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Milton Hershey School Lifer Reflects on Title’s Importance

By Rodney Drake ’80, MHS Guest Safety Coordinator

Milton Hershey School lifer is a title that I will always bear with honor and pride. Staying the course at MHS from either pre-K, kindergarten, or first grade is quite an accomplishment. Those students understand the MHS way. They have persevered, stayed “Spartan Strong,” overcame many obstacles, and achieved many Breakthroughs.

MHS Lifers from the Class of 2024 are pictured with Guest Safety Coordinator Rodney Drake and Mrs. Jane Gurt.

MHS lifers’ Breakthroughs start on their first enrollment day, a special date for all MHS students. The first day of my MHS lifer journey was May 22, 1967. I have celebrated 57 years of enrollment days since. I was four years old when I was dropped off at student home Jackson with my 6-year-old brother.

How We Got Here

The love and kindness my houseparents, Bill and Shirley Martin, showed my brother and I and the other boys was extraordinary.  The Martins were my first houseparents and my forever houseparents. Five years ago, I moved Mom Martin into my own home to take care of her. I grew to love them as my mom and dad.

Every MHS student has a different story, but all can relate to how their houseparents, transitional living staff, parent/sponsors, teachers, and friends have helped them get to where they are now.

MHS lifers achieved Breakthroughs by being open to the guidance of houseparents, support of teachers, encouragement by coaches, and love from their friends. These people push MHS students out of their comfort zones and help them achieve excellence! Their love and sacrifice have given all of us lifers the chance to grow, learn, and mature.

Our Founders’ Legacy

One other critical thank you that we should never overlook is to Mr. and Mrs. Hershey.  Without their generosity and love of children, none of this would be possible.

My life has been changed forever by Milton and Catherine Hershey. I’m confident in saying that the Hersheys would be particularly proud of the lifers in the Class of 2024. You are now part of an esteemed group for the rest of your lives.

Our Responsibility to Give Back

Shortly after graduation, the Class of 2024 graduates’ names will be placed in the Purcell Friendship Garden on the Dearden Alumni Campus. Lifers’ names will be in yellow so every visitor will see that they stayed the course at MHS.

MHS has always been home for all of its graduates. Many alumni pay forward the gift of an MHS education by coming back to help students, speak at career days, and sponsor a senior at Alumni Fellowship Brunch. They also pay it forward by telling people outside MHS how the school impacted them.

Congratulations to all our 2024 graduates! May your journey outside of MHS be successful and full of wonderful moments.

Read More about the Bonds Milts Share

Milton Hershey School does not discriminate in admissions or other programs and services on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, sex, religious creed or disability. Read important MHS policies on equal opportunity and diversity, equal employment opportunity, and more.