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  • Writer's pictureMyla van Lynde

The Prefect Experience

Updated: May 17, 2023

Myla van Lynde '23


At Cate, becoming a prefect means taking on a significant responsibility. “Prefect” is more than a title– it is a commitment, a promise and an acknowledgement of the school’s trust in an individual. These students are understood to be leaders in all senses of the word, and it is their influence that will be remembered most vividly by members of the dorms they guide. In order to gain a deeper understanding of what this role actually entails, four of this year’s prefects were asked about their experiences.

Look first at the beginning of their journey, at those preliminary moments of determination. How does one decide to be a prefect? For some, it was easy. Nicole Teh ‘23 (Parsonage prefect), did not hesitate. “Freshman year,” she said, “I was like: I’m gonna be a prefect.” Desi Flores ‘23 (‘25 House prefect) also made her decision early on. She recalled, “I think after sophomore year [living in Longhouse], I wanted to be able to lead in the freshman dorm, because as a sophomore I was able to get to know the incoming students and just kind of build that relationship.”

For others, the conclusion was not quite as obvious. Jae Hall-Collins ‘23 (Longhouse prefect) explained his gradual journey to the application process, saying, “It was a steady realization. I think that as leadership positions came out and I was starting to think about what place I would take as a senior, I initially ran for president, which was fun, but I felt like my energy fit more in the dorm and so I decided that if I didn’t get president, I would try for prefect.” Rory Zhang ‘23 (Savage prefect) found himself deeply motivated to give back to the community, and saw the role as an opportunity to do just that. He remembered, “It was my junior year, and I was like: let’s change it up. Let’s not just be a student that comes here for a year, let’s take on a new role in the school and see how it feels. And just… try to do something for the school for everything it’s given to me in the four years I’ve spent here.”

All four of these students were selected for prefect in their junior years, and instinctively found themselves predicting what the next year would involve. As is often the case, not every expectation fit with reality, and surprises came along with this new beginning. Nicole reflected on the respect she has been able to command within Parsonage, mentioning, “I think that I have more reach than I’d expected I would have, especially because I’m in an upperclass dorm… I kind of expected to just be more of someone in the dorm rather than a higher figure, but I’ve found that a lot of people do respect me as their prefect.” This respect sentiment is echoed by Jae, who said, “The biggest surprise is that [the students] actually look up to you… when you’re an upperclassman, you feel so far removed from when you were a freshman, so you don’t remember that mindset of what it was like to just pop into a new campus and then have these seniors that you automatically look up to.”

It is clear that the role of prefect creates a separation or hierarchy—this is natural and purposeful. However, neither Nicole nor Jae expected to be so immediately respected, and perhaps this is because they still viewed themselves as students just like anyone else. It has been difficult to adjust to being perceived in a new way, especially by people they considered their peers. A different power dynamic is just that: different. Rory has also noticed that “There’s sort of this distance thing that happens just simply because of the title you’re given and no matter how you actually interact, there’s this sort of separation the moment you decide to take on some kind of leadership role…so I think understanding that you’re making sacrifices…to take on this responsibility.” He went on to note that the distance “could be a good thing or a bad thing,” depending on how it manifests itself in dorm interactions.

When asked to define what being a prefect has meant to her this year, Desi gave two answers with equal emphasis: “tak[ing] insects out of rooms” and “making people feel more comfortable, more at ease.” Community and well-being are integral to dorm life, and the prefects are responsible for maintaining that comfortable energy. Not only can students find connections to one another, but they also encounter opportunities for connection with faculty members. Desi “... really like[s] being close with the new dorm parents because it was their first year, so just being able to get to know them better and be on duty with them has been nice.” Rory is inspired every day by the community he has fostered in Savage. He said, “I’m happy to see all the roommate pairs mingling together, coming together, playing poker in the common room along with their day student friends. I’m really glad they feel comfortable in the dorm.”

Along those lines, when she thinks of being prefect, Nicole will remember “the little moments… like after kitchen crew when I made them all share their highlight of kitchen crew and the girls said that it was getting to talk to me everyday…and then when I was told by a freshman in the fall that I was the closest thing she had to an older sister. And I’d just say I think that we’ve created a really good sense of community in Bothin-Pars.” Love, compassion and connection are found not just in the dorms but also in the dining hall and in the lasting beauty of a single interaction. Nicole knows that she will remember the relationships she has formed here for the rest of her life, and being prefect has given her that gift.

Such relationships are centered around a shared maturation. Boarding school is a setting that is difficult to adjust to—Jae spoke to this as he remarked, “I feel like my freshman year, I had a really hard time adjusting to certain aspects [of Cate], and so I wanted to try and be that prefect that I needed freshman year for the kids who are in the dorm now.” Boarding students are away from home (for the first time too in the case of most freshmen) and left to their own devices within the scaffolding provided by Cate. Systems like study hours are set in place to help with time management, and adults like advisors and dorm parents are always willing to help, but so much of this experience lies in personal growth. Being in the unique position of an authority figure who is also a student, prefects are able to witness this growth firsthand.

Rory painted the picture: “You’re with kids that have a lot more energy than you, and you see them grow, you see them change throughout the year.” He also added that he tends to take a more hands off approach with his sophomores. “My attitude towards these types of things is: growing is done individually. It’s by themselves and I can’t really just like dump everything I know onto them…it’s like doing experiments with bacteria. You kind of let them grow and if they stop growing, you can go in and change something, but if none of that is happening you just let it sit.” There is a delicate balance here between overstepping and offering valuable perspective, and Rory tends to err on the side of allowing progress to happen on its own.

Desi, as a freshman prefect, lies more on the counseling side of the spectrum. She “wanted to be able to be there for the girls and [has] been able to do that. I’ve had girls just come to my room asking for advice or for help with homework. I really like that– even if I have homework to do, I tell them not to worry. They can come to me whenever they want.” Of course, there is an inherent difference between a dorm of mostly sophomores and a dorm of mostly freshmen, and so there must be a difference in prefect strategy. Both of these students are skilled at allowing their approaches to be dictated by circumstances, which will remain a valuable ability.

The prefect experience is made up of all these deliberations and more, making this a demanding position that pushes students to find a balance in their everyday lives. Jae believes that “the biggest challenge is knowing when to step back sometimes. As a prefect, unlike some of the other roles, there aren’t really set hours and you’re kind of always on the clock. At the same time, there are times when you need to prioritize self care.” Nicole has also found it difficult to sustain equilibrium. In her words, “Balancing my time has been hard…I feel like there’s so much to do here and I have so many commitments and so many roles and it’s hard to balance it all.”

Still, every one of these students affirmed that they did not regret becoming prefect. Desi was adamant: “One word to describe being a prefect? I would say: amazing. The whole experience is great.” Each has drawn their own valuable lessons and conclusions from inhabiting the role. Jae has learned “what it means to be a role model and how to balance the expectations of others and the expectations that you put on yourself” along with “how to foster a community that you really care about.” Nicole said, “I’d definitely say I learned more about myself as a leader…being thrust into this role has forced me to confront kind of like how I lead.” She also returned to that appreciation for little beauties, observing, “I’ve also learned that I love joy…it feels really good when you try and create something and people love it.”

As the class of 2024 prepares to step into their leadership roles, it seems fitting to end with advice from the current prefects. Though every year brings with it distinct challenges and opportunities, there are certain universal truths to prefecthood that these students wished to share. From Desi: make sure to provide opportunities for fun in dorm meetings such as “karaoke with Bothin-Pars.” From Rory: “Trust is important– trusting your ability, trusting your judgements, trusting your decision-making. Sometimes you just have to do the shot calling and it’s not always a democracy, everybody might not always agree with you.” From Jae: “Know how to rely on your fellow prefects.” And finally, from Nicole: “I’d tell the incoming prefects to know your worth and know you were chosen for a reason. Trust that, and don’t doubt yourself.”


1 Comment

Gabriel Di Gennaro
Gabriel Di Gennaro
May 16, 2023

Thanks for capturing this insight, Myla!

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