Commencement Address 2015
I begin by thanking Jelani Buie and Sylvie Miller, our commencement speakers, for their reflections. As is our custom, commencement speakers are not the valedictorian or salutatorian. Rather, nominees are raised up by members of the senior class and by their teachers. Then, the upper school faculty selects one speaker from the student list and one speaker from the faculty list. Jelani and Sylvie were chosen using this process, and they spoke on behalf of their class. That small distinction—speaking on behalf of their peers—represents a way that Penn Charter, as a Quaker School, is so different from other independent schools. Because we believe that the inner light exists in each of you, we believe that all of you are worthy and each of you is worthy of accolades and of the honor of speaking on behalf of your classmates.
Jelani and Sylvie do have a special distinction as speakers this year. I believe that this is the first time in our long and storied history that each speaker who will become OPC is the child of an OPC. Jelani’s father, Harith Buie, graduated in 1991, and Sylvie’s father, Andrew Miller, graduated in 1982. Even with this special distinction, of course, it was more work for Jelani and Sylvie to prepare for today, so please join me in thanking them.
At our Opening Assembly of school in September, I welcomed all of our students and our senior class to this year of celebration of our 325th anniversary! At that time, I reminded our students the year of our school’s founding: 1689. 1689 was the year of the English Bill of Rights. 1689 was 8 years after the establishment of the Province Pennsylvania; 87 years before the founding of this country; and yes, 325 years before this school year. Given such, I wanted these seniors to know that this was going to be a memorable year of celebration.
I think we accomplished this for all of our students and for you, our seniors. This anniversary year included special speakers and programs. And on October 24, we marked the occasion with a morning convocation with a parade of graduates from the decades; dignitaries, including the former mayor of Philadelphia and governor of Pennsylvania; a horse-riding Thomas Jefferson interpreter, who stated that his most influential teacher of the law was Charles Thomson, an early headmaster of Penn Charter and who, as secretary of the Continental Congress, later signed of the Declaration of Independence; and even a living statue of William Penn, who stood completely still at different place around the campus only to move when you weren’t expecting it. That same evening, we celebrated with cake and ice cream, premiered a film on William Penn and your school, and topped it all off with an incredible display of fireworks right here on campus.
It seemed liked the fireworks would never end. We your teachers wanted to make that day and night a special time for you, and perhaps, you did not want the celebration, the anniversary, nor the fireworks to end. In similar fashion, perhaps you do not want this day to come. Yet today, seniors, this marks the end of your special time as students at Penn Charter.
While it was our goal to make this anniversary year memorable for you, it is, in fact, you who have made this year and your time at Penn Charter memorable for us. You, the Class of 2015, have distinguished yourselves individually and collectively.
As a senior class, your academic strength is clear to your faculty. Twenty-three of you were inducted into Cum Laude, and all of you can boast of the highest GPA of a senior class in the past five years. According to your teachers, you as seniors, more than others in recent times, have remained highly engaged in your academic pursuits up until the very end of this school year. In other words, there was only a little “senioritis” for your class. In addition to pursuing your academic interests, you have connected these interests to your commitments to service to our school, to our community, and to our country. Finally, your broad interests and talents have landed you in a wide array of your top choice colleges. These include the Ivies, the Patriot League, Quaker schools, a women’s college, and historically black colleges and universities, among others.
During your four years of high school, you, as athletes, have won four Inter-Ac championships in boys water polo, two championships in girls softball, one in baseball, one in track and field, the first-ever championship in girls soccer, only to be followed by another this past September; and state championships in girls soccer and softball. You have been Eastern Swim Champs, part of Doc Mittica’s 300th softball win, and cheered a teammate as she scored her 200th career lacrosse goal. You were first to compete in a renovated Dooney Field House and train in a renovated fitness room; you witnessed the rebirth of crew, named seven new boats and a launch just a few weeks ago, and rowed admirably on the river. Equally as important, you have competed well and represented your school well on the gridiron, basketball court, the playing field, and in the pool. I am certain that the 25 of you who will compete as scholar-athletes in college will do so with the same positive attitude and work ethic, which you all exhibited at Penn Charter.
In service to others, you have provided excellent leadership, which has led to your being the most involved student body ever. Each of our service projects was filled with volunteers five or six days every week. As a class, you logged more than 1,000 hours of service. You provided excellent leadership in big public events like PC at the Phillies when we sang "America the Beautiful" and hosted all of our service partners, and on the Anti-Defamation League Walk Against Hate. Several of you were heavily involved in planning and setting up our Center for Public Purpose, which focuses on issues of the quality of public education, food insecurity and hunger, and other root causes of poverty.
As artists, you have sung beautifully in boys and girls a cappella and in Quaker’s Dozen and in something like the Quaker’s Triple Dozen – as many of you travelled to Ireland this past spring break. You were leaders in the band and shared your talents in shows like Hairspray; Romeo and Juliet; East of the Sun, West of the Moon; Antigone; Seussical; and Fame. And of course, there is Showcase. Perhaps, more than any other class, you have provided leadership and thrived in the arts!
Both Jelani’s and Sylvie’s observations offer insights into what makes your Penn Charter education special. Jelani spoke of strong relationships with parents and friends, a golden ticket of opportunity, and heart. Sylvie also noted opportunities, the limitless nature of a Penn Charter education, and passion. I think they both got it right; Penn Charter offers all of the above. In addition, however, I remind you of another concept I introduced at our Opening Assembly. That is the Quaker edge.
I commented, “As a Friends school, your education gives you an added benefit of the Quaker testimonies of simplicity, equality, peace, integrity, community, and stewardship, among others. As a Friends school, we are called upon to see the inner light in each other. As a Friends school, we strive to take part in deep reflection; think critically without being critical; embrace diversity, even when this is hard; be good stewards of the environment and the resources given to us; and to walk lightly and cheerfully upon this earth. These elements combine to create a Quaker edge, a benefit that we gain by being an intentional Friends school community. While we are given this by our presence at this great school, the real benefit for the world occurs as we leave this friendly place.”
All of this and more are yours because you have been students at Penn Charter. Because you have been students at Penn Charter, it is our hope that you leave these walls and go forth to live lives that make a difference.
It has been my practice to end my commencement address by quoting William Penn, your school’s founder. Penn stated, “We have a Call to do good, as often as we have the power and the occasion.” In addition, Penn stated, “I expect to pass through this life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”
Class of 2015, you have done good and shown kindness during your time as students at Penn Charter and in this our 325th anniversary year. You have made your mark on this school, and you have made this year memorable for us.
On behalf of your faculty and staff, I wish you every happiness and every success, and I hope you will have fond memories of Old Penn Charter.
Congratulations to the Class of 2015!