But a rape trial underway this week has brought unwanted attention to the elite St. Paul's School in Concord, where a campus tradition known as the "Senior Salute" has come under fire for allegedly encouraging seniors to have sexual encounters with as many younger female students as possible.
Owen Labrie, 19, who has pleaded not guilty, is being tried on charges that include the rape of a 15-year-old student on the sprawling campus just days before his graduation last year.
Labrie used the Internet and Facebook to entice and lure his victim into a sexual encounter, Deputy Merrimack County Attorney Catherine Ruffle said during her opening statement Tuesday. He allegedly told friends he had sex with with the girl.
The victim suffered injuries "consistent with a sexual assault," Ruffle said. DNA evidence matched the defendant, she said.
"Did you use a condom?" the alleged victim asked Labrie in a message, according to Ruffle.
"Are you on the pill? I think you're OK. I put it on halfway through," the defendant allegedly wrote back.
Defense attorney J.W. Carney said the "Senior Salute" is a decades-old school tradition that could involve "kissing or hugging." Some salutes are not sexual in nature.
"If they kiss a freshman, sophomore, or junior, it could be a 'Senior Salute,'" he said. "It was a competition. How many girls can I have kiss me or be with me?"
Carney said being invited to participate was a "source of pride" for the girls.
Carney said his client told police he kissed and hugged the victim but did not have sexual intercourse with her. He read messages that he said proved the girl willingly participated in the encounter in a machine room on campus.
"There's a door here that's been locked since before we were born," Labrie wrote in one message. "If you want the definition of bittersweet, think of me spending three years trying to open it, but only having three days."
She declined at first but then changed her mind.
"Only if it is our little secret," she wrote.
"Not a soul needs to know," Labrie replied.
In another message, he wrote: "You're a gem. Let me know if there is anything I can do."
"You're not too bad yourself. I will. I also lost my earring up there. haha," she responded.
The alleged victim took the stand Tuesday; her testimony resumes Wednesday.
In a statement, St. Paul's Rector Michael Hirschfeld said, "We do not tolerate conduct that is at odds with our commitment to a safe and welcoming environment for everyone in the St. Paul's School community. Current allegations about our culture are not emblematic of our school or our values, our rules, or the people who represent our student body, alumni, faculty and staff."
The residential Episcopal high school, where tuition is $52,000 a year, was founded in 1856.