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My Takeaway*

Stories of self-discovery at NMH 

Interviews by Jennifer Sutton, Kwabena Appiah '22, Jasper Neff '25, and Ashley Takotoarivo '24
Photographs by Joanna Chattman 
(Alumni and parent photos courtesy of subjects)

*These first-person reflections have been edited and condensed.

The words of a brilliant teacher. The tenacity learned on a stage or playing field. The kindness of an advisor, the complexities of talking about racism, the seeds of understanding and ambition that take root again and again. Generations of NMH students and employees have worked hard to create and sustain a vibrant environment for living and learning — one in which all of us, in the words of Karin Kimbrough ’86, can “wake up and discover parts of ourselves that we might not have otherwise discovered.” 

But what are those parts? We asked alumni, students, faculty, staff, and parents to reflect on their NMH experiences and what ideas stay with them. Their stories are both unique and full of common denominators that resonate, in one way or another, with us all.

 

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MADDY GRANT '22

Maddy Grant

 

MADDY GRANT '22
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

When I first visited NMH, it was November, really cold. The weather was disgusting. But I remember thinking, this campus is beautiful. I could already see it as home. 

The first experience I had with live music at NMH was the pops concert in the fall. It was in the dining hall, and I remember being really tired and just needing food. There was this blaring music and I saw Steve Bathory-Peeler (director of orchestral programs) wearing a Pikachu onesie, conducting the theme song from Pokemon. I was like, I love this place! There were other pieces besides the Pokemon song, and I felt so happy to have wonderful music to listen to. 

My primary instrument has always been bass — behind the scenes, at the back of the band. I’d never really sung before. But doing musicals at NMH helped me become more open to trying new things, and I joined NMH Singers. I can translate my experience as an instrumentalist and songwriter and composer into my singing performances. In my senior year, I got the opportunity to do a Capstone course on musical theater, and it was a radically wonderful experience because I was learning things I wanted to learn about. I learned not only about the subject I was studying but also about myself — what it takes to make a large piece of work and what I need to do in order to be successful and creative.

 

LAURE AND DESTINY '22

Laure Mandiamy '22 (left) and Destiny Montero '22 (right)

LAURE MANDIAMY ’22 
Bronx, New York

At NMH, I feel like I figured out who I am as a person. I realized that I like directing plays. I like to play Ultimate Frisbee. I’m really passionate about social justice. I also saw how academics can lead to productive conversations about the real world. In my Advanced Calculus class, we figured out how climate change can impact islands because of rising sea levels. That showed me how math has real-world applications, and made me think about academics as something greater than a test or an essay — it’s a way that I can think about the world and how I want to contribute to it.

Before NMH, I went to a school with people who looked like me. So coming into a predominantly white institution for high school, I was a minority, but connecting with other people of color whose voices are underrepresented helped me understand my own experiences. And being part of the Student Diversity Committee (SDC) has helped me make an impact on the community — not just sharing my voice but also doing other things like organizing and hosting events like Diversity Summits and Story Nights. It’s one thing to say that you want change, but with the SDC, I could make change happen. 

 

DESTINY MONTERO ’22
Mattapan, Massachusetts

During intramurals freshman year, we played Capture the Pumpkin with all the dorms and classes. When I had the pumpkin in my hand, everyone on my team was making sure that no one could get to me. When I fell, people helped me get back up. It gave me a good taste of NMH. It showed me how even though everyone was different ages and from different walks of life, they could work together to get something done, even if it’s something as silly as making sure someone can’t capture your pumpkin. After that, I tried out for soccer, I went to Science Club, I did robotics — I did so many things because I was more comfortable approaching new people.

NMH has allowed me to understand how I take up space, and how I can take up more space if I need to.

Destiny Montero '22 

I already knew I was interested in STEM, and being able to take a wide variety of math and science classes and move up in levels has helped me explore what I like and don’t like. My favorite part of biology was learning about nucleotides and DNA, how they code what you look like and how little changes can cause a disease or be deadly. My family is impacted by genetic diseases, so being able to learn about biotechnology, why stuff happens, looking at how other species evolved to deal with these issues — I fell in love with it because it’s a growing field and it can be used to help people.

I’m not a very social person, but I’ve become more outspoken since I’ve been at NMH. Sometimes my family does things that I don’t agree with, and I’ll talk about it and explain why it’s wrong. But NMH has also allowed me to understand how I take up space, and how I can take up more space if I need to.

 

CAROLYN KUAN ’95

CAROLYN KUAN ’95
Hartford, Connecticut
Music Director, Hartford Symphony

Between seventh and eighth grade, I came to NMH for Summer Session. The very first day in the classroom, the teacher said, “Feel free to ask questions.” Which seems like such a normal thing to say if you live in America, but coming from Taipei, where the education system was very memorization-based, you never ask questions. So NMH blew my mind immediately. I was quite rebellious at home, and for high school, I wanted to study in a place where I could ask questions and be creative. 

NMH planted a seed. I wouldn't be a musician if it weren't for NMH. More precisely, I wouldn't be a musician if it weren't for Sheila.

Carolyn Kuan '95

Sheila Heffernon was one of the dorm faculty in Wallace. She was always kind, always supportive; she provided a lot of guidance; and at some point, she suggested I join the choir. So I did. I’m the kind of person who, whatever I do, I want to do it really well. Wanting to be better at choir meant I took voice lessons. It meant I got interested in conducting. I was supposed to go home to Taipei and be a banker, and I studied economics in college, but I also learned as much about music as I could because I thought I would never have the opportunity again. So NMH planted a seed. I wouldn’t be a musician if it weren’t for NMH. More precisely, I wouldn’t be a musician if it weren’t for Sheila.

 

CAMILLE CHILLER ’22

CAMILLE CHILLER ’22
Atlanta, Georgia

If you asked me five years ago if I would be at boarding school, I couldn’t have imagined it. I didn’t even know what boarding school was. But NMH showed me the possibilities that are out there if you take things seriously. I never would have thought that I’d be the person studying late at night, but one time my roommate and I did calculus from 6 pm to 4 am. We took 10-minute breaks every hour. I actually enjoyed doing that. 

I love how passionate NMH teachers are, how they’re not willing to teach or have relationships with students in just one certain way. They make learning not just about learning; they make it about knowing and understanding.

NMH has pushed me to try new things, like JV ice hockey and pole vaulting, and it’s opened my eyes to particular issues. I already had my stance about Black Lives Matter, but the Diversity and Social Justice course, and my teacher, Cameron Crocker, enlightened me more. I have a brother who’s adopted, and he’s mixed-race, and sometimes it was hard for me to realize how bad things can be for him. NMH helped me understand the issue more clearly, and pushed me to view the world from a perspective that I did not see before.

 

KARIN KIMBROUGH ’86

KARIN KIMBROUGH ’86
Palo Alto, California
Chief Economist, LinkedIn

Growing up as a Black girl in Boston in the mid-1980s felt like an invisible experience, and I was looking for a school where I could feel seen. NMH is where my whole world opened up. It felt multicultural in a way I’d never experienced before. I saw other Black kids, kids from Turkey and South Korea; there was a girl in my dorm who was from a Native American reservation; there were Black students from South Africa. We were all different, and yet we were all together in what felt like a really safe space. I don’t know any other institution that was like that back then. 

The teachers were invested in the learning process, invested in us. I remember feeling like I was waking up and discovering parts of myself that I might not otherwise have discovered. It was OK to try. It was also OK to fail. That taught me to be resilient. I had a lot of agency, a lot of freedom to chart my path, and that made me bold. Today, I’m willing to try things even when I’m not certain I’m going to succeed.

I do have one regret about my NMH experience: I never worked on the farm. I worked in the kitchen, cutting tomatoes for hours. To this day, I am one of the most efficient tomato cutters you’ll ever meet. But I always thought it was neat that the school had a working farm, and I have no idea why I didn’t walk down the hill and say, I’m done cutting tomatoes. I’m ready to make maple syrup and help with the cows.

 

MEG DONNELLY P’96, ’18

MEG DONNELLY P’96, ’18
NMH English Teacher, Tennis Coach

When I came to NMH in 1982, I was so young and naive and unworldly and wide-eyed. This place was very different from what I’d come from — the conservative South. So my whole worldview expanded and changed. The school was cutting-edge in its progressiveness then, in its focus on diversity and social justice. There was real activism: We were a nuclear-free zone; faculty were trained in passive resistance. And there were real debates, healthy debates. I was rolling my eyes in meetings when those debates were going on back then, but now I think, Could we please debate the issues we’re facing? It’s part of our tradition. 

I entered this school year knowing it was going to be my last. When I taught seniors in the fall, we read Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny, Beautiful Things, which I’ve taught a lot, and I had that moment of realizing that I’m never going to talk about this book with kids again. In the spring I taught Hum 1, and for many years, we’ve opened with the poem “The Buddha’s Last Instruction” by Mary Oliver. I thought, This is the last time I’m going to spend three days talking about a poem — with anybody! 

It sounds like a cliché, but I’m so appreciative of the rich life I’ve had at NMH. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to talk about books every day, to be able to love and empower so many kids, to appreciate my colleagues, to have lifelong friends. You don’t have to create a life at NMH; it just comes to you. A student says, “Are you coming to my game tonight?” and I say, “Yes. I hadn’t thought about it. But yes.”

 

SARA ROURKE ’94, P’23, ’25

SARA ROURKE ’94, P’23, ’25
NMH Director of Medicine

Coming back to work at NMH seemed a little romantic because the school held such a special place in my heart. It was pivotal for me. 

For example, Walt Congdon — Mr. C — taught ninth-grade science, and I went to him for extra help a lot. It started as a genuine need for help with the content, and transitioned into a need for reassurance. After a while, he said I couldn’t come anymore. I was devastated, but what he did was teach me that I could look internally for my confidence. For a girl who ended up going to med school and becoming a doctor, it was really important for someone to let me know I had that inside of me. 

Now when I work with students, there’s a bond that connects us. They laugh when I tell them stories, like how I got a DP [disciplinary probation] my senior year. Because of that DP, I ended up having a great relationship with the dean, and at the end of the year, she nominated me for an award. That’s how I see NMH: You can mess up and it’s OK; you can learn from a mistake and still be a positive member of the community. It’s nice for kids who are struggling when I can tell a personal story. I can say, “I get that you don’t like your workjob, but I worked the dish room, I scrubbed toilets, I was right where you are now. You’re going to get through this.”

 

GAIL DOOLITTLE ’89

GAIL DOOLITTLE ’89
NMH Facilities Logistics Coordinator 

NMH has been part of my family’s life for a long time. My dad worked on campus as a teenager, doing deliveries and groundskeeping, and later as a carpenter and locksmith until he retired. My mom worked in the admission office. My grandfather worked on the Northfield campus, delivering milk on his wagon. Going to NMH was an opportunity for me to be among different cultures and different ways of thinking, learning things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. 

Working here is different from your average job. NMH is like its own little town, and for the people who live on campus, it’s their home. I’ve tried to be a positive influence and create a good working environment as well as a living environment. A lot of my job is behind the scenes, which I love, especially the big events that really matter in the end, like Commencement and Reunion. I’ve worked here for almost 26 years. I started out in the kitchen. Eventually I was managing up to 25 people. I like the opportunity to keep learning — there’s not a lot of places I could have done as much as I’ve done here. NMH feels like home. It’s my place. 

 

MICHAEL WHITING

MICHAEL WHITING
NMH Lead Electrician

I’ve worked at NMH for 29 years. First with grounds — I mowed lawns, set up athletic fields, ran the Zamboni in the hockey rink — and then a position opened up in the electrical department. This is a great place for an electrician because we do so many different kinds of work: residential, commercial, fire alarms, medium voltage, high voltage. Most electricians don’t get that wide range of experience. 

I’ve been in pretty much every building on campus; the old Northfield campus, too. The top of the tower of Memorial Chapel is by far the best spot. It’s tradition for seniors to go up there on the morning of graduation, and we install temporary lights inside the tower to get them up there safely. It’s an amazing view.

When I first came here, I was a little uneducated in the ways of other cultures. I’m from a small place, and NMH has people coming in from all over the world. You hear all the different opinions and philosophies and experiences, and you can’t not grow. Like 9-11 — going through that at NMH was a big deal. Everybody met in the chapel. Seeing the kids whose parents were in the World Trade Center, seeing their pain and uncertainty — that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about growing. 

 

LEE MOULTON ’03

LEE MOULTON ’03
New York, New York
E-Commerce Partnership Strategy, Google

The first thing NMH taught me was an appreciation for nature. I can’t explain what a mental-health respite it was to be in those hills, to walk through one of the most beautiful campuses in America every day. I also found the structure and consistency of life at NMH healing in a way, knowing that the buses were going to run on time and there were all these people — teachers, dorm parents, student leaders — who were willing to help you and talk through things with you. 

When it came to skills, an important one I honed at Northfield was building relationships and finding a connecting thread among a diverse group of faculty and fellow students. On my floor in Crossley, we had kids from Nigeria, Hong Kong, and Japan. My roommate was a hockey player from Hingham, Massachusetts. We didn’t have much in common but we forged a strong bond throughout our time together.

Professionally, I’ve done my best to leverage the lessons I learned at NMH. The small classes and the deep attention that the teachers showed made me feel comfortable speaking up and having an opinion. Knowing that opinion would be challenged and speaking up anyway taught me to be OK with being wrong. That has served me so well in my career. With my teams and in my work, I make sure to say: Let’s try this. Let’s push forward. Let’s take risks. 

 

AVA CLARKE ’22 

Ava Clarke 22

AVA CLARKE ’22 
Spofford, New Hampshire 

When I was a freshman, I said to myself, “What can I do to get on Broadway?” I wanted to leave high school and move to New York or L.A. My performing arts teachers said, “Don’t waste your high school experience. Embrace all the opportunities that NMH has to offer.” It was all right here at my fingertips, I just needed to take advantage of it. And I think I did. All three teachers — Gretel (Schatz), Jared (Eberlein), and Sheila (Heffernon) — have been such great mentors in my life. For me, the great thing about NMH was that I could incorporate as much arts as possible into my schedule. Every time I get off stage after a performance, I think, “When can I do that again?” 

I didn’t know about NYU and Tisch School of the Arts until one of my older friends applied during my freshman year. After that, I couldn’t stop dreaming about Tisch and researching it. I finally got to apply, and I got in! That was one of the best moments of my life — working toward something for so long and then having it actually happen. 

 

NHU GONZALEZ HOANG

NHU GONZALEZ HOANG
NMH Science Department Chair, Chemistry Teacher, Swimming Coach

Having studied chemistry since seventh grade in Vietnam, I find the subject — and the kind of thinking it asks of me — to be familiar, like an old friend. However, for students who are just starting to think about the world in terms of atoms and molecules, chemistry can be challenging. I try to view their challenge as a provocation; before I teach, I tackle the material with a fresh eye, see where the stumbling blocks might arise, and use my expertise to break things apart and put them back together in ways that are accessible for students. My craft has grown significantly since I’ve been at NMH. I’m a parent figure and a mentor to students, but I’m also a companion. I’m part of their adventure as they learn about chemistry, the world around them, and themselves. 

When I came to the U.S. as an international student at 15, my goal was to get into a good college, pursue science, and cure cancer. (I wanted to make a difference and in my teenage-self’s mind, curing cancer was it.) I’ve suffered from social anxiety my whole life, which is partly why, in college, the chemistry lab was my haven. The idea of teaching, coaching, and advising teenagers, not to mention living with them, should have scared me, but it didn’t. NMH has stretched me, and allowed me to see the strengths and capabilities in myself. Be it spending hours in the emergency room with an advisee waiting for an appendicitis diagnosis, or helping another dorm resident process anti-Asian sentiment during the pandemic — it started out as a need, like “I need to do this for my students.” Then it grew and turned into “I can and I want to.”

 

 

MACE FOEHL P’11,’14

MACE FOEHL P’11,’14
NMH Math Teacher, Golf and Field Hockey Coach

I was 20-something when NMH hired me; it was only my second teaching job. Then I got engaged, and NMH hired my husband three years later. I had a time at NMH when I was single, then a time when I was married. Why did I stay so long? We had kids, and having kids in this place is wonderful. You take them to the dining hall, and they go to the campus nursery school, and they have friends on campus. So you don’t leave. Then your kids go to school at NMH, and you see them being taught by your colleagues, and that is magical. When I coached field hockey, I always used to think that the athletic director didn’t like me very much. But then his daughter was on my team, and he observed me from a parent’s perspective. He gained more respect for me because he finally understood how good a coach I was. 

Last winter I got an email from the mom of a kid in my Advanced Calculus class, and she said, “Mace, I’m so happy that you are teaching her again. She trusts you so much that she thinks you can teach anything.” That’s probably the nicest note I’ve ever gotten. She also said, “I read your course description. I think it is not easy.” 

She was right. I actually bought everyone in that class sweatbands in different colors, and I said, “Pick one, because you are sweating in this class. I don’t care how smart you are; advanced calculus is not easy.” I told them, “I’ve been sweating my whole life. I work hard, I work out, I sweat. So maybe you want to wear this during a test, or at night when you’re doing your homework. Everyone looks good in a sweatband.”

 

JOHN C ARROLL ’89, P’23

JOHN C ARROLL ’89, P’23 
NMH Boys’ Basketball Coach 

I grew up in New York City, and I was always taught not to look people in the eye, because they might be dangerous. When I came to NMH, everyone was like, Hi! Hi! Hi! This is a very friendly community. People want to know who you are, and that can be a lot for some kids. It was a lot for me. I remember thinking, I’m here for a year, I’m going to handle my business, then I’m getting out. Rope Pull played a big part in changing my experience. I saw that and I thought, I bet I can help, and I grabbed the rope. 

As a PG on the basketball team, I was committed to being an athlete, but people would say, “Great, you’re an athlete. What else do you do?” That was the first time in my life that I was asked that. Later, as a coach, my biggest goal became getting a group of kids to become the fullest version of themselves, and for them to understand what we were doing with basketball was just a cover for life. You can’t just show up on game day, just like you can’t be a parent only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. You aren’t an employee only when you feel like your best; you have to give your best even when you’re at not your best. 

Kids come to NMH because they’re typically the best player in their playground, and they need a new playground. They want to be surrounded by peers who are chasing excellence the way they’re chasing it. I was only so good by myself. It wasn’t until I came here as a student, and came back as a coach, that I became a part of something bigger. 

 

TOM BAXTER ’59 

TOM BAXTER ’59 
Millville, New Jersey 

I was a faculty brat. Every vacation and all summer, I worked at the farm and on the grounds crew. One day, I helped Carroll Rikert, the head of buildings and grounds, do the surveying for a new steam line going from the power plant to the dining hall. Later, when he worked on drawings, specifications, and contract documents for that project, he showed me what he was doing. When it came time to dig the ditch, I helped dig the ditch. I helped put in the bases that held the steam pipes, and I wrapped the steam pipes in asbestos. All of that was the prime experience that led me to study engineering. 

One of the big things I did in my career was to design, construct, and operate a water supply system in Monmouth County, New Jersey. It was all focused on teamwork: How do you get people to play nice together? Doing sports at Mount Hermon was critical to that. One year, we were having a great season in soccer, undefeated, and we went to Suffield Academy and tied. The game was a disaster. The coaches sat us down afterward, gave us each a piece of paper and asked us a simple question: What’s wrong? We all wrote something down and gave it to them. The point is that if you’re leading a group, you involve the group in the decisions. You don’t dictate. I carry that with me today. I’m advising the East Northfield Water Company near NMH, trying to determine the future of that facility. I volunteer with Habitat for Humanity a few times a week, building houses. There is always a discussion: What are we going to do today, how are we going to do it, and who’s going to do what? When people have input, they’re vested. 

 

E.E. WINTERS AND CHRIS WHITE P’13, ’14

E.E. WINTERS AND CHRIS WHITE P’13, ’14 
Great Barrington, Massachusetts 

We had to up our game because of NMH. It was a growth experience for us as well as for our kids. They held our feet to the fire about the way we talked, the way we viewed the world. The zings would come at us, which was a good thing. When your children challenge your previous ways of thinking, it wakes you up. 

Charlie and Suki arrived at NMH together; Suki was there for four years, and Charlie was there for three. Charlie had been really unhappy in the place where he started high school, and after he’d been at NMH for just a couple weeks, he called home and said, “Even though I have to wake up at six in the morning to go clean something, I feel so comfortable here. Everybody is accepted. Everybody is OK with everybody.” 

We think about high school as kind of a hard-drive for learning. It can really set the tone for the rest of your life. It sets the balance in your thinking. When both Charlie and Suki got to college, they had no trouble being away from home, number one. And number two, they knew how to live with people in the right way. Because NMH was a school for everybody. You felt that on campus, the focus on equity. That’s the way they’ve been living their lives ever since, in the same kind of ecosystem that was created at NMH. 

 

EVERETT LIU ’24

EVERETT LIU ’24
Apple Valley, California

I’m a theater person, but at my previous school, theater was kind of a niche thing. People thought it was cringy. At NMH, theater is pretty hardcore, which is awesome. The musicals are accompanied by violin and trumpets and keyboards, and it’s so cool! When we rehearsed the opening number of Newsies last fall with the pit orchestra, I got a feeling of togetherness that I never really had before. It was amazing to be part of something much larger than myself, to be able to collaborate and interact with so many people. And in the next production, I got to play a villain! It’s super-fun to go against the grain in terms of who people are rooting for — to argue from a different perspective and see the person’s motivation, even though it might be incredibly flawed.

I’ve always wanted to be in a space where I could be myself and not be confined to any social standards. I owe a lot to my current friend group because they are so encouraging; they all really inspired me to break out of my shell. I like how I have the ability to experiment without social consequences — that’s really freeing and empowering. I feel much more confident because I’m not hiding any aspect of myself anymore. 

 

WILLIAM CHUCH

WILLIAM CHUCH
NMH Religious Studies and Philosophy Teacher, Lacrosse and Ice Hockey Coach

When I was applying for teaching positions, the big things I was looking for, in order, were: community, being able to teach my subject matter in a meaningful way, and a lacrosse program that I could help grow. I’m Native American — Potawatomi — and lacrosse is huge for me and my family. 

I am a dorky fanboy about this school. Because of that, there are a million things I want to change. But I am in love with this institution.

William Chuch

This school has been such a good incubator for me. I’m an atheist who teaches religious studies, and the first few times I was observed in the classroom, I was nervous, but I’ve gotten nothing but support. I’m around talented teachers — I can bounce around ideas and content and get genuine solid input. As a coach, I was taught early on to observe good coaches, and there are plenty of those at NMH. I’m the dorm head of Lower North Crossley, and I thought that was going to be a brutal part of my job that I might struggle to enjoy. But I absolutely love it! My boys are the best. I love knowing them, helping them form into better humans. We play video games; we sit and talk about the bad breakup. Our theme my first year was servant leadership. I said to them, “You all are impressive, but what can you give up to take care of other people?” 

My daughter is almost 2, and she basically has 45 older brothers. She’s also got 100-and-something aunts and uncles, and 600-plus kids who, if they saw her in need, would step up. You can see that I am a dorky fanboy about this school. Because of that, there are a million things I want to change. But I am in love with this institution. 

 

HENRY PERKINS ’22

HENRY PERKINS ’22
Wooster, Ohio

Something that people talk about at higher education institutions is, How can you be a leader? How do you rise to the top? That often comes out as, How can you get the highest score? How can you run the fastest, score the most goals, make the most baskets, lift the most weight? From there, you will be a leader and people will look up to you. At NMH, leadership is expected from everyone. To me, that is freeing because it allows all of us to feel like we have a place at the table. We’re all smart, we’re all capable, we’re all talented and creative. 

NMH is surely not perfect. But at its core is a genuine desire to make good people, to make decent people, which our world needs at this moment in time. We’re charged to think about the ways that we can influence a better future. Even little things, like all-school meetings or community conversations about really difficult issues, allow us the space to feel connected to a world beyond this campus.

The work I’m doing at NMH now — the work that we’re all doing now — isn’t for our time here. It’s for a time after this, beyond here. It’s for the way we will live out the rest of our lives. That’s really powerful to me. It gives me hope, excitement, and confidence.

 

CHARMEL MAYNARD '03

CHARMEL MAYNARD ’03

CHARMEL MAYNARD ’03
Miami, Florida
Associate Vice President, Chief Investment Officer, and University Treasurer, University of Miami

One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Northfield Mount Hermon was because I thought that’s where I could jumpstart a college basketball career and then a professional basketball career. I didn’t see any boundaries in what I could do. And Coach [John] Carroll and Coach [Bill] Batty were motivational people in my life. They taught me about dealing with adversity, how to work hard, and how to deal with not being as good as I thought I was. 

[Music teacher] Ron Smith pushed me to activate the creative side of my brain. I grew up playing music but I had stopped for a long time. Ron found out I played steel drums and pretty soon after that, I joined the World Music Combo. 

But the person who blew my mind was [English teacher] Bob Cooley. I grew up in between Trinidad and Atlanta, but I’d never dug into the Harlem Renaissance or James Baldwin or Langston Hughes or Zora Neale Hurston, and Bob’s knowledge was amazing. I have vivid memories of his classes. We’d walk in and he’d be playing Nas or John Coltrane or Miles Davis; it felt like someone’s living room and we were talking around the dinner table about what we’d just read. A lot of times, your best mentors and advocates don’t look like what you think they should look like. You’ve got to go into all your interactions with an open mind and an open heart because you never know. 

When I got to Amherst, it was easy because I’d been through NMH. I’d already interacted with people who didn’t look like me or talk like me or think like me; I’d already worked at being independent and managing my time. I hate to say it, but I remember judging people in college — like how do you not get your homework done? Even later, when I was working in banking, I remember being baffled when people would miss deadlines. At the time, I did not appreciate that they may not have had an NMH in their life.

 

FATIMA SAIDI ’13

FATIMA SAIDI ’13
Portland, Maine
Grants and Contracts Manager, Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition

All my life, there was no guarantee of surviving. When I left Afghanistan and got to NMH, it was the first time that I could literally, physically, slow down. I didn’t hear bullets. I didn’t hear bomb blasts. It was just trees, and it was beautiful. For the first time, I felt like I deserved things. I deserve to go to school. I deserve to have food. I deserve to dislike a certain food. My parents worked really hard and did everything they possibly could, but the small things were not there. At NMH, when I showered, there was hot water every single day. Do you know how rare that is?

Nothing physically happened to my loved ones when I was at NMH, but the survivor’s guilt was real. I got up every day with the same questions: How is my family? Why am I here? Am I worthy enough? My dorm was near the chapel, and there was a tree with a bench next to it, and I used to sit there for hours, just thinking. Or not even thinking — just being.

People emphasized that NMH was good for my English and my learning, but it was much more than that; I was adjusting to a new society. I’m sure I offended 100 people at NMH because of something inappropriate that I said. I didn’t know what race was, what gender was. But I was eager to learn. I wanted to learn every single thing. 

I’m the first person from my family to go to university, to get a degree, to have a job. I’m the first woman in my family to go to school. And now my two youngest siblings will go to NMH. I see their eyes light up when I talk about ideas and the future, so it means a lot to me that they will be a part of the NMH community. When you go to NMH, you’re kind of set for life. There’s a clear path if you work hard. And if you ask for help, there’s always help. 

 

RON SMITH P’21 

RON SMITH P’21 
NMH Director of Band and Jazz Programs

Coming from an all-Black community and education system in Memphis, Tennessee, in the ’70s and ’80s to a much wider culture was a way for me to further my education and develop my talent. NMH sees what I do, what I can provide, and has nurtured my innovation and creativity. I’ve just completed 23 years at NMH, and it’s a blessing. I get to do music every day — that’s my healing. And I feel safe. I feel secure living on this campus, and that has an impact on my family. I’m a human being, and we have stresses in life, ups and downs; we have our pain. Music is what I do when everything is going wrong and when everything is going right. It can’t be taken away.

Outside of teaching, I’m a professional musician, which is a completely different audience and network. Being in that landscape can have you traveling and playing with legendary musicians, but it’s not sustainable. It’s more of an opportunity that I can bring back and share with students. I try to show students what having a passion is. If you come in one day and play something that you didn’t think you were going to get? All right, that’s where you learn about yourself and begin the development process. That’s what makes you feel good. Anytime you do music, something’s going to go right.

 

BADER EL-JEAAN ’90

BADER EL-JEAAN ’90
Kuwait City, Kuwait
Senior Partner, Meysan Partners 

I joined NMH as a junior because my father was a diplomat and got posted to a location that didn’t have any English-speaking schools. It was the first time that I was truly away from my family, being independent. It was a scary thing.

I remember sitting in the Crossley hallway, reading A Confederacy of Dunces for my AP English class while two dorm mates passed a lacrosse ball back and forth above my head with their sticks, and three others jammed on their guitars in a nearby dorm room. We were an eclectic mix, but there was no friction. There were no stereotypes. There was no such thing as a jock. The athletes helped me with my problem sets and I helped them with their English essays. It was an incredibly formative experience, building up those relationships.

The diversity of NMH was not just racial and ethnic. There was an incredible richness of creative and academic thought. Teachers welcomed students to challenge the accepted norm, and the school really nurtured every student based on who they had the potential to be. The big message I took away was to show compassion and empathy. My English teacher Jerry Renaud would always chide me: Do not rush to judgment with the text you’re reading. Think about it. Today, as a lawyer, I can’t rush to judgment. I think that’s why I always veered toward the social sciences after NMH, where there’s no binary, no single answer. Every time you reach a conclusion, there’s always another question.

 

AMY LANE ’71 

AMY LANE ’71 
New York, New York 

I spent my first year of high school in Rumson, New Jersey, and it was not cool to be smart there. At Northfield, there was much more freedom to live up to one’s own expectations. I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, but being at Northfield when it was an all-girls’ school, you could realize your own capability without all the social overlays that can happen in a coed public high school. I could own my intelligence without worrying how others would perceive it. 

I went on to University of Pennsylvania and Wharton Business School, and I worked as an investment banker for a lot of years. It’s a very male-dominated field. I had to be able to understand the language and the rules about how to progress and succeed, and at the same time, be true to myself. At the end of my career, at Merrill, I ran a global group of about 50 people. We killed it; we went from $70 million in revenue to $400 million. But what I feel unbelievably proud about is how we took all the so-called “rules” — the way people take credit for somebody else’s work and don’t trust each other — and we shifted the culture. We created a new model that was based on transparency and communication and trust, with everybody supporting one another and knowing people were not going to try to one-up you. 

I partly tie my success back to Northfield, even though it was forever ago. When you’re a teenager, at that vulnerable point in your life, being able to feel confident about your intelligence and capability is important in forming a person who can go out and succeed in the world. I had the desire and drive to achieve and leave a mark, but also to act with integrity. You have to feel pretty empowered to do that. 

 

DORY MCCLURE P’22

DORY MCCLURE P’22
Snack Bar Lead, NMH Dining Services

Do I love flipping burgers and making milkshakes? Not really. What I like is the people. In the five years I’ve worked at NMH, I’ve been able to build my confidence mainly because I’ve been supported by my coworkers. And in the snack bar, I get to have a different relationship with students than most other adults on campus do. I’m not so concerned about how great they’re doing with their academics and sports and extracurriculars. It’s about them as a person. 

Part of being a server is being able to read people and see what they need. Most of the time, kids just need connection. There’s one student — I can gauge what kind of day she’s having by seeing what kind of pants she’s wearing. Is it a sweatpants day or a jeans day? I make the food or the drink, I watch kids as they go about their day, I notice their routines and patterns, and if there’s a lapse, I can pay attention to it.

One time this year, I had a good conversation with a few student leaders about how the student body in general needs to be more respectful to the dining staff and custodial staff. It’s a socio-economic thing, a class-system thing, and a lot of students don’t understand it. So this was a time that a few kids got to ask questions and learn about real life, which felt meaningful. 

In this place where students are always worried about where they’re going to go to college, I’ve actually started my own college application process. I’m probably going to end up in the social sciences field, maybe as a social worker. The last five years have proven to me that I work really well with people. One day, I had a student come through, a regular who’s pretty high-anxiety. She ordered her coffee drink and then she ordered a hug. I said, “You got it, no charge.” The next girl came up like she was going to order something, and I asked her, “What do you need?” She said, “I could use one of those hugs.” I said, “Absolutely. I will pass them out.” 

 

SYDNEY MAY ’22

SYDNEY MAY ’22
Erving, Massachusetts

Before NMH, I was climate-conscious. I grew up composting, trying to reduce, reuse, recycle. But this year, when our school theme was environmental stewardship, some teachers integrated climate change into their courses, and I started to take sustainability a lot more seriously. 

I took the Rhodes Social Entrepreneurship course, and a couple of kids from my class and I started an enterprise called Your Corner Closet. There’s a lot of online shopping on campus because of the stress that people sometimes feel in a highly academic environment. That generates clothing waste because some of it gets left behind when people leave. We collect that clothing and redistribute it to shelters in the area. We also resell some of the clothes and give the profits directly to the shelters. 

NMH is a very independent environment, and learning how to be independent makes you feel super-confident. That helps you contribute back to the community. As a tour guide, I was always trying to give other kids a good idea of why they should come to NMH. The main story I told is about how I worked at the farm for two weeks straight the summer before my freshman year, like 7 or 8 am to 4 pm. I thought I would really dislike it, but it was a great introduction. Every day, we’d weed or make ice cream, and we’d be rewarded with bits of maple candy that we made, or we’d get to pet the horses. It gave me a sense of the NMH community: working hard, getting your hands dirty, but enjoying it and learning from it.

 

JAMES D’ERCOLE ’89

JAMES D’ERCOLE ’89
Brooklyn, New York
United Nations Department of Peace Operations

I was heavily into sports as a teenager, and the Mount Hermon campus was where people were more into athletics. But I was assigned to Gould Hall on the Northfield campus, which had a much more artistic and crunchy feel. People were into the Grateful Dead. I remember wondering if I was placed there as an experiment, or maybe as some attempt to change the social structure. But I loved it. 

When I left NMH, I thought I would go into environmental law because I took a few environmental studies courses at Northfield and really connected with them. I did a master’s degree in environment and development at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, which I would not have done if it wasn’t for Northfield. I see NMH as a solid foundation for what I do now, which is strategic force generation. When a U.N. member state pledges a unit to peacekeeping operations, I bring all the U.N. experts together and lead a trip to the member state and make sure they’re in line with what the U.N. needs in the field. This spring, I traveled to Rwanda, Sweden, then Mongolia and Kazakhstan. At NMH, you were constantly interacting with people from other countries, other states, and you couldn’t help but connect. The diversity wasn’t just for diversity’s sake; it felt like something more. There was a sense of camaraderie. Like workjob: You’re washing dishes next to someone and everyone is in the same boat, helping each other get the job done. That connection always brings a smile when I bump into NMH alumni around the world.

 

THEMBA FLOWERS ’90, P’19, ’23

THEMBA FLOWERS ’90, P’19, ’23
NMH Director of Information Technology

I think the job of parents is to provide our children with as much opportunity and as many chances to bloom as possible. My mother chose NMH for me for this reason. As a student, my relationship with the school wasn’t necessarily great and was largely defined by being Black on campus. Still, NMH changed my outlook on the world, and it absolutely affected who I would become in a positive way. It wasn’t a pressure cooker the way other schools felt like they might be. I appreciated the holistic head, heart, and hand philosophy. I wrestled, acted in a couple of plays, and was assistant director at the radio station. And I’m quite sure that my study abroad in Spain with NMH led to my majoring in Spanish and Portuguese in college. I don’t think I would have gotten into the colleges that I did had I stayed in the Philadelphia public school system. 

When I was a student, NMH was quite intentionally anti-tech. Ironically, not long after I graduated, it became one of the most technologically innovative boarding schools in the country. As the director of IT, I’ve learned a lot about being responsible for technology at a 24/7 campus. The job never stops. It’s given me a unique perspective on Enterprise IT in education. And I’m happy to represent as a person of color in a leadership role, both for the example it sets and for my ability to provide a different perspective in many conversations. I’ve learned that my voice is really necessary.

 

SHEILA HEFFERNON P’01, ’02, ’08

SHEILA HEFFERNON P’01, ’02, ’08
NMH Director of Choral Programs

I was a child of the ’60s — protests and communes — and NMH felt like a commune when I first arrived. I loved it when the whole school would assemble together, and I could look out at this community where people were focused on how to be better, how to live well, and how to help adolescents figure out what a moral and good life looked like to them. 

This year, I made a conscious decision to imagine that it was my first year at NMH again. It was fascinating to become reacquainted with my 26-year-old self. I could see myself in different time periods, too: I’d be walking up to Alumni Hall for lunch, thinking about the remarkable, crazy students in my hip-hop class, and suddenly I’d see myself pushing a stroller with my son in it and my daughter on my back. 

When we went to New York to do Vespers last December, it was a very different experience because of the pandemic. And because it was my last Vespers, I wondered how I would handle it. As we went through the service, there was one song — a setting of a Blake poem — when I realized, this is all about to come to an end. I started to lose it a little bit. I looked around and made eye contact with all the students. They knew I was struggling. It was their looks of encouragement, their nods, that helped me get through that moment. In the early years when I was teaching, there were times I would walk away from a class or a performance feeling exhilarated because everything clicked. As I got older, it was still joyful, just not as thrilling. But that moment during Vespers, I felt that sense of exhilaration again because of the amazing community of students who, in spite of everything we’ve been through in the last two years, were there to make exquisite music together. I will never forget that. 

 

DAVID DOWDY P’15, ’18

DAVID DOWDY P’15, ’18 
NMH English Teacher 

When I think about the teaching I’ve done — that went by in a flash. But no, actually, it was a long time. I was 28 when I got here. My whole life, basically. 

I remember saying to myself the first week I worked at NMH, “If I ever take these hills for granted, it’s time to move on.” I don’t think I ever have. I’ve walked to work almost every day for at least 25 years. Every season, and within seasons — snow, no snow, the different greens, the golden greens, the fall colors, which happen to be my least favorite — all of it. I would say to myself, “Somehow I get to have this.” Even more recently when I’d walk across campus, especially in the spring when everything comes back to life, a mood or a memory would sweep over me — an awareness of my first year, of constantly being surprised by the outdoors, by the smells and the light. Before NMH, I lived in Chicago and didn’t have a car, so I walked a great deal, but it was always to get someplace. To move to NMH was just to wander. 

Besides the land, it’s the people who live and work here that made it an amazing place. I think of the faculty who have come and gone and those who stayed — what an amazing collection of people. The opportunity to be friends with them, to be part of their lives, to learn from them. Sometimes I felt pushed in the wrong ways, but mostly I felt pushed in the right ways. There was always an opportunity to grow. 

 

JIM VOLLINGER P’01, ’08 

JIM VOLLINGER P’01, ’08 
NMH Math Teacher, Soccer Coach 

I was originally hired as a soccer coach who could also teach math. I taught Algebra 1, but didn’t have a lot of knowledge beyond that, so I became an adult learner, which had real benefits. I learned from some very experienced colleagues, and NMH did a great job of pushing me up the ladder — Algebra 2, Precalc, Calculus. I always tried to slow my thought process down and ask myself, What is it that allows me to have the a-ha moments? 

Math is usually taught sequentially, and retention tends to be short term, so I decided to experiment with a mastery model. The first two or three weeks of my classes were usually the most challenging because I put everything in front of the students. I overloaded them. But then we’d be working on concepts they’d already seen, looking at the overlap of different techniques from one calculation to the next. We practiced the skills over and over. It’s just like anything else: The more times you repeat a task, the easier it is to do and understand. 

I’ve been rewarded at NMH with friendships and hard work and a lot of new skills. Soccer played a huge role; nothing pleases me more than hearing from a former player, especially if he or she is still knocking the ball around. And going to India with students and connecting with an orphanage and a community there — those trips had many life-affirming and life-changing moments. That’s NMH to me — getting excited about different things, and doing something with that energy and enthusiasm to, hopefully, make a difference. 

 

TIDIANE THIAM ’23

TIDIANE THIAM ’23
Andover, Massachusetts

The dorm life at NMH makes you want to be a part of the community. My RLs (resident student leaders) and dorm heads really showed me what success could look like. Especially having Black RLs when I was coming from an area that was predominantly white — it showed me what success could look like for a Black kid at NMH.

NMH could do more to be more diverse, but it’s still a place where there are people from all over the world, with different ethnicities and religions and cultures. Not only do you learn to be empathetic toward people who are different from you, but you also see how you can fit into the world and how you can influence others. It happens in little moments. It’s not explicit. It’s not like you go into a conversation expecting to have your perspective changed, and it’s not like someone else is trying to persuade you. It just comes up. Being at NMH gave me the key component: You have to listen. To all people at all times. Everybody has something to offer and everyone has their own perspective, and that will change, even slightly, how you see things. 

 

ELLIOT DETJENS ’22 

ELLIOT DETJENS ’22 
Barnstable, Massachusetts 

Because of my commitment to play lacrosse in college, I was hesitant about doing cross country running last fall. The coach was super-willing to let me do both — participate in cross country and also train for lacrosse on the side — and I appreciated how he was flexible about what I wanted to do. The camaraderie and community on the cross country team is super strong, and I bought into every practice and every race. I started out as a lacrosse player who tried running to cross-train, and I ended up getting 14th at the New England Cross Country Championships. I was really proud of that. 

I was a shy kid growing up, and I was insecure about trying new things and meeting new people. Cross country was an example of trying something and having it pay off. I’m not so shy any more. I will totally talk to anybody new. And in class, I’m not afraid to be the first one to talk or the only one to talk. I like pushing myself to try to answer tough questions. NMH has helped with the leadership side of things, too — it’s challenged me to make my own path and lead by example. There are definitely times that I’ve referred to NMH as “home.” Like, I’m going back to the dorm — I’m going home. I wouldn’t have it any other way.