I consider myself to be a "people person"—I love connecting with others, learning more about them, and hearing their stories. As a teenager, my parents and teachers dubbed me as "overly social," and in my all-time greatest moment of personal insight, as a college freshman I decided to turn my social inclination into a career that I love. Today, I am a therapist; I connect with people for a living.
When I arrived, with family and dog in tow, on the St. Andrew's campus in the summer of 2014 to take a position in the School's Counseling Office, I was eager to continue to do the work I am so passionate about. I was not, however, at all prepared for how much connection and community I would find beyond the walls of the Counseling Office, within and throughout St. Andrew's fully residential campus. Each day here is filled with so many opportunities for connection—with students, colleagues, parents, and even alums—that it sometimes seems we truly "can't help but connect" in this environment, to use a popular SAS hashtag.
My connecting begins 6:15 a.m. in the Sipprelle Field House Gym, where two mornings a week, I gather with ten colleagues for a faculty fitness boot camp. Before the sun is up, we are lunging and squatting and chest pressing to Director of College Counseling Jason Honsel's perfectly curated playlists. English teacher Will Torrey and I shoot each other a sarcastic glance after our trainer pulls out the weighted ropes—NOT THE ROPES! Just as I am sure it is not humanly possible to hold plank pose for any longer, Assistant Dean of Students Grace Saliba's encouragement carries me through. Despite the fact that I am definitely not a morning person, I genuinely look forward to the hard work, laughter, and excessive sweating (in my case) of these Tuesday and Friday mornings with my co-workers, who are also my neighbors, and my friends.
Come lunchtime, I head to my table in the Dining Hall, which I "co-host" with my colleague, math teacher Bowman Dickson. Every three weeks, a new group of eight students is assigned to sit with us. On the first day with each new group of students, we explain that we consider ourselves to be a family for the three weeks we dine together—and that no family is complete without nicknames. Students immediately begin conferring nicknames on each other, and what begins as a silly joke ends up being a memorable table tradition. We discuss everything from current events to special talents to favorite meals. We bring paper and crayons to lunch and ask each student to sketch the person sitting across from him or her with their non-dominant hand so we can create a "family photo album." On the last day of each rotation, we bring baked goods to share for our "Farewell Family" celebration. As we go our separate ways on that last day, I always find it interesting that amidst all the jokes about our eccentric table traditions, we really have become so much closer over those three weeks.
Throughout the day, I typically run into all seven of my advisees at some point. I pass by Liza in the hallway and we pause to check in on each other's days; I grab a coffee with Althea and we talk about her upcoming Noxontones performance; I stop in the Studio Arts classroom with Anna and marvel at her progress in drawing; I laugh with Sharon outside of her dorm about an advisory inside joke; I celebrate with Elise on an amazing test grade; I high-five Tina and Mac when they submit their early decision college applications. As an advisory, we are a close-knit squad, and we know we can count on each other during both setbacks and celebrations.
These are just a few of the ways in which I connect with others during an average day at St. Andrew's. To me, it seems clear that the unique, all-residential SAS community—our 24 hour literal proximity to each other—is what gives us all access to this connection. I only hope that current students can find such meaning in connection, too—and, through that connection, one day find a career and a community that they love as much as I love mine.