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Graduation Advice from Milton Hershey School Elementary Division Students

By Pete Gurt ’85, MHS President

As Milton Hershey School’s graduation quickly approaches, one of the most important things we as educators can do is share our advice with our young graduates. But this year, I needed some inspiration. Whenever I need the best advice, I go to our elementary school.

I first asked MHS pre-K student, Russell, for some tips to share. He said I should “shake pom-poms and do a cheer.”

Then Matthew, another pre-K student, shared that graduates “need a driver’s license to earn money.”

Fourth-grader, Matai, said: “Be awesome and always do your homework.” Trinity, a third-grader, said: “Life is full of mistakes and you can learn from life.”

Second-grader Yanxell added: “Get what you need, not silly stuff.”

Remere, one of our first-graders, shared: “Never give up, always try, always persevere.”

And finally, fourth-grader Natalia boldly said: “Be you and be true.”

After hearing their words of wisdom, the first thing that struck me was how simple—yet profound—their advice is. Secondly, it reminded me of the words and actions of our founders, Milton and Catherine Hershey.

While I’m not sure if Mr. Hershey ever did a cheer, he did say “one must have a reasonable optimism. It is the force that makes the world go.”

I couldn’t find a quote from Mr. Hershey about the need for a driver’s license, but regarding earning money, he did share in 1923: “What good is money unless you use it for the benefit of the community and of humanity in general.”

Mr. Hershey also spoke about the invaluable lessons that come from mistakes and failure. In a rare interview, Mr. Hershey said: “It was a bad beginning, yes, and I had later troubles. I suppose I never would have done anything if I hadn’t kept coming back.” And, like Natalia, Mr. Hershey believed that if you choose work that you love, you will do it well—and lots of it—because you will be authentic and true to yourself.

So, if two pre-K students, a second-grader, third-grader, and two fourth-graders have this figured out so early in their lives, what prevents all of us from living these principles in our own lives every day?

And let’s keep in mind that these are not typical elementary students. Milton and Catherine Hershey established their home and school for children who find themselves in search of new opportunities.

They face challenges—yet they choose to rise above those challenges and thrive. Milton Hershey, after three very significant failures, became successful first in the caramel business and then in the chocolate-making business.

He then established a town and finally gave his entire fortune to create the best home and school on earth for thousands of children who needed it the most and who he himself would never meet. The Hersheys’ legacy lives 113 years later—and will be alive 113 years from now.

As MHS prepares to graduate another group of young men and women, it is my hope that they will take this advice from their youngest peers and be true to who they are as they create positive change, just like Mr. Hershey did.

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