Before the leap forward, a quick look back

Winslow MacDonald
'Time capsules' remind seniors just how far they've come on their Exeter journey.
June 4, 2018

It is an Exeter tradition for first-year students to store away keepsakes in makeshift "time capsules" to be opened just before graduation. We asked Winslow MacDonald, a four-year member of the class of 2018, to briefly reflect on that tradition and his journey through the Academy.

A few days before I first came to Exeter, I went hacking through the woods behind my house with my uncle. Instead of wearing boots, I wore flip-flops, and in the process I rubbed against some poison ivy. The rash didn’t appear on my feet immediately, and it wasn’t until my parents were gone and I was stuck in my dorm room alone on the first day of prep fall that I realized my predicament. 

At Exeter, there are many buildings named after members of the Lamont family: Lamont Gallery, Lamont Hall, Lamont Health & Wellness Center, Lamont House. So naturally, in my pursuit of treatment for my poison ivy, I walked into the first Lamont I saw, the white house standing beside the Science Building, thinking it was the Health Center. Without knocking, I walked into what turned out to be a faculty house, to the surprise of the resident who was lying on a couch reading a magazine. There is no better metaphor to explain the confusion of my prep fall. 

That year, we gathered as preps to create our time capsules. I recounted this unfortunate (and, in retrospect, hilarious) incident to my classmates in addition to various other stories students had submitted. “In the beginning,” one wrote, “I did not know how to tie my tie.” We were ignorant as preps, naive, but over the past four years we have learned to shape the school to fit our community’s needs. The students felt that requiring boys to wear ties to class as part of a gendered dress code was unacceptable. So we changed it. Prep Winslow wrote to The Exonian commenting on the dress code change that “I think the new dress code will be step forward for Exeter. I personally intend on continuing to wear a tie every day, but I know that others will be glad not to.” As a good friend of mine said the other day at assembly, “Exeter doesn’t make you, you make Exeter.” I am confident that my class has lived up to that advice. 

Last Friday, I joined the rest of the four-year seniors in the opening of our time capsules. The first thing I removed from the envelope was a biology quiz. On this particular quiz, I confused telophase (a stage in mitosis) with telekinesis. Honestly, if you were to put the same quiz before me today I might make this mistake again. I struggled in biology at Exeter, as many students do, but despite my academic mediocrity in this subject, I learned that education is less about grades and more about interest. My upper year, I took a series of biology electives that turned out to be some of the hallmark classes of my Exeter career. 

Also in that envelope was a note from 14 year-old me. Quote: “Writing this is a 14-year-old version of yourself who drank 146 cups of tea in the month of December, played banjo and harmonica when he wasn’t doing his work, and did not enjoy math or biology.” I’m so grateful that Exeter gave me an environment where I could be my true self, drink all that tea and explore. 

It is customary for preps to ask for dormmates to write notes for their capsules. In mine, I saved a note from a close friend who graduated in 2017. “By the time you are reading this,” he wrote “we’ve had tons of memories….and I know by now that you will have grown so much.” The truth is that we did share many memories, and we continue to make them. And I have grown. Were it not for Exeter, the two of us would never have been connected from the two very different worlds which he had formerly inhabited. My time capsule assured me that Exeter has provided lasting, meaningful connections with students that come from a broad variety of countries, races and socio-economic backgrounds. This note in my time capsule is a testament to the friendships that can be made if given the right environment. 

As I leave Exeter, I know that I am entirely different person than the prep who walked into faculty housing with poison ivy. I’ve grown in so many ways both inside and outside of the classroom. The time capsule ceremony offered a moment to stop, think and reminisce on the changes that this institution has brought to each student. Goodbye, Exeter, and thank you. 

Winslow MacDonald ’18, a resident of Phippsburg, Maine, will attend Columbia University in the fall. 

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