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Welcome, friends. I can’t believe we made it — the day we have been working for and dreaming of since what feels like the beginning of our lives is finally here: Baccalaureate day. I’m so grateful to be standing here looking at all of you, even those who have already dozed off; it has really been an irreplaceable and unforgettable four years. 

I’m not going to lie, writing this speech was incredibly difficult. I struggled to find a topic because I felt it wasn’t my place to offer you advice or teach you a lesson. Although I’ve gotten good grades in high school, I have no more life experience than any of you. If anything, I have less, seeing how a lot of my social time was spent with my mom, my science homework, and my cat Buster. Even a quick Google search of “successful people that were bums in high school” confirmed my suspicion that there is a very limited correlation between success and high school GPA. David Karp, the inventor of Tumblr, Aretha Franklin, and Albert Einstein were all high-school dropouts, just to name a few. Even America’s sweetheart Ryan Gosling was suspended from school for threatening his classmates with a steak knife. 

So, with the knowledge that we have all made it too far in school to be successful, and, perhaps more importantly, with the understanding that my words cannot begin to encompass the vast importance of this experience, all I can do is speak to where my mind is during these last few days with the hope that, because you are all part of the NMH community, you have learned enough about empathy to find your own thoughts somewhere in mine. 

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed for an NMH admission video. The interviewer prompted me with a fill in the blank: “To me, NMH is ___,” to which I quickly shot back, “NMH is home, I don’t think there is any better word than that.” Now, I took two years of English with Mr. Kennedy, meaning I often over-analyze. So, naturally, in writing this speech, I thought back to that moment and started to dissect what, exactly, makes NMH my home, and what the word “home” means to me. 

The first quality that I associate with NMH is humor. One of my favorite funny moments actually happened in Mr. Kennedy’s aforementioned AP Literature class. My fellow seminarian was running late when Mr. Kennedy spotted her walking down the hill to the Lower Mod. He then surprised us all by suggesting that we hide from my classmate as a practical joke. Now, trust me when I say, you cannot and will not ever experience a more comical sight than Mr. Kennedy giddily prancing over to the corner of his classroom, flattening himself against the wall, and then giggling adolescently with a group of eight or so of the best and brightest English students in the senior class. And this is just one of an infinite number of laughable moments I have enjoyed, replayed, and relayed to others. At NMH, I have gotten to be a serious student without taking myself too seriously. Here, learning is more than interesting, or rewarding, or even fun, but actually funny. These shared, comical, NMH experiences are what keep our high school memories warm and approachable. And by these moments, we will forever be tethered   to this hill. 

The next word that surfaces when I think of my home here at NMH is community. NMH has no shortage of love. When I came to school with a fever sophomore year, my friends collected jackets from students in Blake to help me stay warm. When I got into college, my family wanted to take me out to dinner to celebrate, so the rest of the C5 RLs took shifts to cover my duty with only an hour’s notice. And when I melted down after a bad math test, my advisor was there to comfort me with snacks and a list of silly things he cries about when he’s overtired. It is a testament to this institution that I go to bed feeling wanted and appreciated every day. I feel this community when one of the freshman on my softball team tells me that she loves me and that I am her role model, or when my amazing friends, who have dealt with me for four years, still insist on hugging me when they see me. It is hard not to feel at home when every one of my peers is like a sibling to me. So this is home because you all are my family. 

The last but certainly not any-less vague or cliché piece to this puzzle is growth. Before coming to NMH, I was a big fish in a small pond, as was the experience, I’m sure, for many in the graduating class. In fact, in the first few months of my freshman year, my anxiety did not come merely from academic or social change, but from the idea of disappearing here. However, since my first semester, I have had a myriad of people helping me to expand to the vast expectations and opportunities that this campus encompases. My favorite example is my relationship with Lily Lin. Way back in our first semester, Lily and I edited each other’s HUM 1 papers and have since been friends and competitors. She has pushed me to work hard and inspired me to strive for improvement, just as I am sure I have pushed and inspired her. And although in the first months of freshman year neither of us knew that we would end up salutatorian and valedictorian of our class, I know now that she has had a profound and unparalleled effect on my success. But Lily is not the only one. NMH has been a place that has both rooted me and allowed me to branch out. I have been taught how to fill the space that I once thought would envelop me. 

Home is where we grow up. We start from the ground and build up our personalities, our skills, our strengths, and our interests. Home is where we can mold ourselves into whatever person we aspire to be. And NMH Class of 2017, I couldn’t have asked for a better home to grow up in or a better family to grow up with. Congratulations to us all. 

Thank you for making this home. The only piece of advice I can offer is the advice my mom used to give me before my rec soccer games: “Play big, take risks.” Thank you, and I’ll see you next week in cap and gown. 

Photo of Julia McClellan by Glenn Minshall

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