Feeling at home

Bill Rawson '71; P'08
November 2, 2022
Principal Bill Rawson chats with students

I remember well the day I moved into Dunbar Hall as a new lower in 1968, with not much more than a single duffel bag and a lacrosse stick in my hands. I had never lived away from home, so naturally I found myself wondering what the other students would be like and how I would fit in. My room was sparsely furnished, and my few possessions did not do much to fill it up, nor take long to unpack. Then I was on my own.

I could not have been happier. I was at Exeter. Friendships quickly formed, and with the support of the proctors and faculty who lived there, Dunbar soon became my home away from home. Sure, the seniors looked impossibly old to me, and I wasn’t ready to join the fierce four square battles that played out in front of the dorm each evening, but I found my friends among the other new lowers, and felt that I could not have been assigned to a better dorm. In fact, like most students, I was certain I was in the best dorm on campus.

Fast-forward 50-plus years, and I now have the privilege of doing dorm duty in Wentworth Hall, and the pleasure of seeing firsthand how the important work of faculty, proctors and student listeners continues to foster community today. The day student affiliate program extends this sense of dorm pride and belonging to non-boarders, integrating them into the school more completely, including as proctors in our dorms.

A strong sense of belonging for every student in the dorm is central to creating a strong sense of belonging to the school as a whole."

At Exeter, all four classes live together, and most students remain in the same dorm for their entire time at the Academy. Proctors and student listeners return to campus early each fall to be trained for their responsibilities, and the mentoring that occurs between older and younger students is important to the personal development of both. A strong sense of belonging for every student in the dorm is central to creating a strong sense of belonging to the school as a whole, and it is not surprising that our alumni typically identify first with their class year, and second with their dorm.

This fall, we celebrate the opening of the first new dorm on campus since 1969. It’s a multipurpose building that houses 60 students and five resident faculty, as well as an academic space with four Harkness classrooms and a department meeting room for our Health and Human Development Department. The building also frames a spacious lawn with two other dorms, creating an exciting new community space on campus.

To ensure the best possible residential experience for our students, and to attract and retain the finest faculty, it is essential that we continually renovate our dorms in line with the latest principles of accessibility and sustainable construction. Outfitted with geothermal heating and cooling, the new dorm is a testament to that commitment. It will be used to house students from Merrill and Langdell Halls as we embark on the renewal of those historic dorms and the construction of an expansive new dining complex on the site of Wetherell Dining Hall.

In the opening paragraph of our Deed of Gift, John and Elizabeth Phillips expressed their belief that “the time of youth is the important period.” Indeed, it is a time to learn about one’s self and develop a sense of purpose and identity, and to consider one’s place in the larger whole. Our residential programs are an essential component of this process at Exeter, and they are critical to our mission to unite goodness and knowledge and inspire youth from every quarter to lead purposeful lives.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the fall 2022 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.