Mountain Connection, May 15, 2023
By Jed Donnel
Last week, shortly after all of the students arrived to the tennis bubble for the first installment of “Penguinpalooza” – which featured a bit of tennis and a lot of pickleball – the SMS seniors quietly snuck out and returned to campus to prepare their ‘Senior Thanks,’ an annual tradition whereby the eldest students work together, and with a bit of coordinating help from faculty, to surprise the rest of the school with an act of memorable kindness. It’s a chance for the seniors to give back to the community that has given so much to them, and to further unite as a class behind a productive and enjoyable common goal. This year, the throng of underclassmen, buoyed by mild-mannered and cathartic competition, arrived back from the bubble to a delicious outdoor BBQ prepared by the seniors who welcomed them with warm smiles and festive charm.
As with many traditions in folklore, the origin story of ‘Senior Thanks’ is something of a mystery. Eben notes, “I’d wager it had something to do with Brian, Meg, and a senior prank gone wrong, but I actually don’t have a good sense of the history.” As follow-up, Brian states, “Senior pranks moved into ‘Senior Thanks’ about a decade ago – maybe nine years, but I think ten — and the purpose was to move away from something destructive into something that helped the seniors to leave the school better than they found it and with gratitude.” As process to such ends, the seniors met with Eben early this past spring to chat about their senior year and to debrief the present en route to determining the future. In essence, the discussion tapered to appreciation, as seniors began to contemplate the larger effect of their own legacy. Eben states, “I helped them to differentiate a thanks and a prank: basically, if what they’re doing is at someone else’s expense, it’s a prank. If it is a sign of appreciation and improves others’ day, it’s a thanks.”
Personally, I found the event delightful. I had the chance to briefly speak with a few seniors in the bubble before they headed out, and their nostalgia was already evident. Quietly and confidently, they surveyed the scene of swinging paddles and general chaos, knowing their peers were usefully distracted, and they each smiled in thoughtful anticipation. Likewise, while I was entirely tangential to the idea, having taken no part whatsoever in its planning or execution (which is kind of a strange sensation for any teacher), I felt completely confident in the outcome. The genuineness of the seniors’ intention was evident on their faces, and I gratefully returned to the pickleball throng knowing the school was in their good hands.