Boarding

SMUS-Views-Bob

When I was a boarding student, I wasn’t anywhere near as reflective as the students I heard today in our Closing Ceremony for Grades 9, 10 and 11. Frankly boarding was different all those decades ago. The existing model at that time was a military barracks, adapted to teenage life, but with all the watered-down routines you might imagine, around inspections of how well your bed was made, and how precisely arranged your shoes and drawers were. It seems ridiculous now, but I remember allowing myself to be convinced that this is just the way it was, and if you were going to survive, this compulsion about details of neatness was not a place a young boarding student made a stand of principle. You accepted it and got on with more important things.

When I speak to new boarding families now, I am able to say that I understand your position, dropping off your sons and daughters for the first time, perhaps thousands of miles from home: I was a boarding student once, and know what it is like to be in your son’s or daughter’s shoes. I was also a boarding parent, having had a son who at boarding school for two years when I was, literally, thousands of miles away. It is of some comfort to these new boarding parents to know that I, like them, was prepared to make this personal sacrifice so that my son could have the educational experience of a lifetime.

About five years ago an alum of our school came to Alumni weekend, who happily is not typical of our alum in general. He had a severe look on his face, and had visited the boarding houses, where he found the state of the beds appalling. The sheets were not hospital-cornered, and he could not bounce a dime on the top blanket. I hadn’t heard such criteria for the standards of boarding life since I was a student fifty years ago, in much less kind and less gentle times. Today at our Closing, I heard our speaking student use a phrase I never heard when I was a boarder, that he was leaving a “home away from home”. This was music to my ears. If we can create even a semblance of home, we are on the right track. And of course, in September, your home will be ready.

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Bob Snowden
Bob Snowden was Head of School at St. Michaels University School for 22 years, from 1995-2017.

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