Publication Date

April 2019


Charles Barber




English (United States)


This thesis is a memoir about Taft: the private, coeducational boarding school that I attended for high school. This is a story about disorder; about propriety and impropriety; about contradiction. I explore the tension between what the school looked like and felt like, between the beautiful, manicured exterior and the neglected spaces of the school where the actual “coming of age” that the school purported to provide actually occurred. The Puritanical roots that informed the school’s administrative standards facilitated a tradition of female humiliation, a normalizing of eating disorders, a heavily medicated and alcohol-dependent culture, and the public nature that growth — both sexual and emotional — was forced to play out in. What both fascinates and repulses me about my experience is that I continue to miss it almost every day. I have discovered in writing this short memoir that living within a place so mired in contradiction — a place that required students to be one kind of person during the day and another at night — was simultaneously exhilarating and extremely painful. The general public’s fascination with boarding school is largely tied to the fact that this part of American culture is inherently inaccessible, private in a way that allows such institutions to preserve their idealistic roots. The memoir is divided into three sections, each of which corresponds to a different year of my Taft experience. The first chapter follows my 15-year-old self through my first year at The Taft School, beginning with my arrival and expectations as a new sophomore. I introduce the rules of the game just as I learned them, both from other students and the administration. The second chapter chronicles my junior year at Taft, a period of misery where disorder both surrounded and infected me. The third and final chapter explores my senior year there and the ambivalence I continue to feel both toward Taft and prep school more generally. This piece is specific to my own experience. Interviews with former Taft students were conducted and consented to. I chose not to quote these students directly. All names and some identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. In addition to these interviews, my research included sociological texts such as Peter W. Cookson Jr and Caroline Hodges Persell’s Preparing for Power: America's Elite Boarding Schools, as well Horace Dutton Taft’s own memoir, Memories and Opinions, about the founding of the school.



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