Courage: a boarding school graduate reflects on life skills

By Eliza Stroh

The day my mom dropped me off at boarding school was memorable, if only for its lack of drama. In the weeks leading up to the day when I would leave home and move into the dorm, I imagined the long, tearful goodbye my mother and I would exchange before she left me to fend in my new world. I pictured her hugging me too many times as I stoically assured her that Parents’ Weekend was only a few weeks away — I would see her soon.

So when the last of the boxes were unpacked, I was alarmed by the squeals of her car tires as she sped away without so much as a tear shed. And that was that. There I was alone. And completely exhilarated.

Tight Rope-smresI’ve relieved that feeling of guarded excitement on several other occasions: my first day away at UNC-Greensboro, the beginning of grad school at Cornell, upon moving to Boston, and when starting a new job in Philadelphia. And each time, I’ve been empowered by the memory of the day when I (more or less) fearlessly became a boarding school student. There are so many things that I learned in boarding school, academically, socially, and personally. I learned that there is, actually, a proper way to eat a banana, and that there are no limits to one’s wardrobe possibilities when living on a hall with 20 different closets.

Too, I remember sitting in the dorm, doing workbook logic problems for fun (yes, this garnered laughter among my hall mates), and pouring over science and genetics books. I was already fascinated by the subject, and my teachers at boarding school helped me cultivate that passion.

The passion has only grown, and I’m now happily employed as a genetic counselor. I spend my days talking with parents of children affected by genetic conditions. My job is as rewarding as it is challenging, as I try to give hope to families who are faced with uncertainty. My career requires me to be both knowledgeable and empathetic, to put myself in others’ shoes as I educate and counsel them. Every family, every patient, is different from the rest. Each case is a brand new challenge, and the words that I share with a family may be words they’ll remember forever. I’d like to think that in addition to giving people hope, I am also able to impart a sense of courageousness in facing an unknown future, a bit like that first day at boarding school. Courage gets us through uncertainty, it allows us to meet our goals, and it keeps us from being inhibited.

I’m so grateful that, even as a child with my whole life ahead of me, I had the foresight to know that boarding school was right for me. I had the courage to say, “I can do this.” And I’m thankful just to have had the opportunity. Boarding school sets us apart. There’s a special intimacy that we all share, not just from living in close quarters day and night nor the many school traditions and memories that bind us together. It’s also from the brave optimism it takes to want a running start at life, to trade the safe comforts of home for an early shot at independence. That fearlessness is with me still, and it has served me well.

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