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.