For two years, Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández shared the life of what he calls the “Weston School,” an elite New England boarding school. He sat in on classes, ate meals in the dining halls, cheered at sporting events, hung out in dorms while students baked cookies or celebrated birthdays. And through it all, observing the experiences of a diverse group of students, conducting interviews and focus groups, he developed a nuanced portrait of how these students make sense of their extraordinary good fortune in attending the school.
Vividly describing the pastoral landscape and graceful buildings, the rich variety of classes and activities, and the official and unofficial rules that define the school, The Best of the Best reveals a small world of deeply ambitious, intensely pressured students. Some are on scholarship, others have never met a public school student, but all feel they have earned their place as a “Westonian” by being smart and working hard. Weston is a family, they declare, with a niche for everyone, but the hierarchy of coolness—the way in which class, race, sexism, and good looks can determine one’s place—is well known.
For Gaztambide-Fernández, Weston is daunting yet strikingly bucolic, inspiring but frustratingly incurious, and sometimes—especially for young women—a gilded cage for a gilded age. “Would you send your daughter here?” one girl asks him, and seeing his hesitation asks, “Because you love her?”