Looking Down from the Rock
By Kendall Carpenter ’11
Commencement Address, May 29, 2011
First Monday of the first week of my first year at Deerfield. Tying my sneakers tightly, I waited at the horse’s head for my first trip to the all-famous Rock. Nervously I surveyed the scene, boys and girls oozing the same curiosity I knew I must have been exuding. Squeezing her hand, I desperately clung to Victoria—one of my first friends at Deerfield—for some form of security. Our steps careful, thoughtful, and deliberate, we moved up the hill from where the gravel turns into dirt and eventually forks. Led by Dr. Curtis, the group veered to the right, the wooded path opening up to a clearing and panoramic view we were not at all expecting. Deerfield, this strange land, drawn out in front of our eyes. Attempting to situate myself in this maze of roads, buildings, and fields, I found Mather, my freshman dorm, and worked my way out from there as on a topographical map. I dug out coordinates, the English classroom I had entered today and the soccer field we had played on that afternoon. The map lay in two dimensions: just a classroom, just a soccer field, just a river. I looked on, seeing just a school.
Last Monday of my last week of my last year at Deerfield. Hanging a left out of Harold Smith Dormitory, I walk with slow steps up to the now familiar Rock. Pillars of sun streaming though the storm clouds dapple Albany Road in pools of light. Upward and upward, my routine steps push into auto-drive, propelling me up the path. I perch myself in the crevice, before the rock juts downward, eyes skating over the scene I have seen so many times before. The buildings like little doll pieces, the river a ribbon through the landscape, and the green sea that is the south fields. From this distance I can just faintly see a green machine, a green sports van, rolling down Albany Road. I imagine I can even hear the cheering song bounding from the windows, leaping up to my ears; off pitch with mixed screams, it still manages to send a quiver through me. The volume, “loyal though win or lose,” swells as the bus continues down the road.
The Main School Building demands my attention, the four columns and vines sweeping the ancient brick walls denoting our signature monument. Re-inhabiting some of my favorite classrooms, I recall my Junior US History class where I found a passion for debating, eagerly listening to the way Palmer weaved her argument, trying desperately to mirror that confidence. Outside lies “senior grass” in its cultivated perfection. I am taken back to the “stepping up” bonfire exactly a year prior. After trying desperately to lose our voices, the sure sign of “getting rowdy,” we all congregated on the regal stone steps. In typical Class of 2011 fashion we managed to turn our energies towards dancing, all trying futilely to mirror Jamal’s wild movements.
The Dining Hall appeals to my eyes, the faint taste of shepherd’s pie and pumpkin bread making me hungry. Raspberry-filled sugar cookies bound to permeate my dreams that night as I sit thinking of them. The winding tree out front, encircled by a wooden bench, takes me back to a late Sunday afternoon when Charlotte hurriedly dragged Miles and me over, claiming she had found her perfect meditation tree for her newfound Buddhism. The quad air sliced by Frisbees on those warm days in May, Jem always diving dramatically for that last thrown disc.
The Memorial Building makes its presence known to my wandering eyes as the sun reflects back from the French doors. Those school meetings, a couple hundred attended, our class cheer always a highlight of the sometimes-dull Tuesdays. Our tentative claps as freshmen, looking for approval for our newborn cheer, would not have predicted the boom heard from our section now. Also in the Large Auditorium those well-anticipated dance showcases, Grace and Caitlyn always mesmerizing us with their poise and Karon and Gunn making us envious with their Michael Jackson smooth moves—ones we unsuccessfully attempted to replicate at our favorite Crow Commons dances. Rosemary and Nina possibly the closest.
Main Street houses memorized turn from white to brown, yellow, then red, before they cease, and a farm road opens to the great expanse we call the “small loop.” I knew Deerfield really had transformed me when the smell of manure and silage, so pungent at the tip of the loop, evokes a smile, while all others, not familiar with the Deerfield experience, plug their noses and hope for relief. My gaze slides left and descends to vacant lower levels with hills towering above. The storm clouds have moved away, leaving the green fields glowing with lazy afternoon sun. I picture any of those cool fall days, the fields teeming with players, cheers echoing through the valley, as we watched with amazement as Hunter, our personal Energizer bunny, leapt for a header goal. The fur coat identifying the man himself, Mr. Morsman stood at the edge of the fields, spirit always a loyal companion. And as Ariel rounded the perimeter for what seemed like the 100th time, hair billowing in the wind, we ogled her unsurpassably graceful strides. The fields also double for the adored Dorm Olympics and Spring Day, bookends of the school year. I recall the masterpieces created during tin foil sculpture competition and Laddie alarmingly balanced during the Dorm Olympics handstand competition. My epic battle against Hannah on the blow-up obstacle course at Spring Day evoked in me a competitive side I knew not I possessed. The fields then ascend towards the sports complex up a steep hill just before the bridge. When the snow sweeps this valley, smothering our fields in layers of white, the hill takes on its true purpose. Winter Sundays: legs tucked in, sled underneath, I pummeled down the slope, tumbling off as the hill flattens to fields.
The river marks the edge of our lavish green carpet and holds its own stream of memories. Hours spent, head back, chest up, legs sprawled across the water’s surface, floating from the jumping point to the entrance path, again and again. A pause, the sleepy current slowed our driven lives. I can picture Emmet, Campbell, Chapin, and Mac Roy boarding their oversized raft in the river, ill-made spears in hand as they attempted to rid Deerfield of the dreaded lamprey monsters.
And then there are the dorms, speckling the campus. Mather, then Ashley, onto Dewey, and finally Harold Smith. We all carved—or rather the housing lottery carved—our own dorm sequence, but within each sit some of the most aggressive laughing fits, deepest philosophical discussions, and greatest comforts. Freshman year, blankets spread out on the Mather quad as the spring sun bathed our skin in warmth, I distinctly remember thinking to myself that I was the happiest I had ever been. Little did I know, that feeling would recur frequently in the next three years. And whether I attribute my uncontrollable laughter junior year to fatigue or genuine happiness, it was in my dorm that I could simply let go. Pressure, stress, issues—all morphed into bellowing laughter at the sight of my fellow Dewey girls and Trig’s welcoming living room.
Now sitting here, looking down from this Rock, I’m no longer seeing a topographical map: just a dorm, just a field, just a river. This map, now packed—no, jam packed—has assumed three dimensions, obtaining volume to hold the millions of reflections, memories, thoughts, laughter, dance moves. Funny anecdotes line each pathway. Those classrooms and the teachers within them fostered academic passions, each with their own memory of a discovery: Wordsworth and Coleridge teaching me that I didn’t have to hate all poetry. Those fields where I would spend days if I could watching game after game, where cheering is a sport in itself, the booming battle cry resounding from one team to the next. It is in that fourth dimension, however, where my love has grown so thick. Unable, at that moment up on the Rock, to be seen through my teary eyes, this dimension of time washes over me. Four years ago I sat on the Rock, a different person, and while the view physically was the same, this fourth dimension has changed what I am seeing.
Yet, in fear of simply reminding us of what an amazing place we are leaving behind, we must recognize that these memories, while sheltered in the Main School Building or floating on the river’s soft current, remain also in us. As we leave, we are not abandoning that instinct to do the robot whenever we hear the first cords of Kesha’s “Tik Tok,” or our automatic “hello” we offer up even while passing a stranger on Albany Road, or the tendency to float, head back, for hours, cherishing those serene pauses in life. No, those will come with us, beyond this tent. So I guess this has become a thank you note, a thank you from me to Deerfield and the Class of 2011. You have defined me, given me the passion to challenge that with which I disagree, given me the ability to drop everything and dance, and to fill—no, stuff—each place I encounter with memories bursting from the windows.