Conquering mountains – what I learned at Gordonstoun

By former student Katie Brinton, Senior Editor of Ski Area Management magazine, Gordonstoun American Foundation Board of Directors

The day I arrived at Gordonstoun, I was buzzing with an anxious energy. Armed with a copy of The Old Man and the Sea, a Hemingway novella on our English syllabus that I had yet to read, I sought solace on a bench on the edge of the North Lawn. It would become one of my favorite spots in the coming years, although I would rarely have it to myself as I did that morning. At that time, the warm sandstone blocks of Gordonstoun House looked cool and imposing. I had yet to learn the names of the houses, to find the eclectically composed classroom block, or discover my second home in Ogstoun Theatre. I hadn’t made the friends yet that would stand up with me at my wedding ten years later, or the teachers who would become mentors. I missed dinner that night because when someone kindly asked if I wanted to join them for tea I thought, nah, I more of a coffee drinker, not realizing that “Tea” was the evening meal.

Gordonstoun didn’t afford me much time to sit with that loneliness and unfamiliarity though. I started in the summer term of fourth form, an American who left her high school in search of a great adventure. Gordonstoun delivered. I was thrown toute suite into my first exped and my first sail training voyage. I scrambled to catch up on physics and chemistry—sciences that would not appear in my American curriculum for at least another year. I learned to play rounders, albeit poorly. I met roommates and made friends. I discovered the Shakespeare Society and the beach, both equally delightful in entirely different ways.

Those elements form the backbone of my most memorable Gordonstoun experiences: the small ones like a frigid dip with friends in the North Sea or a rollicking evening spinning reels in the South Room, and the big ones—my first lead role, my first love, my first taste of social responsibility. The depth of Gordonstoun’s impact on me extends beyond the people, the place, and the memories.

Thirteen years on from that final term, my life has twisted and turned in directions I never anticipated. I became a certified ski instructor. I completed a master’s in English Lit and became a writer. I became a teacher of other teachers, on the snow of course. I joined my first board of directors, and then I joined a second one (even knowing all of the work and politicking that can entail). Just this spring, I signed on as the senior editor of a ski magazine.

The Plus est en vous resilience forged on Highland expeds and in long hours rehearsing at Ogstoun theatre carried me through the odd jobs, the uncertain future, and the freezing Vermont winters that I’ve chosen to spend out in the elements.

I think my Gordonstoun education drove me to be curious and engaged, even when my teenage fragility begged me to be above it all. And, it is the strengthening of that curiosity that I think I am most grateful for with the benefit of a bit of hindsight. Curiosity allows me to be a better storyteller and editor, a more empathetic friend and partner, and a more civically engaged member of my community. It has filled my life with sometimes strange and sometimes extraordinary experiences that add the most wonderful color to the day’s mundanities. If Gordonstoun cannot take credit for planting the seed of that curiosity, it most certainly helped it to bloom. It inspired in me a hunger to experience the universe that has driven me to places professionally and personally I might never have otherwise found. If that sounds lofty, well perhaps it is, but it feels so very true as I write it today.