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Baccalaureate 2018: Chaplain's Reflection and Benediction

Given by Rev. Lee-Ellen Strawn on May 20, 2018

Fardusi read to us earlier Rumi’s poem, which depicts life as a guest house. And Boulo shared St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer that he might be an instrument of peace. Rumi reminds us life is a process of encounters, some that bring happiness and some that bring hurt. And St. Francis strives to be the joy in the midst of sadness, the hope where there is despair, and the love where hatred reigns. Rumi holds up the sometimes uncomfortable truth that we will, each one of us, be host to various experiences in our lives, both the positive and the negative. And St. Francis asks that he be used to transform the negative with the positive, the good.

As I was thinking about what to share with you today, I wanted my message to be memorable to you, not because of any eloquence on my part, but because you are most deserving of powerful words to carry with you throughout your life. You are deserving of words that will take root in your heart and mind, and grow to yield abundant fruit. You are deserving of words that will explode within you and change you.

The words of Rumi, the 13th-century Muslim mystic poet, might suffice for this.
He articulates the truth about the impermanence of human relationships; like a guest house, people will come and stay for a time in our lives, and then they will leave. Indeed, all sorts of guests might come to be with us; some who were invited, some who weren’t, and some we like and some we don’t. Some of our guests will look like us, while others will be different, and some will think like us and share our beliefs, but others will believe in ways we can’t, and may never understand. Surely, you have had such guests in your life, both in human form and in the form of ideas. A “guest” might even have been the prose of Toni Morrison, a new math theorem, or a political theory that unsettled you.

You have had to learn hospitality and generosity to engage with all who have come to be with you. At times you have done this well, and, at times, not so admirably. Yet do not despair; there will be another chance with the next guest that arrives perhaps this afternoon, or in the morning. Rumi shares a deep wisdom that our lives are made up of these temporary encounters, which we can choose to embrace, or not. But if we wish to be a good guest house, a good place of compassionate rest for others, then we might do well to welcome all without discrimination or prejudice, because each will contribute, or has already contributed, a unique chapter to our lives that cannot be replicated.

I think you are already drawing parallels to your experiences at NMH. Both the friends and foes who have lived side by side with us over these years are not meant to continue sharing the same living and learning spaces with us always. We are meant to persist on our own journeys, trusting that there will be another guest house just a ways down the path. For those we have had troubles with, this will seem a relief. But for those who have claimed our hearts as our friends, the parting will be painful. Rumi’s words underscore a profound knowledge of this life predicament, as we prepare for goodbyes and collect our roadmaps for the future.

St. Francis of Assisi is no less intriguing for us than Rumi, as we enter this time of transition into next steps. Now that you have been nourished by the guest house of NMH, and have passed the tests (or soon will), and have been certified with understanding, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life, as the poet Mary Oliver puts it? How is it that you will make your mark on the world in a way that no one else has had the courage to do? Why is it that you arduously dedicate your intellect, compassion, and talent to your work when the world is ready to hand you less intense, easier solutions? Might it be that you have a secret prayer to be useful, as St. Francis also hoped for? Might it be that utility is your deepest desire?

Now, if you could be the one person to sow love in the middle of hatred, to offer forgiveness where insults abound, to shine hope where anguish and despondency dominate, to live gladness where only sorrow resides, might this be a satisfying answer? If you were remembered long after your last breath as the one who took the bad and made it good, might this be your answer to those fundamental questions of humanity: “Who am I? “What does it mean to be human?” “What is my place in this world?” and “How then shall I live?”

Class of 2018, you are ready to pack your bags for the journey ahead. You have the right tools and resources to support you on your travels. As you go forth from this hill to greet new guests and explore new horizons, may you welcome all that life brings you and be open to its wondrous possibilities. May you be the one, even if you do stand alone, to be the instrument of peace, the reconciler, the lover and lamplighter of the world. Blessings to you.

Class of 2018, as you go forth from this chapel, may you carry with you the wisdom, the vision, and the passion you have learned from this place and from the many kind and caring souls who have hosted you on your NMH journey. May you be open to returning their hospitality no matter the guest who comes to your door, and in this way make of your one wild and precious life a gift to the world. May your minds be filled with possibilities, may your hearts beat with conviction, and may your hands be gentle in touch and tireless in doing good. Go with our gratitude and go with our blessings. May it be so now and always.

2018 Salutatorian Address Given at Baccalaureate by Ryan Yi ’18

Ryan Yi, photo by Glenn Minshall
If I’m being honest, I don’t want to be here.

I don’t mean here generally—at NMH—I mean up here on this podium. Part of it, as some of you know, is that I’ve suffered from stage fright for as long as I can remember. But it’s mostly because I don’t believe, by virtue of having a certain GPA, that I have any kind of wisdom that my fellow classmates don’t. I’ve lived a life just as short and full as yours. 

That being said, I’m being honored with the opportunity to speak in front of all of you, and I thought I would spend it sharing with you the only thing I can: a story. In a way, it’s a story of who I am, and how I got here. Fair warning: it will be melodramatic, just a little bit morbid, and will slightly exceed the time allotted for it. It will contain tortured metaphors, far too many large words, and will be easily forgotten but will leave you with the sense of finality, accomplishment, and nostalgia that this occasion demands. 

Let’s begin.

I’ll start at the beginning — freshman year. HUM 1. On the very first day, A Block, our two HUM classes were shuttled by both our teachers into a darkened Grandin. All the lights were out, and there was no sound except for a recording of an aboriginal Australian didgeridoo playing in the background. We were all awkward and didn’t know what to do — as freshmen usually are. Neither of the teachers was in the room, and we were given no instructions. We stood there for a good five or 10 minutes in the dark, going back and forth between uncomfortable snickering and total silence. Eventually, our teachers entered, each holding a flashlight. They walked around, clearly enjoying themselves as they shined the lights directly into our faces, and one started reading a poem by Mary Oliver, which started with just these five words: 

Make of yourself a light

And I, faced with the depth and wisdom of this poetry, thought to myself, what a load of utter crap.

To explain for those seniors who weren’t here freshman year, I congratulate you. I envy you for not having made such embarrassing memories as we — the four-year seniors—have, nor suffered the humiliation of living with them now.

On the other hand, I was here, and when I came to NMH, I wasn’t actually all that great a student. I did my best, a lot of the time, to do the bare minimum. I procrastinated, and I talked back to teachers I didn’t respect. I was lazy, arrogant, and insecure, and I had the Justin Bieber bowl cut to prove it.

Now, at the very least, I have a different haircut.

“Make of yourself a light.” Those of you who know me now will hardly call me a light, but I also think you would say that I’m not quite the same person that I was in that darkened room — that person who had no understanding of what those words might mean. I’ve thought of NMH as my home for a while now not just because I’ve lived here longer than I have in any other home, but because NMH was the first place where I could really explore myself — could look at who I am. And, those four years ago, I realized upon doing so that I didn’t like what I saw.

What’s happened since?

I fell in love with running half naked to the Northfield Creamie after the end of the year. I fell in love with making trips to Brattleboro to buy five-pound bags of dried mango in bulk, and with singing in an a cappella concert for the first time, and with walking up and down the same frickin’ hill three times a day. I fell in love with how ugly Cutler is and how beautiful the woods are when it snows. I fell in love with biology and math, and all the things I used to love reading about as a kid but avoided more and more as I got older. I fell in love with my friends, and I fell in love with who I am — or at least, who I’m learning to be. 

My NMH career began with five words of Mary Oliver, and so I thought it was fitting to end it with 10. They are two different lines, from two different poems of hers, but ones that, for me, mean more together than they do apart. They go like this: 

To love what is mortal—
This, too, is a gift. 

I don’t offer these words to you now just to be characteristically morbid, but as a reminder that while our NMH careers are “mortal” — in that they are coming to an end — that’s no reason to grieve. After all, God knows I wouldn’t want to be stuck in high school forever. Seniors, just as it’s okay for you to feel sad for leaving, it’s okay for you to feel glad that the time has come to go. These past years have given us so much, and the fact they they are coming to an end — and that this will no longer be our home — makes our time here all that more special. NMH is a blessing that we will carry for the rest of our lives, and we should take that — feel that fact in our hands — and feel grateful, as we turn to leave, for all the possibilities opening to us as we do so, because this, too, is a gift. 

Now, unlike the valedictorian, who speaks at class day, I have the opportunity to speak in front of the entire community. And so I wanted to take this one last chance to say goodbye, to all of you. As much as I’ve said about NMH being like a home, this goodbye is not meant as a declaration of undying love for you. It’s not a “See you soon.” It’s not a promise that we’ll be best friends forever, or that I know who you are and how you got here, or even that I know your name. But it is a thank you, and an encouragement.

To the ninth graders, this goodbye is meant as a challenge to do as I began to do in my freshman year: to begin the process of becoming who you’ve always wanted to be, but never hoped to become.

To the sophomores, it’s a reminder to look back at the two years you’ve had so far, to realize how quickly they have passed, and not to squander the two years that you have remaining.

To the juniors, as you begin to think about the place you will next call home, it’s a warning not to lose sight of all that is to be had at the home you have now.

And, to my fellow students in the Class of 2018, this goodbye is meant as an invitation to feel, openly and deeply, the tension between the grief over losing your home, and the joy that accompanies having outgrown it.

This goodbye is meant as a recognition, a “thank you” for being a part of my life these last years; one last expression of my gratitude to every student, teacher, and staff member who has been a part of them. And it is, lastly, a sign that, after four full years, I’m finally ready to say the words out loud: Goodbye.

Spring 2018 Athletic Banquet Keynote Speech by Grace Smith ’18

Spring 2018 Athletic Banquet Keynote Speech by Grace Smith ’18

Grace Smith ’18. Photo by Glenn Minshall
Hello and welcome to the last athletic banquet of the 2017–18 school year, and for seniors, welcome to your last ever NMH athletic banquet. I am extremely excited to be able to speak today, and I hope that my words will resonate with all of you.

As athletes, we love to compete. Whether you are a tri-varsity athlete going on to play intercollegiate athletics or you’re trying out a sport for the first time, it is human nature to be competitive. But not everything can go the way that we want it to; that would be too easy. Through injuries, losses, or even being cut from a certain team, adversity challenges us. The way that we respond to a challenge speaks to our character while giving us the opportunity to grow and learn.

Those of you who know me probably know that I have spent a lot of time in the training room with Wendy and Jesse this past year. My luck has been pretty rough when it comes to injuries. When I finally healed from one, something new always would find a way to taunt me. Crutches, slings, and braces are just a few of the things that I have had to deal with this past year alone. It has been difficult for me to miss out on so much, and I always felt like I was letting my team down, even though it was always out of my control.

This spring, I have been fortunate to stay away from any long-term injuries (and I should probably knock on wood for that one). However, this past winter season, I experienced one of the most painful injuries that I have ever had. During our hockey game against Hotchkiss, in overtime, I had to make a desperate, out-of-position dive to keep the puck from going in the net. In making the save, I dove in the opposite direction from where my hips were pointing, snapping my ankle in the wrong direction. I played the rest of overtime on my knees as I could not put pressure on my leg and the puck was still in our zone. After several saves without the use of my ankle, we ended the game in a tie. This sacrifice took me out for most of the winter season, and the only thing that allowed me to come back was months of daily physical therapy, a couple of layers of heavy-duty tape, and some pretty incredible trainers. My ankle will never truly be the same again, and I will likely have to rely on a brace for a while.

When the winter season came to an end and the spring season was approaching, I seriously contemplated whether or not I should play lacrosse this year. It would have been easy for me to rest my ankle and take my senior spring off to give my body a break. I was already committed to college for a different sport, and I was not sure that I wanted to take the risk of yet another injury, and I definitely did not want my ankle to start acting up again. I questioned my contributions to the team, and whether or not it really made a difference if I played.

Looking back, I cannot believe that those thoughts even crossed my mind. The bonds that were formed over this past season among my teammates, coaches, managers, and even Tevin, Coach Nicole’s dog, prove to be lifelong and unbreakable. I will never forget the memories that we made, like when we biked and hiked to the creamie, when our bus broke down on our way to Andover, and when we made it through workouts and conditioning together. I’ll never forget about that huge 8-7 win over Exeter on our senior day game when the incredible student section began to sing “Jerusalem” as the seconds ticked down in the final half of the game.

These are the moments that any athlete lives for, the moments that inspire me never to take the easy way out. If I had not played lacrosse this year, my spring would have been much less eventful, and I most certainly would have regretted that decision.

Our team did an activity where each of us wrote something about everyone else. Seeing my teammates tell me that they looked up to me or that they felt like they could always rely on me made me extremely thankful to have been a part of the team. It is easy to underestimate yourself and lose track of your self-worth, but it is important for us as teammates to remind each other that every person makes a difference toward the team’s overall success.

Nevertheless, as athletes, we are vulnerable to a wide variety of setbacks. It took being injured to recognize how important a support system really is. I have seen how powerful it is to have other people helping you through your toughest times. I found that even the smallest contributions have the power to change someone’s entire day. Small gestures such as a simple check-in or even a hug made a big difference in recovery. Around me, I knew that there were people who actually cared about my health and wanted to see me get back to 100 percent, and that positivity fueled me to get better.

So, give gratitude to those around you. Recognize everyone who has contributed to your life to help you get to where you are, right now, in this moment. Be there for your teammates, and never let a setback steer you away from your goals.

Thank you.

2018 Winter Athletics Banquet Talk

2018 Winter Athletics Banquet Talk
By Eric Fournier ’18, captain of the boys’ varsity ice hockey team

Eric Fournier ’18
Photo by Glenn Minshall
As most of you probably know, I’m not the most outgoing person in the world, so when Kevin asked me to speak, I had a small heart attack. Speaking in front of large crowds is my number one fear, but I knew this was a tremendous honor and that I would regret it if I said “no.” So I apologize if I appear a little nervous, but I will try my best. 

This season has been the highlight of my hockey career. I’ve never played on a team that has accomplished so much more than was expected. If someone told me at the start of this year that NMH hockey would be in the playoffs, I never would have believed them. Aside from our great coaching and work ethic on the ice, I believe our success originated from how much my teammates and I care about each other and the program.

One of my fondest memories from this year was when Noah Heisler ’19 and I got into an altercation with a Holderness player. I remember the play exactly; the ref blew the whistle late as the Holderness player skated toward our net with the puck. Instead of leaving the puck after the whistle, he stickhandled his way towards Greenie [Eric Green ’18] and shot the puck in the net. 

Anyone who plays hockey knows that this act is a sign of disrespect and poor sportsmanship. I wasn’t going to let him disrespect my school and my teammate, so I skated over to him. He knew I was coming, so as I approached him, he cross-checked me in the face. I didn’t want to draw a penalty so I just held onto his stick to protect myself. After a few seconds, I felt him go flying onto the ice. One of my teammates had hit him to the ground. Things quickly got out of hand, and before I knew it I was on my way to the penalty box. As I waited to hear what I had been penalized for, Heisler skated into the box as well. I asked him why he was in the box with me, and he responded, “I don’t know. All I did was hit the guy that was cross-checking you.” We proceeded to share our recollections of what happened and were pretty proud of our teamwork. Although we did receive two-minute penalties and put our team down a man, I still believe that it was the right play to stand up for our teammate, because we have each other’s backs.

Like all teams, we had our ups and downs, but we never turned on each other. I remember during our interview with [NMH Magazine editor] Jennifer Sutton for an article she was writing on NMH hockey, she asked Kyle (Valiquette ’18) and me if our team had gotten sick of each other after spending so much time together this year. Our immediate response was, “No, we have a great group of guys this year and everyone seems to get along really well!” This is what set this year apart from the rest; everybody cared about each other and was willing to do whatever it took for us to succeed as a team. 

My hope for all of you is that you are able to be a part of something where everybody cares about each other as much as my team team did. I hope you keep this in mind going forward because sports can create special relationships that last a lifetime. I am proud to call my teammates my brothers.

Thank you.

View a photo gallery of the event.
2018 Founder's Day Welcome

Welcome from Head of School Peter Fayroian
2018 Founder's Day

Whether this is your first or 45th Founder’s Day service (yes, today’s speaker has attended at least that many), welcome!

Annually, our community gathers on a day near the fifth of February, the birthday of our school’s founder – but why, precisely?

From our founding through the mid-1890s, we celebrated Mr. Moody’s mother’s birthday, she being so generous as to share her birthday with her son. Moody was a fine one for finding excuses to celebrate with his students; after all, Mountain Day was his idea. And though his younger son Paul once described him as “the humblest man I ever knew,” his love of a good party prompted him to continue the schoolwide tradition of observing February fifth after his mother died in 1896; sometimes even calling off classes, as he did in 1897 when he announced that some English friends had given money for the construction of this very chapel as a 60th birthday present. Surely no one here would argue against spending Founder’s Day like that! I hereby cancel classes for the rest of the day! (Oh, that's right: it’s Wednesday and classes are already over. I'm sorry.)

In February of 1900, all of that changed. Moody had died the preceding December, and six weeks later, no one at the schools felt much like celebrating. The day became a moment to memorialize him to whom we owe our existence as an educational institution. Well over a century has passed since then, and while the original impetus remains in place, Founder’s Day has not become some static year-to-year litany. We’ve had distinguished guests like Sister Helen Prejean and John Updike who spoke not a word about Moody. We’ve combined the solemn service with the hilarity of winter carnival. We’ve invited favorite daughters and sons, like today’s speaker, to share their wisdom. But running through the years, perhaps there’s some deeper reason why we gather each year at this time.

Consider then, the happy coincidence of Mr. Moody’s birth coming so close to mid-winter’s day. Pagans called it Imbolc; we call it Groundhog Day – the day when good Yankee farmers checked their wood sheds and hoped to find half their winter fuel supply remaining. Coming midway between winter solstice and vernal equinox, and about midway between Convocation and Commencement. It’s a good day to take stock of things, to make sure we still have half of our firewood, for us to come together as a community and remember why we are here, and to thank our founder and all of those along the way who brought us here, today.

Much is behind us, much is still before us. Welcome, indeed!

Photo by Glenn Minshall
Introduction of 2018 Founder’s Day Speaker Jay Ward

Introduction by Heidi Leeds ’18

Jay Ward has been teaching at NMH for 42 years. But his history at this school started well before he became a teacher. Mr. Ward first came to NMH as a faculty child when he was a baby. Although his family moved away, he returned as a Mount Hermon student in ninth grade, and graduated with the Class of 1968. Most of Mr. Ward’s time at NMH has been spent teaching. I did some rough calculations and figured that, if he’s taught four classes a year with the NMH average of 11 students for 42 years, he’s shared his knowledge with approximately 1,850 students (which, to put it in perspective would fill this chapel three times.) He has taught in five different subjects: Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Environmental Science, and Computer Science.

In addition to teaching, Mr. Ward has held many other roles on our campus throughout the years, including coaching wrestling and all levels of soccer, directing the Summer School, acting as chair of the science department, as dean of residential life, and now as the school registrar. And because of this last position, he probably knows your name even if you haven’t met him, because he is the one who works all summer to coordinate 650 busy, complicated schedules so that each of us can take the classes we want, which for me meant taking his AP Physics class this past fall.

Despite the fact that the fall semester was a week shorter than last year, he was able to magically squeeze in all the fun labs and projects. I, like many people, learn best through hands-on activities. In that class, we risked our thumbs calculating the distance a marble would fall off a ramp, shot falling monkeys with magnetic darts, and measured the speed of flying pigs. He even found time to tell us a few stories about what he called “the old days at NMH.”

Instead of yelling about being late to class, he told us that it happens to everyone, but just make sure you come in breathing hard. When he was a freshman, his teacher told them, “You better be huffing and puffing when you come in late,” so he and his friends used to stand outside the door and make themselves hyperventilate before entering.

During your campus tour, you may have heard about the famous Silliman fire that took place during a football game. Mr. Ward was a student at the time, but he was also a volunteer firefighter who held one of the hoses to stop the flames. NFL Films even interviewed him about it a few years ago. It’s still online if you want to see more.

I’m sure that anyone who has taken a class with Mr. Ward will agree that he’s a passionate and patient teacher. He has devoted his adult life to students at Northfield Mount Hermon. It is truly an honor to introduce him today. Please join me in thanking and welcoming Mr. Jay Ward.

Glenn Minshall photo

2018 Founder's Day Senior Reflection by Chaewon Carrie Kim ’18

Today, I would like to reflect on how NMH has changed me. Specifically, I would like to discuss how our past and our present shape how we understand success. But first, I must revisit the summer after I turned five years old: the first day of my English-only pre-school. “Americans are so fat!” I remember exclaiming to my friends as our kindergarten teacher, Mr. Adams, introduced himself in a language I couldn’t comprehend. He was a mildly overweight man in his late 40s, a foreigner, with closely-cropped blonde hair and a boisterous attitude that seemed out of place at my strict and hierarchical institution. This was my first encounter with a foreigner: an American.

Eleven years later, I realized that it has become easier for me to envision this memory of my past from the perspective of Mr. Adams rather than from that of my younger self. It was only natural that I grew more accustomed to the perspective of a foreigner; my four years’ stay at NMH as an international student was characterized by a successive chain of identity crises. I wrestled with the task of molding my sense of self in a way that appeased both the Korean and American cultures, while simultaneously striving to break free from the predefined norms that accompanied each.

A large factor contributing to this struggle was language. The English language, with its history, culture, and mannerisms embedded underneath, has escaped the pages of my textbook and crept up into my thoughts and conversations. As I grew stronger in understanding and analyzing English text, I realized that I have begun to internalize the perspectives and ideologies that seemed distant and intangible when read in Korean. In short, my cultural identity was irrevocably changed as a result of my bilingualism.

This change pushed me to into a scary domain I traditionally understood as not meant for people like me, people whose first language was not English and whose primary culture was not embedded in the customs and the history of the United States of America. The pristine and lyrical prose of Ralph Waldo Emerson, T.S. Eliot, and Mary Oliver seemed daunting and beyond emulating. My budding identity as an English writer, reader, and storyteller was not something I was eager to explore.

Before, I was protected by the safety of assuming the identity assigned unto me as a result of my foreign status. I used to believe that my English reflected my degree of assimilation; that because my English was fraught with holes, my sense of place at NMH, and by extension, the US, was also far from permanent. This meant I could always fall back upon a version of self that remained unmarred by my romance with English whenever I felt isolated or misunderstood — the version of self whose allegiance belonged to South Korea, my homeland, and thereby detached from the complex cultural transitions taking place within me. I especially compartmentalized my understanding of self my freshman year. When girls in my dorm would make fun of the way I pronounced a certain word, or when boys from NMH and, on one occasion, Deerfield, would approach me with the rhetoric of Asian exoticism, or when I recognized that my friends from back home and I were drifting apart, I would trap myself back into the homogeneous bubble of Korean culture to shield myself from the validity of such experiences and the subsequent damage they inflicted upon me.

Often, I would take a trip to this sacred, compartmentalized dimension during humanities and social science courses; when asked, “What is my place?”, my answer was simple: “Not here.” Predictably, I didn’t enjoy HUM I. My friends loved it. In response to my American friends’ enraged inquiries, I simply shrugged, then responded that I didn’t enjoy humanities. Sometimes, when I felt moody, I would retort that I didn’t have time to ponder upon life’s greatest philosophical dilemmas, such as what it means to be human, because my allegiance lay not with this happy-go-lucky liberal institution in Western Mass., but with the fast-paced and cutthroat society of Korea that pushed me to get ahead.

A part of this reasoning was true. My parents have always wished that I would pursue STEM, expressing worries that a humanities degree would hold no leverage in the ruthless American job market. Plus, aligning myself with the sciences meant upholding the marketable image of an Asian: hardworking, mathematical, and industrious, welcomed at both her homeland and in the US. I wished to adhere to the convenience of what I believed to be the grand narrative of success for a Korean study-abroad student, because then I wouldn’t have to justify the idiosyncrasies of my existence. I know, I was being pretty dramatic.

Spending more years at NMH helped me gain perspective. To put it in numbers, from 2014 to 2015, international students in Massachusetts made up about 6 percent of all students enrolled in higher education, which equals approximately 55,000 students. I realized that our experiences will become diverse and multifaceted, if they are not already so, and that my journey will be simply one of many contributing to the ever-expanding fabric of what it means to be a foreign national in an American institution. This was a very liberating insight.

As I look back on my time at NMH, a certain figure comes to mind. Amy Tan, a prominent Asian-American writer, once remarked, “I felt ashamed of being different and ashamed of feeling that way.” My time at NMH taught me the value of expanding my perceived narrative of success. I felt ashamed of not adhering to what I internalized as the reflection of success, then struggled as I felt ashamed for betraying my integrity. But now, I realize that I must appreciate and embrace the authenticity of my experiences in order to grow and learn. And I wish you do the same.

Thank you.

Glenn Minshall photo

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