Milton Hershey School Students Encouraged to Honor Founders through Breakthroughs
Members of the Milton Hershey School community were encouraged to honor MHS founders Milton and Catherine Hershey by achieving personal Breakthroughs during the school’s annual Founders Day Assembly on Nov. 6, 2023.
The Hersheys signed the Deed of Trust nearly 114 years ago. The annual assembly celebrates their legacy and the important role students and staff play in living out their gift.
“Mr. and Mrs. Hershey have proven that it’s not what we do that defines us. It’s who we are, and our character, that matters most,” President Pete Gurt ’85 said.
President Gurt noted this year’s Founders Week is extra special because 2023 marks 100 years since Mr. Hershey’s donation of the bulk of his fortune to the school became public.
On Nov. 13, 1918, Mr. Hershey quietly placed 5,000 shares of the Hershey Chocolate Company stock in a trust for the school. News of Mr. Hershey’s gift gained public attention five years later when it was picked up by the media. An article in The New York Times on Nov. 9, 1923, and a subsequent full-page article in the Sunday edition on Nov. 18, 1923, brought great attention to the school and small community of Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“As you participate in Founders Week activities, the question I think each of us has to answer is ‘What will our headline be, today and every day?’” Gurt said.
President Gurt encouraged the school community to reflect on our founders’ actions and use them as role models to achieve Breakthroughs.
“Everything we do today at Milton Hershey School stems from their vision, their Deed of Trust,” he said.
Michael Lambert, a fourth grade student, shared his Breakthrough of learning to ride a bicycle. At first, Michael struggled; but he didn’t give up.
“I kept getting back up every time I fell and have been getting better at the skill,” he said.
Like Michael, eighth grade student Madi Max shared her personal struggles and Breakthroughs. She expressed appreciation for houseparents, teachers, and friends who helped her improve her math grade.
“It’s OK to be an independent person, but don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. Asking for help is better than struggling alone,” Madi said.
Senior Jedrek Kumi carried Madi’s message of the importance of togetherness forward. He shared the story of his mother waking him and his family at 2 a.m. to cook for 15 hours to prepare a meal for their community. When Jedrek’s mother became ill, the community repaid her generosity with love and support.
“Through community, lives are lived, laughs are shared, love is celebrated, and Breakthroughs occur,” he said.
Likewise, the MHS community forms lifelong bonds. MHS Senior Division Principal Bob Ebert reflected on meeting the assembly’s keynote speaker, Robin Ferrer ’00, for the first time more than 25 years ago.
Ferrer, the MHS 2023 Alumnus of the Year, is system vice president of emergency services for the Mount Sinai Health System. He told those gathered to always appreciate the Hersheys generosity and to work hard to fulfill their dream.
“Let’s be really clear, I’m not standing at this podium, you’re not sitting in your seat, Pete Gurt is not president, and the cafeteria lady is not serving you lunch, had it not been for the foresight, generosity, and altruism of Milton and Catherine Hershey,” he said.
Ferrer encouraged students to make an impact on the world after graduation and assured them anything is possible.
“If this young, unruly kid from New York City who slept on subways and knocked on neighbors’ doors trying to find his next meal, could make it when all the odds were stacked against him, then there isn’t an ounce of doubt that every single student in this auditorium has the means, the ability, and courage to pursue your dreams uninterrupted,” he said.
Following the assembly, Ferrer and the senior class planted a tree near Founders Hall. The tradition honors the opportunity Milton and Catherine Hershey gave students. The first oak tree was planted in honor of Milton S. Hershey on Nov. 15, 1946—the year after Mr. Hershey died.