Thayer reflects upon the legacy of MLK Jr.

Thayer reflects upon the legacy of MLK Jr.

The power of education and the power of using one’s voice were two central messages Jan. 13 as Thayer Academy celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Dr. Jesse McCarthy speaks to Upper School students.

Dr. Jesse McCarthy speaks to Upper School students.    

Dr. Jesse McCarthy, an assistant professor of English and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, addressed Upper School students that day; Dr. William Cheng, a professor of music at Dartmouth College, addressed Middle School students. Both speakers offered remarks and then engaged in a broad-ranging discussion of King’s “beloved community” moderated by Dr. Joshua Bennett, a Dartmouth professor and a current scholar-in-residence at Thayer. 

At the Upper School, McCarthy differentiated between education as means of reproducing the status quo and education as a means of improving society. He added that King was very much in the latter camp and, like W.E.B. Du Bois before him, believed education allows individuals to critically assess information and, if need be, challenge it. 

“You have the opportunity — the extreme good luck and the opportunity — to have an education,” said McCarthy, who noted that most people in the long sweep of history weren’t so fortunate. “But the question remains: what is it for?” 

While wealth or power may be answers to that question for some, McCarthy said education is critical in choosing community over chaos to get to the society King famously referred to as “the Promised Land.” 

“The road to get there passes through you,” McCarthy told students. “We need you.” 

Dr. William Cheng performs for students.

     Dr. William Cheng performs for students.

At the Middle School, Cheng performed several pieces on piano for students and offered his thoughts on music, the power of improvisation, and his love of video games (Cheng teaches a course at Dartmouth called “Video Games and the Meaning of Life”). He even shared with students how a chronic illness once separated him from his love of music. But on the larger topic of working toward King’s “beloved community,” Cheng told students that expressing oneself doesn’t necessarily mean being the first or the loudest. 

“Some people need extra time to say something, and some people need extra time to be something,” he said. 

At Bennett’s prompting, Cheng made a distinction between silence and quiet — “I just find quiet can be so powerful sometimes,” he said — and offered his own experience as an example, telling students that he was always considered “the quiet one” growing up. And that, he said, is just fine. 

“You don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room to believe that your voice still matters,” he said. 

Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Matt Ghiden spoke at both events and asked students to reflect upon the reasons behind honoring King. Ghiden pointed out that, in the years before his death, King had focused much of his efforts on ending poverty and stopping the Vietnam War, two positions that had cost him some popularity. Ghiden asked students to imagine King’s “beloved community” and decide what actions they would take to make it a reality. 

Students Tatiana Allen ‘23 and Quentin Brown ‘27 had the honor of introducing the day’s guests at the Upper School and Middle School, respectively. 

First observed in 1986, MLK Day is held on the third Monday in January and honors King, who was born Jan. 15, 1929, and was assassinated at age 39 in April of 1968. He would have turned 94 this year. 

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