Last Friday, we were honored to host a Phillips Exeter Academy meet and greet for prospective Exeter students and their parents. It was a marvelous evening getting to talk about the school that has affected our lives so much, and to meet with others that are currently going to the school, have gone to the school, work at the school, and are considering going to the school. But before we get into that I want to reflect how Exeter has changed and will most likely change my life.
A year ago, at about this time I was driving the streets of Exeter with Stephen, my oldest son. We had elected to do the prospective student interview on campus. We had the option of doing it in Houston, but had weighed the two options and decided on campus was the best way to go. Exeter stresses that there is no difference between on vs. off campus interviews. It does not give you an advantage from their point of view. But I believe it does from ours. First, I wanted to see the campus. Second, doesn’t it make your interview stronger to say, “I’ve seen the school, and it looks like a good fit for me?” instead of saying it looks great on paper. Third, doesn’t it speak to the commitment that is being made to travel all the way to campus for the interview thereby showing how important this is to us?
Exeter was more than I imagined. The campus is huge and beautiful. And is a wonderful community of students. I was amazed at how alive our tour guide was, and I wished the same for my children. I had to confess to the interviewer that the place felt a little magical and reminded me of Hogwarts from Harry Potter.
It was during this trip that I got a follow up call from Surya about the HP job. And it was largely the cost of the school and the regular paycheck of HP that pushed me into taking it. (Though I still feel I would have made more in real estate.)
After the time in Exeter, we went to Boston. I have always liked Boston. I have often dreamed about how nice it would be to live there with MIT and Hardvard there, the startups, the hackerspaces, and the subway. (Unlike most Texans, I actually would like to be able to get around without having to drive.)
It was a month later that we got the acceptance letter. And it was in March of last year that I started my new job at HP. Around that time I also found myself in a prospective student meeting at the Ross’ house here in Houston. It was there that my wife and I were thinking and asking all the same questions that we heard this past Friday. What is it like? Is it worth it? Is it safe? Are we sending our son out to the world a little too early?
It was that summer that my mother decided that the situation required her special attention. She hopped in a car, drove the 2,000 miles to Exeter, rented an apartment, bought furniture, and began looking for a job. She also did some advanced checking of the campus by driving around on a regular basis. It was only a day or two before her out of state license’ plate and special interest in the school was noticed by the Exeter police, and she soon had company on her daily trip.
We went up in September to visit her, and get Stephen installed in school. It was a powerful mix of excitement at the opportunity, worry of rather this was the right decision or not, and sadness that this seemed to mark a definite turning point when Stephen would be branching out on his own. It was great to meet the other parents, the teachers, his advisor, and the staff. They all did a good job of making us feel that this was the best thing to do.
A month later in October we went back for parent’s weekend. We got to attend his classes, meet with his teachers, see many of the activities and benefits they have on campus. (One of the things I really liked was the modern dance and ballet routine that they have. Personally I think dance should be a required course. Actually, I think a little of everything should be required.) I like the PE program where each semester they have to take 3 sports. This time around Stephen was exposed to crew, fencing, and squash. While he liked all three, it looks like squash is going to have the longest effect.
In November he was home for Thanksgiving. And in December he came home for Christmas. At the end of the break we had the meet and greet, and we were able to provide some informed answers to the types of questions that were similar to the ones we had not so long ago.
What is it like?
Imagine a place where people like to learn and to explore. Imagine small classes of 12 or less students where the teacher and students sit at a table and discuss the material. Imagine a place were new challenges and opportunities are constantly being sought and offered. That is Exeter.
Is it worth it?
If you are willing to push yourself, if you are willing to try to become the best you that you can become, then it is worth it.
Is it safe?
Exeter is a small country town where everyone knows pretty much everyone else. People keep an eye for each other, and know when something is out of place. There is a city police and the academy also has their own police department. And there is a 5 to 1 student to teacher ratio so the students have a lot of supervision. I feel very confident that it is safe.
Are we sending our son out to the world a little too early?
Yes, it feels that way. That is why we are heavily considering the possibility of moving to Exter this summer so that next year he can be a day student and live with us.
If you or someone you know is in or about to be in high school, then I would recommend that you at least explore Phillips Exeter Academy at exeter.edu.