On Wednesday, April 24th, our school gathered in Central Moravian Church to commemorate the 277th birthday of Moravian Academy through our All School Birthday Lovefeast.
The service included beautiful music provided by our Eighth Grade Handbell Choir, Lower School String Orchestra, Chamber Singers, and Middle School Chorus. Students across all divisions participated as readers and speakers, including David Akinsooto ’19, Okezue Bell ’23, Cooper Bennett ’19, Misha Desai ’26, Madeleine Golden ’23, Dylan Hammond ’26, Anna Hauser ’19, Aarti Katara ’19, Kaitlyn Lee ’23, Julia Reed ’19, Finn Shelton ’26 and Joey Zaladonis ’19.
Joey Zaladonis ’19 and David Akinsooto ’19 opened the service with a wonderful tribute to Moravian Academy:
Joey: Happy Birthday Moravian Academy, you’re 277 – That’s the lifespan of three to four grandparents, 831 sunflowers, or 40 first graders. That is a lot of lunches, recesses, and chapels. A birthday is not about the age, but instead stepping back and remembering the moments that make this community what it is.
David: Just in our lifespan at Moravian Academy, the school’s curriculum has been expanded to offer new classes, children have begun learning another language even before kindergarten, middle schoolers are studying robotics, making films, and creating their own experiments, and at the upper school, students are conducting independent research and trying new interests.
Joey: Moravian can be like a parent to all of us. It teaches us in and out of the classroom, setting us up to succeed, but also teaching us to make our own choices. Moravian is unique in many ways.
David: During my first few years in the Moravian community, a few things stuck out to me as “different” in comparison to my old school (located in the middle of nowhere – New Jersey). I was shocked they let kids cross the street to go to class, that it didn’t smell like a farm at recess, and that we had to wait to get seconds until the Moravian Grace was said (the horror). This feeling of “difference” grew exponentially once I reached the Upper School. When all my friends from home talked about their school, it seemed like a sharp contrast to our sprawling green Merle-Smith campus. I felt very fortunate to have our teachers: who strive to make sure every single student is engaged and ready to learn. But the “aha moment” that really hit me was the beginning of this year when the entire senior class was working hard to complete college applications, and the entire community celebrated with and supported us through this experience. Moravian Academy truly cares for us and that strikes me as extraordinary.
Joey: I, on the other hand, am a lifer here at Moravian. Any school related memory I have, other than running into kids in preschool, is from Moravian. In the Lower School, I learned how to read and write, to care for another life, and how to play on a team. In Middle School, I learned study skills that I still use and how to analyze text – reading deeper. Moravian has taught me some of my most important lessons. However, I know there are countless lessons I may never realize and that’s part of the beauty. Like a parent, Moravian does not always take credit for all that has been done.
David: Moravian is not just the school and the buildings, but the faculty, staff, students, and families who make it up as a whole.
Joey: In a few minutes when you are enjoying your cookie and apple juice, instead of thinking about what game you’re going to play at recess, how many calories are wrapped up in the napkin, or how many cookies you can take before someone notices, we invite you to think back 277 years. Think of Count Zinzendorf and Countess Benigna, and thank them. Then think about your own lifespan at Moravian Academy, whether that’s six months or in my case 13 years, and think about something this school and our community has done for you.
David: Happy 277th birthday Moravian, and thank you for all you have done and will do.
Anna Hauser ’19 introduced the Lovefeast:
I’ve always been told by my mother that any seemingly bad experience is simply a great story to tell in the future. This has been a piece of advice that has stuck with me always, and while I wouldn’t exactly call lovefeasts daunting tasks, I can’t help but recognize the many roles they have played in my life.
When I was younger, as young as five or six years old, lovefeasts were among the most anticipated days of the year, for obvious reasons. Cookies to stuff in your blazer pocket, the chance to catch a glimpse of the super cool looking high schoolers. When I got older, it made me feel important to show my friends who had just arrived at Moravian exactly what they were missing. I was their tour guide through a history that I could almost recite and a tradition that had come to feel familial.
Through every year of lovefeasts, stories have remained that were whispered through the halls for years to come: tales of extra juice cups, sneaky drawings left on programs, and laughs had during the brief moments where we all ate together, moments that felt the most like a true meal. I’ve found myself sharing stories that have originated inside this walls with family members and friends who know nothing of Moravian Academy or its history, and, for that reason, I take great comfort in knowing that something so communal and traditional is not exclusive. The lessons that we have been taught about the sharing of food, the times we held in our young laughter and sang at the tops of our voices, these were stories. These were moments that always have and will continue to connect us in the most human of ways.
Julia Reed ’19 provided the Meditation:
Good morning, Moravian. My name is Julia Reed and I am a senior, which means I’ll be graduating in just over a month. I really don’t understand this — it seems that just yesterday I was a timid sixth-grader in Mrs. Siegfried’s advisory, deathly scared to go up for seconds at lunch because I wasn’t sure if you could bring up your old plate or not. Moravian Academy has led me through all the awkwardness and fear of middle school, the mental and emotional challenges of upper school, and much of the learning I’ve experienced in the past six years. I’ve come to deeply appreciate this community for all it has given me and all I have given back. Yes, there have been occasional times when I would rather have been anywhere but school, but this year especially — even with all these thoughts about moving on to the next chapter — I have these moments where I just stare into space and think of how much I love this place. We all know this is a “good” school, but how has it come to mean so much to me?…Where do I begin?
Moravian Academy is my home away from home. I live in Allentown, but do I really? For much of the year, it seems that I live and breathe Moravian. I have managed to get involved in so many different things that I really don’t spend all that much time at home except to sleep and occasionally do homework. Also, I’m sure we’ve all had times when we don’t want to be around our parents — hello, Mom and Dad — and my solution to this problem was to spend more of my time at school. This deep involvement began when I arrived here in sixth grade–I joined the field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse teams and played all through middle school and the first part of upper school. Now, I sing in all the vocal groups, play handbells, and am involved in Women’s Awareness Club and the MA Green Team. At the tender age of eleven, I dove into Moravian Academy headfirst and have not looked back.
Now, as a senior, I recognize in this year of many lasts how many people here I care deeply about and who care just as deeply about me. The knowledge that I truly love so many people at Moravian and that I am loved equally by them is what brings me back each fall with energy and excitement for the year ahead. Each year brings a new and different community of teachers, students, and administrators who all shape the Moravian community in some way or another. Our School’s mission statement uses the phrase “an atmosphere of love and understanding” to describe the Moravian Academy community. As often as we hear it, my experience here has convinced me that this place truly is a community built on love and understanding.
More words that we have heard this year in particular: creativity, curiosity, empathy, and perseverance. They’ve been emphasized more outwardly in recent months, but if you think about it, you might find that they’ve been in the room all along — in fact, they’ve been around since our founding. From the beginning, John Amos Comenius envisioned a form of education where curiosity and the life of the mind were as just as important as the hard knowledge gained in the classroom. Our school’s founder, Countess Benigna, and her father, Count von Zinzendorf, believed that education should be a process characterized by love and mutual respect, and that children learn better when they are shown by positive examples rather than strict, forceful discipline. This idea was revolutionary at the time, as were their philosophies of educating all youth, no matter their sex or race. Art and music were enormously significant parts of the curriculum as well, and we can see from today’s service that that tradition still stands. Countless people since Benigna and her father have carried on their legacy of education and made the continued success of Moravian Academy possible. For example, the Merle-Smith family and their investment in the ideals and values of our school led to the donation of the entire Upper School campus. Mr. David Devey, who was the Head of School from 1973 to 1988, led the transition from Moravian Seminary and Moravian Prep to the unified, coeducational Moravian Academy. These are are the people who have brought us this far, and it is their collective creativity, empathy, curiosity, and perseverance that will help carry us into the future. But let’s return to the present moment.
For us, today, creativity can mean taking art classes, playing pretend, or making music with your friends and teachers. Empathy is listening to or reading other people’s stories and trying to understand where they’re coming from — when you read a book! Curiosity is raising your hand to ask a question in class when what your teacher just said didn’t satisfy your human desire for complete understanding. Perseverance is a teacher or friend encouraging you to try and try again. But these individual skills are already intertwined in almost everything we do here at Moravian. Naming them puts them in a different light, certainly, but this may be a good thing–it can help us think more clearly about our growth and development here. This is definitely true for me, because I have experienced and thought about a list of different mission skills from a different institution– the Four Pillars of the North Carolina Outward Bound School: Fitness, Craftsmanship, Self-Reliance, and above all, Compassion.
Last July, I spent three straight weeks in woods and on rivers and cliffs in western North Carolina with Outward Bound. It was a mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging time because I was thrown into a ton of new situations with eleven completely unfamiliar people. It only took me a week to become comfortable in that environment with those people, and I was surprised at how much I opened up in such a short amount of time to people who I hadn’t even met five or seven days before. Looking back, I realize that the deep connections I established with those people were possible because I really had nothing else to do but talk to them. Here, in normal life, we all have our escape systems — our phones, computers, books, art, music, things like that. But we didn’t have any of that out in the woods, we only had ourselves and the other humans around us. You can create unbelievably strong connections with new people when you open up to them and affirm that they are also opening up to you. More than any practical skill I picked up while on course, I loved and valued the depth and intensity of the relationships I formed with my crewmates and instructors.
What I’ve realized is that the same concept applies to my Moravian Academy experience. I can’t promise that I will remember the difference between the mean, median, and mode of a set of data. I really can’t promise that I will ever be able to dependably label all the countries in eastern Europe. But I will remember my teachers, their stories, their jokes, their quirks. I will remember my friends who take walks in the rain with me, who drink the little containers of half-and-half at the lunch table with me, who are always up for a deep conversation. Here’s an example: last Thursday after school, I was sitting in the middle of the field between Walter and Snyder with a few friends. We were talking about almost everything from religion to politics to bike rides, and we were joined by not one but two teachers who eagerly jumped into our conversations. A group of us stayed there outside until almost seven o’clock that evening, just enjoying each others’ company and lively conversation. That kind of thing doesn’t happen everywhere; I’ve only seen it happen here at our school. The human beings here are, to me, by far the most valuable and important fixtures of this community. Yes, Moravian boasts a rich history beginning with Countess Benigna in 1742, two beautiful tree-lined campuses, and countless historic buildings. But all this wouldn’t matter if not for the passionate, compassionate, and intelligent individuals who walk and talk and teach and learn inside these walls.
Nine months out of twelve each year, for the past six years, I have spent my time on some combination of the middle and upper school campuses, both inside buildings and outside in God’s Acre or Jacob’s Lawn behind Snyder House, which has become my special spot. Each June I emerge a different person than entered the previous September, and I have changed so much in my time here — almost beyond recognition. Moravian’s open and welcoming community has taught me how to approach people, how to have a conversation, how to listen. When I was a younger kid, I used to refuse to answer the phone because I was terrified that it would somehow bite my ear off. In middle school, I would need people to reach out to me to connect with them; I was too self-conscious and awkward to start a conversation. It took me a long time to find my people and who I was with them, mostly because I wasn’t yet comfortable being my own person. But spending enough time in this community of teachers and friends and coaches that kept affirming my worth has changed that — thanks for the most part to Moravian Academy, I can now confidently tell you all today that I am, indeed, as much of a person as I can be at my relatively young age of seventeen. I am not afraid to answer the phone anymore. I will smile at you in the hallway even if you’re not looking at me, and then I’ll start talking to myself once I pass you. I don’t let others walk over me, and I don’t let myself walk over them. I am confident in my own personhood because of years of love and support from people here in this room.
Being at Moravian has taught me how to be my own person while simultaneously recognizing the personhood of others. It is so important that each of us fully participates in and engages with this beautiful place, because what makes Moravian truly special is the people who return year after year after year, are the new students in the fall, the wonderful and dedicated teachers, administrators, and staff — the beautiful and historic buildings of our school would be empty shells if not for the people that bring life to them. People filled with zest and energy and love have made this place come alive for 277 years. I challenge everyone in this room to keep making it come alive in the years to come. Moravian Academy, I love you.
Aarti Katara ’19 concluded the service with a reflective benediction:
How do I express my love and gratitude for Moravian Academy? I first enrolled in this school nine years ago, as a fourth grader, and now as I stand here reflecting on my experience, I think it is safe to say that both this community and I have changed over time.
To everyone here sitting in the pews, I hope we can all agree that while we each have different experiences in our years here, this school has taught us similar values, and it has especially instilled in us an understanding of love, and a love for understanding.
To the class of 2019, I hope that when you look around this Church for one of the last times as a student, you smile and cherish all of the memories that we have created here together.
To the rest of the Moravian Academy community, I share this piece of wisdom, 9 years in the making. You may think that you have a long way till graduation, but that the time will fly by, so cherish each and every day you have here. Don’t take these moments for granted. As your own graduation approaches, you may realize, like I have, just how much you will miss this community of ours. A tight-knight, loving, and understanding community is pretty rare to find in life.
Finally, to Moravian Academy itself, Happy Birthday. As strong as you have been in these past 277 years, I’m confident you’ll be even better in the years to come, as you continue to grow in Mind, Body, and Spirit.
May this school be our inspiration. Go in peace.