Deerfield of Dreams
by Brett Masters ’04
You can't understand Jay Gatsby until you've been a Midwestern 16-year-old burdened with the urge to be someplace else. By September, I lusted for Deerfield.
“I’ll just take the Times and a grande coffee Frappuccino.” When I felt particularly saucy I’d go with the venti Frappuccino. On long days, I’d keep it good and simple: a double shot of espresso—intravenous, please. This is how I passed my summer leisure time between classes and on Friday mornings when I didn’t have any, but just wanted to unwind and waste time. At Starbucks. I developed an addiction. To the coffee and the New York Times, which you can’t get on home delivery in my neighborhood. For three months I devoured the paper ravenously and washed it down with the sturdiest stuff I could convince them to make—”A triple shot? Is that possible?”—and I loved it. For a while in the middle of working class suburban Michigan, I could let the concerns of middle-class middle America melt away from me into five-dollar-a-hit coffee and a Blue Note soundtrack, and pretend I was somewhere else. Somewhere very East Coast. Somewhere where there would be someone on the other side of the table with whom I could analyze life. And day-by-day I built Deerfield in my mind, a spectacular gold-dusted place where conversations meant more, people thought more, had bigger aspirations than in Charlotte.
You can’t understand Jay Gatsby until you’ve been a Midwestern 16-year-old burdened with the urge to be someplace else. By September, I lusted for Deerfield.
As is to be expected, when I left to come to DA, the emotional void (and probably, I’ve reasoned, a physiological one, considering my summer caffeine diet) was draining. But I learned the second week here that I could subscribe to the Times. I did promptly. I didn’t have time to read beyond page one but I felt the happier—perhaps more at home—for it. I discovered that they carry Frappuccino at the Greer Store. And I sipped and read a couple of free periods away.
Deerfield grew on me.
I took my first piano lesson—ever!—here in September. I’m notoriously tone deaf and music dumb and have long regretted that music is someplace I’ve never been (like Paris, Beijing, and Katmandu). So I was determined to see what would happen.
I walked into the campus music center, whence the most beautiful strumming, plucking, and horn-blowing roll out across campus all day. As I stood in the lobby of the one building on campus I’d never been in (contributing to the mystique), a middle-aged, energetic woman leaned over the railing 20 feet above and said, “You must be Brett. Come on up!”
First day of class, I practiced on a Steinway grand in an enormous room, empty, save the piano, with light-colored wood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, over-looking most of campus. I was the only student for 70 minutes.
Deerfield amazed me.
Convocation. “A Deerfield tradition, marking the beginning of the academic year,”
Mr. Widmer had said at dinner Saturday night. “Convocation will be held in the Memorial Building auditorium at 5:30. Class dress is required.” [groans]
It rained most of that Sunday. A long, slow, cold rain. It was slightly foggy by evening. I had spent all day in my room studying (literally!)—I skipped breakfast and lunch, adjusting to the Deerfield workload and spending time wondering at the people and landscape around me and had only seen the rain through my window. I left DeNunzio at 5:25 and had a long walk to the Memorial Building. There were few other stragglers. I would have to hurry. As I stepped outside, I noticed how beautiful things are after a rain, and realizing I had not seen a New England rain before (everything in New England seems a little different), regretted not having stepped outside all day. The sounds of bagpipes—they “call Deerfield to Convocation” by having two fully-regaled bagpipers stand out in front of the pillared Memorial Building—drifted across the quad, through the rain and fog, causing a twinge and tickle on the back of my neck. At Convocation I heard the story of Frank Boyden, Deerfield headmaster and legend, who brought Deerfield from a small farm school with 14 students, made it into the kind of place where seven U.S. presidents sent their children, and couldn’t bring himself to part with the place until he was 90. The alumni who knew him appeared fiercely loyal to Deerfield. Forget Harvard and Princeton and their companies and countries—alumni worship this place.
I thought, maybe I will, too.
When I left the building, not alone this time, it was darker and the sensation was there again. And I knew why I had come here. I had never played the piano or talked with people the way I could here. I had never learned in the wonderful way I was learning here. Growing up different in a factory town, I had never felt I belonged anywhere. After one day in American Studies discussing St. Jean de Crevecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer, I knew I belonged here.
I found Deerfield on the internet one day while searching for summer programs I had hoped I might attend on scholarship, and stretch my legs academically for a summer in a way that I couldn’t at Charlotte High School. Deerfield came up on the screen. Folks at home, who had never known anything about prep schools, thought I was nuts, but…
Ostensibly I came to Deerfield in search of greater academic opportunities, but I wanted something else, too. I found both.