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One year ago, I sat in those pews, knowing that I’d be here in front of you today. Well, not exactly today. I thought then it might be a cold, snowy, winter day for celebrating our Founder -- not a cold, potentially snowy, spring day.

Throughout these past thirteen months, I’ve spent some time questioning the meaning of this occasion. In short, the question boiled down to -- “Why am I keeping you from lunch?” Or we could frame it more earnestly as...”What are we doing here together?”

Back in September -- when the promise and excitement of a new school year hung over all of us -- Mr. Fayroian posed a similar question at convocation. He reminded us of the importance of that ritual -- in calling to mind our togetherness as well as our individual responsibility to live a moral life.

At that time, our current headmaster spoke about one of his predecessors, Elliott Speer. For Speer’s recognition of a need to adapt to changing circumstances, perhaps he deserves the title of our school’s “second founder.”

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. This is Dwight L. Moody’s day afterall. Let’s begin with that man -- our founder, first founder -- and examine closely what vision he laid out for our school.

In my research, I was not able to directly communicate with Mr. Moody. So I turned to the next best person -- our school’s archivist, Peter Weis.

Along with books on Moody’s life, Peter handed me copies of previous Founder’s Day speeches including his own.

When I asked for Moody’s own writing or transcripts of his speeches though, Peter informed me that in fact there was very little available to that effect.

Wonderful, I thought…I’m only being asked to give the speech on this man’s life and according to our school’s archivist, there exists barely any known writing on his educational philosophy or vision. What am I going to say?

Well, contained within one of those rare recordings of Moody’s pedagogical musings, I found a way to keep you from lunch.

Moody saw a problem.

He saw a problem that others did not or could not see.

The problem, Moody saw, was that there were not enough educational opportunities for young men and women wanting and willing to work hard.

His solution was in part, the establishment of the Northfield and Mount Hermon schools.

Once established, Moody was content with being the visionary for the schools. He left their particular direction to those more well versed in education.

It was 1880 and Moody was speaking during our school’s starting point. He was dedicating one of the first buildings for the Northfield Seminary for Girls -- during which there was mention of a celebration which lasted a period of ten days. I promise you, that we will all leave this chapel much sooner than that.

During that ceremony nearly 135 years ago, Mr. Moody spoke about his vision for the Seminary, declaring “I hope, after all of us who are here today are dead and gone, this school may live, and be a blessing to the world…”

And today, everyone who was there, is now dead and gone. Moody’s school is still living though. But have we continued to be a blessing to this world? Is that what we still aspire to at NMH?

Today, we are not here to just read the words of our founder.

No. I checked with Sheila -- she is not conducting our great singers simply for Mr. Moody. And no matter how well we all sing "Jerusalem," Mr. Moody can not hear us. We are here, really, for each other then. We are here to carry out Moody’s vision. We are here for his hope. And we are here to continuously found this school.

For Mr. Moody, even if it was his hope that this school survive 135 years later, could do nothing to ensure that vision. The reality is then, our school’s success has required ever more founders.

Today, then, is about moving an apostrophe one place over -- to celebrate not just one founder, but all of our school’s ever-expanding architects. That includes all of us here today, and it is a responsibility we should not take lightly. We have the ability to build, to destroy, to expand outward in many different directions our shared school.

David Dowdy suggested that I hold a brief English lesson at this point. So please, if you will. Take out your programs and a pen right now. Go ahead and cross out your apostrophe in “Founder’s.” And place a new one after the “s.” There. Multiple founders, not just Moody -- now own this day! We own this day.

I dare say that Moody might agree with this change. Moody’s desire after all -- was that this school be a “blessing to the world.”

Let’s ruminate on that thought for a moment. For how can a school live on as a blessing to this world if it remains confined to a particular man’s beliefs -- a man who died one hundred years prior?

Yes -- Mr. Moody certainly had a more specific vision. Following those very lines we just heard in fact, Moody continued discussing his hope “that missionaries may go out from here and preach the Gospel to the heathen, and it may be recognized as a power in bringing souls to Christ.”

Believe me, when I read those words, I considered selectively quoting our founder, and leaving that line out of the discussion. Certainly, that would have made for an easier exercise.

How can we reconcile Mr. Moody’s specific Christian evangelical ideals and our school’s changing circumstances?

I call to mind another Christian clergyman to help us work through this apparent dichotomy. The late William Sloane Coffin, former chaplain at Yale University, spoke often in this very chapel. Coffin powerfully reminded us that within that Bible Moody so desired to preach, contained the simple instructions to “make love your aim.” Even faith is to take a backseat to love.

And indeed, Moody’s words and actions were born out of this love. “For without love, I am nothing,” Moody would have also read in his Bible.

So Moody hoped that the school may live on not as a decaying representation of himself, but as a blessing -- as a light to the world.

And that is what we are trying to do here today.

I can’t help but be pleasantly reminded of my colleague Meg Donnelly’s speech two years ago when I talk about light. Those of you who were present undoubtedly recall how we spontaneously broke out in song to “This Little Light of Mine.” I am sorry to report that I have no singing or flash mobs planned for today.

“A light to the world” might also call to mind the name of our street address, “One Lamplighter Way,” which no postal service seems to quite be able to decipher.

And I would be remiss if I did not also reference the name of our generator, protecting us through hurricanes and blizzards, which Charlie Tierney christened appropriately, “The Lamplighter.”

Indeed, perhaps it is time we consider ditching the “Hogger” moniker for something closer to our heritage. Today, I move that we begin calling ourselves “Lamplighters.”

I’m sorry to say, that might be the end of our annual exploratory videos determining precisely, “What is a hogger?” And instead of asking, “What would a hogger do?” we might more appropriately wonder -- “What would a lamplighter do?”

Mr. Moody must have considered a similar question in his own way. We can return once more to those early exercises at Northfield. After explaining his missionary zeal, Mr Moody supported his thesis and got very specific. (My sophomore World History students, please take note.) “I intend to bring in Japanese and Chinese students," Moody declared, "and [Native American] students as well. Our government,” Moody said, “has misused the Indians, and this is one way we can make reparation to them.” His aim was that those Native American girls might receive a strong education, and then spread their light more broadly. Our founder saw a need and a previous injustice committed, and worked an act of love in hopes of rectifying the mistakes of the past in some small way.

So, is that what we are doing today as well?

I believe so...but first...“What is a lamplighter?”

Let’s take an example from the early years after Moody’s death. Thanks to the recent scholarship of my colleague Sean Foley, we now know more about a seventeen-year-old young man, who traveled across the Atlantic from his home in Natal, South Africa to study at Mount Hermon. Once back home in his native South Africa, Pixley ka Isaka Seme worked against the unjust political status quo that favored white Europeans over native peoples. He went on to found the antecedent of the African National Congress and served as that organization’s president for seven years. Reflecting on his time here, Seme wrote, “Mount Hermon will always have a dear spot in my heart. She told me how to build my life on the rock. I pray that her blessed influence may still be possible for poor boys like me.”

As we recently memorialized Nelson Mandela, we can proudly recall one of our own Pixley ka Isaka  Seme, who served as a lamplighter for sure as well.

What is a lamplighter?

We can move forward fifty years in our school’s history, and look with inspiration to June Jordan, class of 1953. Ms. Jordan came from the predominantly black neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. “At Northfield,” Jordan wrote, “I learned my position and also, I changed it.”  she continued, “Northfield and Hermon...are not perfect.” Importantly, Jordan added, “Nor am I.”

Ms. Jordan went on to study at Barnard College, where she found that black and female authors were not once on any single syllabus. Jordan would set about correcting that injustice throughout her life, becoming one of her generation’s seminal literary figures. You may thank her that today’s English classes are not recitations of exclusively white, male authors. Not content with the world as she encountered it, Jordan demanded change and lit countless lamps for many who followed.

You might think that lighting lamps is only a part of our distant history. Maybe we have lost our way, and the light has gone out. Well, consider Kimmie Weeks, class of 2001, who arrived at NMH from a war-torn childhood in Liberia. Mr. Weeks returned to these grounds to deliver a commencement speech nearly ten years after his own graduation. In the interim, Mr. Weeks founded Youth Action International, which is dedicated to providing opportunities for children affected by war. In his own small way, Mr. Weeks is working to rectify the same injustices that attempted to hold back his potential. In his 2012 commencement speech, Mr. Weeks admonished the audience to “bring a little less pain into the life of at least one other human simply love what you do, love doing it, and give love to the world.” Oooh...Is that Moody’s legacy still alive, or what?

Now I understand if you might think I have picked a few of our extraordinary alums. I have -- but are they not representative of the spirit that has flowed through this place for generations?

That spirit is certainly still alive today. We can see lamps being lit right around us.

I will not call out each one -- I promised we would not take ten days. But allow me to a highlight a few.

What is a lamplighter?

How about when your favorite ukulele breaks -- this is a true story from NMH -- and two of your friends go out of their way to make sure you have a new one coming to you as soon as possible? I’d consider those two friends lamplighters.

What is a lamplighter?

How about caring for your two friends who have both ended up on crutches...even showing them how to use ice skate blade covers as extra cushion for their arms? Another true story from NMH.

What is a lamplighter?

How about simply inviting someone over for Sunday lunch with your family. Or inviting someone over to your house for a couple weeks, when they’re in need of a place to stay. Both of those events were considered acts of love by their respective recipients.

Here at Moody’s school -- at our school -- we get to practice lighting lamps. It might be something small and otherwise unnoticed -- like secretly folding all of Mackinnon’s laundry, or surprising someone with an industrial size box of their favorite chips -- two other recent tales from our school. Or it might be on the June Jordan or Kimmie Weeks scale.

Regardless, what we do today is not about blind tradition -- for those same bonds of tradition that tie us together, can also tie us down if we are not awake. So what are we doing here today?

Continuing to light more lamps and being a blessing to the world.

And have no doubt that this world is still in need. We do not have to look to fiction, to a Lord Voldemort or President Snow -- yes that is a Hunger Games reference -- for examples of injustice that need reparation.

To employ a phrase that has gained popularity recently -- “the struggle is real.” But that is not said with a hint of irony, applied only to waking up for 7 am workjob, for example.

In a world where the 85 wealthiest individuals have the same assets as the number of people in  China, India, and the entire African continent put together, even the most ardent capitalist acknowledges that there must be some injustices to address.

When two brothers believe that indiscriminate murder at an event like the Boston Marathon is a way to rectify previous injustices, and if our response contains any more violence, any more hate any less understanding -- yes, we still need blessings in this world.

When we see hateful messages put on display in our own backyard -- yes, there are still lamps that need tending.

So be ready to wake up before the others, stand throughout the night, and bring extra oil for your lamps. We are still in need. We are lamplighters.

I think Mr. Moody would be more comfortable with me quoting from his guidebook once more, than from him directly. I have no explicit evidence that he would be fond of this particular passage, but I am...and it’s appropriate here.

The Christian Saint Paul implored the Romans, or those living in the center of culture and wealth in his time, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but  be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

If you find it difficult to relate to Saint Paul, the rapper TI perhaps expressed a similar sentiment, when he sang, “Never mind what haters say, ignore them till they fade your life.”

So, finally what are we really doing here today? How will we light those lamps and be a blessing to the world? I pose that question back to you. Moody did not possess all the answers, and neither do I.

Go be founders though, and go lamplighters!


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