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Coming together

By
Mitch Bradbury ’78; P’09, P’20, former trustee
October 28, 2019
Exeter alum and former Trustee Mitch Bradbury

As a clinical psychologist for over 30 years, I have dedicated my life to nurturing good relationships and eradicating the human condition of loneliness for those people who lack such connections. I am grateful and honored every moment of every day to have the opportunity and agency to foster connections with others, both personally and professionally.

A friend asked me recently, as we were on campus for Exeter Leadership Weekend, "What is it about the 03833 that still draws on us all?" The question itself offered an opportunity for connection and it opened my heart: "It’s the connections to our spirit that come from going through something transformative that has made us all better human beings," I replied. 

In a recent Facebook challenge to share covers of favorite books, another friend posted a newer translation of "The Odyssey" containing the following line: "All beggars and strangers are from Zeus and every act of kindness a blessing." I came to Exeter short, chubby, swarthy, intellectually and socially outclassed. I was immediately homesick, lonely and fearful, but I was scrappy and confrontational, so the external armoring of these internal experiences was often mistakenly misperceived by others as aggression and arrogance. I felt alone. 

On my second night, the first night of homework estimated to take about six hours, I was in a state of terror and cried alone in my hot, tiny room on the fourth floor of Webster South. A knock on the door and the proctor came in, a senior. He quietly and compassionately asked me why I was crying, and I told him, "I don’t belong here." He said, "Don’t be so sure," and then he sat there with me and helped me complete six hours of homework in three, giving me my first lesson in Exeter efficiency. In this primary moment of connection, this generous young gentleman planted the seed of belonging; he lived non sibi and gave more than lip service to the core of finis origine pendet. This connection was an in vivo demonstration of nobility of character. His act of kindness, a blessing immemorial. 

In early September, I dropped off my son, a senior proctor in Peabody Hall, at Exeter. As we walked into the dorm, an apparently quiet and gentle first-year lower politely introduced himself and held the door. Given what I do for a living, it’s easy for me to "feel" people’s hearts, and I could feel this kid’s fear; it was familiar to me. I got my boy situated, showed him some love and headed down for that drive out of Exeter. 

Anyone who has ever left a kid at school knows what the first five minutes of that drive feels like. When I walked out of Peabody, I saw another kid pass by who seemed a bit lost. I caught up to him and asked if he had a few minutes to chat. As we sat outside the bookstore, I shared with him my own experiences of fear at Exeter and how the place had become spiritual for me over the years. I told him that he could expect others to show him the same kind of love here that I received. I gave him mine, and my son’s names and my contact info. "Don’t hesitate to connect, we’re here," I said. This is what Exeter gave me: connection. Pass it forward.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the fall 2019 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.