A Rare Kind of Place
"I came into Penn Charter in seventh grade completely uncertain of who I was and who I wanted to be in the world. And, with graduation so close, I’m still virtually as uncertain as the morning I first walked into the Middle School. For me, that’s been the toughest part of the past four years. As I’ve gained the steadier perspective on the world that comes with maturity, I’ve been unable to apply it to find definitive purpose in my own life. It’s a scary thing. When kids are being taught to think about college applications as early as elementary school, it’s easy to feel pressure to focus, figure out how we want to apply ourselves, do it, and move on, all before we’re even twenty. We feel the need to learn not for learning’s own sake, but because we need to use that knowledge to make sense of the questions we feel like we’re supposed to have answered already. Education is reduced to a pragmatic, utilitarian thing: it’s a means of scrambling to find the perspective we’re told we so desperately need. Childhood, with its open view of an unexplored world, starts to feel like a burden instead of a gift.
This is where the indulgent rambling stops and I finally get around to addressing what the subject of this piece is supposed to be: Penn Charter and its impact on my life.
I’d be lying if I said that the school has resolved these issues for me. However, I don’t think that it was supposed to. In fact, it would have been a huge disservice if the school took away our chance to figure things out for ourselves. The reason that Penn Charter is a rare kind of place, the kind of place you have to look hard to find in a high school, is that it doesn’t try. Penn Charter instructs us. It keeps us grounded. It catches us when we stumble. But it doesn’t attempt, even a little bit, to tell us what we’re supposed to want or who we’re supposed to be. And in that sense, although it sounds cheesy even as I type it, it frees us. It frees us from the competitive culture that would otherwise shatter any chance we have at building our own perspectives on the world. Penn Charter is one of few high-performing high schools that allow us to explore and define our lives according to our own terms, free from the pressure to figure out the sort of problems people three times our age still struggle with. That’s something it took time for me to appreciate, and something for which I will always be grateful. For that reason, as excited as I am for the future, there will be a part of me that will miss this place and the freedom it provided.
So, to wrap up: thanks, Penn Charter. I owe you."
Paul Eberwine OPC ’14 published this senior reflection in The Mirror, Penn Charter’s student newspaper, just weeks before Commencement. Paul is now a freshman at Yale University.