Choate Weekend is a beloved tradition at Deerfield. On Friday night, the past year’s alumni return to campus to reconnect with their peers and esteemed faculty before spending Saturday cheering for Deerfield’s sports teams. The alumni display their love for Deerfield through their enthusiasm at the bonfire and pep rally, and especially through the many miles they travel for the short weekend excursion.
However, in recent years, the administration has dealt with various instances of inappropriate conduct from some alumni, leading it to declare a change in the way the graduated students could participate in this year’s Choate weekend activities. Without a true dialogue with the student body and the Class of 2017, the administration severed the Friday night tradition.
Mr. Kelly provided thoughtful insight on the initial decision for the seniors not to come back for Friday night. He noted that last year’s Friday night sequence was only “a straw that broke the camel’s back.” The administration has, for the past ten years, dealt with the fact that many students choose to come back for the bonfire and pep rally intoxicated, which presents the administration with legality and liability issues that must be resolved.
The love Mr. Kelly feels for the Class of 2017 was clear as he noted, “For us, this was not a reflection on the Class of 2017. For every class, and especially for the Class of 2017, we were thrilled to have them back on campus. The change of that Friday night was in no way driven or directed at this class.” My only wish is that this conversation occurred before letters were drafted and emails were sent, in order to save the anger, distress, and confusion that circulated among students and alumni when the initial solution to the issue was announced.
Our mission statement says, “Deerfield Academy is an independent secondary school committed to high standards of scholarship, citizenship, and personal responsibility… Deerfield encourages each student to develop an inquisitive and creative mind, sound body, and strong moral character.” A key part of this statement is the evolution of students’ “strong moral character” throughout their time at the Academy. If we market ourselves to prospective families as a place where strong moral values are instilled in our students, then why were we ashamed of inviting back our recently graduated Class of 2017 the night before Choate Day?
Aside from the dismay I felt at the revocation of the chance to see some of my best friends on the Friday before Choate Day, what disconcerted me most was that I, as well as the rest of the student body and the recently graduated class, had had no voice in the decision.
As Lily Louis ’18 stated fervently, “I feel as though students were exasperated by the way in which the Class of 2017 was blindsided. We felt that a proper conversation had not been had with these students, given that there was abundant time for discussion throughout their senior year at Deerfield, for the administration to come together with this class and find a compromise for their Choate Day experience.”
Had the administration proposed this change as a discussion, instead of informing us that they had already made the decision, I believe that we could have come to the conclusion that now stands in a much healthier manner.
As Louis noted, “Not only was this a fight for the Class of 2017, but also a fight for our own future Choate Day and that of generations to come.” The alumni, understandably, felt betrayed by the administration’s settlement. As the journey was too long for a day trip, many of them decided that they wouldn’t return at all for Choate Day when they received the administration’s letter.
In my conversation with students from the Class of 2017, Reid Shilling ’17 pointed out, “It is called ‘Choate Weekend’ for a reason. It’s also referenced as ‘Homecoming’ for a reason. Who are we as a community if we cannot welcome back our alumni?” Many members of the Class of 2017 felt devalued by the administration’s decision to not have them back for the bonfire and pep rally. They didn’t have a chance to fight to come back and behave respectfully on their old stomping grounds.
Although the administration did reverse the decision and the Class of 2017 will return for all of Choate Weekend, I think it is important to acknowledge the fact that for a period of time, our administration was planning to keep them from returning to campus. Deerfield students grow so much throughout our time at the Academy. We develop our interests and find our talents; we become unique individuals. Deerfield produces a group of extremely skilled, driven, kind, and passionate young adults. As students, we realize that we have the duty to act in a way that reflects good character and respect for Deerfield, as well as our community beyond. Therefore, we would like to feel as though the school holds its alumni in high regard as members of the global community, especially as a result of their time at the Academy.
With propositions as controversial as disallowing the alumni to return the Friday of Choate Weekend, it is important that the administration lends the students the true opportunity to participate. “If Deerfield is changing and becoming the progressive place it projects itself to be, major changes to student life should include bodies of student leadership in the decision-making process,” declared former Chair of the Student Council Daniel Finnegan ’17.
With regard to the meeting Dr. Curtis and Mr. Kelly held, Captain Deerfield Ollie Hollo ’18 remarked, “Dr. Curtis and Mr. Kelly were both moved after the Caswell meeting over the original Choate Weekend decision. The key component in swaying them was that everyone at the meeting was honest, while maintaining a polite tone.” Upon realizing how much this tradition meant not only to the Class of 2017, but also to the current Deerfield student body, they listened, and the new decision was shaped by the students’ input. Hollo summed up the overarching sentiment that “a Deerfield where students are discouraged from coming back to campus and reuniting with classmates is not the welcoming community on which we pride ourselves. There is only one way to celebrate Choate Day: with pride, family, and tradition.” As a student body, we took matters into our own hands and brought back the Choate Weekend that we know and love.
Even as a freshman, not knowing any of the alumni returning to campus, I remember feeling the excitement that vibrated through the Kravis, down at the bonfire, and in the Greer on the night before Choate Day. Words cannot express the value of embracing old friends, of seeing each other after long periods of time apart, of coming together in the place that shaped them into the successful young adults they now are. Traditions are an integral part of our school; without them, we wouldn’t be Deerfield Academy. Dr. Curtis constantly reiterates that what sets Deerfield apart from other New England boarding schools is our exceptionally strong sense of community, and I couldn’t agree more.
Going forward, I hope that the student body and administration will be able to work together to create healthier dialogue surrounding future issues and decisions.