There is generally something I experience in each of my days working at Dana Hall that makes me remember something fondly from my own time as a boarding student in Sedona, Arizona. The two places couldn’t be any more different, but the heart of the experience is so much the same. I love to think of what those moments will be in the future that make my own students think back on their time as boarding students with gratitude and joy. One of my favorite things about working in the dorms at Dana is getting to watch these moments happen for students, even if they aren’t aware that they’re happening. As a boarder, your high school memories get rolled into one big clump of people all sharing experiences together in one place. There isn’t the divide in your memories between what happened at school and what happened at home, because school is your home.
Recently, the House Directors met to talk about our residential programming, specifically what we put into it and what the students get out of it. A resounding agreement across the group was the power of spontaneity within the dorms. We create a scaffolding upon which the students build their own experiences as boarders, creating memories with every piece they place on that framework. As a House Director, I am lucky to be enough of a part of students’ worlds to enact positive changes on them and on how they see their high school experiences overall. I get to encourage students to engage with peers, commiserate with them when times are hard, and propel them towards self-advocacy. Residential faculty empower students to take care of themselves and take on challenges on their own, but students know that whatever they’re taking on is never undertaken alone.
Dana students’ high school memories of autumn will be tied to the way the trees along the Pond shift from greens to yellows, oranges, and reds. They will be memories of insisting on wearing shorts and sandals no matter how the temperature drops, holding onto summer until winter really hits. Students will remember trips taken together for coffee in town, or huddling under an umbrella as they race back to the dorms from the train station on a weekend night. Students will be able to remember the ridiculousness of making costumes together as a dorm for the Halloween Community Dinner based on someone’s suggestion from dorm meeting, or navigating Wellesley for trick-or-treating together for the first time.
Their memories will be tied to this place and the people that make it what it is. Students might flashback to memories of Opening Days, and their chagrin when their mom volunteered them to speak first in the first ever Dorm Meeting. Or, they may remember meeting their roommate for the first time and whatever awkward first impression they felt like they made in that moment (that their roommate likely didn’t even register because she was too busy having move-in day jitters, too). They may think of Dana when seeing jollof rice somewhere and remembering trying it for the first time when a friend’s mom brought it from home. Maybe yet another sequel to Sharknado will come out, and they will remember making fun of the original with friends in the lounge on a weekend movie night. Maybe when they’re feeling happy or when they’re feeling down, they’ll listen to songs that they used to sing along to with friends in their rooms, screaming out the words when they couldn’t reach the high notes. They may make a ridiculous inside joke out of a random word (as my students did one year with the word “keys”) and smile when they remember how silly and fun that was. It is a privilege to be a part of some of this memory-making and a spectator for the rest. Each memory of my own that Dana reminds me of, and each memory I get to watch students make, I greet with a smile and a moment of gratitude for the little bit of magic that comes with being a boarder.