First All-School Meeting of the 2023-2024 School Year Celebrates Community, Connection, and Belonging

The performance of Andover Drumline, international student flag bearers, and cheers screaming of “24” welcomed the Senior Class into the Cochran Chapel for the first All-School Meeting (ASM) of the 2023-2024 school year. 

Merrilee Mardon, Deputy Head of School for Academics and Student Affairs, began last Friday’s ASM by reflecting on the Andover community’s warm and supportive spirit. Mardon, mentioning that this was her first year at Andover, commended the school’s commitment to its community values.

“The good cheer and positive spirit despite some setbacks have been amazing. I knew that I would meet some very smart people when I came here, and now I know, that this is a kind, funny, and caring community. The thing I love about [Andover] already is that it’s a school that tries to live every day up to its values: non sibi, knowledge and goodness, and Youth From Every Quarter. It isn’t always easy to live values like these, but it is always worth trying,” said Mardon.

Dr. Susan Esty, Dean of Students and Residential Life, took the stage after Mardon to officially welcome each class to the Opening of School ASM. Quoting from Katherine May’s book “Enchantment,” Esty encouraged students to find enchantment — small yet meaningful moments — in everyday life. She emphasized the importance of deeper in-person connections in an increasingly digital age.

“Let us make a commitment to each other today, to really get to know each other, to seek enchantment in each other’s company. Let’s agree, all of us, to know more people and know each other better. Between now and November break, try to get to know two people on a deeper level. Approach others with curiosity, open minds, and open hearts,” said Esty.

After Esty’s address, Student Body Co-Presidents Eleanor Dehoog ’24 and Ryan Lam ’24 shared insights with each class. They advised all students, especially the Class of 2024, to treasure each moment in their Andover journey.

“Each of you will be looking towards your own Andover experiences, and that’s whether you spend hours practicing with Drumline, joining Gunga at the pep rally, or, like me, chatting with smiling students on the paths from [Snyder Center] to the [Great Lawn] to the Chapel. Just remember, appreciate these small moments and these small places in your larger Andover journey. Cherish it and don’t take any second for granted,” said Lam.

Following the Co-Presidents’ remarks, two new international students, Ali Gamal ’26 and Olumurewa Biyi-Olaoye ’27, delivered speeches about their reasons for choosing Andover. Biyi-Olaoye shared her story as a Nigerian Canadian living in Texas and described how welcome the Andover community had helped her feel.

“At first, I was kind of confused as to why they had picked me [to speak], but then I was so flattered and honored. I became kind of nervous [when] speaking in front of the whole school. It’s a lot of people, my school was not that big. And one other [speaker] dropped out so I had to speak by myself. But once I got on stage and heard everyone cheering, all the nerves just flew away,” said Biyi-Olaoye in an interview with The Phillipian.

Head of School Dr. Raynard Kington concluded the ASM by reminding students of their own responsibility to contribute towards a culture of belonging. He underscored the opportunities of the year ahead, encouraging students to make the most of their time at Andover.

“I hope you both consider how you experience belonging here, and consider how you can contribute to a sense of belonging for others… May it be a good year, one ready for more connections, more belonging, more memories, one of learning and with friends, good times, and challenges. I hope that you find adults who care deeply about you and I know you will, and that they offer deep connections to you and to one another. We can foster a community of deep belonging, but it will mean each of us has to work [for] it,” said Kington.

Cade Rutkoske ’26, a new Lower, highlighted students’ spirit and enthusiasm. As his first time attending ASM, Rutkoske mentioned his initial surprise toward the energetic atmosphere, and how it differed from his previous expectations.

“It’s a very unique and enriching environment here. I come from a very small school so it was a completely different experience. I’ve done the Andover summer camp in the past, so I was expecting the flag bearers to walk down the aisle, but the entire environment, especially with the Seniors coming in and Drumline [performing], was actually very fun,” said Rutkoske.