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2023 Founder’s Day

2023 Founder’s Day

Feb. 2, 2023 — Jake Morrow, NMH farm program director — also known around campus as Farmer Jake — traded his coveralls and work boots for a button-down shirt, tie, and sport coat (complete with a flower in the lapel) to conform to the “special occasion dress” required at NMH’s annual Founder’s Day assembly, where he delivered the keynote address.

NMH Farm Program Director Jake Morrow speaks at Founder's Day.

In his address, delivered on Feb. 1 assembly, Morrow spoke about the importance of finding meaningful work in our lives. Quoting the late writer Frederick Buechner, he said, “Vocation is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  

Turning to students, Morrow asked: “What work is calling out to you? We don’t talk much these days about finding your calling, or finding your vocation, but that’s language that would have been completely familiar to D.L. Moody.” 

An NMH tradition, Founder’s Day is held near the anniversary of the birth of Moody, the school founder, who was born Feb. 5, 1837. It is, as Head of School Brian Hargrove said, “a day when we take a collective pause to think about our school founder and his values of service and leadership that we carry today.”

In his address, Morrow talked about people who were called to their life’s work, such as Catherine Coleman Flowers, an activist who fights for equal access to clean water and sanitation for marginalized communities like her hometown in rural Alabama. Flowers, who visited NMH in 2021, is a MacArthur “genius” grant recipient, author, and member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. 

“Her deep gladness came from serving her home community,” Morrow said. “She found her vocation.”

Memorial Chapel full on Founder's Day.

Morrow also cited Elwyn Meader, who grew up on a farm in eastern New Hampshire and was the first member of his family to go to college, where he studied botany and horticulture. Meader went on to become a plant breeder in the 1940s and for about the next 40 years worked to support the world’s farmers by providing them with fruit and vegetable varieties that made food production easier and more efficient.  

“I very much doubt that anyone here had ever heard of Meader before today, but there’s a reasonably good chance that all of you have eaten something in your lifetime that started with his work,” Morrow said.

Meader, Morrow noted, refused to patent any of the plants he released,  instead offering them for free to the world. “He called that his ‘payment for his space on the planet,’” Morrow said. “If he had claimed those royalties, he would have died a wealthy man, but instead he left this rich inheritance of vegetable and fruit varieties behind him. And today, if I have a Reliance Peach growing at my house, or August Red raspberries, or Meader blueberries, or Royalty purple beans, I can pass them on to you. And then you can grow them at your house, and pass them on to somebody else. A gift.  From Elwyn Meader to us.”

Three girls sing on Founder's Day in Memorial Chapel.

The Founder’s Day program also included speeches by students and performances by the NMH Concert Band, organist and music teacher Craig Sandford, and Roderick Demmings, director of choral programs. 

In a Moment of Silence message, Wilson Cheung ’24 shared that at his former school he had been ambivalent about being in the band. He wanted to quit because his heart wasn’t in it. Each day, he passed by a street singer, marveling at the man’s dedication despite “how bad his singing was.” One day, Cheung asked him, “Where do you muster the courage to sing in front of so many people? His answer was simple: ‘I love singing.’” Cheung added, “Yes, I quit the band. Here’s the thing, perseverance without passion is pointless.”

Cheung reminded the audience that before Moody founded the schools that later became Northfield Mount Hermon, he worked in his uncle’s shoe store. Moody left behind a potentially lucrative life in business to become a Christian evangelist. He later founded the Northfield Seminary for Young Girls in 1879 and then Mount Hermon School for boys in 1881.

Students decorate trees on campus with winter lights.

“If he had never quit his job at a shoe store, we would not be here today,” Cheung said.

This year, in addition to the all-school assembly, the school launched “Founder’s Week,” with several days of fun activities “as a way to brighten up the winter,” said Grant Gonzalez, NMH’s assistant head of school for campus life. Founder’s Week began Sunday evening in the dorms, with students competing in a “rock, paper, scissors” tournament and lip sync battles. The next night, NMH Dining Services treated the Class of 2023 to a special dessert night with tiramisu, sea salt chocolate cake, and other treats. The evening before Founder’s Day, students fanned out around campus to decorate trees and bushes with white winter lights to brighten up campus at night.

Wilson Cheung '24 speaks at Founder's Day.

On Founder’s Day, Oma Tasie-Amadi, who spoke on behalf of the Class of 2023, said that Moody’s commitment to inclusivity and community was a strong foundation for what NMH has become today and that she has benefited from being part of a school that lives those values.

Oma Tasie-Amadi '23 speaks at Founder's Day.

“I’ve been urged into smaller communities within this larger one, with teachers and students taking interest in my pursuits outside of class as if they were theirs,” she said, from her 9th-grade resident leaders persuading her to join the rowing team to NMH Chaplain Lee-Ellen Strawn urging her to step out of her comfort zone to do a reading at Vespers to her friends cheering her on to join a singing group or the literary magazine. 

“Now, I’m giving speeches more confidently, performing in a cappella concerts, nagging you all about submitting to the Mandala, having my own work displayed in a gallery, and every day working to be involved in our community as much as possible.

“As we celebrate the founding of our school, I encourage you all to think about how we can continue to build on ourselves and put Moody's dedication to inclusivity and community in action,” Tasie-Amadi said.

See more photos of Founder’s Day and winter lights.

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