April 19, 2017

Global Non Sibi Day connects alumni

Entering its 10th year, Non Sibi Weekend has become a rallying point for the community
by Alessandra Bianchi

Non sibi.

Those seven small letters engraved above the image of a beehive on Andover’s seal more than 200 years ago continue to influence generations of students and alumni.

On campus, perhaps only Classics buffs can identify the phrase from Lucan’s Roman epic poem Pharsalia (a line says that Cato was born not for self but for the entire world), but every PA student doubtless knows that the words speak to the school’s mission to educate them in a manner that combines knowledge and goodness and inspires them to think beyond themselves.

The spirit of non sibi is woven into numerous academic courses as well as into 31 weekly community engagement options, such as working with the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence or letter-writing for the Adopt-a-Platoon program. Farther afield, the process of learning through doing is extended to alumni and families through the annual event known as Non Sibi Weekend, during which the entire campus and PA alums around the world participate in meaningful community engagement activities.

“My goal and hope is that through our ongoing weekly programs and Non Sibi Weekend, we are teaching students to fully and respectfully engage with communities while they’re here at PA and beyond,” says Director of Community Engagement Monique Cueto-Potts.

The numbers would suggest that students are getting this message. According to Cueto-Potts, at least 400 students per term choose to participate in one or more community engagement projects during the course of their time at Andover, and nearly every program has a waiting list of students who would like to participate.

Now entering its 10th year, Non Sibi Weekend has become a rallying point for the community that complements Andover’s year-round community engagement activities.

“It is the most literal manifestation of the non sibi philosophy,” says Chad Green, former director of Community Service. Green helped to kickstart PA’s first Non Sibi Day in 2007 and fondly recalls pulling all-nighters with fellow steering committee members before the launch of the original event.

Here, and in the pages of the summer issue of Andover magazine (coming soon), we look at some of the alumni and alumnae who truly embody the non sibi ethos by leading and engaging in these important events.

A Family Affair

Growing up in Charlotte, N.C., Erin McGirt Chantry ’02 helped her father, Joe McGirt ’63, send out PA newsletters to graduates who lived in the area. From a young age, says Chantry, “it was apparent to my brother [Matthew ’94] and me that Andover transformed our father’s life. We knew it meant the world to him, and we wanted that experience too.” So it came as no surprise that both siblings attended PA.

After Andover, Chantry attended Washington University in Saint Louis, where she studied architecture, initially thinking it was about “designing the biggest and most famous buildings.” But in her first class, Building Community, Community Building, she learned what architecture is really about: people.

“We spent hours walking around different neighborhoods in the city. We studied why some neighborhoods were successful and why others weren’t, who the people were who revived places to new life and how they managed to do it in the context of financial viability and policy restrictions,” recalls Chantry. “We looked at how streetscapes and street layout affected people’s personal lives. I did not realize it at the time, but this was my first urban design class.”

Chantry had found her calling. Later, at graduate school in Oxford, England, she wrote two dissertations about urban design, paving the way for her current job as principal planner and urban designer for Charlotte Urban Design in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC) Planning Department. Her bent toward community stewardship is one she finds easy to share with others from Andover.

Over the years, Chantry has combined her love of urban planning and community engagement in each of the cities in which she has lived—Baltimore, London, and Tampa, and most recently back in Charlotte. She has hosted a range of non sibi projects, which have included feeding the homeless, gardening, and serving lunch in an urban ministry center.

“There’s not much difference between my job as an urban designer, my role as an alumna of PA, my role as a mom, and my role as a member of my community,” says Chantry. “They’re all very much connected to non sibi.”

A wonderful connection is shared, says Chantry, when her father and brother work alongside, helping with these various non sibi projects. “Non sibi is so important to who we are and who we have become as a result of Andover.”

The Philosophy of Skid Row

Rob Palmer ’11 wasn’t particularly taken with the idea of non sibi while at Andover. “I had a few suboptimal attitudes and mindsets while I was there, mostly along the lines of how to keep my head above water,” he recalls.

In addition to being a varsity wrestler, Palmer was deeply interested in philosophy and religious studies. So interested in fact, that he took five RelPhil courses while at PA.

Now working at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, Palmer researches the neuroscience of meditation and assists with research at an addiction and trauma clinic—and finds himself reflecting on the lessons he learned at Andover. The teachings of Buddha, the Stoics, and other philosophers resonate with him on a different level now as he reaches out on a weekly basis to residents of one of the most inhospitable locations in the United States: Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.

Since 2015, Palmer has been spending one or two evenings a week working with Monday Night Mission, a nonprofit that hands out food to Skid Row residents. Bringing PA and USC friends with him, Palmer greets each homeless person by name and helps pass out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Both of these seemingly simple gestures, says Palmer, have disproportionately powerful effects.

Despite the risks—gunfire, gang violence, and drug transactions are regular occurrences—Palmer finds his weekly outings to be illuminating, powerful, challenging, and positive.

“Skid Row is not really a cheerful place, but seeing these people’s faces light up has dispelled a lot of my assumptions about homelessness,” Palmer says. “It’s made me realize that some of the best moments in our lives are when we are caring for others.”

Delivering Meals, Gathering Graduates

Twenty years as a professional soap opera actress taught Marcia McCabe ’73 to embrace challenges and new situations. The seeds were planted at Abbot Academy, where she dove into theatre roles, spent a winter term working in a Lawrence shelter, and was one of the first female students to take classes at Phillips Academy prior to its merger with Abbot Academy.

After receiving her degree from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, McCabe landed her biggest role, that of newspaper reporter/TV news anchor Sunny Adamson in the soap opera Search for Tomorrow, which she performed from 1978 to 1986.

But it is a more recent role that she finds most sustaining and fulfilling these days: knocking on the doors of complete strangers in New York City to deliver a hot meal.

Fanning out over five or six blocks in groups of three, McCabe and a diverse group of PA and Abbot graduates deliver a weekend’s worth of meals to elderly residents—most are housebound—on Manhattan’s West Side through a local chapter of Meals on Wheels. The national program has been described as “one of the largest and most effective social movements in America” since its founding in 1954.

“I love getting a cross section of parents and alums, young and old. Last time we had Columbia University students alongside alums in their 60s,” says McCabe, who has gathered the group together for this non sibi project for several years and, now that she spends more time in Florida, is plotting her next non sibi endeavor in her new location.

“It feels really good to help others like this,” says McCabe. “It is always a very positive experience for everyone.”

It’s About Showing Up

Oluseyi “Seyi” Fayanju ’01 has spent the past four years in medical school at the University of Chicago, but he still sounds very much like the Model UN debate champion he was while at Andover.

“When you think about the Andover mottoes that guide us, whether it is Non Sibi or Finis Origine Pendet, we’re inculcated with a sense of service while we’re at PA, but even when you leave the Hill, you should strive to follow through with these tenets,” says Fayanju.

His most recent non sibi project has brought together an enthusiastic cadre of PA alums to paint walls, clean, and work in the gardens at Su Casa. “It’s not about writing a check, it’s about showing up and getting spackle on yourself. Or paint.”

“Non Sibi Weekend is a unique opportunity for alums—especially those who have been unplugged or disconnected from PA for whatever reason; it’s a purposeful way to give back,” Fayanju says. “These events and activities expose us to worlds and cultures that we may not see on a daily basis. They remind us of our shared humanity and the gifts we can bring.”

Alessandra Bianchi, P’15, ’17, writes about business, lifestyle, and culture.

Other Stories

Sara Leith-Tanous ’73

Three alumni photographers put their focus back on Andover

Angie Thomas
The audacity of optimism

Best-selling author Angie Thomas delivers MLK Day keynote