The Andover community gathered during the last All-School Meeting (ASM) for a celebration of teaching, where students commemorated the careers of three retiring faculty members: Kathryn Birecki, Instructor and Physical Education Trainer; Leon Modeste, Director of Athletics, and Nini Scott, Instructor in English. Additionally, students paid tribute to Head of School John Palfrey, who will leave Andover at the end of the school year.
During the ASM, held on Wednesday, Max Levi ’19, Ricardo Hernandez ’19, Isabella Morona ’19, and Annie Lord ’19 gave speeches dedicated to each retiring faculty. Each story and experience that the students highlighted served to honor the faculty members’ legacies at Andover.
In his speech for Birecki, Levi described how she was akin to a second mother for him and other students during his Lower year in Newman House. Levi spoke to how she exhibited kindness through preparing homemade meals on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays for the students, as well as how she helped everyone adapt to Andover. Levi shared a specific personal anecdote that he believes exemplifies Birecki’s character.
“In the first week [of Lower year], Mrs. Birecki announced that we were going to have a fire drill. She sent us all to our rooms while she proceeded to set off an alarm in the basement to signify a drill, but not to actually send in the police or the fire trucks. Since the alarm was not very loud, Mrs. Birecki asked [Nacho Hidalgo ’19], who lived on the bottom floor, to get us at the second floor. As Nacho proceeded upstairs, he confused the directions, and instead pulled the real fire alarm,” said Levi.
He continued, “[As] sirens were blaring in our ears, in addition to the onslaught of flashing lights, within five minutes there was a swarm of vehicles outside. Despite Nacho not understanding a fire drill, Mrs Birecki remained calm, cheerful, and without hesitation since we were all freaking out, [said] ‘We do not worry in Newman House.’”
Hernandez dedicated his speech to Modeste, his Andover Football and Boys JV Lacrosse coach. According to Hernandez, Modeste instilled in his players the Non-Sibi qualities of selflessness, hard work, and perseverance.
Hernandez said, “[Modeste] made sure that we made the football team a family, and a community, which we should always come back to. He told us that at the end of the day, we weren’t playing for ourselves. We were playing for each other. We are all men and brothers, comrades trying to reach the same goal. We were also playing for the greater Andover football family—all the people who were the same jersey before us.”
In Morona’s speech, she stressed how Scott made everyone feel welcome in her Journalism class, regardless of past experience.
“Regardless of our own backgrounds, she communicated with us individually, assured us that she had faith in our abilities, and perhaps most importantly, encouraged us to be bold and take risks as we explored different genres of writing and writing strategies,” said Morona.
Lord, who took Scott’s English-200, Journalism, and Personal Essay classes, thanked her for all the wisdom she disseminated to her students.
“The first thing Ms. Scott ever taught me was how to write a proper thank you note. Because, as she put it then, feeling genuine gratitude is important. Ms. Scott, I would like to say thank you. Thank you for your relentless energy. Thank you for waking up a room of sleepy students with your lively hellos and hysterical storytelling. Thank you for pushing me to always be the best writer I can be, and when I’m not, thank you for giving me the opportunity to go back to the drawing board, to start over, to rewrite. Thank you for showing me how important it is to ponder the roles that we each play in shaping this world as journalists, humans, citizens, and storytellers,” said Lord.
Following the students’ farewell messages to retiring faculty, the Andover community also watched a surprise video for Palfrey that contained student testimonials about his dedication, work ethic, and Non Sibi spirit. After the video, Palfrey spoke on his leaving, giving thanks to the faculty and the students.
“[To] those who retire today after long and industrious and wonderful careers, you stand for the best for this noble profession, this honorable profession. I hope that all of you, as you think about what you might do with your lives, think about this—think about the legacy and the effect of these three people. And to all our colleagues, thank you for being the most extraordinary colleagues I could ever have imagined working with. You are an inspiration,” said Palfrey.
Palfrey continued, “I can’t imagine a more extraordinary group of students to be able to spend time with. I know, at least from my own experience, you will probably not remember a single word I’ve said in this chapel… but I also believe really deeply in what Maya Angelou said that ‘Even if you don’t remember what I said, you will remember how I made you feel.’ On behalf of this faculty, and on behalf of all of us who work at this school, I hope you will remember this one thing: which is that we believe in you.”