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The Hero's Journey... Mac Erskine, '99
The concept called a Hero’s Journey by writer Joseph Campbell, and the speeches and correspondence
of former South Kent Headmaster George Bartlett inspired South Kent to approach boys’ education in a new way. We have embodied the Hero’s Journey in a four- stage, four-year process reflecting adolescent growth and maturing, making each step the theme of a student’s school year. In South Kent terms, the stages of this journey are “A Sense of Place: Community and Belonging,” “The Quest: Coming of Age,” “Responsibility and Commitment,” and “Service and Moving On.”These themes define the Form Program.
Launched in the fall of 1999, the Form Program is an innovative and balanced program for boys that guides their quest and provides tools to prepare them not only for college, but for lives as men of quality.
South Kent’s goal in blending its founding principles of Simplicity of Life, Self- Reliance, and Directness of Purpose with the new curriculum is to provide a school experience for the 21st century world that gives boys the intellectual, moral, physical, and social foundation for scholastic achieve- ment in college and productive citizenship in adulthood.
Each year, boys embark on a focused jour- ney that intertwines classroom curriculum with age-appropriate and challenging field experiences. Our boys grow in confidence and knowledge as they explore, interpret, and employ the lessons they learn.
What follows is the second of four stories of recent graduates, where their roads have taken them after South Kent and how their lives have been shaped by the recurring themes of the Hero’s Journey.
Mclean “Mac” Erskine ’99 has a spirit that seems to regularly thirst for adventure. It’s taken him from Philly to South Kent to Colorado and now to the City by the Bay. He’s a ‘4-year boy’ from the class of 1999 and continues his Hero’s Journey – always moving forward but challenging himself to succeed on his own terms.
“I grew up outside Philadelphia in a town called Chester Springs. It’s a very small town that is largely unknown, where most people have a few acres if not a farm. Because of some learning disabilities, I went to Bench- mark school for most of my pre-high school years. Benchmark taught me to largely overcome my challenges with the help of my family.”
The supportive environment Mac enjoyed at Benchmark was obviously something he wanted to continue in high school.
“There never really was a choice for me when it came to choosing a high school. I remember driving home after visiting South Kent; my parents and I had not made it off the campus when I told them that I was going to go there. I just knew it was the right place for me. They questioned my reason- ing the entire three-hour ride home and attempted to prepare me for the possibility of not getting in. But I just always knew it was going to be my place; its character was unmistakable.”
While South Kent’s intimate community was a very welcoming place for someone who grew up in a supportive family (one sister, two stepbrothers, and one stepsister as well as a stepmom and stepdad) and a nurturing primary school environment being away at boarding school for the first time can create anxiety.
“I remember walking around with my mom feeling pretty scared to be so far away from home and not knowing a soul. But pretty soon after moving, I met my bunk- mate Jeff Viola who would end up being my roommate for four years. Meeting Jeff made everything seem manageable; I now had a friend to go through it all with. After that there were some challenging moments, but there was always a supportive staff member that I felt I could reach out to.”
Before South Kent, Mac spent many days maintaining his home: mowing, gardening, fixing fences. Who knew household chores would become one of his highlights at South Kent.
“Jeff and I were kind of paired up for everything. And as Fifth Formers, he and I were put in charge of the. At the time it seemed like a punishment shoveling snow, raking. But later on, he and I were selected as prefects, and it made us feel as though we had paid our dues and earned the responsibility. It was a pretty cool feeling to be a part of running things and deciding what would be done.”
After SKS, Mac attended Muhlenberg College and studied philosophy and psychol- ogy. Then he got the itch for a new adventure.
“I always wanted to go West. So after graduation, my girlfriend and I got in my car and just started driving towards Vail, Colorado. I knew that if we went around ski season there would be work. I got a job in a North Face store and stayed for about two years. It was great not much money, but a great experience.”
Responsibility called Mac back to Philadelphia to help his mom with some health issues. And once that was resolved, he was ready for another adventure.
“One day I’m watching “Mrs. Doubtfire” and that puts San Francisco in my head. I had already done the Northeast. And I had a friend who was able to get me a slot doing tech sales. So I moved. After a few years and one job change, the economy dropped and I ultimately found myself without a position. But I had accumulated some savings and wanted out of sales anyway.
“Now I am working on launching a web- site and building a small company. I spent the last year and a half teaching myself web development and am looking to pursue a career in product management hopefully for a start-up.”
So what has South Kent meant to Mac more than 13 years since leaving the Hillside?
“One of my qualities that I value greatly is self-reliance. It is also some- thing that I look for in my friends and companions. I believe someone who is capable of getting things done on his or her own is someone who deserves or even commands respect, and South Kent took a large part in fostering that quality. Without them I don’t think my life would have been nearly as interesting"