Hanna Gully ’09
Non Sibi Luncheon
May 2, 2009
Even though Phillips Academy is only one mile from my front door, it has opened the world to me.
Before coming to Phillips Academy, my whole life existed within the town of Andover. I’m a fourth generation Andover resident; my great-grandparents moved here when my grandfather was born. I grew up with most of my mom’s family within a few blocks of my house. I’ve lived on the same street my entire life—in three different houses, but on the same street.
I went to Bancroft Elementary School with my sister until the third grade, when my parents began homeschooling us. I played soccer and basketball on town teams and acted in plays performed in the middle school auditorium. When my sister decided she wanted to go back to school for high school, I did as well.
When I came to Phillips Academy, I was fairly certain of what I wanted to do and of who I would become. Looking back, I remember being told many times during the admissions process and orientation that kids come to Andover thinking they know what they want to do, only to discover a new passion. Many people encouraged me to keep an open mind and take risks. I took that advice and did try something new.
I enrolled in Chinese my freshman year. I was miserable that fall term. I couldn’t grasp the tones and sounds, and the characters all looked the same to me. I struggled, and for most of the year I believed I had made a big mistake by taking Chinese. But toward the end of the year, the language started to make more sense to me. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I liked it, but I would say that it was no longer a painful experience.
My lower year, I decided I wanted to take Spanish again—I’d studied it for two years in middle school. Even though Chinese was a struggle, I stuck with it and added Spanish as an extra course. I took the accelerated Spanish track to complete four years of Spanish instruction in three years. I’ve stayed with both Chinese and Spanish and am graduating with more than eight years of language study. I am so grateful that Andover afforded me the flexibility and resources to accomplish this. From here, I will continue to pursue fluency in both languages.
My experiences taking languages here were defined by a few amazing teachers. My Chinese teacher of three years, Mr. Conley, is an American who grew up in California and only began taking Chinese in college. Now he’s the head of the Chinese department. So while I was struggling during my first few years, he served as an inspiration to me. He showed me that it was possible to master such a complicated language.
Dr. Neissa, my upper year Spanish teacher, came from Harvard to teach at Andover. I remember one day during fall term I hung back after class to ask him a question about the lesson. We ended up talking for about half an hour. He told me stories about the trips he took in his youth with his brother around South America and his projects saving wildlife in Africa. He encouraged me to pursue my dreams of traveling and helped me realize that they were attainable.
My conversations with Mr. Conley and Dr. Neissa strengthened my growing desire to see the world. School Year Abroad runs a summer program in Beijing that many Andover students participate in. I told my parents I wanted to go, and they agreed to let me, but with one condition: I had to pay for my tuition. So I went to work as soon as I turned 16, in September 2006. I signed up to work in the Comptroller’s Office, filing papers. From there, I worked breaks in the Annual Giving Office, soliciting donations, and in the Admission Office, giving tours. I worked every vacation, but when I reached the summer after my upper year—the year I was to go to China—I had only enough money to cover a third of my tuition. I began strategizing, thinking I’d need to take loans from various family members. But Andover came through for me yet again. After hearing my story, the financial aid office agreed to cover the remainder of my tuition. So not only did Phillips Academy give me the opportunity to travel, but through employment and financial aid, it gave me the means to make it possible.
The five weeks I spent in China were truly life changing. I lived in the heart of Beijing with a host family who spoke no English. I spent evenings watching Korean soap operas with my host sister and helping my host mother cook jiaozi (dumplings). I saw the Forbidden City and biked 45 minutes on treacherous roads with my host mom to see the Olympic Bird’s Nest. I also learned the art of bargaining—and became quite good at it, might I add. Crowds would gather to see the foreign girl get into heated arguments with vendors. During my time in Beijing, I was challenged beyond my comfort zone and discovered my ability to adapt and thrive in unknown situations.
For me, however, cultural immersion didn’t take place just in China, it happened at Andover too. During my time here, I have met kids from England, Harlem, Germany, and Singapore—to name a few places. One of my best friends is from Bahrain, but has lived all over the world, and her family is actually from Pakistan. Another close friend is from Saudi Arabia, but is Italian-American and Kenyan. Both of them are also Muslim. Studying and socializing with people who had such starkly different life experiences has had a profound impact on me. The knowledge, understanding, and perspective I’ve gained from my peers are truly immeasurable.
As I said before, I came to Andover thinking I’d devote my extracurricular time to theatre and music. I started down that path junior year, becoming involved right away. But I saw that many of my peers also were joining clubs, and I thought I’d give one a try. I tagged along with my friend to a meeting of the Center for Global Justice. It seemed like an intimidating name, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. At my first meeting, we discussed fair trade. I had never heard of fair trade before, but I left the discussion feeling informed. I liked the sense of awareness I received from the club meetings, and I kept attending. I learned about everything from sweatshops and the crisis in Darfur to exporting democracy and Tibetan protests. I was hooked and felt empowered every time I left a meeting. Now, as a senior, I’m the president of the Center for Global Justice. Through the center, I became involved in the greater community service program at Andover and learned the importance of living by our non sibi motto.
In the future, I plan to use the knowledge and compassion I’ve gained from classes, teachers, travel, peers, and extracurricular activities to make a positive impact on the world. I’d like to work for international NGOs, join the Peace Corps, and maybe even become a Human Rights lawyer. Next year, I will continue down the path of international exposure that Andover has set me on when I attend the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown.
Let me close by saying this: a great Andover teacher once told me there’s a difference between being well schooled and well educated. Andover certainly gave me the book smarts, but it gave me so much more. The people I met, the classes I took, the experiences I had gave me a context in which to see the world beyond my hometown. I know that when I graduate from Andover one month and five days from today, I will be graduating not only well schooled, but also well educated.
It has been a pleasure and an honor to be here with you. Thank you for listening, and thank you for making my Andover experience possible. Without your generous support, I would not be standing before you today.