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NMH Celebrates the Class of 2024

NMH Celebrates the Class of 2024

Northfield Mount Hermon celebrated its 141st Commencement on May 19, bestowing diplomas on 193 members of the Class of 2024. 

Hundreds of faculty members, family, and friends gathered under a tent on Thorndike Lawn for the ceremony, which included a keynote address by Cady Coleman, a retired NASA astronaut and Air Force colonel. Coleman, a western Massachusetts resident and parent of two NMH alums — Josiah Simpson, class of 2002, and Jamey Simpson, class of 2019 — is a strong advocate for making STEAM fields inclusive and accessible.

In her address, Coleman shared exciting news: That morning, as the graduates were lining up for the ceremony in Gill, 90-year-old Ed Dwight, the first Black person trained as an astronaut, was finally traveling to space, on a private space launch in Texas. Dwight had been selected for the NASA program during the Kennedy administration but whose space career had been sidelined due to apparent racism. 

Despite the barriers Dwight faced, Coleman said, “He didn’t stop.” She urged the graduates to work toward tackling the inequities that limit opportunities. “How do we make sure that people don't wait so long for what clearly they have the potential to do?” she asked, adding that NMH prepares students to take on those sorts of big questions. “A lot of the world out there has just not gotten to learn the things that you've gotten to learn,” she said. “And so, by default, you are leaders, and you are people that can enable the rest of the world, literally. And I think that's quite a mission, right? 

“I've now given you a very big assignment,” Coleman continued. “You're part of a mission, no matter what you're doing. ... And the paradox, I think, of a mission is that the mission, by definition, is bigger than you are. … The mission is bigger than all of us. And yet, it actually depends exactly on the individual talents that you bring and you make sure that you bring forward. And even if people don't recognize you, if you realize you have these things to bring, you have to bring them forward.

Class of 2024 Orator Dennis Penny Lopez of Pittsfield also talked about the importance of the individual in setting and achieving goals. “Success is not a number,” said Penny Lopez. “In a world that too often associates success with materialistic goods and wealth, we forget that there is no cutout, no set standard, nor a certificate that can grant us the path to success. We can all achieve it in different ways. 

“In theory, we all know what it takes to be successful, and — let's be honest — it usually takes doing the things we do not want to do,” he said. “But: If we want to challenge like Rosa, we have to stand. If we want to write like Baldwin, we have to read. If we want to dream like Martin, we have to dream. And if we want to change the world, we have to do all these things and more. … So, as we go on to leave our marks on the world, let us not get complacent in what we have done today or ever. I ask that we keep in mind that there is always more to do.”

After the presentation of diplomas, the members of the Class of 2024 were welcomed to the NMH Alumni Association by Stephen Gauster ’88, vice chair of the board of trustees. The ceremony also included the singing of the class hymn, “Simple Gifts”; the NMH school song, “Jerusalem”; and the “Northfield Benediction.” 

Before the ceremony ended, the Rev. Lee-Ellen Strawn, NMH chaplain, offered the traditional benediction to the new graduates, “lamplighters in a world that truly needs you” and keepers of a tradition of service and learning. “[I]n all that you do, may you always be propelled by hope, a hope that opens you to the humanity of your neighbor and stirs you to live out yours,” she said.

The evening before Commencement, the community gathered in Memorial Chapel for a Baccalaureate Service, where Class of 2024 salutatorian Yuxuan “Ricky” Zhou delivered an address. In addition, two members of the community were honored on the occasion of their retirement: Dean of Enrollment Claude Anderson P’11, who in his 16 years at the school also co-founded the Advancing Scholars and Leaders program (now known as the Mary Annette Anderson Scholars Program), guided students in the Transition Year Program (TYP), and mentored Afghan students at NMH: and Sandy Messer P’06, ’13, ’16, whose 40 years here including teaching in the English Department and leading the postgraduate program, among other things.

The Commencement weekend kicked off on Friday, May 17, with the Recognition Ceremony. At the ceremony, members of the senior class were recognized for achievements in academics, the arts, and service, including those students inducted into the Cum Laude honor society, followed by an address by Class of 2024 valedictorian Willow Sujin Brandt Kwak. That evening, students celebrated at the traditional “Chat” dance, held in a tent on campus. 

students toss their mortarboards at the end of commencement 2024

Photos from top: Keynote speaker Cady Coleman, Class Orator Dennis Penny Lopez, Payton Bonang with Head of School Brian Hargrove, the traditional mortarboard toss. Matthew Cavanaugh photos.
NMH’s Flickr for photos of all Commencement weekend events.


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