It would be easy to list Dalton’s qualities as a student and a traveler. They are numerous and, I am sure, well known on campus and to his friends and family. But Dalton deserves more than that.
Dalton didn’t impact Immersion India with his participation in discussions or his preparedness – those were and are expected of him. Dalton put his mark on the trip with gestures. In a land of head-bobs and namastes, Dalton signaled himself to the world.
Of all his gestures, the most practical was a gift Dalton gave to Suman.
It comes as no surprise that Dalton makes a lot of his own gear (he’s even talking about learning how to weld metal so he can build himself a boat). The belt he wore throughout the trip was my favorite of the things he had crafted for our adventure – not only fashionably manly but also easily converted in to safety ropes in the event of a “situation” in the field.
Dalton wore his belt when he hiked with Suman to the summer fields and when he scrambled along the river doing water quality tests. It was with him when he learned how to cook dahl and make roti, when he rafted down the Ganges and almost every time that he and Suman talked.
At the end of the trip – when we were all trying to figure out how to thank Suman for his part in everything – Dalton was ready. He gave Suman his belt. It was a cross-cultural gesture of kindness and understanding. It was one outdoorsman, trained in the ways of boy scouts and online tutorials, giving part of his kit to another outdoorsman. Suman wears the belt everyday.
The grandest, most intimate gesture of all was Dalton’s blog post, which he called a plea. We had randomly assigned days for each student to be LOD and Dalton’s day was one of the last. With only a 48 hours left on the subcontinent, Mr. Cola, Mr. Alter, Maura and I were searching for ways to tie everything together. We wanted to summarize the trip and find a way to connect the diversity of things we had experienced. Dalton’s plea was our answer.
It wasn’t just that Dalton “got it.” Each participant, in their own way, understood the importance of what we had seen and many of the implications. What made Dalton’s gesture so important was specifically that it was one. It was intimate and real and required a great deal of bravery. He put his part of what we were each experiencing out there for the world to see and he begged us all to take a stand.
I hope that Dalton never loses his self-confidence and his genuine nature. He isn’t exactly like many of the rest of the kids – he likes his music with a little more yelling, cares a little more about his awesome hair and generally does things his own way. I hope that Immersion India made Dalton realize that this simple fact is a strength. As he navigates the social and academic river of high school, I hope he realizes.
We were purposeful when we put the itinerary for Immersion India together. We wanted students to experience things that made them think and to bring a watershed – the holiest watershed on earth – to life. Our effort ran the serious risk of being too derivative, flirting with the all-too-easy pitfall of simply pushing “adult” agendas and views instead of providing the opportunity for students to develop their own. Even when we finalized the program, I wasn’t sure how organic the experience would be.
Dalton made it clear. We all heard his plea, together, and many of us cried.