Good evening to all Northfield Mount Hermon athletes, coaches, staff, faculty, and anyone else who may be in attendance today (I see you mom). I’m incredibly thankful for this opportunity to be able to speak to you all today. Isn’t it crazy how fast this fall went by? For some of us, this is the last fall athletic banquet ever and the last few times we’ll don that special jersey again. It seems like yesterday when I wore my first NMH soccer jersey, slightly too big for my skinny frame. I have prepared some words for you all today, and I really hope my message can resonate with each of you in some way.
My first memory as an athlete was when I was a kindergartner playing tee-ball for my community team in southern New Jersey. It was just me, my baseball mitt, and a field full of sprouting dandelions to mark the beginning of the lively spring weather. Our team was up against the kids right across the town, and it was set to be a pretty intense game. All of my teammates took it pretty seriously, while I, a very explorative child, took it pretty lightly.
I remember one play in particular. The defining moment. The ball was hit high up into the air in my direction and would have been lined up perfectly with my glove. It would have been the play of the season, if only I hadn’t been sitting down on the ground with my legs folded with a fist full of dandelions, blowing them out one by one. My teammates weren’t too happy with me, but I was thrilled to see the dandelion seeds fly away in the distance.
Okay, so baseball didn’t quite work out. But I did play a lot of sports as a child, most of which were taught to me by my mother. Before I was a part of any organized team, we used to play together non-stop for hours. We played tennis until our palms cried in agony, swung golf clubs until our arms couldn’t take it anymore, and played basketball until we were absolutely drained, pun intended.
When I started playing for organized teams, my mom was always there. My number one fan. Shoot, even my stint with football was awesome, despite my small frame constantly getting tossed around like a ragdoll by the kids on the other teams. It was truly liberating. Not quite the feeling of being thrown around all the time, but the feeling I got when I was playing a sport while having someone by my side to truly support me. Even when she was swamped with work and stress, my mom still set aside time to play with or support me in whatever sport we were involved in.
You have to give it to her too, she got pretty intense. Sometimes I felt like she was playing the game and I was the one watching. For instance, I remember once when I was 10, I played in an all-star district basketball game. In that game, I got fouled late on. Our team led by two and there were seconds left on the clock. I had to make the foul shots to secure the game for us. I was lining up to take the shots with my heart pumping almost out of my chest and heavy beads of sweat running down my face. I looked to my right to see all of the parents watching in the bleachers on the sideline, but for some odd reason, I didn’t see my mom anywhere. I thought it was weird for a moment until she appeared almost out of nowhere and, I kid you all not, LITERALLY stood right underneath the basket almost on the court to watch me take the shots. For those of you who don’t watch or play basketball, this is very illegal. Nobody dared to say anything to her though. I wouldn’t either. Her eyes were wide in anticipation as she watched on. Shoot, I was more focused on her than I was with the shots. It was like if I made those shots, I would be the undisputed first-round pick. The ref was a little weirded out too, seeing that she stood maybe a foot next to him under the hoop. The look on his face was begging for help from someone. Oh boy, and with her reaction afterward, I think anyone within a mile of that basketball court knew I had made my two shots.
One would say it was a little much for an under-11 basketball game, and sure it was a little intimidating at the moment, but it’s just how she is, with everything. She was and still is so passionate about my athletic, social, and academic career. Same for my two siblings. And I love her for that. Through my opportunities with my mother’s help, somewhat a little less aggressive than that instance at my basketball game, I have been able to live the life of love and support a kid should be given.
My career in athletics slowly picked up pace as I grew older and decided to play soccer full time. At 12 years old, I had to get adjusted to the scene quickly. Our family was always on the move on long car rides all across God’s green Earth, and it was a struggle for us to maintain. I’ve always felt bad for my siblings because they couldn’t do the things they wanted to at a young age, as a result of this grueling schedule. Nonetheless, they were always so supportive of my career and I owe them the world for that. I moved up the ranks at a fairly quick rate and found myself in the academy system at a very young age.
After this, everything changed.
Players were less focused on the aspect of a team, and more about their own individual growth. Whatever got them exposure to bigger and better clubs was the way they went. I remember almost getting burned out at a very young age because of this transition. Coaches didn’t really care about how I performed in the classroom, or if I was chasing other dreams off the field. They only wanted to see me play, and if I wasn’t good enough, I would be gone. I almost lost full touch of the game I loved the most.
That was until I stepped foot on this hill.
One thing that I remember about my first encounter here was something that Metta told me. She said to me, “We want to see you fail. You must fall on your face a few times in order to find yourself and what you are truly passionate about.” Wait, what? It is a little crazy to tell a kid to fall on their face, but what she said was true nonetheless. I had to venture out and try new things, I had to get uncomfortable, I had to test the limit in order to truly find myself as a person. What I didn’t know was that through this adventure, I’d be able to find myself as a person and find a family that will be there for me for years and years to come.
I thought it to be the strongest thing in a person to be independent, to not care what other people thought, and to make their own decisions. The truth of the matter is that we need each other. Every person that is in your circle needs you, and you need them just the same.
Nothing is more important than your healthy relationships. Relationships are where we get to positively impact people’s lives, and where people get to do the same to our own. This is the art of interdependence. When you’re going through a grueling fitness Monday with your teammates, you need them to lift you to become better. Whenever you’re at that time of your year when you just can’t do it anymore, you need others to encourage you and show you that you can. Without the people around me, I would have never challenged myself to do a cappella, or audition for One Acts, or even become a Resident Leader in the best dorm on campus, shoutout to my Lower London guys. It’s with the help of others that I’ve been able to find myself on and off the field.
I love independence, but there’s something about the teams and culture we have created on this campus to nurture and provide for everyone around us. We may be lacking the super high-tech athletic facilities and our new science center may take a bit longer than we were expecting, but that doesn’t matter. The important inner connections we have on this hill are stronger than any fancy facility that the other prep schools may have. It really is something beautiful, you don’t get these types of relationships everywhere you go.
I now challenge all of you to fully take in the relationships you will build on this campus. To extend your arms out far and wide for everyone, to continue to cultivate an environment for the head, heart, and hand. Get uncomfortable. Talk to people that you haven’t spoken to before. You don’t know how their story could eventually impact your own. Our relationships are what build us up for the better. Without them, we are nothing significant at all. Thank you so much for your time and consideration. Let’s have a fantastic night.