old Thornwood campus—all while Mrs. Inman and I sat on the sideline observing. All in all, it was a rewarding end to a rewarding day.
The next morning proved similarly fruitful. We continued more team-building exercises, talked about our senior service project, and perhaps greatest of all, got to hear from Mrs. Vincent and Ms. Douglas of the Advancement Office. They talked about the value of being Darlington alumni and the responsibility that it requires of us. They urged us to continue the tradition of giving 100% as a senior class as a matter of importance for the institution.
To me, giving to Darlington has little to do with the institutional statistics that help when applying for grants and other technical advantages I have heard of, or even ensuring the school has the funding to function every year. Giving to Darlington is even more than [it is often tritely put] that we should give back to the place that has given us so much.
I will give to Darlington because of the people and how they have built and refined my character. I will give because of Mr. Van Es, Mr. Ivester, Mr. Schmidt, Mrs. Dodd, Mr. Marshall, Mrs. Wilson, Coach Woods, Mrs. Barnes, Mr. Evans...I will give because it means something to share a commitment to an idea and to each other as part of a community. I will give because words are not enough. I will give to Darlington because it is my duty, and it is our duty.
Click here to view more photos from the senior retreat.