Talking with Betsy Macdonnell ’18 about outdoor education (OE) at Lakefield College School.
First impressions have a big impact.
For Betsy Macdonnell ’18, her first experience at LCS changed her life.
In 2014, she had a day-long tour, shadowing another student to get an immersive feel for life at The Grove. She was in the process of deciding what course to take with her future. Being raised in New York City, many prestigious American schools were on the radar. Her Father (Hugh Macdonnell ’85), however, was an LCS graduate, so she ventured north.
Part of the day involved a session on the high ropes course.
Not only was this a significant departure from other tours, but it also revealed something very unique.
“There was a sense of community that was prevalent. Here I was, miles away from home, in a challenging, frightening situation—being encouraged and supported by complete strangers. This is why I decided to come to LCS.”
In today’s culture, it’s easy to fall into a narrow focus—splitting hairs on academics and university entrance. When elaborating on her decision, Betsy provides a broader, much-needed perspective.
“Academics are good wherever you go. Lakefield is about becoming the best version of yourself. It’s about community and experiential learning. It was very obvious that I couldn’t find this at any other school.”
“How will I ever get out of this alive?”
Fast forward three years.
Winter camping. Silent Lake. Three days. Two nights. Very, very cold.
Betsy is not alone in describing her gut response to this unique LCS outdoor education activity. Speak with any alumni, and they will tell you a different version of the same story. These are vivid memories—where big lessons are learned, and deep relationships are forged.
“At first, I thought there was no way I can ever get out of this alive… but it turned out much different than I expected. I was prepared for it, in ways I didn’t realize. There were so many skills I had picked up since Grade 9… they suddenly appeared… this is very empowering for a young person.”
For the uninitiated, the value of Lakefield’s outdoor education program may seem oblique. Betsy, however, does a remarkable job of bringing it into focus.
“Winter camping involved some basic things… being able to start a fire quickly, building shelter. However, you soon see that it’s about teamwork… finding out who you are under pressure. Then you see responsibility and leadership. You learn how to handle leaving your comfort zone.”
As she recounts the experience, it becomes hard to keep Betsy on track. Memories come flooding back quickly. My personal interjections about Expedition Weekend don’t serve to help us focus. There’s a friendly competition in our banter as she recalls her first Grade 9 OE class.
“Basically, our first class was: ‘Hi, meet your new classmates.’ Our second class was: ‘Save each other’s lives in a canoe-over-canoe rescue.’”
And back and forth we go…
A high ropes course for the future.
Talking with Betsy, you truly realize the impact of educating the entire person.
There’s a certain wisdom, perspective and confidence you don’t hear in the average Grade 12 student—and it does not come from sitting in a classroom.
“LCS completely changed where I saw myself going for the future.”
We talk about this for a minute—considering friends that chose different paths, her current passions, goals and dreams.
“Old friends now describe me as ‘super-outdoorsy,’ which is something I never pictured myself as—but it’s totally true. I also have a strong passion for the environment. A lot of my friends from back home talk about the environment… they study the same biology courses. They have a grasp on it, but not in same the way we do at LCS—being constantly exposed to it all the time.”
As for the future, Betsy will be attending the University of Virginia next year. She plans a career in journalism. Her dream job is to be an editor at the New York Times.
In terms of a ropes course, she couldn’t have set her sights on a much higher one.
She speaks of lofty goals with excitement. Without fear or hesitation.
She speaks like someone experienced in thriving outside their comfort zone.