Run away to the mountains–and find your best self

October 27, 2022

Almost nine months ago, I wasn’t taking standardized tests or preparing for my Junior Profile. On January 26 of 2022, I boarded a plane to Colorado, where I wanted to change my life. I’ve been at BB&N since Beginners, and I always thought I knew what the Upper School would look like; I would go to Bivouac, make grilled cheeses in the storied panini press, study biology and global history, wear a short dress to junior prom and a long dress as a senior. That all seemed appealing as a freshman, but as I finally did those things, I began to understand the other side of it; the science and history tests came with the expectation that I would ace them, and I was supposed to have a huge friend group to take my prom photos with.

As the coronavirus only further upended my preconceived notions of the Upper School, I did the one concrete thing I could think of and applied to the High Mountain Institute (HMI). The only thing I knew about my new home before I left was that it was beautiful and snowy and attracted intentional and kind people, and that everyone told me I would love it. I almost needed to love it. My friends thought I was crazy for leaving right before ‘the most important part’ of junior year, but I did.

I could write a thousand-page essay about my experience at HMI and that wouldn’t begin to cover it. I can’t sum up how I shoveled snow every day for four months, cooked breakfasts and lunches for 60 people, or dragged a 70-pound sled up a mountain on Telemark skis that I had learned how to use only two weeks before. I slept under the stars in Utah for 24 nights, and by the end, I could find at least five constellations. My friend Walter could tell you about the rest. I learned about sine functions and World War I and how the juniper trees and lodgepole pines around me grew despite the altitudinal zonation. I found caddisflies and stoneflies in the Arkansas River. I harmonized to the same song every night and believed people when they said my voice sounded beautiful.

The kids there were from everywhere. I’ve only ever really known students from the Boston area, but within the first week, I had a family from Seattle, Chicago, Asheville. We bared our souls to each other while sitting in a circle and built fires to heat our cabins at night. Whenever we left campus, we surprised the locals of Leadville with our joy and athleticism and how much we loved each other. I discovered and shared facets of myself I wasn’t even aware existed. I learned that the world is so much bigger than the 5-mile radius in which my life had taken place.

Someone told me there that they loved me for a reason; they wanted to hear what I had to say, and I just had to say it. We were sitting on the porch overlooking the tallest mountains in the contiguous United States. The sky was so blue that day and I could see everything for miles. I think I started crying. My teachers at home had always told me that I am more than my grades and test scores, but until that moment, I don’t know if I fully believed it. My voice holds value.

I thought I was so sure about high school; BB&N gave me the certainty that I would learn and grow and be able to continue my education at whatever higher institution I desired. For this confirmation I am forever grateful. But at HMI, I learned to embrace the unknown and trust myself blindly, without expectations. You can never truly know how full your life will be until you live it.