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Lessons from the Barn

Not too long ago, I was at an event with a mixture of veteran and new teachers. Somehow stories of my experiences and life in the barn came up in the conversation. During this conversation and stroll down memory lane, I was asked if I thought barns should be brought back to MHS. I don’t know that I can answer that question, but I do know this…Denise Witmer posing for the photoshoot

Working in the barn taught me responsibility, commitment, and putting others before self.

Commitment: This was part of our chore program. We rotated through a 16 week chore cycle. 10 weeks of house chores, six weeks of barn chores. The cows would not wait. They need to be milked twice a day and they were not interested in what was going on with our lives, it had to be done. We needed to be at the barn by 6 a.m. and back at 4 p.m. Cows needed to be cleaned, milked and taken care of…end of story.

Responsibility: Everyone pitched in. If the students were at sports or after school activities, whoever was at the student home took care of the house and barn chores. We covered for each other within our student home and we also covered for our paired home. The job needed to be done and we needed to do it, and do it well. We were rated on the quality of our milk, so we needed to make sure that no hair, dirt, infection etc. was found in the milk. This meant our focus and best was expected every time.

Putting Others Before Self: The cows came first. Spontaneity was not something student homes could have. If we wanted to plan a day trip during the weekend or an overnight student home event, we had to make sure that coverage for our cows was in place. Planning was necessary, and many times, sacrifices were made as well. For example: We couldn’t leave until after the morning milking, we needed to make sure the milking was covered, we needed to repay the paired student home by providing them with coverage for their barn shift when they planned an event. Not being there to complete our barn chore was not taken lightly and had to be part of a very well-organized plan.

Wall stickersI don’t think I thought a lot about these lessons while I worked in the barn. I’d say most of the time I wished I didn’t have to milk the cows. Not because I minded the actual task of milking, but because it got in the way of things I wanted to do, like sleep in or just chill after a long day at school. It meant we walked down to barn in the extreme cold or in the humid heat. It meant that we always smelled like the barn. It meant that we were responsible to a bigger cause that often messed with our plans. And yet they have produced some of the fondest and funniest memories I have. I don’t think there’s a Homecoming I’ve been to that a barn story, usually involving someone in the middle of some hilarious mishap, doesn’t make its way into a conversation and cause a lot of laughter.

I have found that I liked the fact that I milked cows, I like that I know how to milk cows, and that this experience was another way MHS made me who I am today.

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MHS Alumni Blogs

Milton Hershey School alumni are building fulfilling and successful lives. Many are completing college, others are studying abroad, and several alumni  have come home to work at MHS. Read the insightful  blog posts from our alumni.

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