Skip To Main Content

Student Voices: Histories I Can’t Erase

Student Voices: Histories I Can’t Erase

At a recent Monday morning meeting, Kitty Zhang '24 shared these thoughts, inspired in part by Kimmie Weeks '01, the first visitor to campus through the new NMH Alumni Fellows Initiative.

By Kitty Zhang '24

Everyone has something they love and dislike about themselves, whether it's their hair, nose, or height. For me, it's my hands. 

I used to hate my hands. Unlike the slender, elegant fingers I see around me, mine are short and stout with big knuckles. I've always refrained from posing with the staple peace sign in pictures or wearing rings or nail polish that might draw any attention to my hands. But my mom, she loves my hands. She would always joke that out of every hand in the world, she could instantly recognize mine because they were the same as hers, a mirror to my ancestors’ hands. These hands, labeled by my mom as “hard worker’s hands,” differ from the conventionally beautiful traits passed down through ancestry. Instead, they are a living history of the years of toil that my ancestors endured while surviving through farming. 

Portrait of student Kitty Zhang standing by a window in Memorial Chapel

I hail from a farming family in the rural villages of Anhui, China. My illiterate paternal and maternal grandparents dedicated their whole lives to the fields. My parents juggled farm work and schooling, knowing that education and hard work were their only shot to “escape” this village life. Unlike my father, who was the only person to attend university in his village that year at the age of 15, my mother was not so fortunate. With a family of six to feed, my grandparents couldn't afford to let her finish high school. At just 15 years old, she began working as a dishwasher in Shanghai, a city an eight-hour bus ride away, only able to return to visit home once a year during Chinese New Year. But my mom, so strong-willed, managed to battle through. When she met my father later, they established a new life in Shanghai together. 

I’m incredibly fortunate to have been born into this family. Unlike the challenging life my parents faced, I never had to worry about education, food, or having a roof over my head. However, growing up, I wasn't grateful or proud of my family's farming history. Similar to Kimmie Weeks, I was repelled by the farm. Whenever I returned to my hometown during breaks, I was repulsed by the smells, avoiding mud and soil from staining my “city girl” label. Like Kimmie Weeks, I thought that only the poor or uneducated worked on the farm. So being connected to the farm brought me shame. I was ashamed of this history, this past, forever marked by the appearance of my hands — a part of me that I’m never able to remove or erase

But everything changed when I set foot at NMH about four years ago. One of the people I met was Becca Malloy, the sustainability director at the time, who shared her love for the NMH farm with dedication and pride. When she showed me how the farm makes honey, maple syrup, and apple cider, and how it provided vegetables for the dining hall, I realized farming wasn't just a survival means for the underprivileged; it was a passion, a love, and, most important, a way to make the world more sustainable through responsible agricultural practices. 

Since then, I've worked on various farms during school breaks, from Hawaii to Alaska, focusing on planting native plants and removing invasive species. Post-COVID, when I returned to my hometown, I worked on my uncle's turtle farm, helped my grandmother in the community garden, and gathered eggs on my aunt's chicken farm. It was a new yet old experience that reconnected me with the history I was born into — a call to the land made and marked by my thick-knuckled hands. 

I'm grateful for these hands and the fortunate life I have. This realization of love for farming led me to enroll in the Farm Semester course this year, not only to deepen my understanding of sustainable farming but also to reconnect with my heritage. These hands, crafted to work harmoniously with the land, are meant to contribute to building a better world. 

Each of us will always find aspects we dislike about ourselves. But perhaps, by searching for ways to appreciate these unique traits, we can learn to embrace ourselves and our history, finding ways to create positivity in the world through them.

Photo: Kitty Zhang '24. Portrait by Aurora Song '26.

More News

Students Hit the Road in new Culinary Co-Curricular

When NMH science teacher Clare Knowlton developed the cocurricular course Culinary Adventures: Learn to Cook and Understand Food Systems, she knew she wanted to offer students fun, hands-on cooking experiences. More important though, she wanted them to become conscious consumers. 

Read More about Students Hit the Road in new Culinary Co-Curricular