Denise Witmer: Alumni
Every Milton Hershey student has a story and a date. My date is August 30, 1982 and my MHS story is similar to that of many of the students enrolled at MHS.
When I was nine, my dad decided he wanted a different family…a new life, and left our family. My mother worked late into the evenings in order to pay the bills, and I became a latch-key kid in New York City. Home from 3:30 to 9 p.m. alone and bored—I had become accustomed to this way of life for about three years before embarking on my journey to Milton Hershey School.
A friend of the family had learned of Milton Hershey School and had enrolled her son. I don’t know what started the conversation, but she shared information about the school with my mom. I know it was part of God’s plan, because I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that I was meant to be at MHS.
One day, my mother mentioned MHS to me and we decided to ask for the enrollment packet. As we looked at the brochure I remember thinking how much it reminded me of The Brady Bunch. The green grass, children playing, and open space were so inviting. I wanted to attend immediately. The application went through and we traveled to Hershey, Pa. for the first time of many, for my enrollment interview.
My acceptance to MHS arrived a short time later. I remember wanting to say yes right away but feeling so bad that I wanted to leave my mom. The guilt was instant. How could a 12-year-old girl want to leave home and attend a school in another state? Did this mean I didn’t love her? I pushed those thoughts aside as I couldn’t resist the desire to attend, and when she asked what I wanted to do, I said yes to MHS.
I had my struggles, just like any other new student, but deep down I felt comfortable and at home instantly. I made friends quickly and easily fit into the student home routine, group living setting, and school environment.
Throughout those years I made amazing connections with peers, teachers, houseparents, and other MHS employees. I always felt cared for and believed in. As I looked around the campus that nurtured me for 6 years, I wondered how I could ever give back to Mr. and Mrs. Hershey and the school they had started.
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher and then it clicked, coming back to teach at MHS was my way of giving back and repaying Mr. and Mrs. Hershey for the gift they had given me.
I’ve been teaching at MHS for 22 years now. I currently teach 2nd grade and love every minute of it. My goal is to help my students feel as loved and believed in as I felt when I was a student. To inspire them to dream, and to believe that they can accomplish anything. I also remind them to think of the gift they have been given through our Founders and to think of ways, even if tiny, that they can demonstrate their gratitude.
My hope is that I have made Mr. and Mrs. Hershey proud. That as they keep watch over the school, I am one small indicator of all the good they have done and will continue to do so because they cared.