Commencement Address 2016
I begin by thanking Jack Mahoney and Kristina Ohemeng, 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. Jack and Kristina were chosen using this process. These two students especially are to be commended for their selection, though, because Jack and Kristina offer newer voices as they are new members of the Class of 2016. Jack and Kristina each came to PC as an eighth grader.
For you each to be selected not having been here for an extended time since kindergarten or Lower School means that your peers and teachers think well of you. You were chosen knowing that you would be inspirational, and you spoke on behalf of your class. That small distinction of speaking on behalf of your 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. Of course, speaking meant more work for Jack and Kristina to prepare for today, so please join me in thanking them.
Today, we are here to graduate you so you can commence the next chapter of your lives as OPCs: a title and honor you can claim only after this ceremony. Today, we are here to honor this accomplishment and you. To honor you, we need to know who you are. Seniors, as I review some highlights of your time at Penn Charter, see if you recognize yourself and your contributions to our school.
Most of you in this senior class were born in 1997 or 1998 when "Frasier" was a popular TV show, "Jurassic Park: the Lost World" and "Men in Black" were popular films, and Smashing Pumpkins, Lenny Kravitz, and the Spice Girls were popular musicians … and a gallon of gas cost $1.15.
Sixteen of you started Penn Charter in 2003 as kindergarteners. You are the “lifers,” the blue ruggers and the red ruggers. Many of you came in Lower School, Middle School and in ninth grade, and today you number 109 students.
You have distinguished yourself in the arts. You have been talented visual artists, among the first OPCs to master the art of digital photography, you have lent your voices to Chamber Singers, Sharped Flats, Girls a capella, Quakers Dozen and choirs, and you have amazed us with more band, jazz band, Showcase and pop-up ensembles than I can ever remember at PC. Some of you early performers opened the Kurtz Center with the "Wizard of Oz." You rocked in "Hairspray." You wowed us in "Beauty and the Beast." And after each Small Ensemble Concert you left us asking: How can they keep getting even better?
Athletically, you most recently won PC/GA Day, the 129th meeting in this historic rivalry, and you also won it when you were freshman. In four years, you captured 10 Inter-Academic League championships. The girls won three girls’ Inter-Ac softball championships (not to mention two consecutive state softball titles). Boys water polo won three league championships. Girls soccer won two league championships (not to mention the first of two state titles as juniors). Baseball contributed a league trophy to our case, and so did boys track and field. Two PC girls basketball players surpassed the career milestone of 1,000 points scored. Our boys swimmers won Easterns, and our girls swimmers scored the most points in school history, placing fifth at that comptetition. Boys squash won Division 2 at MASA, and wrestling sent six to compete in nationals. Crew sent a girls double to Ohio to row in the national competition. We missed these young women at Color Day, but thank you for representing the blue and yellow. And, this year, the football team almost bested Haverford in a heartbreakier that left players, coaches and fans almost breathless. Go Charter!
You have witnessed and benefited from the facilities we built for you. The Richard B. Fisher Middle School, a renovated Upper School, the Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts, the Kline & Specter Squash Courts, the Gross Softball Field, the Reiger Tennis Courts, and most recently, the Blaine Fitness Center, the renovated Dooney Field House, a new eight-lane track and stadium turf field, not to mention the IdeaLab maker space. All this for you – to make your educational experience the best we could make it – for you.
You have studied modern languages and cultures and traveled abroad to China, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Ireland, Costa Rica, and French-speaking Canada. Scholars of ancient languages, you know your Latin and the pantheon of Greco-Roman gods and goddesses. You are among the very first students in our Mandarin Chinese program, and four of you have completed Level 5.
Academically, individually you have grown, and as a grade, you are collectively strong. Just this past month, many of you received recognition at our awards assembly, 21 of have been inducted in to Cum Laude – 16 of you as seniors and an impressive 5 of you as juniors last year; and you have been showered with outside accolades for achievement in robotics, equity and justice initiatives, sportsmanship, community service, and much more. As a class, you had a higher percentage of students taking our most demanding curriculum than students in prior years, and this has paid off for you with an impressive list of “most competitive” and “very competitive” college choices. You have chosen Quaker colleges, the Ivy and Patriot Leagues, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and post-graduate studies, among other options; you have chosen the universities that are right for you. I am thankful for your options and for the choices you have made!
Seniors, this is a sampling of who you are and what you have achieved, and we stand proud of you for all of it. However, you are so much more than your activities and achievements at Penn Charter, and this is the heart of my message to you today.
In September, I welcomed you and your fellow students to school and introduced you to simplicity as our theme for the year. Because our seniors have been at this Friends school for many years, they know that simplicity is one of the many Quaker Testimonies that we value in this community. Each other Testimony—peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship—is more easily understood than your senior year theme of simplicity.
To help us understand this particular testimony, banners about simplicity surrounded our campus. The first banner reads, “Simplicity, Finding Balance.” This helped us to focus on the things we need to do and to let go of the things that are not necessary. The second banner says, “Simplicity, Let Not Your Possessions Own You.” This helped us to remember not to lose ourselves and our focus to material possessions. They third banner says, “Simplicity, The Love of God Makes Us Free.” This helped us to focus on love and establishing right relations with the divine and with others.
The commonality of each of these understandings of the testimony of simplicity is ridding oneself of the non-essential and focusing on the essential—those things that really matter—and taking right action that puts you in right relationship with the divine.
You, the class of 2016, have distinguished yourself by focusing on what really matters and by striving to take right action. Here are three quick but important examples of right action and relationship.
As a class, you have faced too much loss of loved ones—parents, aunts, uncles, and others—and faced too many of the challenges that life sometimes presents. You have stood by, supported, and loved each other. Doing so is illustrative of the right action that simplicity calls for and, thus, puts you in right relationship with God.
As a class, since ninth grade, you have amassed more service hours working in after-school and weekend programs. Just this year, you have logged more than 1,500 hours. Students from this class played instrumental roles on the service advisory committee and were involved in the planning and establishment of our Center for Public Purpose. You also were the first to write a grant in Philanthropy 101 to a major foundation and receive funding to support work in some of our local partner service schools. You also did service on the days when others in the community engaged in this important work – and then on Sundays, too, when you moved homeless families with compassion and kindness. By your service, you have “let your life speak.” Doing so is illustrative of the right action that simplicity calls for and, thus, puts you in right relationship with God.
This year, as an entire community, we have been confronted and challenged by critical issues of equity, justice, and race. This is difficult terrain for our nation, for our school, and for anyone, not to mention 14- to 18-year-old young adults. Some feel the bull’s-eye target of micro-aggressions, others are fearful of saying the wrong things, others are weary of interrupting the cycles of hurtful language and behaviors, and we all want to just get along and be recognized for the nice people who we are and for the inner light inside each of us.
Dealing with issues of equity, justice, and race is fraught with risk, yet you, as seniors, in quintessential Quaker fashion, embraced this difficult tension in an effort to make whole those who felt less than whole and to build bridges of understanding and to acknowledge the inner light inside each of us. Doing so is illustrative of the right action that simplicity calls for and, again, puts you in right relationship with God—even in the midst of confronting difficult and challenging issues.
You have achieved well. Yet, you also have learned well to focus on what really matter. Simplicity. Focusing on the essential. This is the education that your Quaker school has provided you. This is the benefit of your Friends education. At Penn Charter, we have provided you an education of consequence. We want you to focus on issues of consequence. And we want you to live a life of consequence. 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 2016, you have done good and shown kindness during your time as students at Penn Charter. You have made your mark on this 326 year-old school, and your time with us has been memorable.
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 2016!