Matthew Hession is an expert on the year 1968 and an instructor in History and Social Sciences. He coaches Andover Girls Varsity Hockey and is a complementary house counselor in Johnson and Adams dormitories. Hession was a former Dean of Flagstaff Cluster from 2011 to 2017 and has been working at Andover for 18 years.
I love learning about people and their lives. The stories of their lives, and [the] circumstances and challenges that people faced in the past. I discovered at a certain age that chasing down histories was a really interesting way of learning about the lives that people lived, or if it was a group of people, the kind of lives that they lived. The amazing thing about history is… it’s also about narrative and storytelling and who’s in that story… Trying to figure out the evidence that you select, the sources that you choose to include, and the arguments, debates and exciting conversations that you can have about those stories was something that I was drawn to.
One of the great things about history is we can change the metric; we can change the unit of measurement. The remarkable thing about, say, History 300, is studying hundreds of years of history and thinking about change over time. There are moments where the change over time is rapid, and other times where the change over time is slow and glacial. In the history of 1968, the unit of measurement… is that it’s one single year. But it’s a really important year in the American past for a lot of different reasons: It’s a transitional year, but it’s also a year of crisis. And it’s not one single crisis. If we think about literally a human body, it’s the kind of shock that’s reverberating time and again, and the fact that in this particular instance, the nation never really had the time or the space to recover. It’s a time of incredible violence. It’s an age of assassination with the deaths of both [Martin Luther King, Jr.] and RFK., Bobby Kennedy. It’s a time of incredible mistrust of government, where the American people realize that the war in Vietnam after the Tet Offensive is just not winnable, but all of the underpinnings and rationales for the war are under great assault. It’s a time where all the conventions and traditions of American society are being put under the microscope and they’re being questioned, challenged, and interrogated. All of this happens in such close proximity…in 68, because these concussive shocks happened in such close proximity. It’s a year that’s seismic, in terms of just thinking about the past and where the country had been, but also where we were going in the next decade.
Take as many history classes as possible. So here at Andover, after you’ve exhausted the diploma requirements, take as many Senior electives as you can, and pursue a lot of different histories. Study histories that are associated with the American past, study histories that are associated with other parts of the world, study histories that find and create and associate all kinds of fascinating connections between other parts of the world and the United States [of America]. Once you go on to college or university, continue pursuing history, even if it’s something that you’re not going to major in.
I would say that the same struggle that my students have is the same struggle when I look in the mirror that I see. One thing that I really admire about Andover students is Andover students are ambitious, which I think is a great quality to have, but I think that that idea of balance can be elusive at times… One thing that I love about being a part of this community is the day never ends. So my day starts, oftentimes over at [Paresky] Commons, having breakfast with my kids, and then I teach throughout the day, and in the afternoon I’m coaching and going to the dorm at night and talking with students. My advice would be to be ambitious, but to give yourself a break… to know that it’s okay to be reasonable of what people ask of you.
I gotta give a shout out to Girls Varsity Hockey, because that time in that community is really important to me. We have an incredible group of kids who have unbelievable care for each other: they’re wildly talented as athletes, super competitive, and go about their athletic lives and what it means to be a team and supportive of each other in all the right ways… I’d also give a huge shout out to Johnson and Adams dormitories, where I’ve been helping as a complementary house counselor this year. The students that I have been lucky and fortunate to talk with at night and to hear about the best parts of their day or a part of their day that was frustrating; that’s a favorite part of my day as well.
Admittedly, it’s the most recent, but it was this past season that we had for Girls Varsity Hockey. Every season is a journey: the wins and losses matter, but the journey only matters because of the people that you’re with. It was an amazing group of student athletes who demanded so much of themselves, who committed so much of themselves to the season. We came a step short of what our one of our big goals was when we lost in the championship, but that doesn’t take away from anything that we accomplished over the course of this season, but also, more importantly, the support and dedication that [the team] showed to themselves and to each other every afternoon at the rink.
At the end of the day when students come back to the dorm, we want that dorm to be a place where, after all of the business and hecticness and craziness of the day, [students] can come back… and feel as though, not just with their dorm mates, that there are adults who care about them, value them, and take a keen interest in their life. I take a huge amount of joy in just knowing how their day went: if it was a great day, I love to be a cheerleader, and I love hearing what it was that made it a great day. Likewise, if there was a part of the day that was annoying or frustrating; if there was a part of the day that was a letdown, I think it’s important that the kids know that they have adults that are there just to listen, and to help them make sense of something that we don’t necessarily have all the answers to.
My students. Every day. Andover students are the best, Andover students are dynamic, Andover students are motivated, Andover students have an appetite for discovery, and Andover students bring energy. If I’m looking for inspiration, the place that I look, when I close my classroom door, is on that sea of faces that’s excited for whatever it is that we’re kind of undertaking that particular day. I’d say my inspiration comes from my students.
I love our clam chowder. I love chicken nugget day. Can’t get any better than that.
I would say family stuff. I have two kiddos who have really busy schedules themselves. I help coach their teams when they’re on a team and I love being a part and taking them to wherever it is that they happen to go… If there’s not the craziness of school that’s going on, then you can definitely find me with my family. When it’s vacation, we go up to the Adirondacks where my wife’s family is from, or we spend time down in Cape Cod.
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