Amy Bannon ’14 Speaks at Alumnae/i Weekend Dinner

Amy Bannon ’14 was the featured speaker at the Alumnae/i Weekend Dinner. She spoke about the impact of White Mountain on her own life and shared a poem that beautifully illustrates the connection that many people feel to our School. 

My name is Amy Bannon and I graduated from White Mountain with the class of 2014. I, like most of you, developed a remarkable connection to the people and the places that shape the heart of this School we all have called home in different stages of its existence.

I want to first share with you a poem. One of my first evenings at White Mountain, another student brought me to the very top of Hood’s Hill to show me a beautiful excerpt of a poem that had been carved into the backside of a piece of wood and hidden along the bio-loop trail. It read:

“Stand still.

The trees ahead and bushes beside you

Are not lost.

Wherever you are is called Here,

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,

Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes.

Listen. It answers,

I have made this place around you.

If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.”

I placed the poem down to gaze up at the silhouetted White Mountains, a deep blue against a pale pink sky – my new home.

I first experienced this place as a starry eyed fourteen-year-old kid enrolled in a week long summer climbing program here on campus. I had never spent time in the mountains, but was overwhelmed with curiosity and excitement. A blessing for me, maybe a curse for my parents who didn’t hear the end of it after I learned this place was not only a summer camp, but a school. I could barely believe it!

Each summer I returned to camp until I aged out of the program, the car ride home providing the perfect opportunity to corner my parents into a conversation about applying. With their gracious support, I enrolled my senior year – an experience that empowered the next direction my life would take.

In the years since, and for some of you, decades that have passed, the classrooms have changed, new faces scatter the hallways and new buildings decorate the campus. These are just a few small details in relation to what still feels the same.

David Brooks describes institutions as either thick or thin in his article “Making a Mark on People.” Some leave a mark on you, he explains, and some you pass through with scarcely a memory.

So, what makes The White Mountain School a thick institution?

Brooks defines a thick institution as a place that becomes a part of a person’s identity and engages their whole being: head, hands, heart and soul. These institutions of course also have a physical location that he describes as often “cramped, where members meet face to face on a regular basis”, like a family style dinner table or a packed gym before study hall, even the floor in the chapel during morning meetings.

There are rituals, he continues, shared tasks where people work closely with one another such as community dinners or dish crew. Everybody has the opportunity to see each other’s real self. When you meet a graduate, you know it and when you meet one another you also know you share something important in common.

On the contrary, Brooks describes thin institutions as horizontal. People are members for mutual benefit. There’s an ever present utilitarian calculus – Is this working for me? Am I getting more out than I am putting in? That creates distance between people and the organization. Thick institutions see themselves on a vertical axis. There’s an intimacy and identity born out of a common love.

And so, the pull of this place, the people within, the mountains that surround, have called me back. This time not as a camper or a student, but as a member of the faculty overseeing the Outdoor Education Department in addition to coaching a group of incredible students every afternoon in outdoor rock climbing.

Despite what does not look the same, I am overwhelmed by what feels the same: The smiling faces greeting you each morning in the glass hallway on the way to morning meeting. The traditions – some new, and some old that are as energizing as they are uniting. The inquiry, engagement, the excitement to learn. The evidence of growth as curious minds develop into independent and intellectual thinkers – each bringing to this community new and different perspectives.

Upon getting settled back on campus this fall, I walked up Hood’s Hill to my familiar place. A place that still looks and feels the same. Racing the setting sun, I rummaged through ferns and twigs to unearth that poem buried under seasons of fallen leaves. I could barely make out what it read.

“Wherever you are is called Here,

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,

Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes.

Listen. It answers,

I have made this place around you.

If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.”

 

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