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Baccalaureate Reflections by Chaplain Lee-Ellen Strawn, May 19, 2019

Baccalaureate Reflection

Rev. Lee-Ellen Strawn
Words change us. If this were not so, we would not be here at school, where much of our day involves encounters with words. This morning, let us put three words into the space of this chapel; wisdom, freedom, compassion. As we ponder these words in the context of a story, please know they are my prayer for you as you start new chapters of your lives.

The story I will share is one that perhaps you already know. But listen carefully, because it has been modified for our 21st century, and think, too, about which character or characters you feel you identify with. The story goes like this. ...

There once was an individual who had just finished their studies and had been traveling for some time from one town to the next in search of inherent human goodness. Influenced by philosophers and activists, this individual was committed to a minimalist lifestyle, and carried all they owned in one small sack. They had given up technology and had decided to carry only a small amount of cash knowing they would find work along the way. This individual had high hopes for finding goodness and changing the world by caring for the earth, reaching out to those in need of food and shelter, and working for peace in all ways possible. They were not quite sure yet how to put ideas into concrete plans, but enthusiasm and hope propelled their way forward.

The individual journeyed on foot, glad for the solitary time that walking allowed to reflect on the meaning of life. Birds were singing, the sun was strong, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It seemed that life was perfect and everything was falling into place as planned. But, right as the individual turned a corner, they encountered a band of robbers who grabbed the individual’s meager sack and searched for electronic devices and money. The individual’s insistence that the sack was all they owned only angered the robbers more. After being repeatedly kicked and punched, the robbers spat in the individual’s face and left them curled up by the side of the road in a pool of blood. Dashed were this individual’s hopes in the possibility of ever finding human goodness.

A long several hours passed with not a soul in sight. Then, a car with loud blaring music seeping through its closed windows whizzed by this individual crouched over in pain. A half hour later, an apparent scholar reading Plato’s Republic walked by, noticed the individual, but kept going as if to say the suffering he saw in the individual was but a reflection and not its actual form. After some time, two people in love walking hand in hand actually crossed to the other side of the street so as not inadvertently to come in contact with the bloodied individual.

Finally, one more person appeared in the distance. But it was not who was expected. To the shock and dread of the individual curled up in pain, it was their neighbor from years past. It was their neighbor with whom they had fought to secure the attention of a certain person in their community, and with whom they had got caught in a swirl of lies and accusations. They had even argued over ideological differences and had exchanged unconscionable words, all at a time before they had been awakened to the essence of life and understood the noble purpose to which they had been called. In so many ways, this neighbor had been the enemy who provoked feelings of jealousy and hatred.

The throbbing pain of the robbers’ beating was now coupled with the pain of embarrassment about their present weakness and about memories of distressing rivalry with the neighbor. Yet the individual did not even have the strength to hide. But the recognition of their current devastation became oddly liberating for the injured individual, because it opened up for them hope that a vestige of humanity might still remain in the neighbor’s heart.

When the neighbor saw the individual, she stopped. She had been on her way to visit elderly relatives, but she got off her bike to examine the individual’s wounds. She said not a word, but her gestures suggested forgiveness. There was no trace of the bitter exchanges from previous years. She pulled out her phone and called 911. She followed the ambulance on her bike and waited the long hours in the emergency room while the individual was being cared for. She was not family, so she could not consult with the doctors, but she bought flowers to be delivered and paid for the individual’s medical expenses herself. She wanted to be sure the individual would heal fully, and returned two weeks later to the hospital to check on their recovery. Later, when the individual learned of what the neighbor had done, they wept tears of gratitude, for indeed they had found inherent human goodness that could heal brokenness and bring peace to this world. But it was not found over the mountains and across the seas, as they had expected. It was found in a place the individual never would have looked.

And that is how the story goes. It is a story that has been told over and over throughout the centuries in different ways. It is a story about wisdom, freedom, and compassion.

If we recall the story, first we are told of a car that whizzed by the suffering individual, then, a scholar, and then, a couple in love, before the neighbor appeared. For everyone except the neighbor, they all seemed unable really to understand what time it was, to know the moment as a time requiring a response. The passage that Lydia and Keith read to us earlier reminds us that, in life, there are certain times to do certain things. There is a time to listen and a time to speak; a time to be still, and a time to act. There is a time for all of you to celebrate your graduation loudly and to jump up and down for joy. But that is not the time now; now it is the time for you to sit in this chapel and reflect in your heart what your experiences at NMH mean to you.

In the story, those in the car, the scholar, and the couple in love thought the time was to get to where they were going, or to understand the depths of philosophy, or to lose themselves in each other’s embrace. That is how they understood what it was the time to do. It was only the neighbor, the supposed enemy, who had the wisdom to know it was the time to be interrupted and to stop and care for the person before her. Her action broke the cycle of pain and shame that had entrapped herself and the injured individual. This neighbor displayed wisdom because she was able to read the times accurately and act on her understanding.

She also exercised her freedom by changing her course in order to be compassionate toward someone who had had only hurtful things to say to her. She exercised her freedom to ignore previous patterns of relating to this petulant individual, and found, instead, the power to reach out in compassion. Her compassion did not allow her to be complacent in the face of pain. Her compassion did not allow her to remain comfortable in her neatly scheduled routine of visiting and caring for her own family. Her compassion jolted her to step out of her own skin, and this made all the difference, to the suffering individual, at least. How do we know? Because this story lives on, even through its many iterations. It is usually entitled, ‘The Good Samaritan.” You might want to call it “The Unexpected Neighbor.”

But, I think I’ll call it “The One by the Side of the Road” because I’d like us to focus not only on the character who goes out of her way to help another, but also on the character wounded and by the side of the road. Where is the wisdom for this person, you might be thinking? Wisdom clearly does not lie in the puffed-up pride of having uncovered the mystery of life as the individual had initially believed, but in the vulnerable yet humble realization that there comes a time when one simply needs help from others. You, too, will experience moments in which you need the assistance of others, be it socially, academically, financially, emotionally, or in terms of your health. My hope is that, with wisdom, you will be able to recognize that time for what it is; a time to allow yourself to accept the help that is offered you.

Freedom is evident, too, in the wounded character in this story. Their freedom lies in the ability to recognize that neither the past nor the present needs to determine their lives. Difficult past relationships do not need to inhibit their future, and current wounds do not need to dictate their health going forward. Just as Jonas read to us earlier, the freedom to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances is a fundamental human freedom that cannot be taken away. This is the freedom I want all of you to know today. I hope you will know that, despite any of your past successes or failures, your life will never be predetermined to be a particular kind of thing, unless you say that it is. The freedom to shape your next moment is always yours.

And finally, as we think about the “one by the side of the road,” we know that compassion saved them, but it came from a completely unanticipated place. This was the surprise that defied normal logic. Someone who had been like an enemy showed the undeserved compassion that saved life. Graduates, as you leave this school and find yourselves in new places with new people — and soon-to-be 10th, 11th, and 12th graders, as you continue to engage in your studies and school life — you may be tempted to assume that you know, for sure, who will show you compassion and who will not. My prayer is that you, too, will have an experience of receiving, but also giving, unexpected compassion, that will change your life and grant you faith in the inherent goodness of humanity.

So my words for you this morning are wisdom — wisdom to know what time it is and to be interrupted, if need be; freedom — freedom to know your life is only ever determined by you; and compassion — compassion that saves and reveals human goodness. I shared these words in a story because I want these words to take root and come alive in the unfolding story of your life, which you should never be ashamed to tell. It just might make all the difference in the world to you and to your unexpected neighbor.

Thank you.

Benediction

Class of 2019, underclass students, faculty, and staff,

Together, let us seek the wisdom to know the time that is before us; let us own the freedom to shape the moments of our lives, and let us embody the compassion that reveals inherent goodness. May you be empowered to live your identity as a member of the NMH family. May you know the blessing of your learning as you make it a blessing for the good of the world. May you know the blessing of your talents as you use them to reveal beauty and kindness to all, and may you know the blessing of living with humanity and purpose. Find joy in these blessings and share them with one another whether you remain on this hill or find yourself in new places. And may the peace that passes all understanding be with you now and forever more. Amen.

Salutatorian Address by Cora Barrett ’19, given at Baccalaureate, May 19, 2019

Good morning, NMH! It is such a privilege and an honor to be standing before you all today. I am beyond grateful for the chance to speak to the whole school, a final hurrah in my last week on this grassy hill. My friends, my peers, my classmates, my teammates, my dormmates, my teachers, my coaches, my advisor –– I cherish the moments I’ve spent with each of you over the past four years. I understand that I was given this opportunity to speak to all of you today because of my achievements in the classroom. While my time spent in the classroom here has been invaluable to me, I have found that some of my greatest learning moments from my time at NMH occurred outside of Beveridge, Cutler, or even the Lower Mod. When I first came to NMH, in the fall of 2015, a shy 14-year-old leaving home for the first time, I was like a daisy, easily bent and blown over by the wind. I had no resiliency, no inner-strength. Over the last four years, I have sent roots deep into the ground, and I have grown into a tree, mighty and tall. Now, I will not be blown over, I will not be bent. I stand tall, I stand proud, and I stand with self-respect. I have been able to build this resiliency in myself by discovering my three pillars of strength –– the rowing team, my family, and myself –– and by learning to embody three values –– perseverance, love, and self-acceptance. In my freshman year, I was diagnosed with three autoimmune disorders. Celiac disease makes my white blood cells destroy my small intestine every time I eat gluten, Hashimoto’s disease makes my immune system attack my thyroid, and Sjogren’s syndrome damages the moisture-producing glands in my body and saps my body of strength. When I look back on my first year at NMH, I recall a pervasive fog of nausea and crippling fatigue. Even after cutting gluten out of my diet, my symptoms lasted well into sophomore year, as I waited more than half a year for the medication finally to start taking effect. That year, I abandoned my dream of playing varsity ice hockey, because I knew that my body couldn’t keep up. I felt demoralized and reduced by my diseases. But as spring began to near, for the first time in as long as I could remember, I felt good. I didn’t feel nauseous. I didn’t feel fatigued. Of course, I still had good days and bad days, but at least my life was no longer just an endless string of bad days. So I decided not to give up on myself. I decided to join the crew team. I cautiously walked into the first crew meeting and peered around the room. There were many girls who had been rowing for years, and a handful, like me, who had never touched an oar, and who were looking to try their hand –– or should I say legs? –– at rowing. Initially, I was overwhelmed by talk of 2k splits, wing rigors, and catching crabs, but I was welcomed with open arms onto the team. And I soon learned something great about rowing: it’s hard if you’re perfectly healthy, and it’s hard if you live with three chronic illnesses. I wasn’t at a disadvantage because I struggled with nausea and fatigue. In fact, if you’re not nauseous and fatigued by the end of a 2k on the erg or a race piece on the water, you didn’t row hard enough. As I settled into the team, I discovered another amazing thing about rowing at NMH: my teammates are always there to support me. They cheered for me when I pulled a personal best 5k on the erg, and they had my back when I caught a crab, got my oar stuck deep in the water, in the last minute of a head race. My teammates are a constant in my life, and they will always be there to push, encourage, and inspire me, even as my health fluctuates. One day, I had to leave Chinese class on five separate occasions to throw up in the Beveridge bathroom, head bent over the toilet bowl, retching stomach acid long after the abrasive gluten had left my system. But the next day, I was back in the boat, flying down the Connecticut River with my teammates. One of the best feelings I’ve experienced in my five seasons rowing here is the start of a race. I’m sitting at three-quarter slide, blade squared and buried, eyes up, chest up, breathe, breathe. I’m in two-seat, with stroke pair in front of me, the two teammates I will follow; I will add my power to their rhythm. Bow seat is behind me, and I know she is backing me up 100 percent. And my coxswain, nestled in the hull of the boat, will lead us to victory. Head in the boat, eyes up, listen for the start call. Attention, Go! Pry…. POP, Pry…. Our boat lurches forward, and now we’re locked into this race. I’m in this race, and I’m in it with my teammates. My teammates are some of the best inspirations in my life, and they give me the strength to persevere. And because they push me to persevere, I have become all the more resilient, ready to bounce back every time illness gets me down. When I first went away to boarding school, I was so busy with my new life and all the new people. I was finally away from my family and I felt free to figure out who I was without my family. In my sophomore winter, just three days before Christmas, my older sister turned 18 and left home. I have not seen her since. I have only spoken with her twice over the past two and a half years. Anger, grief, and anguish well up inside me whenever I think of her. My heart becomes a gaping hole when I try to reconcile my love for her with her abandonment of me and my family. My sister had threatened to run away in prior years, but I never thought she really would abandon me. My family has never been the same since. As painful as her absence is for me, it has made me see immense value in the presence of my other family members. My mother, my father, my little sister, Tess, and my little brother, Roman, have always been there for me and they will always be there for me. They will never abandon me. And it is my duty as a sister to hold tight to Tess and Roman, so they know that I love them. I cannot go back in time and hold my older sister closer to me. I now see that I was foolish to think of boarding school as a chance to get away from my family, as a chance to find out who I was without my family. I am so much better with my family. My family is what makes me strong. I find it within me to go on, day after day, to tough it out through the hardest moments, because of my parents’ unwavering support and because of my siblings’ unconditional love. At NMH, I am physically separated from my family, but I now understand that does not mean I have to be emotionally distant. Now, as a senior at boarding school, I feel closer to my family than ever before. And I feel more resilient knowing that the love I share with my family is deeper. I have always been rather introverted, and I have always found it hard to make friends. In my first couple of years here, I found it much easier to spend a fleeting 22 minutes –– not counting commercial breaks –– with Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe in the comfort of my own room rather than brave a dining hall of unknown faces, trying to find a place to sit. In ninth grade, I tried to make friends, with little success. By the end of the year, I still hadn’t found “my people,” that great group of friends I could always rely on, but I didn’t worry too much. There were three more years, and of course, our class size would double in sophomore year. But sophomore year crept past, and I was still the odd one out. By junior year, desperate for friendship, I tried inserting myself into a well-established group. But they had all known each other since “day one,” and I was two years too late. The school was already sectioned off into little networks of friendship and love, and I seemed to be the only unconnected dot. It only took so much rejection before I convinced myself that I was always going to be the odd one out, I was always going to be the one who got left behind, and I was always going to be unwanted. I didn’t deserve friendship, and I didn’t deserve happiness. One day, at a school dance, completely surrounded by people, I realized that I was more lonely than when I was alone. Somehow, I actually preferred my own company to being encompassed by a group of people who didn’t really care about me. This realization was the first step toward showing myself a little more love. I started to view my time alone not as missing out on friendship, but as a chance to spend time with me. I’ve come to really value the time I spend alone. I can spend hours up in my bedroom at home sewing and serging, making quilts, stuffed animals, and clothes. I can sing completely off-key to soft rock from the ’70s. I can nestle into a little cocoon on my bed to do homework or watch TV. But most importantly, I can just be by myself and be perfectly content. Since I’ve come to like myself more, I’ve started to view myself as someone who deserves happiness. And the ironic thing is, that after more than three years of struggling to find friendship at NMH, it was only once I started to accept and appreciate myself that making friends became easier. Now I’m about to graduate, and I still haven’t found my people, and I’m still not part of a group. But I’ve been able to create more friendships and I am significantly happier. It all started with a little self-acceptance. I know that friends may come and go, and I know I will be moving on to Wellesley next year, where I will be surrounded by new faces. But I will always be with me wherever I go. I can always count on myself, and I find my strength in that stability. In four years time at NMH, one of my greatest accomplishments was discovering my three pillars of strength: my teammates, my family, and myself. My teammates have taught me the meaning of perseverance, how to go on in the face of illness and adversity. My family’s unwavering support and unconditional love have given me the strength I need to face any challenge. And learning to accept myself has empowered me to count on myself, to draw strength from my own dependability. I have shared my journey to find resilience with you because I hope that you will take the time to identify those people, places, or things in your life that make you strong. There is nothing more valuable than resiliency: the ability to bounce back after failure. Take a moment now to visualize one person, place, or thing that gives you the strength day after day to go on, and give thanks. We must cherish what makes us strong. Now here I stand, looking out over a sea of familiar faces, across a vast horizon, the sun’s first rays peeking out, climbing, reaching up towards the heavens. The rays of sun and warmth, rising, lift my heart with them, and I feel light. I feel steady. I feel strong. Thank you, NMH.

Spring 2019 Athletics Banquet Keynote Address by Phoebe Rossman ’19

If you knew me freshman year and have not spoken to me since, you are probably wondering why on earth I am standing up here right now. For everyone else, let me explain: I did not come to NMH as an athlete. Actually, to say I was not an athlete would be a fairly gross understatement. I was the antithesis of an athlete. I hated sports and was resolutely determined to keep a couple hundred feet between me and Forslund Gym at all times during the next four years. Well, for those people who are shocked to see me up here right now, let me give you some updates. I care a lot about sports now. Well, actually, only one sport: rowing. I’ve spent the past few years training and am going to be on a Division 1 team next year at Columbia University.

So, how could this radical transformation occur? What force could possibly be strong enough to make me, who despised sports, willingly sign up for rowing, a notoriously difficult sport? The answer, embarrassingly, is fear of missing out. At the start of my sophomore year, three out of four of my closest friends were rowing and the other was doing JV soccer. I had this deep fear that they’d all bond and, soon enough, forget about me on the daily walk down to the lower fields. This was admittedly irrational, but if you’ve ever been an insecure 15 year old, you know FOMO is a force powerful enough to move mountains and, even more challenging, get Phoebe Rossman to day one of rowing tryouts.

My first year of crew was an uphill battle, both physically and mentally. I walked to practice every day plagued by self-doubt. I felt like I was making the team slower, and freaked out every time I was the last to finish team runs or the first to collapse during planks. I was convinced that I would never succeed and that everyone around me was judging me, thinking “Why is she here?” Pretty much every minute, I wanted to quit. And, had it not been for the support of some really exceptional teammates, I would have. I remember sitting on the Rikert floor with Toyesha Khatau, stressing about what boat we’d be in for hours at a time and then pestering my incredibly patient RL, Leah Shukan, with an infinite number of rowing questions at pretty much all hours of the day. And, of course, talking to Krystal Kim, who believed in me way before anyone else did. Learning how to row and how to be on a team was really, really hard. But the relationships I formed were almost enough to make the pain and anxiety worth it. What really got me hooked, though, was that I was able to prove myself wrong. I’d go to practice convinced that I was destined to fail and that I was holding the team back, but then  I’d win a seat race or PR on an erg piece and it would force me to rethink the way I saw myself. Even though the thought of caring and putting in effort terrified me, I realized that it was a lot cooler to work hard and fail than never even to try. By the end of my sophomore year, I started to think that maybe, somehow, by some weird, sick twist of fate, I actually enjoyed a sport. Even stranger, I wondered if I could start calling myself an athlete?

Right around this time, I got an email from a study-abroad program I’d applied to on a whim, telling me I’d won a full scholarship to do an exchange year in Amman, Jordan. This was exciting, but moving to a country that’s almost entirely desert threw a big wrench in my rowing ambitions. I trained at the gym on and off while in Jordan, but came back this year having absolutely no idea what to expect.

What I found was an entirely different team. All three coaches were new, and there were more strangers than familiar faces around me. As if that weren’t enough, we were now racing in a whole new league. On top of that, I hadn’t even started the recruitment process even though rowing in college was definitely on my radar. To say that all this was stressful would be unfair. I was freaking the heck out. You see, I care a lot, but that can be really scary when there’s so much out of my power to control. So I focused on what was in my control. I did extra workouts in the morning, core after practice, and pushed myself as hard as I could every day. There were times where I probably pushed myself a little too far — I’m still struggling to find the balance. But  what I did learn this year is that working hard is actually really fun and that, sometimes, you get cool results. I was — and am — honored to have been voted co-captain and to work alongside the amazing Skylar Nieman and myriad other leaders on the team in rebuilding our team culture. I got to race at the world’s largest regatta in likely the single greatest boat ever to row down the Charles River. At the Head of the Charles, I met with the Columbia rowing coach, who had shockingly replied to my email a few weeks prior. And now, after a long winter of training and a really strong start to the spring season, we’re gearing up to race at New Englands in eight short days.

Rowing has made me into who I am today. I am a stronger, harder-working, and more confident person because of crew. It taught me how to unapologetically, unironically, care. But the greatest thing rowing has given me is an outlet. I’ve talked about this before, but, as my coach Lou once said, there are so few spaces in the world where young people — especially young women — get to focus just on going as hard as they can and supporting each other. During a race, I forget everything, even my name sometimes. The only thing I’m thinking about is pushing harder. Despite the pain, it’s weirdly like a form of meditation. I’ve had a really tough year. Two people who were very important to me passed away this spring, and there’s been a lot of turmoil in my family back home. There have been days when the weight of everything was so heavy I didn't think I could get out of bed. But then I’m at practice and nothing else matters. I spend two hours solely focused on being the best version of myself and being there for my boat, and soon enough I’m laughing with my teammates on the walk back up to campus, and everything just seems a lot lighter.

I’m so blessed to have this outlet in my life. Many people don’t; I didn’t for 15 years. A lot of people have helped find this space: my parents, who sent me to NMH, which was step one in the cosmic chain of events that got me to a boathouse. The trainers, especially Jesse, whose patience is endlessly appreciated. The coaches, Lou, Emily, and Liz, who make what we do every day possible. And most importantly, above all else, my teammates. Y’all are the toughest, funniest, most kick-butt, and most caring 35 people I know. I’m so not ready to not be on your team. I know I will always, like, be an NMH rower, but adjusting to not seeing y’all for multiple hours every single day is gonna be really friggin hard. The one thing that lessens this heartbreak though, is how pumped I am to watch you all fulfill your potential next year and in the many years to come. This is a team to watch.

In all honesty, I struggle with calling myself an athlete. Whenever I don’t get the results I want, I fall down this mental rabbit hole of “you’re never gonna be good enough, you’re never gonna be strong enough, you’re destined to fail.” But what’s really helped me is realizing that nothing is predetermined in rowing. You don’t win races because you’re somehow, cosmically, good enough; you win races because you fought for it.

So I want to end by thanking my teammates for letting me fight alongside you. It has been an honor and a joy.
2019 Winter Athletics Banquet Address by Silke Milliman ’19

I stepped over broken bottles and plugged my nose from the air that reeked of urine as I walked towards the New York Gauchos gym. Nervously, I stuck remarkably close to my dad, and then midway down the block I saw the address 478 Gerard Ave. I was through an anonymous door and into one of the most beautiful gyms I had ever seen. The morning sun reflected off the golden glowing hardwood floor, still bearing the identification of its previous home, the iconic Madison Square Garden. The smell of urine vanished and I was at home in another gym, this one a veritable holy place of basketball, the names of NYC basketball legends hanging reverentially from the walls. For a high school basketball player, this was the Sistine Chapel, mere feet from a rough-and-tumble New York street.

When I was a kid, I thought that opportunity was something given to me. I didn’t understand that it is hidden everywhere. Now I have found that opportunity is where motivation and courage intersect.

Courage takes many forms. For me, the first step of courage was deciding to look outside of my own small space: my tiny town of 8,000 people. I was practically dragged out of the house to come on my NMH visit. The car ride down consisted of me complaining about how the school was too big and I didn’t know anyone there. As it turned out, and this is a theme that has been consistent throughout my whole life: once I got over my fear and decided to try something, it was way better than I could have imagined.

I had overcome my initial trepidation; now the real challenges started. But the groundwork had been set. My first semester here, I was planning on taking basic-level classes, because that’s what I had been doing and what I was comfortable with at my old school.

When I told Coach Grace about my classes, she said, no, you’re taking honors. It wasn’t up for debate, apparently. She knew, even if I didn’t, what I was capable of and what I should expect of myself. I never realized that a community could envelop you and encourage you the way the community at NMH has for me. The opportunity of growing and learning next to some of the brightest, hardest-working, and most down-to-earth students has inspired me to grow into someone bigger and better than I thought I could. Here, I found a community who saw me as something I never saw myself — a leader, a writer, a math student, an achiever outside of the gym.

I’d played club basketball with the same girls in New Hampshire since I was in seventh grade. I considered them some of my best friends; we were comfortable playing together and hanging out. It was great. But once I got to NMH, my world was suddenly bigger: what had seemed like a great situation now seemed less so. The environment at these practices was a slightly different version of my old high school; nobody went all out, nobody was willing to push themselves outside of their comfort zone. After coming to NMH, I had new goals, and my new goals did not line up with my old club’s. So I had to make another change, to seek another opportunity.

Choosing to play for a new club three hours from home with girls I’d never met wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but with the support of Coach Grace and my future NMH teammate, Grace Heeps, I took the plunge. I went to my first practice and everything was a level above what I was used to, similar to when I came to NMH. I really struggled, I could barely finish the first practice. That’s when I knew I was in the right place.

Opportunities are hidden everywhere. I came to NMH because I wanted more, and boy did I get it — more time sweating my butt off in Forslund (shoutout to the heating system), more great practices with great teammates and coaches, more time stressing over classes that I’d never dreamed of taking.

And it all started with taking a chance. If I’d never driven through the stone gates on Lamplighter Way, I never would have walked onto the glowing hardwood in the Bronx. One step of courage creates opportunities you can’t even imagine in the moment.
Founder's Day 2019 Address by Kim Fillion


["Beamer, Benz, or Bentley" by Lloyd Banks playing]

Thank you, Coy.
Thank you, Lee-Ellen.
Thank you, Charlie.
Thank you, NMH.
Thank you, Dwight Lyman Moody.

Y’all know I couldn’t start this without playing a little music.  I grew up listening to a lot of music, I’ve always wanted to be a DJ, so it felt right and true to who and how I am.

Good to see you. Good to see you. Good to see you. Seven hundred "good to see yous."  At least that’s how many people I think are here today.

Before I get into it, I have a request, to try your best, let’s have fun in this space.  Enjoy each other’s company in this space. But like Kendrick Lamar, let’s be humble too.

I’m loving the energy right now - thank you for it.

What I’m about to say to you will be divided into three parts.  I teach all my students that their introductions must provide a road map for their readers.  So I feel it’s only right to provide you with a road map. 

Part 1 will be a little background - humanity
Part 2 will be a little about love - purpose
Part 3 will be a little about the mission - sleeves rolled up (where the chalk meets the board)


Part 1 - a little background - humanity 

This place was founded for a future.  There was a future in mind in 1879, when founder Dwight Lyman, DL, Moody sought to open the doors of the Northfield campus. Born in Northfield in 1837, Moody converted to Christianity at about the age of 18.  He never really joined a church, never committed to any denomination - very broad minded when it came to dogma, felt that Christianity was a necessary thing, because he believed that one needed to have some kind of organizing principle for faith and services and believed that one had to have an educated community, needed to have seminary and schools, but he also believed that people should just start by reading the bible.

Moody believed there was a truth in the bible, a form of justice that was ever present in the words that were written well over 2,000 years ago.  This was his conviction - that justice should prevail in some form, and this form was through education.  Throughout his travels to Boston and Chicago, Moody came to realize the importance of faith in a higher power, known as the Judeo-Christian God, and in particular that people have access to understanding this God as a way to restore a community.

According to Peter Weis, “Moody was a cultural imperialist not of the worst kind and a consciousness objector, he is extraordinarily complex.” And I would add yes, especially through the lens of 21st-century spectacles.

Today, we know that Northfield was founded in many parts as a way for people to have access, for women to have access.  But what I find so interesting about the history of Northfield Mount Hermon and DL Moody’s impact and legacy is what occurred in the very first few years of Northfield’s inception.

While I was researching Moody and Northfield Seminary, I kept bumping my head against the metaphorical ceiling of the idea that Moody was trying to create a humanly responsive pedagogy.  What exactly did that look like in 1879?

Typical courses were, as you might assume:
Physics
Psychology
Bible
Science
And of course there were classes designed specifically for cisgender women to be cisgender women.

[Talking about stereotypical activities of women]: Cooking, cleaning, sewing, making babies

We know the society was deeply rooted in patriarchy, so the fact that women were taking the first few courses I listed, pertaining to science, was really forward thinking for the time, especially for young women to be taking.

Makes me think more about our responsibility today as an institution to have a humanly responsive pedagogy.

The future that was in mind in 1879 — I’m reminded of the words of Paulo Freire (Brazilian educator and philosopher) who wrote, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (published in late 1960s).  Freire, like many social-justice advocates, really “calls in” a community to consider how “humanization is a people’s vocation.”  Now I’ve asked my students to define this term before in class, but I want you to think for a moment of how you define the term, “human.”  Now I want you to turn and talk to your neighbor friend for about 30 seconds and share this definition with each other.

Does your human have an age?  Does your human have a voice?  Is your human able-bodied?  I ask these questions of my students and then I ask them if we can have a definition of human that is one word: you. me. us. they. them.

I challenge us to think about this idea of humanization as our vocation because I believe it applies to why this place was founded over 140 years ago.

Part 2 - a little about love - purpose

You know that phrase, “haters gonna hate”? I wonder if we can turn that phrase into “lovers gonna love”?

Don’t you just love how it feels when someone gives you a compliment “That’s a dope jacket…”

Lovers gonna love.

“Hey, Jade, you know that comment you made in class yesterday? It was so helpful to hear, it really opened my eyes to a new perspective.”

Lovers gonna love.

“Hey Rachael, thanks again for your help last night with dorm duty.”

Lovers gonna love.

Instead, we’re so quick to judge and throw stones at each other.

There are probably so many humanly responsive pedagogical phrases we heard in early childhood
Sharing is caring.
That’s pretty simple - you have two red markers, they have three green markers, you share.
If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
That’s also pretty easy to understand because it’s easy to tell if you’ve hurt someone’s feelings.

I mean, that’s it.

This is where we as educators, academic leaders, students, and adults are on the cusp of not simply teaching and learning for the sake of teaching and learning, but as bell hooks (distinguished professor and social activist) asserts, teaching and learning for the sake of freedom.  In her book Teaching to Transgress, hooks argues that we need to teach each other how to “transgress against racial, sexual, and class boundaries in order to achieve the gift of freedom.”

It is here where I believe the chalk meets the board and allows all of us to recognize our true potential as agents of change in our ever-evolving world.

I believe in education. You want to know why?  Because I believe in you.
I believe in you.  I believe in all you.

Part 3 - a little about the mission - sleeves rolled up

Put simply, DL Moody’s vision is our current mission.  This idea of acting with humanity and purpose is achieved through practice.  Why is it that I often hear from students, “Why do I have to take DSJ? Why do we have to have the same conversations in SLS? Why must we always talk about privilege and systems of oppression?”

Privilege and Oppression? Privilege and oppression?  Every time I hear someone ask me again about this, I literally feel like I’ve dropped an album and I’m about to get signed for a record deal because I’ve heard several remixes to this.

Interestingly enough, I never once heard one of my softball players at practice ask me, “Coach, why are we throwing and catching the ball again? Why am I batting again? We just batted yesterday.”

I also have never once heard one of my basketball players ask, “Coach, why must we shoot the ball over and over again?”  As a matter of fact, I’ve heard just the opposite. I’ve even had so many players from other teams ask, “Can I use this side of the gym today so that I can get in more shots?”

Let me tell y’all what - because I believe in education, because I believe in y’all - we aren’t gonna stop having these conversations.  We’re not gonna stop having us consider the places and spaces that need to be researched for more people to have access.

No, no, no.  We’re gonna practice, practice, practice.
Because practice makes progress.

And after all, these are the values that have guided our institution throughout its history into its present.

Our mission statement is a verb - it’s to act.  To act with humanity and purpose.

In 1879, Northfield was teaching women how to be women. Today, we’re teaching humans how to be humans.  And it doesn’t matter what side of the desk you’re on, we’re all teaching each other.

I keep telling my students that I need a future where I have access to water and health care, but the more I think about it, I simply need access to a future.  I need access to this next word, to this next minute, to this next breath.

So, will you roll up your sleeves with me?

Here we go, NMH!






Fall Athletics Banquet Address

Address given by by Louis Gazo ’19 on 11/9/18

Good evening fellow athletes, coaches, and staff.

I am humbled to be giving a speech tonight in front of all of you. As some of you might know, I usually tend to side with a more informal or impromptu speech, but tonight is a night of reflection and celebration that requires a more formal speech.

First off, thank you to the NMH dining staff; you have always made wonderful meals for this special evening. Thank you to all the coaches who have taken their time and energy to support everyone in this room. Thank you to Mr. Leeds for your time and effort this season. And a special thanks to Wendy and Jesse for all your help these past few years.

Tonight’s banquet marks my third and final season here at NMH. I have enjoyed my time here on Peller Field, the people I have met, and the different teams I have had the opportunity to be a part of. Every year here I have come away with many memories and lessons, some of which I would like to share with everyone tonight.

My first year here I did not know what to expect, so I came in and tried my hardest. The team was very welcoming. We all gathered together at Camp Pemigewassett, our preseason destination that has been the cornerstone of our program’s success. I could tell right away that the guys I was with were a special group. I have one memory in particular that I recall from my sophomore year. Our team was all in Shea hanging out, when someone had the idea to start hitting their hand on the side of the couch. A few others joined in with different makeshift instruments and soon we had everyone on our team making some noise to create what we thought was a great piece of music. When looking back on this particular moment, I understood that we had become a true team and from this team we had developed as individuals and become better people. We had other great moments in my first season, but did not end up having the flat-out success we hoped for.

However, what I took away from my first season here was that the success of a team is not ranked by where we finished, but by the relationships we formed and the lessons we learned. With this said, look around at your table and appreciate the people around you. The season is finite, but the people you have seen every day for the past few months will be there for you a lot longer than any game we have played.

My second season I learned even more. At Camp Pemigewassett, our field is surrounded by trees and bushes that mask the thick and mucky swamp underneath. Well, at the end of camp we were short a few soccer balls and Charlie had us all line up and walk into the swamp looking for the last few balls. Sure enough, we found the remaining soccer balls in the swamp, and we all came out with mud on us. Some of us were covered with mud up to our waists and did not find a ball, while others had mud just up to their ankles. I did not mind getting dirty, but now I realize that going in the swamp together is a part of growing together. Having similar challenges and experiences brings together different humans and creates a team.

From my junior season and all the moments that made up that season, I came away with the notion that there will be challenges as a season goes on and not everything will go your way, but you will make the most of what life gives you. We had ups and downs as a team, but at the end of the season, at this time last year, we looked across the table and were happy with what we had given. We grew a lot; everyone always learns a different lesson or grows in other ways — it's the art of sports. Sports challenge our weaknesses and create a balance in life that we use to become better people.

And finally, my last season here.

There are too many fond moments and memories of my senior season here. From way back in August, when we all gathered for preseason, to right now, we have shared many memories. Everyone in this room has been a part of this fall season, where we have all taken steps forward in our own growth because of those who have been there with us the entire way. And with that, we must appreciate the time we have, for it will only last so long.

Everything you have done and will do has a purpose. Time goes quickly, so play hard and laugh a lot, as these will be some of your favorite moments. The best way to enjoy a moment is to be fully submerged and engaged; this way, you can look back on these moments and appreciate them. The people you have been with this year will never be the same. You will go to new places, others will come and go, but the moments you have shared with each other will never change. Respect the time you have had together and realize that everything you do has a purpose. Everything has been done with intent, and for that you will be grateful.

My time at Peller Field will be up soon, but I wanted to say thank you to Charlie Malcolm and Jim Burstein for taking me under their wings and teaching me to respect the game and the people around me. Everything you two have done for me has greatly impacted my life and who I am. As for my family, who have traveled down here tonight, I wanted to say thank you as well. Mom and Dad, you have supported me all these years, and that support has given me the platform to challenge myself and to grow from many different challenges.

It has been three great years and I look forward to the last part of the season. Thank you all for listening and I hope you take something away from this. Thank you and enjoy your evening.

Northfield in the Great War

Remarks by Peter Weis, NMH archivist, on Nov. 11, 2018, the centennial of the end of World War I

Today as we commemorate a centennial and remember the full sacrifice of the 69 Mount Hermon men and the hundreds more of their fellow alumni who served their country in the Great War, it cannot be out of place to look north and east, across the river to Northfield and remember that school, its alumnae, and their part in service to the same cause. Indeed, one hundred and one years ago, Clara Count Emerson, of the Northfield Class of 1887 began a commencement toast with the words, "Everyone (italics mine) is trying to do his bit in bringing about some constructive work in these destructive days that are trying men's souls and tearing women's hearts."

The same issue of the Alumnae Chronicle in which these words appeared described the efforts of seven women in France, from Mary Dingman, working in a gunpowder factory in Lyons to Mary Wright and Ruth Weeks in the Ambulance Corps, to Ruth's sister Dorothy, working in a tent hospital.

Many more names would appear on this honor roll as the war wore on, but perhaps no Northfield alumna did more important work for the war effort than Florence M. Marshall, who was graduated with the class of 1895. She was the first head of the Women's Bureau of the Red Cross. In a statement released in the winter of 1918 she said, in part, "The special task of the Women's Bureau of the Red Cross is to stimulate women, both in and out of Red Cross chapters, for the kind of non-professional war work they can do most quickly, and with the minimum of special training ... No doubt, the sewing of garments will sometimes seem hard and dull. But it will never seem hard to the woman who really knows what war means, or who have said good-bye to their sons. No letters can ever mean to the boy more than the muffler knitted by his mother's fingers -- or somebody else's mother's -- will mean when the wind tears and chills the trooper's face in the icy rain and blinding storms of northern France."

If former Northfield students played their part in the war effort, so too did those young women who were still in school at the seminary. In the fall of 1917, each of the seven Northfield dormitories arranged a care package to be sent to one of the seven women mentioned above.

"Victory gardens" were planted on the lawn in front of East Hall, a Northfield dormitory, and on the sloping hill below D.L. Moody's birthplace, and tended by Northfield students. These gardens were part of a national campaign to produce food in a decentralized manner, obviating the need for the costs in fuel and manpower necessary on large mechanized farms, at the same time, reducing costs for transporting foodstuffs to market.

In addition to these "victory gardens" Northfield students broadened their duties in domestic work, beyond cooking and cleaning, and performed grounds keeping duties on the campus, raking leaves and mowing lawns.

And when the guns stopped firing, word was still heard from Northfield alumnae in places far away. On December 4th, 1918, Mary Frasca of the class of 1913 wrote from Palermo, Italy, "The war is over," is a pleasing phrase which we hear on all sides, and naturally the reaction is pleasant, and our yearning for home very strong...The experiences here have been varied and the opportunities for service a real privilege. I have enjoyed every bit of it, and I am sure I shall be sorry to leave...

Northfield too, played her part. Lives of humanity and purpose, indeed.



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