Editor’s Note: Isadora Dooley Hunter is in the final days of her post-graduate year as part of the English Speaking Union. A native of London, she always wanted to spend a year studying in the United States. But spending your gap year in America wasn’t considered “such a big thing” in her public school.
By chance, Hunter saw an advertisement for the ESU program while scrolling through her Facebook newsfeed. She investigated, applied, and was eventually selected. She was originally assigned to a prep school in upstate New York, but her assignment was later changed to Culver.
During the Parents Weekend all-school meeting, Hunter, who will enter Cambridge in the fall, told the Eppley Auditorium audience about her year at a place she never knew existed and never knew she would miss so much. This is her speech:
My parents told me three things before I left England last summer to come to Culver. One – Remember to send grandma a postcard. Two – Don’t fall in love. We want you back. And three – Don’t you dare come home with an American accent. And whilst eight months later I can safely say I succeeded in two of those aspects, I never in a million years imagined that I would grow to care so much for a place that, 365 days ago, I had never even heard of.
I came to Culver last August as an English Speaking Union scholar. I was initially allocated a school in New York, and for one glorious week my mind was filled with weekends in Manhattan and picnics in Central Park. Then I found out that my scholarship had in fact been moved…to Indiana. It took a while to get over my disappointment, but looking back on it now that change was the best thing that ever happened to me. And after all, who needs Fifth Avenue when you have Civvies?
Having never met anyone who’d ever been to Indiana, let alone to the shores of Lake Max, my expectations of Culver were hesitant to say the least. All summer I religiously watched the slightly daunting ‘Forge Your Future’ videos on YouTube and wondered if I too would go up in flames the minute I set foot on campus and realized what I’d got myself into.
But Culver has a strange knack of becoming a vital part of one’s life in an incredibly short space of time.
But Culver has a strange knack of becoming a vital part of one’s life in an incredibly short space of time. Now, I am so submerged in CQ, cannons, awkward dances and Papa’s that I can hardly remember my life before this place came along and turned everything I thought I knew on its head.
In a strange way, even though I’ve only been here for a year, it’s as if I’ve had my four years in miniature. At the beginning, I felt like a freshman: lost and confused and absolutely terrified of everyone and everything around me. Then, the famous “forgotten” year; I honestly cannot remember what happened between fall long weekend and winter break, other than the wonder of my first Thanksgiving, and the feeling that I was slowly becoming a part of something incredible.
I lived vicariously through the juniors in the winter months; halfway through my time here I found my feet, began needlessly worrying about APs, and got my first leadership position. And now, I find myself in the midst of senior spring, and descending into complete panics whenever I realize that I only have a few precious weeks left with the people who have become my best friends.
Never let anything become ordinary, because this place is far from it.
All of you students have been blessed with two, three, or even four years in this place. Never get used to it. Because it’s only too easy to forget that what is mundane and everyday to us now will soon be extraordinary and nostalgic. So get caught in your friend’s room after Taps. The conversations you’ll have will be worth the ATV. Get up an hour earlier at the weekend to walk along the lakefront and watch the sun rise across the water. Laugh, instead of complaining, when the bananas are still green at breakfast, and run as fast in athletics as you do when you’re way off limits and you see (Ed) Quella and his golf cart approaching. Never let anything become ordinary, because this place is far from it.
It seems like yesterday that I arrived at Culver, and yet I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime here. It would have been so easy for me to wave away the idea of applying for yet another scheme after months of university applications, and the thought that I could be sitting at home 3,000 miles away right now terrifies me, because I would have missed out on so much – not least, standing here in a place I didn’t know I needed and talking to people I didn’t know I was missing.
Thanks to my status as a recent high school veteran, I feel I can say this from experience – your time here will end, whether or not you make the most of it. So dance in the Shack, smile at everyone you walk past, make friends that span ages and continents, and ask that boy or girl to Final, instead of sitting back and hoping that life happens to you of its own accord. Time goes by, and no matter how long you spend here, Culver only happens once. But if you do it right, once is all you need.