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Today we acknowledge the founder and the founding spirit of Northfield Mount Hermon; we do this formally today, but do so informally each and every day of our lives as part of this community. We are lucky to have such an attainable and admirable founder, and to have our roots planted by someone whose character remains impeccable to this day and who played such an important role in not just our school’s history, but our nation’s history as well.

You know he created from whole cloth two schools, across the river from each other, schools that educated underserved and impoverished boys and girls from all cultural and ethnic populations from around the country and the world. You may also know, previous to founding Northfield Seminary and Mount Hermon School for Boys, of his work on the Civil War battlefields, ministering to soldiers black and white, North and South. You may know that Moody was present at General Grant’s entry into Richmond and an eyewitness to President Abraham Lincoln’s and Grant’s meeting with the vice-president of the Confederacy to agree upon terms at the close of the Civil War. One of Moody’s favorite sermons recounted his visit to an African American church where the news of emancipation was first revealed.

What you might not know is that the humanity and purpose he brought to his work in the Civil War, and to his work in founding our school, first took root in Chicago, Illinois, where as a 20-year old, remembering the poverty of his youth, decided one day to walk into the Wells Street Mission Sunday School and asked if he could volunteer to help teach the poor and immigrant population of children who sought refuge in this mission in the slums of the city. He was told that they were already fully staffed, but if Moody would work up a class of his own, he would be welcome.

His success in rallying a large group of raucous children led to his converting an abandoned freight train car into a hive of activity of undernourished boys they plied with food, organizing activities and games, and providing safety and hope to boys who had experienced neither. 

Moody’s Sunday School, as it soon became known, grew in popularity to a point where, wanting to get a first-hand view of the mission work Moody was doing in Chicago’s slums, President-elect Abraham Lincoln visited there and spoke. His address to these students, in which he referred to his own humble origin, closed with the following words, “With close attention to your teachers, and hard work to put into practice what you learn from them, some of you may also become president of the United States in due time – for you have had better opportunities than I had.”

I hope you carry this spirit with you both while you’re a student at NMH and when you leave this campus. And the successful manifestation of this spirit doesn’t have to mean founding a school; it can mean just deciding to walk in and volunteer. 

Photo by David Warren

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