Why Freedom is Important at St. Paul’s School

As I stare at the blank wall of what will soon be someone else’s dorm room after I have packed away my belongings and headed off to college, I wonder to myself: Have I taken full advantage of what St. Paul’s had to offer? Can I hit the dusty trail, proudly saying that I have accomplished my mission here?

I don’t claim to have exhausted all of what St. Paul’s has to offer. However, I do walk away believing that this institution has provided me with the finest secondary education imaginable for me. The wide spectrum of experiences I have encountered here is far beyond what I would have, had I stayed at home. The diversity and intellectual energy of the community, the beauty of the physical surroundings, and the remarkable friendships built in Millville have left their mark in my life. I chose to explore and utilize to the best of my abilities the resources available here—the peers, the teachers, the campus and the facilities—and I reaped the reward.

But for those of you who will be returning next year, you face an entirely different question: In your remaining time here, can you fully take advantage of what this place has to offer? How will you spend your free time? Will you take responsibility and ownership of your own SPS career?

St. Paul’s prides itself on the degree of freedom its students have, but a good number of them don’t utilize their freedom constructively. There are students who mismanage their time, fail to get enough sleep, or violate school regulations. The various response mechanisms—Clark House, in-dorm advisors, and the Vice Rector for Students Office—assist students who need help or guidance. And those who refuse to learn their lesson and continually abuse their freedom are rightly put on academic probation or get sent to the DC.

Yet, not all of us abuse our freedoms. Many of us deserve the freedom St. Paul’s gives us, and even need it in order to Flourish. We need the freedom and the free time to get know one another, to appreciate the regenerative power nature has, to reflect upon and make sense of our experience here, and to explore whatever it is that impassions our souls. We need a late check-in time so that we can attend the late T-tones rehearsal or Pelican layout session. We need the free and open physical spaces—an empty schoolhouse room or an empty Hargate auditorium—so that we can exercise and our creativity, whether that creativity manifests itself in environmental initiatives, community service, or an independent film club. To fully take advantage of the resources we possess here, we need the time and the freedom to interact with others, to learn, to lead, to listen, and to grow.

I would not have had the same experience at St. Paul’s without the freedom the school has endowed me. This freedom has allowed me to do the things I want—conduct research in the library archives, start a charity drive, visit a friend in need, make witty chapel announcements, and practice my bassoon late into the night. These opportunities here have made my particular high school experience remarkable.

It upsets me to see students abuse their freedom and completely waste their time at St. Paul’s. I say to those Paulies: Put your freedom and your opportunities to good use. If you desire freedom, you must accept responsibility. Earn your freedom. Do not take it for granted.

However, it concerns even more that the administration is frequently talking about cutting student freedoms. I would be immensely disheartened to see these opportunities and freedoms taken away from the students, especially the many who deserve and need it—the responsible, high-achieving individuals who will go on in life to achieve great things. The school should not only see the bad in us, but also the good. Yes, we are young and immature. We play a game of blind man’s buff—not knowing who we are or what we stand for. If someone can’t handle the degree of freedom St. Paul’s allows them, take it away from that person. But don’t condemn all of us for someone’s occasional mistake. Don’t take away our opportunities to learn and to grow dynamically, simply because teenagers sometimes lose their bearing. Let the responsible amongst us be free to do what we want—because many of us will do remarkable things with our freedom.

Originally published in The Pelican, the student newspaper at St. Paul’s School.