Educating Students is an Act of Faith

Feb. 19, 2020 — To prepare to speak to the campus community on Founder’s Day this month — the annual celebration of school founder D.L. Moody — NMH English teacher Hugh Silbaugh dug into the NMH archives. He tried to imagine what Moody would write in a college recommendation if such a thing had existed in the late-1800s. “What did D.L. Moody care about in the students who came to his schools?” Silbaugh wondered.

He found letters and notes written by Moody that describe meeting young people during his travels or receiving an appeal from a parent or a minister and then deciding they should attend his schools. These were children of farmers with “little means,” international students in need of schooling, and young people to whom he wanted to offer a better life. The common thread, Silbaugh noted, was that Moody responded to the “possibility and potential” he saw in students. He acted on faith.

“Teaching is an act of faith,” Silbaugh said, as he reflected on today’s school, so different than when it was founded in 1879 — and yet in some respects, the same. Silbaugh, who came to NMH in 2007 as dean of faculty and an English teacher, is now in his 37th year of teaching. “Here’s something that only dawned on me slowly: We teachers don’t ever really know how or if what we’re doing has any meaningful impact on you and your lives.” Like Moody, he said, teachers “believe in your potential and we act on that belief.”

The idea of having faith — in one another, and in ourselves — appeared in remarks by several students who spoke alongside Silbaugh. In introducing him, Natalie Foster ’20 said he helped her step out of her comfort zone when he encouraged her to apply for the New England Young Writers’ Conference, and then, when she was accepted, pushed her go. “Mr. Silbaugh helps students recognize how capable they are, and how much they can accomplish if they just take that initial leap of faith,” she said.

Bill Wu ’21 described taking his own leap of faith when he reached out to a new friend about feeling overwhelmed and stressed, but then quickly worried he would scare this new friend off. Instead, the friend said, “It’s always OK to talk to me about anything,” which gave him “more faith in the idea of friendship.” Sonia Hernandez ’20 remembered arriving at NMH as an anxious ninth-grader who had trouble sleeping, but found support in “classmates who empathized with my stress … resident leaders who cheered me on as I studied … dorm faculty fueling me with snacks and wise words during study hall.” Today, she is a resident leader, “part of the support system I relied on so heavily freshman year.”

Silbaugh said, like Moody, he believes in “the power of schools and schooling, and I believe in the mission and purpose of this school in particular, to transform lives.”

He said, “I want you to have the intellectual and emotional skills to recognize something bigger than you that you can commit your life’s energies to. I think D.L. Moody would approve.”

See photos from Founder’s Day on NMH Flickr.