MLK Day 2024: An Overview of the Day-On, Featuring Angie Thomas’ Keynote Speech

Angie Thomas inspired students with her acronym “H.O.P.E.”

Andover kicked off its 35th Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day On with keynote speaker Angie Thomas, bestselling author of “The Hate U Give,” on January 15. Following the All-School Meeting (ASM), students participated in a day of special programming, involving student and faculty-led workshops and performances.

The Community and Multicultural Development (CaMD) office is currently responsible for organizing MLK Day On and selecting keynote speakers. This year, Thomas’ speech, which received a standing ovation, recounted her personal experiences and discussed the acronym H.O.P.E. — which stands for “have optimism, perspective, and endurance.” 

“What those young [activists and leaders] have to show you, is that they have the audacity to believe things can change. They have the audacity to have optimism. I truly hope that you have the audacity for optimism. I hope you believe that this normal does not have to be normal. I hope you have the audacity to think of a new normal because when you do, that’s essentially optimism,” said Thomas during ASM.

Thomas’ words inspired many students, who appreciated her candor and transparency. Carolina Tieppo ’24 was particularly struck by Thomas’ urging against defining ourselves by our work. They connected the idea to the overwhelming Andover experience.

“I thought [Thomas’ speech] was amazing. I’ve been here for four years and this has definitely been one of the best ASMs ever… The comment that [Thomas] made that ‘your work does not define you’ [stood out to me]. I think at Andover, we all have a bunch of extracurriculars… and sometimes we see ourselves as these clubs, these extracurriculars, and [let them] define us, but we are more than that. I think this ASM is a reminder that we need to cultivate more of [this mindset] outside of the classroom,” said Tieppo.

Similarly, Chloe Abou-Ezzi ’27 enjoyed Thomas’ friendliness and casual tone. Abou-Ezzi believes that many other ASMs have failed to engage students, and suggested that increased student input into speaker selection would enhance attentiveness. 

“[Angie Thomas] was really, really sweet and it was funny so she helped us stay engaged… She didn’t change herself just to be more formal or like to talk to younger people or things like that. She was fully transparent with us… ASM can sometimes be interesting, but a lot of the time we could use the time dedicated to ASM more wisely, to work on schoolwork or have a study hall. I feel that a good amount of the time, ASM isn’t always useful to my knowledge… We [should] have students recommend speakers [because] they would be a lot more engaging for us,” said Abou-Ezzi. 

Andover, historically, has not always celebrated Dr. King’s legacy with a “day on.” When MLK Day was first observed as a federal holiday in 1986, the school only held a special ASM in the evenings and classes proceeded as usual. Frustrated by Andover’s limited celebrations, on January 16, 1989, Brian Gittens ’89 sat on the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall with a boombox playing recordings of Dr. King’s speeches.

Gittens’ protest quickly gained support from other students and faculty. The following year, Andover instituted its first MLK Day On.

MLK Day On began as a combination of community service and ASM, according to Linda Carter Griffith, Associate Head of School for Equity, Inclusion, and Wellness and former Dean of CaMD. Workshops were also featured, but most were led by adults and designed for class-wide participation. Recognizing the value of student involvement, Griffith invited students to engage in the planning and programming for MLK Day during her tenure as the Dean of CaMD.

“When I first got here, [MLK] Day was a combination of assembly and service… When I became the Dean of CAMD, I had really seen the power of student leadership in my [time as a cluster dean], so I took the models I used in the cluster and brought in student leaders to lead workshops. I  developed an MLK committee that was all students [who] would help me select the keynote speaker,” said Griffith.

Griffith continued, “For me, [MLK Day] is a day of opportunity, to see across both our differences and our similarities, to understand our common fight for social justice, to make the world a better world tomorrow by what we learned today to prepare for it. It’s also about our community values and embracing them, and giving kids a day to really focus on these themes, whatever the themes might be… Let’s focus on our common humanity, to build a better world through getting to know one another on a deeper level and gaining perspective on the changes we would like to see on campus and in the world.”

Reverend Gina Finocchiaro, ASM Coordinator, Protestant Chaplain, and International Student Coordinator described how she helps plan and invite ASM speakers. Finocchiaro also addressed the process of speaker selection and the opportunities for student input. 

“Speakers are hosted by different departments on campus, or programs, or centers like CaMD or Brace [Center for Gender Studies], and so the department or the center or program brings a speaker forward to the speaker’s committee… Students reach out to me with some regularity suggesting speakers [but] we only take [direct] suggestions from campus adults,” said Finocchiaro. 

Finocchiaro continued by recognizing the importance of school-wide gatherings amid the bustle of Andover. She emphasized how ASM provides essential time for reflection and community, echoing Griffith. 

“It’s the one time where we are all together as a school. We are a school full of really busy people, who are interested in different things and going in many different directions, and it’s the one time of the week when we’re all together in one space,” said Finocchiaro.