I’d like to start off with a confession: I had a lot of difficulty writing this speech.
Naturally, I wanted to write something brilliantly original for the people whom I respect and appreciate so much, but every time I seemed to come up with a good idea, I was hit with these devastating realizations that almost everything I thought of was something that had already been said at least once before in the countless inspirational speeches that have been given by NMH alums, faculty, and students throughout my years here.
But then I came to another realization, that there were, in fact, a few central themes and ideas that seemed to resonate so consistently throughout almost all of these speeches I had heard. I thought them to include the following: the importance of first, embracing NMH in its entirety; second taking advantage of the plethora of opportunities and resources available here; and third, thinking about the kind of person you want to become in the process.
I know these ideas may seem very intuitive and generic, but looking back at my experience here thus far and meditating on the stories I have heard of other peoples' experiences, it has only become increasingly obvious how essential following these concepts are in having a fulfilling and memorable experience at NMH. So essential that I thought perhaps it wasn’t just okay, but even a good thing for them to be reiterated over and over again, especially for those of you who are new here. In terms of embracing NMH for all that it is, I can say with confidence that your happiness here lies in direct proportion to the enthusiasm, mindset, and attitude you bring to each day on this campus. NMH truly is what you make of it. It’s a choice to look out around you and see isolation, travail, and perhaps at times, even prison. But if you look a little closer and think a little deeper, you might instead find this picturesque, kingdom-like little school incredibly rich in history and alive with such brilliant and diverse human beings, situated among these exquisite rolling hills soon to be ablaze with color come the next few months… and, complete with its very own farm.
An open mind is crucial in finding the more obscure blisses of NMH. I myself have found that the farm, despite its association with a laborious work-job and for some a less than pleasant fragrance, is particularly therapeutic. I have in fact confided my deepest anxieties and darkest secrets in Ruth, who, for those of you who don’t know, is one of our cows.
This leads me to the subject of opportunities and resources and taking advantage of them. Now of course many of you are already aware of the many academic, athletic, and arts-related opportunities and resources here. They’ve been advertised to you since the day you first set foot on this campus or even opened up our web page; you’re probably being bombarded with reminders of them now via SWIS. It is taking advantage of the less obvious opportunities and resources, however, that kindles this incredibly deep fondness and love for Northfield Mount Hermon that is more satisfying than any fancy trip abroad or cool calculator.
So go and explore every nook and cranny of this campus (that you’re permitted to of course), make friends with people from the other side of the Connecticut river and from the other side of the world, develop relationships with our faculty and staff, and remember that while memorizing your notecards is important, making memories here is equally so. This too, will inevitably shape the kind of person we become.
On that note, I think many of us come here with a preconceived notion of who we already are or what we’ve come here to do and who we’re going to be, which in some ways is a fantastic thing, except for that it can impose limitations upon us. NMH is a place where you can be captain of the football team and the lead singer of Hogapella. You can be the star of math team and the lead role in a play. NMH not only makes it possible, but even encourages you to branch out beyond your comfort zone, to try and possibly fall in love with something new.
This is in fact is an integral part of our education here and in making us more open minded and well rounded members of a greater community. So it's up to us to breakdown the barriers that prevent us from experimenting with our potential, and it might not be quite as difficult as we think.
I’m sure some of you have heard this ide before, but last year I came across this story of a man who took his daughter to a circus and noticed that the elephants were tied up by a very flimsy rope and had they struggled just a little bit to free themselves, they easily could have. It was very perplexing to the man as to why the elephants chose to be so compliant, but he later learned that as babies, these elephants are chained by the right rear leg to immovable stakes, and after weeks of struggling to be free, the elephants become conditioned to believe that when tied up by their right rear leg they simply cannot move. You could potentially tie a circus elephant by its right rear leg with dental floss and it won’t go anywhere. Of course, we are not elephants, but I think that those tethers in the elephants' minds that were stronger than those actually tying them down speaks to the human condition of doubting our capabilities. It’s a sad reality, but the truth is that we may never again find ourselves in a community that works so hard to help enrich our lives both academically and emotionally, so it’s important to remember how crucial it is to not waste our valuable time here. I’m currently in the process of writing my college applications, and am being told right and left that college apps and corniness and clichés are about the biggest catastrophe known to mankind, so indulge me for a second because I would like to end this with a poem just to continue our thinking about the kind of people we are and want to become.
“Two Kinds of People”
There are two kinds of people on earth today,
Just two kinds of people, no more, I say.
Not the good and the bad, for 'tis well understood
The good are half bad and the bad are half good.
Not the happy and sad, for the swift-flying years
Brings each man his laughter and each man his tears.
Not the rich and the poor, for to count a man's wealth
You must first know the state of his conscience and health.
Not the humble and proud, for in life's busy span
He who puts on vain airs is not counted a man.
No! The two kinds of people on earth I mean
Are the people who lift and the people who lean.
Wherever you go you will find the world's masses
Are ever divided in just two classes.
And, strangely enough, you will find, too, I ween,
There is only one lifter to twenty who lean.
In which class are you? Are you easing the load
Of overtaxed lifters who toil down the road?
Or are you a leaner who lets others bear
Your portion of worry and labor and care?”
-Ella Wheeler Wilcox
My great-grandfather Mark Foster Ethridge, or as we called him, Pop, once said that if any of his kids were to finish school without a passion to change the world, then he would regard them as intellectual morons and spiritual paupers.
So with that, be a hogger, not a pig. And have a fantastic year!