Harold Anderson OPC '17 

Harold Anderson Penn Charter Commencement Speaker 2017

Good Morning Friends and Family,

First and foremost congratulations to the class of 2017! I can’t express how proud I am of every last one of us having witnessed each other’s growth since freshman year. Thank you for giving me the honor to speak to you during this amazing time, and for supporting my journey up to this point. My time at Penn Charter has consisted of many ups and downs all of which has shaped me for the better. Within these red doors, I have refined the person I am, growing those leadership qualities Dylan spoke of. However, perhaps the greatest gift I have been given here is the time and space to find my true north.

Learning how to forge a single narrative from my experiences in and out of school, has enabled me to discover myself on a more deep and analytical level. One of these first experiences, was in swimming class freshman year and if anyone here knows me, they know water and I don’t always have the best relationship.

One of the first few classes, in which we were asked to swim laps,  I made sure I was in the far left lane. I thought to myself “this is going to be fine, I have the wall, and if worst come to worst, I can put my feet on the ground and keep my head above water. I’m just swimming quarter laps, half laps, nothing too crazy.”  I look around and everyone else is doing full laps. So I think it can’t be that bad, I’m going to try doing a full lap. This was my first mistake. I had never done a full lap before, so I didn’t know where the pool floor began to go down and I wasn’t looking at the numbers on the sides because I was too focused on not dying.

I get a few stretches in, I take a deep breath, put my feet on the wall, and pushed off. The first few seconds I felt great, I felt confident. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. My legs started to give so I stopped to take a break and get them together. Second mistake. I went to put my feet on the floor and immediately felt myself sinking into eternal darkness. I looked down and saw I had passed the drop off in the pool and instantly thought this is armageddon.  This is the end. At that moment I threw all reason and logic out the window. Needless to say, I was back in swimming next year.

As dreadful as that was, experiences like it helped me find myself. Not soon after, I discovered an important factor in how to discover oneself. In a time of strong political and social adversities, it is more important than ever for people to voice their opinions and beliefs. However, with the strenuous pressures from society’s standards and expectations, it is hard for people to develop their own belief system.

We are constantly bombarded with a media that has an agenda of dividing us and recent events in our country have done nothing but reinforce this agenda. People jump on sides without taking the time to examine what they truly believe in. A question I continually ask myself, from the time I took American Studies in junior year (shoutout to my AS Fam, Ms.K, and Uncle Lee) is what do I believe in and why? Considering this question involves taking a break to disconnect myself from all the standards, rules, and expectations of society, and those of my friends and family, to find out what it is I truly believe in. To set the scale of right and wrong for myself. To not conform and mold myself from the clay given to me by the world around me. So I took a momentary break in order to use my personal experiences to help me find my compass. 

It's easy to take on personas of whatever is “cool” or socially acceptable, but immensely difficult to confront yourself. The latter is more rewarding in the long run and confronting myself very often in my time here, I saw myself in different dynamics that were references as I change and develop. My mental and physical low points in my progress with confronting myself made me sometimes question the reasoning and point to life. These low points are something I’ve endlessly fought against since a child. But this confrontation, this discovery has been my drive. It has been the fire burning inside me to become more, do more, and live a life that makes a difference. Struggling through swimming, I knew I would pass, eventually. I knew because it is this drive that assures me that I can propel myself to the next challenge and overcome. Finding myself and sticking to who I am have gotten me through the darkest times, which heavily includes going to those who share experiences with me.

So I need to give thanks to my mom, my brothers on the field, and my squad in 110, for being my sounding board, my support at times, my inspiration. They’ve help me find reassurance in what I’ve made of myself. So believe me, finding oneself is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do and having a support system is essential beyond explanation.

This ties into my next point, relating to our year theme of community. In today’s society, even our commonalities are sometimes positioned as a divider to separate us. When added to the selfishness exhibited in our society, it's clear why there isn’t a sense of value for relations and connections to one another. I’ve come to learn that there is great value in living for others in a sense. Doing even just the little things solely for the sake of others. Putting value in how you relate to others and the grand scheme of things. Making those around you better mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Of course, you must prioritize your physical and mental health, but this doesn’t mean disregarding the well-being of those around you. As much as we try, we should not isolate ourselves in any sense to separate from things we don’t identify or associate with or even just for convenience’s sake. Everything is universal, and life is continuous. It can't be given a fixed point or finish line. A problem for one is a problem for all, and we must continue to be vigilant in addressing problems that arise everyday. And this is something We can not only understand at Penn Charter, but must figure out how to practice in real life.

Being with my classmates for four years, I’ve caught glimpses of how this aligns with all of our journeys of discovery. We’ve seen how living for others allows people around us to find themselves by giving a genuine atmosphere serving as a resource instead of being a limitation to their identity development.

So, thanks to many of you here, I’ve found myself to be an aspiring humanitarian — living for others and helping to make this world better. But there have been barriers and attitudes that need to be changed and Penn Charter has been a mini cosmopolitan place for me to get a taste of this and what is to come. Therefore, I am grateful to this place. I know we all are. Thanks to all the parents who’ve supported me and my classmates, to my teachers and coaches who furthered my learning, to my peers who contributed to four years worthy of talking about for the next ten years, to my friends who never gave up on me in times of need, and to my family for providing an upbringing I couldn’t have been more blessed to have. A special thanks to Mr. Ford and Mrs. Johnson for putting up with me in many car rides. Without them, I would not be here, literally. No one here has put up with me like Mr. Ford: He had to stop on the side of the expressway to stretch me out because I got cramps after a football game, and he bailed me out by getting me a corsage – that I forgot – for my prom date.

And an extremely large thank you to my mother and grandmother for being the foundation of what I am and for supporting me unconditionally.

If you take anything away from my personal journey and what I’ve learned from my time here, I urge you to connect with yourself on a level you may have never done before. Take a break from what society expects of you and find yourself. It's never too late to be a positive change in the world. And once you do, check back in and incorporate supporting others into your life. Doing the smallest things always help and always has an effect. Break out of the mold of simply living for yourself. Humanity will not progress without you taking action. In the wise words of Oprah Winfrey, “The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change their future by merely changing their attitude.” If nothing else, my time at Penn Charter has charged me with charging you to become more, do more, and to live a life that makes a difference. Thank You.


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Penn Charter

A Friends School for Girls and Boys, Pre-K to 12

3000 West School House Lane Philadelphia, PA 19144 215.844.3460
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