Last week NHS published a new book called Our Story: A Guide to the History of Northfield, Minnesota. It was written by eighth graders at Northfield Middle School that engaged in innovative research and writing that had them searching back through Northfield’s history from the early geology of the area to the present day. The 42 chapter and richly illustrated history is written in the style of a textbook and will be used in the local schools. The book is also a great general read.
At the book release party we had students give a brief speech on what the project meant to them. One of them Nicholas Gonnerman stood above the rest. I wanted to share with you his speech. This is why our youth programs at NHS are so special.
When we were writing this book, our job was to record and research the specifics of our chapter: What year did St. Olaf begin? How many businesses were in the Scriver building? What did Adelbert Ames do? We focused on the dates, the names, that kind thing. So when I was asked recently what I learned from this experience, that’s what originally jumped into my head.
But then I started thinking. Having been able to take a step back from the bustle of the writing and researching process, I can say — and I think I speak for all of us — that we learned much more than specific facts about this town. We also learned about its character. And that’s the most important aspect of this project, that we 10 students came away with a new and deeper understanding of what makes Northfield the unique place it is today.
I learned, first of all, that Northfielders respect and learn from their rich past. As a town, we look back at a colorful history with pride and excitement. As a community we’re willing to devote time to value and celebrate our past.
I learned that Northfielders are smart. That being entrepreneurial and sensible is in Northfielders’ nature. The colleges, the lyceum, and library, for example, are some of our oldest and most cherished institutions.
And I learned that this town is kooky. That we have a good sense of humor and, most importantly, we can and do poke fun at ourselves. “Cows, colleges, and contentment,” the sign that many visitors first see, is indicative of this town’s sense of humor. The ability for Northfielders to be self-deprecating about the past shows how much they care about the past.
These themes: a respect for history, intellect, and a healthy sense of humor, mean more to me than just historical facts. They show me that this city’s character means more and does more to strengthen us as a community than any date, name, or place. And that makes me hopeful about the future.
Well said Nicholas!