And ... they're off! Classes click as a new year dawns

Exeter students gather by class year to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones.

Patrick Garrity
September 5, 2019
Members of the class of 2021 race go-karts of their own making during Class Activity Day at Alnoba in Kensington.

Louis Mukama and Hojun Choi push Max Oulundsen to victory in the go-kart race during the class of 2021's orientation program. 

KENSINGTON — Exeter students will dig into a course catalog this year that includes the principles of statistical thermodynamics, molecular genetics and foundations of abstract mathematics. But Thursday, members of the class of 2021 labored to grasp a more pedestrian concept: Righty tighty, lefty loosey.

That universal truism came in handy as small teams attempted to assemble go-karts from raw materials that filled nine plastic tubs. The menagerie of vehicles eventually produced pushed the limits of the term race-worthy, but after a rigorous inspection and some not-so-fine-tuning, a race there was. And, as is true for every challenge these uppers will take on this year, the result was far less important than the journey.

The class of 2021 was among more than a thousand Exonians who knocked off the rust of summer break during Class Activity Day on Thursday. The uppers were put through their paces by the Pinnacle Leadership Center team in nearby Kensington; the seniors competed in a series of field day activities; the lowers participated in an escape room and scavenger hunt; and the preps tackled the ropes courses of Browne Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

The idea: Draw classmates closer and kick-start collaboration as they begin a new school year. Much of the concept of community at Exeter is fostered through dorm life, clubs and teams, but this day is about bonding as a class. The orientation program was started in 2017 with funding from an anonymous donor.

The uppers’ bonding session came amid the idyllic surroundings of Alnoba, a 400-acre complex reserved for just this kind of team development. Divvied up into three groups, the 290 class members fanned out over the grounds. One group started its day quietly in meditation in the center’s great room. Another weaved its way into the woods to navigate ropes courses 25 feet above ground.

Among the first high-wire actors were Sadie Griffith and Audrey Malila. The pair clambered up a ladder to a series of ropes strung between oaks as their classmates belayed below. After some tentative first steps — “We should probably move this along,” Malila suggested — the tandem crept across the divide. A crash course in climbing commands — “On belay!” and “slack!” and “take!” — had provided the girls enough information to instruct their grounded classmates to help them reach their destination.

As the pair descended to earth, the instructor asked “How was it?”

“Good,” came the reply in unison.

“Well, you set the bar high,” he said. “Who’s next?”

The third group of uppers built race cars. Sort of. The rules called for the teams to designate members to specific roles: Team owner, engineers, designers, etc. Only a few team members were allowed to see the instructions, which were minimal. Confusion, however, was in ample supply.

“What’s a split pin?”

“It’s one of those long pin things.”

“I haven’t the foggiest, actually.”

“Can we just duct tape the whole thing together?”

“It’s a little sketchy, but I think it’ll work.”

Ultimately, nine go-karts of varied viability took shape. Five passed inspection to compete in the first heat, a two-lap race conducted in a field under the gaze of a 30-foot totem pole. For the record, a contraption christened “Max’s Thunder Thighs,” helmed by Max Oulundsen and powered by Hojun Choi and Louis Mukama, won heat 1 of the morning session.

The winners can take that satisfaction to the Harkness table beginning Friday as classes commence and a new school year formally gets underway.