One of the experiences our graduating students look back on most fondly is the outdoor program. Right now it is outdoor program season for Grades Ten and Eleven, with trips travelling near and far to have that encounter with the world outside the civilized environs of SMUS. The students rock-climb, they kayak on the ocean and down rivers, they hike, they sail on a SALTS boat, they get close to nature, they camp. The students are challenged, and they learn that the outdoors doesn’t discriminate at all. Rain falls equally wet on all comers, and wind blows equally hard, and temperatures are equally hot or cold regardless of who you are and regardless of what country and what background you come from. In the face of this reality, one isn’t made or unmade by what happens, but by one’s response to what happens.
Last night at the Junior School Curriculum Night for parents, I made the observation that these parents who start in kindergarten or Grade Three or Grade Five have, in their way, made the deepest commitment to an SMUS education: these parents want to start right at the beginning, so their sons and daughters can wend their way to graduation, when they will be prepared for higher learning and for life. There are three relationships students sort out during their years at school, provided the experience is a thoughtful and challenging one: they discover their relationship with their own selves, with the people around them, and with the world.
I am always impressed by the transformation that takes place in these three relationships when a student goes out for an outdoor experience. Many other experiences provide similar opportunities for growth, but the outdoor experience seems to distill all three. In education we deal with the promise students have, and the way we want them to be. We care deeply about the kind of people they will become. We want them to learn skills that will prepare them for life, and I would say that they return from their excursions with some new skills, skills they will need not for a specific future, but regardless of what the future looks like. Sweet are the uses of adversity.