By Austin de la Torre ’20
There are few days in the week that contest the challenge of Mondays. The academic day is long. It is the only day of the week that you have every class, and free periods are scarce. When the clock hits 3:15, boys hurry to make it to practice. After two hours out on Hanes Field or in Ruffin Memorial Natatorium, there is a rush to shower and get into chapel attire for seated meal which is followed by Chapel. When they get back to their dorm room, they can finally toss on a t-shirt and relax…by spending the last two hours of that day studying and preparing for the five days of work that lay ahead.
While that description may seem unkind towards Mondays, this is not a critique, but rather a justification of Woodberry’s challenging schedule. There is no denying that Woodberry is a hard place to live, for both students and faculty. We are reminded of this every time we return from a break. The freedoms of ‘normal’ life seem to disappear as you drive past the guardhouse on the entrance road. Whether it be the Sixth Former who misses his car, or the Third Former that just needs to get away from his roommate, all Woodberry boys have experienced the desperate longing for a break at some point in their time at Woodberry.
However, Woodberry has never hidden from this fact. Teachers are committed to knowing, challenging, and loving each student. Dr. Hulsey’s famous mantra is that “Woodberry is a hard thing worth doing the right way.” Students are reminded by the posters on each dorm to work hard, build their character, and take care of each other. While these tasks are simple, they are far from easy. They are centered around difficulty. We live in a world where work ethic is culturally undervalued, where the easy wrong is far more popular than the hard right, and where empathy is scarce.
Anytime your actions rebuff those of the world around you, conformity is tempting. The grass of home always seems greener when you are in the middle of the winter trimester. This is because finding instant gratification amidst the bustle of Woodberry life is almost impossible. Grades seem arbitrary, yet immensely consequential, and people appear not to grasp the concept of personal time. When a boy who is struggling hears others dismiss the importance of Woodberry being hard, they too are more likely to forget their purpose at the school. Likewise, students that choose to accept and embrace the challenges of Woodberry are labeled as fake, and so the student body becomes divided by its values.
With all this said, it can be easy to catch a case of the Woodberry blues. Often when students share their complaints, though, they believe the answer to their struggles is a break or a less busy schedule. When these grumbles gain validation, we risk losing sight of our values. Not only does constant complaining hurt one’s own experience and trap himself in a complacent way of thinking but it also impedes the experience of others.
When we allow students to perceive hard days as bad days, we are only setting them up to have a lot of bad days at Woodberry. Too often people confuse their daily inconveniences for problems out of their control. We must relate challenge to reward, not to misery. For hardworking and caring men of character to develop, boys must face their struggles if they ever wish to live a meaningful life. This does not mean that we cannot care for each other, it simply means we shouldn’t encourage grumbling about things they should be facing head-on.
Time is limited for Woodberry boys. At most, they have only four years to make the most out of Woodberry’s wide range of opportunities. During his chapel sermon, Dr. Hulsey posed another interesting thought: if a prison is defined as “metaphorical bondage that comes with a heavy sense of unlimited time and limited space,” then freedom can be defined as “the intersection of very limited time and unlimited space”. The conception that Woodberry is a “prison” is fundamentally wrong. We have many opportunities and little time to waste.
Woodberry works best for those who are willing to choose the hard right over the easy wrong. It doesn’t work well, if at all, for those who make a habit of taking the easy way out. While great transformation is possible in a boy’s time at the school, that boy must confront the challenges that face him. When students face failure or adversity, they must maintain a focus of clarity in their purpose at Woodberry.
I am not asking that you hide your feelings. As I said, it is expected that as a Woodberry boy you will find yourself longing for a break. Lean into those feelings, and be comfortable being uncomfortable. Be proud of it and grow from it, but don’t fall prey to the easy path of whining. That will only make everyone’s existence at Woodberry worse. Remember why we do what we do, and remain inspired by those around you who find themselves facing the very same challenges you do.