New Proctor Students Complete 52nd Wilderness Orientation

Opportunity to learn about independence

By Scott Allenby
Proctor Academy completed its 52nd Wilderness Orientation to kick off to the 2022-2023 school year as 120 new students spent five days and four nights backpacking in the White Mountains. Caption: Scott Allenby. Photo: Lori Patriacca

From the earliest moments of parenthood, we learn that life will be filled with contradictions of independence. We simultaneously want our children to stay little forever, and we want them to see the world. Competing emotions weave themselves together into an irreplicable sort of love that helps us find a place like Proctor where our children will spread their wings and find themselves, even though we know saying goodbye is so, so hard. Wilderness Orientation is the first opportunity for parents and students to learn first hand about this new independence.

For the past 52 years, Wilderness Orientation has served as every Proctor student’s introduction to the community. Through five days and four nights of backpacking in the White Mountains in small groups of eight students and two faculty leaders, students learn to trust each other, rely on each other, and stretch well beyond their comfort zone. 

Wilderness Orientation is not easy, and that is the point. It levels the playing field, brings kids together from different backgrounds, and teaches us that we are all humans, all imperfect, all possessing different super powers, and all with our own kryptonite.

Head of School Brian Thomas reflects on his 2022 Wilderness Orientation experience: “At the end of a beautiful traverse across the range to the Zeeland Trail, a stop at Thoreau Falls was our treat. None of the boys had been there. The young man who hours earlier believed he could not make it took several minutes to compose himself along the edge of the falls, realizing that the physical difficulties may have been homesickness instead. We ate peanut butter and jelly and Nutella sandwiches on pita, which tasted like the nectar of the gods after our hike.

“The thing about our boys – and all of our students – is that they, and we, give permission to be and to feel. On Wilderness Orientation, you can break down and not always be your best self. You can make great friends and test yourself to the fullest. You can also be sad and want to go home. 

“At Proctor, we understand that putting students into challenging circumstances can bring out the true nature in people so that you strip away having to feel like you are perfect. No one is. We will all hit an uprooted branch and go pratfalling forward, nearly losing our balance. But we right ourselves in the end. 

“On everyone’s mind at some point in our journey is ‘I just can’t. It’s too hard.’ Our walk in the woods is a metaphor for the gristle and the toughness of a thing. How we conquer it in our minds. In the end, a beautiful waterfall might be the balm for home- and heart-sickness for who we thought we were, all because some mantra in our head got us through. Indeed, hard things, we do.”