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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. 
2019 Commencement Address by Tiffani Brown ’96

The Relay

The first time I was here on Cromwell Field I was 16 years old.  My neon green track shoes just arrived in the mail. It was NMH 1994 and I was preparing for my first track meet. Coach Batty says to me, “I want you to try to run the 400-meter dash.” The 400, however, is not my race. I am a long jumper.  At 5 feet 10 inches, my competitive advantage is clearly in long jumping.  But, this is Coach Batty.  No one says no to Coach Batty.  So I said “Yes.” And as I take my place in the starters’ block, it occurs to me, “I have never seen anyone run the 400-meter dash. Have I even run 400 meters?”  The pistol sounds and I run as fast as I can. I am leading the pack at the 100-meter mark. I’m excited to be so far ahead.  I start to slow down and look for the finish line, but the other runners are now starting to pass me so I pick up the pace to keep up with them to the 200-meter mark.  I’m tired, winded, and am lagging behind as we get to 300 meters. There is no finish line in sight and as I round the track my pace starts to slow from a sprint, to slow run, to a walk.  I can feel myself dry heaving and the only thing I want to do is leave the track, better yet, lie down on the track.

I stop.  My head hangs down. I’m embarrassed.  I’ve failed my new teammates. I’m frustrated for having been asked to do something I didn’t train for and said yes to.

Someone starts to call my name and I look up.  It’s not just one person, but a few people, my teammates, calling out “Run, Tiffani”, “You can do it.”  Now it’s not just the NMH athletes wearing the white and maroon jerseys, but athletes from the opposing team start to call me by my number. I smile, pick up the pace, and then briskly start to run to the finish line.

Coach Batty came up to me afterwards and said, “You did good enough to continue to run the 400.  To prepare for the next race, I want you to train now with the cross-country team.” And I said “Yes.”

Now I would love to tell you that this ended with my receiving an athletic scholarship, becoming an Olympian, and winning a gold medal.

This, however, is not that running story.  My running career ended as a two-year junior at NMH. 

In life you will have many new opportunities. Some will start out amazing. But sometimes you will hit a wall and want to give up.

This, Class of 2019, is life. 

Graduates, I want to be direct with you. 

You are big-vision students. Each of us has the capacity in some way to change the world. That’s why you’re here. Consciously or subconsciously it’s in your DNA when you attend a school with a mission like NMH. 

But I want to be honest – big vision hurts.  Big vision feels like this race. And I want to hype you up because, when you hit the wall, I don’t want you to stop running and think that the race is over at 100 or 200 meters.  I want you to stay the course.

When I left NMH, I had one goal – aside from wanting to flee the New England winters — I wanted to emulate the diverse community I saw here.  I had friends at NMH from every corner of the globe – Daphne from Turkey, Hisae from Tokyo, Deb from Beverly Hills, Loira from the Bronx. The black-and-white world from North Carolina I had seen growing up was nothing like this, and I knew I wanted to feel what I felt at NMH forever.  So I attended USC and majored in economics and international relations with a goal of becoming a diplomat.

But my vision of this idyllic world and the reality of what I experienced were very different.

I started my race after NMH by saying yes to an opportunity to study in Brazil.  I listened to Brazilian music and checked out books to prepare me for this amazing travel experience.  My day as a global traveler had finally arrived at the age of 20.

I already had a passport, I just didn’t have any stamps in it.

However, when I arrived in São Paulo, I did not receive the global NMH welcome I had expected.  As one of four black students studying in our program – there were not enough local hosts that were comfortable housing each of us.  So I had to commute 1½ hours each way from school by bus. This was not ideal, given that most students and my friends lived much closer to campus.  I was placed with a loving family, but lived in a building where the concierge interrogated me every day before letting me in the building, even while I stood in the pouring rain. I knew they were unaccustomed to seeing someone like me, and in turn they felt threatened. 

Luckily, I found a new host family, and soon moved in with a wonderful Italian family in one of the nicest neighborhoods in São Paulo, much closer to my university. Boy, had my life really turned around. But on the day of my move, I was mugged by three street children, at knifepoint. 

This was only the first six weeks, and I hit a wall.  I wanted to give up. But I turned the disappointment into fuel. I decided to learn and write about the socioeconomic causes of some of my experiences. And I kept running. My local Rotary club in North Carolina read my work and awarded me a fellowship to study advanced economics in London. My community of North Carolina rallied and became a part of my larger team. 

By 25, I finally reached my goal of working for the State Department. Not as a diplomat, but as a graduate research assistant for the U.S. ambassador in Lisbon.   Working with him, I saw the influence that business leaders could have on the global community. So I decided to become a corporate attorney.

I went to law school and it felt amazing and I found a law firm that I loved and it felt great to finally make some money and pay off my law-student loans. 

My first project was a financing for an Australian media company. I had finally arrived as an international corporate lawyer.

And then the economy crashed in 2008 and my law school classmates and I were faced with the possibility of having our jobs rescinded.  And although I wanted to quit and do something more stable, but I still kept my job and I kept running.

Fast-forward nine years; I finally made it to the executive suite. The job was everything I had dreamed. I worked and travelled all over the world with my CEO. I accumulated more miles in a year than I had in a decade and I felt that I was making a difference. And then I read gender-pay-gap studies, about my company and the industry as a whole. And then I realized that equal work did not necessarily lead to equal pay. Dejected, I started to wonder whether all of my efforts and personal sacrifices had been worth the cost. And I wanted to quit.  And then I shared my concerns with my CEO, somewhat loudly. And to his credit, he asked me to stand with him and champion diversity and inclusion for our 8,500 employees and hold our company accountable. Globally, we’re not there yet, but I think you get the message — we have to keep moving. 

I’m going to continue because I’m not doing it for myself. Now, I’m running for you.

Cheering me on in my race are my colleagues and all of the communities that I have been a part of in my life. 

As you envision the next chapter of your life, I urge you to acknowledge the team that has helped you get to this point and will continue to cheer you on: 

Here at NMH, the board of trustees, your head of school, your professors, the staff — some who were here even when I was a student — who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make your educational experience a reality.

At home, your parents, grandparents, and guardians ensured you had a first rate experience at NMH to prepare you for a global community.

Not to mention your aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, friends, and sponsors; these are all the people who accepted your calls when you were stuck on campus with nowhere to go.  They sent you care packages, or picked you up and signed you out for the day.

This is your team, the team that will shout from the stands of life and cheer for you during your race. 

Some of you already know what course you want to start on. Some of you are still figuring it out, and that’s okay. 

If you’re really out of ideas, take your parents’ suggestions so you can get started on something.  The bright side is, the faster you do something you don’t want, the quicker you figure out what you do want.

Rest assured, opportunities will come your way. They may be amazing. But, in the event you hit a wall and want to quit, in those moments, I want you to remember this time.  Surrounded by your classmates, the greater NMH family and your family.  You are a part of a wider team.

My wish for you is not that you find your passion, even though I hope you do.  My prayer is that you find your reason to keep running.

When you do, I guarantee the race will be worth it.

Graduates to your starting blocks.

On your mark.

Get set.

Go.

Chaplain's Invocation and Benediction by Rev. Lee-Ellen Strawn, Commencement 2019

Invocation

Northfield Mount Hermon Class of 2019, family, friends, teachers, coaches, and mentors, what a joyous occasion we have gathered for this morning! We come with our gratitude for all those who have given of themselves in significant ways that we might arrive at this very moment. We come with our celebratory wishes, that this day may become a deep well of encouragement for our graduates as they go forward. And, indeed, we come with both our joys and our sorrows for this ending that will bring forth yet a new beginning.

So we must call upon all that is good, all that is embracing, and all that holds beauty that these young people will know the hope we pray for them this day.

We must call upon all that is wise, just, and merciful that these young people will know the dream we hold for them for their days to come.

And we must call upon all that breathes compassion and brings forth love that these young people will know the joy that can live on even beyond the finite number of their days.

We join our hearts together in these moments when meaning is made and memories are created.

We join our hands to know the community that has sustained each one of us and has reminded us we have all been imbued with humanity and with purpose.

We come together in this place for we have a passion for all that is possible in these young people.

May we be blessed by this day and in turn be a blessing for others. Amen.

Benediction

Class of 2019, may you know that we bless you. May you know the degree to which you are valued and appreciated. May you know the confidence this community has in you, and may you know the home that will always be yours at Northfield Mount Hermon. Our thoughts and prayers will be with you as you leave your alma mater and move forward in life. Share with us your joys, your anxieties, your accomplishments, and your failures, too. Remember it is not the successes or the mistakes that draw the outline of your identity. It is your response that builds your character. In the end, you are a human being, not a human doing. Savor that truth and allow others that freedom. Take our benediction, our words of blessings, with you today.

I leave you now with words from Psalm 121, from the Hebrew Bible, because at Northfield Mount Hermon we wake every morning and sleep every evening embraced by these amazing hills.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help….
And the sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil...
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
May it be so for you now and always. Amen.

2019 Commencement Address by Valedictorian Ian Cheaheon Lim ’19

The Headstrong Historian by Chimamanda Adichie details the way Nwamgba, a willful black woman in colonial Nigeria, loses her son to the teachings of a Catholic missionaries’ school. The way her son abandons his home culture saddens Nwamgba, but she later finds solace in her granddaughter Grace, who stands behind her heritage and becomes a “headstrong historian,” eventually writing a book titled Pacifying with Bullets: A Reclaimed History of Southern Nigeria.

Upon being introduced to this narrative in my World Literature class, I was amazed by Adichie’s enchanting rhetoric and cogent voice. Nwamgba’s pain was almost tangible as her son slowly drifted away, and both my friends and I condemned Western imperialism for her sorrows. It was, however, only after my return home to Korea that I truly internalized the story.

During mass at the Methodist church I attend with my grandfather every week, I was fighting a losing battle with my jet-lagged mind, waiting for the pastor’s sermon to come to an end. But the moment he started talking about the church’s plans for launching a missionary effort in Tanzania, I snapped wide awake. While my grandfather smiled and silently mouthed thankful prayers to God as our pastor described the Tanzanian children that will have access to much-needed supplies and a Christian education at our soon-to-be-built school, all I could think of was Nwamgba, her son, and the discussion I had with my classmates here at NMH.

And suddenly, I was afraid. What if some Tanzanian mother wrote about losing her child to the Christian teachings of our school? What if some self-righteous, entitled boarding-school kid started criticizing my grandfather for patronizing the Tanzanians? Should I — or rather, did I have a right to — speak up and point to the way the Tanzanian children will lose elements of their home culture at our school?

After all, my grandfather, alongside most elderly members of church, had great reason to believe in the absolute virtue of God. From the Korean War to the Asian financial crisis, many were hopelessly impoverished, and my grandfather always found consolation in the aid that the local Christian community and Western missionaries provided. Therefore, being the humble man that he is, he credited God’s guidance — rather than his own backbreaking endeavours — for the family business’ eventual success.

And it is thanks to his company that I now finance my education here at NMH, including the World Literature class where I so eagerly disparaged the Catholic missionaries with my peers. So again, is it wrong for my grandfather to support the missionary effort out of a genuine desire to share his good fortune with the Tanzanians? And even if it is, what right do I — a privileged individual who has never had to pray for survival — have to question my grandfather’s faith?

Well, one thing is for sure — even after two years, I do not have answers to these questions. I am, however, no longer the man I was in World Literature class sophomore year, thoughtlessly condemning the missionaries without really understanding their story and how it related to my own. Although I have yet to reach synthesis in between the dialectics of accepting or rejecting our church’s Christian mission, the fearful moment of realization I had at church prodded at my previously nebulous sense of morality, forcing me to question and evaluate my understanding of right and wrong as I internalized the antithetical tales of my grandfather and Nwamgba.

Even now, I probably remain self-righteous, judgemental, and privileged. But I am also aware. Although I stand on this hill where, as one of my teachers described, the “far left of the far left” dwell, I have learned to ponder stories more thoroughly, recognizing the multiplicity of every situation and the many layers of my identity that define my perspectives.

Neither Christian missionaries nor Donald Trump are just “bad” nor “good.” Our very humanity stems from the intricate nuances that set each and every one of us apart, and I implore you to make it your purpose to see the world for not its generalities, but for its complexities. Our experience here at NMH has taught us to approach the world with neither the naiveté nor arrogance of an outside observer, but rather with a penchant for introspection and analysis that can serve as fuel for the lifelong evolution of our identities and self-awareness. Thus, I urge you to remember not only Adichie, but also the intricate complexities behind her story, even after our diaspora from this hill commences and we all find ourselves situated in new homes around new people. As for myself, I shall always carry not only Nwamgba’s story, but also that of my grandfather, wherever I go.

Thank you.

2019 Senior Oration by JD Pruett ’19, Given at Commencement Exercises, May 26, 2019

“Head Rush Reciprocity”

I get head rushes in the mornings. When I get out of bed, I see either nothing or three of everything. It’s disorienting, a little scary, and really fun because, when it passes, I am suddenly aware of the little details of everyday life. Like, I’ll look down and say woah, those are my feet. This is exactly what it was like to come to NMH. After the initial “head rush” of a new school, I began to notice what makes this place unique. And in the face of an important decision in my life, I came to realize that what made Northfield Mount Hermon NMH was reciprocity.

Classmates, my dad is older than most of your grandparents. His mortality crosses my mind every day. To me he’s sort of like this book, and my whole life I’ve been free to flip between his pages, learn from all that’s written inside, and sometimes I even get to add a few sentences of my own. But lately, I’m more aware that there’s a timer on the first page and each day that I don’t spend with him, a page filled with lessons on how to fish and navigate relationships with grace falls out of the book. A page I’ll never get to read. So when it came time to make a decision about college, from the outside it looked to people like a decision between east-coast and west-coast weather. But to me, it was really a decision between lunch with my dad every Tuesday on the east coast, and 3,000 miles, bridged by an occasional FaceTime or text.

I didn’t want to think that I’d give up a chance to continue to grow up with my dad just to see a different part of the country. But yeah, I chose the west coast, and I chose it because of something that became very apparent to me during my time at NMH, which is that that our lives are not linear. They spiral and jump continents, just like you all do, physically and intellectually. I love my dad and I know he loves me, but he hopes that I give — not to him, but to others.

Reciprocity to some may be a simple exchange. Like, I pay NMH my family’s life savings and in return I get a piece of paper. Yet my understanding of reciprocity has always been that it’s more than a one-to-one transaction, and I saw this type of reciprocity come to life at NMH. Because when your dorm parent stays up late to remind you that the world is more than grades or to listen while you speak your mind, they are giving. And then when you show up to support your friend at their game, and that same dorm parent is the coach, you have not only given something to your friend for them to pass on, but you have also given back to your dorm head. No one thinks about our lives this way and quite frankly no one should, but it’s this ingrained spiral, this reciprocity, that is the essence of NMH. So while someone keeps you on your feet, you’re helping someone else stay on theirs.

As we build new communities as well as our futures, I hope we remember that there are two types of moments in our lives; the first type is everyday moments driven by achievement or recognition, times when we live looking down at our work and ahead at our goals. The second type, though, is made of spring evenings when the world becomes a little more malleable, mysterious, when you forget about the next quiz and instead wonder with friends about people continents away, a neighboring galaxy, if everyone else spells out “Wed-nes-day” in their head.

NMH bridged these two types of moments for me. Sure, Mace gave me plenty to worry about with weekly math assessments. Thank you, Mace. My soccer coach Charlie Malcolm always had a scouting report ready to go for the next match. My other coach and second father Jim Burstein and my advisor Peter Weis were there to read my essays, even tell me a story … or two … or three. Each moment, though, was a stepping stone to get somewhere else.

But then there was that second type of moment. A soccer team sitting around a fire at preseason, talking about our homes, our families, telling the new kids about the vast array of academic and extracurricular activities available in Blake, Beveridge Hall, and the RAC; nights when a few of us in a cappella stayed behind to mash our own music, some piano, a little beat boxing, mediocre freestyle. Just sitting there, the six of us, making music.

At school, where individual futures can consume us, these latter moments are the ones that ground us: moments of community, moments that aren’t predestined to lead us somewhere else, at least, nowhere beyond an inside joke, a question, or a new song. So, as we leave NMH, I urge us not just to look down or even ahead, but around, look around for these second moments. Just think back to your own cherished memories from NMH. I doubt they came in the classroom or college counselling, but perhaps soaking your friend on their way to class, watching a sunset on the dock, or sneaking off campus with your day-student friends.

I’ll leave you with one final thought. Our motto, as you’re well aware by now, is to “act with humanity and purpose,” and I would add: especially when no one is watching. Even during those second moments when it might seem that it doesn’t matter what we do, humanity is to be expected of us because in our convoluted reciprocal world, we don’t always know who we’re giving to.

It does not matter what you do, where you go, or who you know. Humanity comes with eye contact and a smile, or with comforting your friend who’s upset over something that to you seems trivial. And purpose? Well, purpose is what you make of it. And that’s the point, that your humanity and your purpose need not be validated by anyone other than yourself. This school understands this and so does my dad.

NMH, I came not knowing what to expect and leave hopeful that reciprocity can survive in our world, even today. It will be weird tomorrow when we each wake up with different futures on our minds, but we’re ready for it. Just expect some head rush and don’t forget to look at your feet.

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.

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