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Sept. 15, 2021 — Students and faculty gathered in Memorial Chapel on Sunday, Sept. 12 for Convocation, the ceremony marking the start of the school year.

“Already, there is this sense of unity,” said Sofia Lozano Escarra ’22, who delivered the Moment of Silence remarks at the ceremony. “Tighter sports teams, supportive classmates, and eagerness to tackle a school year in which we get to be the best version of ourselves.”

The ceremony was the first time that the whole school gathered in person in the chapel in 18 months. “It is simply an awesome sight to behold,” said Head of School Brian Hargrove. “Welcome back Northfield Mount Hermon.”

With some modifications — everyone wore masks and students refrained from singing from the pews — Convocation included music and speeches, and the familiar traditions of the carrying of the mace and the ritual of the spade. 

Sheila Heffernon, director of choral and vocal programs and the most veteran faculty member, led the processional as bearer of the mace, a wooden symbol of the school’s authority in teaching and learning. An object derived from an ancient weapon, the mace was designed and crafted out of American walnut by woodworker and former NMH English teacher Anthony Chastain-Chapman in 1984. The crown of the mace bears three emblems that represent school founder Dwight L. Moody’s mission to educate the head, the heart, and the hand: a book inscribed with the motto “I the Lord do keep it”; a flaming heart, the emblem of zeal; and a spade, suggesting manual labor.

The spade ritual stems from a springtime school custom in which a tree is planted each year and designated the senior class tree. At Commencement, a member of the graduating class passes the ceremonial school spade to a rising senior in a symbolic act that suggests the value of hard work as well as new growth. The spade recipient delivers an address at Convocation and brief remarks at Commencement. 

In his Spade Oration at Convocation, Toby Hughes ’22 urged students to keep in mind that there can be value in a little bit of suffering — whether through physical labor such as practicing a sport or tending a garden, the mental labor of staying up late to finish an English essay, or a little bit of both experienced when sitting through “mandatory all-school meetings.” He said, “Try to benefit from little instances of suffering. There is always something to be gained. Nerd out a little bit. Strike up a conversation with a classmate about the reading outside of class. Work in groups on your math. If you try to be passionate and engaged in your work, it will let you grow.”

Noting that NMH sits on the land of the indiginous people of the Abenaki, the Nipmuc, and Pocumtuc tribes, Hargrove reminded those assembled of the shared responsibility of environmental stewardship, which is the broader school learning theme this year. He said, “If we are to leave this campus and this world better than we found it, we must make different decisions each and every day — quiet individual acts and bold community statements — to shift the course of the human race and our impact on the planet. So, together, let us change the world for good.”

See photos of Convocation here.