Milton Hershey School Class Reflections: The Definition of Family
By Wyatt Oatman ’22, MHS Alumnus
My story at Milton Hershey School began in October 2016, when I was a seventh-grader, with a single understanding of the word family. I came to MHS out of the Pennsylvania foster care system, and though I came from a home where my foster parent supported me and gave me the tools necessary to succeed, the transition to MHS still terrified me.
On my enrollment day, I remember very clearly sitting in the corner of the dining room waiting for the boys in my student home to get back from school. All I could think about was that there was no chance they would be able to welcome me into their home and their family.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the moment they walked through the door I was bombarded with a series of questions, given the inside scoop on how to fit in, which classes I would want to be in, which teachers I’d want to have, and so much more. It’s safe to say that I was given a very warm welcome and little did I know at the time, they had already welcomed me into their family.
That was only the beginning. Since being at MHS, I have spent Christmases with mentors, Easters with teachers, and Thanksgivings with houseparents. I have traveled across oceans with lunch ladies and heads of school, I have laughed and cried in the office of my student home for countless hours as my housemates and I told our stories—these moments never lost on me.
As my classmates and I prepared to transition from Middle to Senior Division, we had dinner at what would be our high school student homes so that we could get a glimpse into the next chapter of our journeys. We were each asked to bring something meaningful to us to dinner. I brought a picture of my sister who had passed away, and my classmate—Taijay—brought a necklace with a picture of his mother who had also sadly passed on.
We sat there, two middle school boys, not knowing of the tragedy the other had experienced and endured. Taijay and I would share a high school student home for three years, and in our junior year, he would become my roommate. I knew Taijay and I would become friends from the moment we each knew that we were not alone in our loss and tragedy, but what I didn’t know was that he’d become my brother. I didn’t know that when I experienced even more tragedies and hardships that he’d stand by me and I would do the same for him. I am proud to call Taijay my brother, and I am proud to call so many of my classmates, friends, and MHS community members family.
There are eight separate definitions of the word family in the Cambridge dictionary, five in Merriam-Webster, and four on Dictionary.com. But family is so much more than words in a book or online. It’s years of memories and shared experiences, bonds formed over good times and bad times. It’s seeing people at their lowest and still accepting them, nurturing them, and building each other up. The dictionary can’t define family, because family is like the oceans of the world, ever moving, ever-growing, ever becoming more and more diverse. And that is exactly what MHS is, our little diverse ecosystem, always moving, always growing, and helping us create, appreciate, shape, and love our families—no matter what our individual definitions of this word may be.
The theme of my senior year was Greater Together. Though some may think it, MHS is not a different world, but a microcosm of the one beyond the town of Hershey. We experience great challenges, hardships, and division. But what sets us apart from the world outside of MHS is our ability to come together when needed. The phrase Greater Together is synonymous with the word family. To say we are greater together is to say, “though tomorrow may be hard, and I don’t know what may come, I know I have a group around me that will help get me through this.” And that is the MHS way.