Class acts: a day dedicated to strengthening community

Patrick Garrity
November 13, 2018
Exeter students build community

Lowers square off in a rock-paper- scissors showdown on the Academy Quad.


No, paper!


The class of 2021 is spread across the Academic Quad, each member trying to make the right split-second choice in a rock-paper-scissors throw-down for the ages. Two hundred seventy-six lowers are one-two-three shooting simultaneously and living and dying with their decisions.

No, Exeter has not lost its collective mind. But the hope is that some reticent Exonians might lose their inhibitions on this first weekend of the new school year.

The lowers’ shootout is one fun piece of a program designed by team-building facilitator Playfair. That programming, in turn, is an element of an Academy-wide initiative to foster community and collaboration at the beginning of fall term. As the lowers go through their paces, the senior class is combing Salisbury Beach, picking up a summer’s worth of refuse. Preps are participating in team-building exercises of their own on a ropes course run by the University of New Hampshire. And the uppers are gathered in Assembly Hall to hear a guest speaker discuss leadership and effective communication.

The orientation program was launched last year by the Dean of Students Office, thanks to the new Class of 2018 Exonians Connect and Explore Fund, established by an anonymous donor. A decision was made at the time to zero in on class year. Much of the community at Exeter revolves around dorms, clubs or teams, but this daylong effort is about bonding as classmates.

For the class of 2021, that means Joey Tribbiani impressions (“How you doin’?”). And roaring like tigers. And reciting two-line poems. And making up signature dance moves. All in the name of breaking down barriers and building up community.

Many of these students began their Exeter experience a year ago on that ropes course in Durham. They spent three terms together, navigating prep year and making friends. But even outgoing Exonians can’t name every classmate, and there are 75 new arrivals in the class of ’21 — more than a quarter of its ranks.

A series of prompts sorts and re-sorts the participants by birth month and distance traveled to school and hours of sleep. Siblings or only children. Pet owners or pet-less. Android or iPhone. The quad is a swirling sea of hoodies on this cool morning, and before anyone can get comfortable, a new prompt has the sea aswirl again.

The strategy is to pry apart buddies and connect strangers, for a few moments at least. As students bounce around the quad trying to recite two-lined poems and invent signature dance steps with old and new friends alike, the strategy seems to be working.

The morning culminates with the mother of all rock-paper-scissors tournaments. Each best-of-three showdown results in a winner and a loser — but the loser must instantly become his or her vanquisher’s biggest champion and find other winners to challenge.

The competition progresses rapidly, with the number of victors dwindling as their entourages grow exponentially.

Finally, just two combatants remain: Sarah Pasche, Winston-Salem’s finest, and Jeffrey Cui, pride of Hong Kong. They climb the steps of Phillips Hall and face off, their fellow lowers crowded around them, hanging on every throw. Jeffrey emerges victorious. His newfound entourage goes bananas. The spoils to the champ? The honor of taking a selfie with all 275 of his classmates, the class of 2021.

See more photos from orientation:

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the fall 2018 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.