What's next for the 102 members of the Class of 2023? In his Commencement address, Head of School Darryl J. Ford Hon. 1689 drew inspiration from an icon of film and fashion to assure the graduates that all possibilities are theirs to create. "I saw a quote on a sign at a college campus which inspired me," Ford said to Penn Charter's seniors and their families, friends and teachers gathered on Maguire Field on June 10, "and I knew I would use it for this address. The quote is from Audrey Hepburn: 'Nothing is impossible; the word itself says 'I'm possible!'"
"There are two themes I want to highlight to our graduates. These themes are possibility and making a difference. What difference can you make? With this Penn Charter education that you have, be on the lookout for the change you may foster. Connect your 'I'm Possible' to your making a difference."
-Head of School Darryl J. Ford. This was Ford's final commencement as head. He has attended 26 PC commencements since joining the school in 1997.
- Head of School Darryl J. Ford Hon. 1689
- Chet Kempinski OPC '23
- Chloe Pinto OPC '23
- Cliff Harling OPC '23
I begin by thanking Chet and Chloe for being today’s Commencement speakers. At Penn Charter, a Quaker school, Commencement speakers are not chosen because they are ranked number one in their class, are the star and perfect student, or because of popularity. Rather, they are chosen because their faculty believe that they may share interesting reflections from different perspectives that we may need to hear. Traditionally, the Upper School faculty selects a speaker from a student list and a speaker from a faculty list.
This year, Chet and Chloe were chosen because they have the respect and admiration of both peers and teachers. Chet and Chloe, you were chosen not to speak for your class but on behalf of your class. Thank you.
Today, as I speak about the accolades of the Class of 2023, there are two themes I want to highlight to our graduates. These themes are possibility and making a difference. Possibility. And making a difference, which is part the school’s vision statement: to educate students to live lives that make a difference.
This is a special day for our students, and I am honored to share this commencement (my 26th at Penn Charter) with you as I preside over this last graduation as head of school.
This is such a graduation quote. Almost a graduation trope which plays into the power of positive thinking and the reality for some and the myth for others that with hard work, positive thinking, and the right attitude, one can attain and/or obtain anything. Yet, while we know that the odds are stacked against many, by virtue of your parents, the education you have had at Penn Charter, and who you are, you — our graduates — are best positioned to live a life of “I’m Possible!”About a year ago while many of you were doing your college visits, my wife, Gail Sullivan, and I were doing the same with our son Lucas. On one of our tours, I saw quote on a sign at a college campus which inspired me, and I knew I would use for this Commencement address. The quote is from Audrey Hepburn, an actor whom none of our students will know, but with whom many grandparents and some parents and faculty are familiar. The quote reads, "Nothing is impossible; the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!”
This is such a graduation quote. Almost a graduation trope which plays into the power of positive thinking and the reality for some and the myth for others that with hard work, positive thinking and the right attitude, one can attain and/or obtain anything. Yet, while we know that the odds are stacked against many, by virtue of your parents, the education you have had at Penn Charter, and who you are, you – our graduates – are best positioned to live a life of “I’m Possible!”
How do we, your faculty and parents, know you can have the best chance of living a life of “I’m Possible?” We know this because you have already exhibited “I’m Possible” in many things you already have done.
Of the 102 seniors sitting here today, 15 of you are Super Lifers who started here in pre-K in 2009 and nine of you are Lifers who started in kindergarten in 2010. You have persevered for 13 and 14 years, and with another 89 of you joining along the way, you all of have made it to the end.
During the 2019–2020 school year, you arrived in Upper School with all the normal excitement and fears of high school, and little did you know — or any of us know — that you would face one of the biggest challenges of our time: a global pandemic. Yet, on the academic front, you survived with half of your class learning in-person one week in-school while the other half of the class learned online at home, and then you all would switch the next week. You followed this Yellow Week – Blue Week pattern for a year, and you coped. And now, as you leave Penn Charter, you have more than survived; you have thrived.
While you all have engaged in Penn Charter’s rich content curriculum, 13 of you delved deeper into your passions and achieved certificates in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice; Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability; and Global Culture and Language. Others of you took independent studies exploring topics of engineering principles in F-1 race cars; the cognitive development of self-efficacy in dyslexic children; sports rehabilitation studies; and sustainability and fashion. Some of you completed every math course we offer and conquered every math problem known to humankind.
Twenty-one of you were inducted in Cum Laude during junior and senior years. Additionally, many of you have garnered school-based and national awards even as you do everything we require at Penn Charter, worked jobs to help make your Penn Charter education possible, and even explored passions on your own.
These include one “Swifty” who has memorized the entire Taylor Swift discography; marathon and half-marathon runners; photographers; world travelers; Sci-Fi aficionados (by the way, Star Trek is real and Star Wars is fiction); extreme-condition campers and canoers; backpackers, one who explored 212 miles of the Appalachian Trail; and volunteers extraordinaire.
All examples of “I’m Possible!”
Yet the biggest example of impossible to possible might be your classmate who convinced me to allow a cheer/step team. Every portion of my Quaker-like being said “no” to PC cheer, yet your classmate made it happen, and the spirit of our school was enlivened. And speaking of spirit, there has never been a harder working Quaker, especially on Great Day, when she donned the Quaker costume for more than eight hours on behalf of the school.
During Covid, you rehearsed your band instruments outside in the freezing cold, all in masks and playing with bell covers. Additionally, you created and performed a virtual musical, put on a virtual cabaret, and designed costumes, lightings, and sets for Footloose with the largest stage crew ever, and achieved a functional sell-out for the show with the cast dancing and singing all while masked!
You also starred in Ghost Stories, Earl the Vampire, a cappella festivals, traveled to Orlando and performed and stood in solidarity with the Sounds of Freedom Ensembles, and recorded the soundtrack of Despicable Me while on your trip. Here at home, you rehearsed with Grammy Award-winning jazz singer Kurt Elling and performed for our own pre-K students during the holidays. Others of you excelled in screenwriting, penned fairytales and children’s stories, and originated Meeting for Doodling.
All examples of “I’m Possible!”
In athletics, during your high school careers you have achieved two back-to-back championships in girls basketball; two back-to-back championships in boys basketball, a girls water polo Eastern championship; and two girls track and field Inter-Ac and PAISAA championships.
In 10th grade during Covid, when we had no league championships, girls basketball and lacrosse and boys baseball all finished in first place.
In ninth grade, girls cross country was Inter-Ac champions, girls soccer won the PAISAA state championship and girls swimming and diving won Easterns.
In basketball, you are 1,000-point scorers and Inter-Ac MVPs. You are an MVP at Easterns and All-State Performers in indoor track in the 4x400m relay. Thirteen of you are three-sport athletes in your senior year, 43 of you are All Inter-Ac performers; two of you are All-Americans in swimming and lacrosse; five of you are All-Academic All-State in lacrosse; and 32 of you have committed to play sports in college.
These are all examples of “I’m Possible!”
And from our senior speakers today, Cliff’s example of overcoming a life-threatening accident, Chloe’s examples of conquering fifth grade math and tackling the things you dread most and her admonition that they can be as important as the things you love, and Chet’s full-on desire to serve his country are yet more illustrations of "I’m Possible."
William Penn stated, "We have a Call to do Good, as often as we have the power and the occasion. I expect to pass through this life but once. If therefore, there by 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."Audrey Hepurn, the author of turning impossible into “I’m Possible,” fashioned this phrase and attitude born out of her own personal experience. Childhood was hard, her parents were divorced, and she fled her home country during World War II. Yet, she achieved movie star and fashion-star status. More importantly, she engaged in a life of making a difference as a children’s right advocate and UNICEF ambassador.
This leads me to the second theme of my reflection. That of making a difference. While I won’t linger here long, graduates, I want you to hear Penn Charter’s Vision Statement. We educate students to live lives that make a difference. Often in Quaker schools, we are accused of being too subtle about what we want you to learn. This is because we want to scaffold you to take charge of your own learning. So, perhaps, we haven’t been explicit enough to you — our students — about our vision statement to “educate students to lives that make a difference.” So, if you never heard this before, learn this one lesson today. It is our goal that you have been educated and will continue to be educated to make a difference.
What difference can you make? Think about it. And if you don’t know yet what that is, that is fine. But be on the look-out for what that difference may be. With this Penn Charter education that you have, be on the look-out for the change you may foster.
Connect your “I’m Possible” to your making a difference.
It has been my practice to end my commencement remarks 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 said, “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 2023, do good and show kindness. Connect your “I’m Possible” to your making a difference.
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 2023!
Good morning Mr. Reinhold, Dr. Ford, Mrs. Berndt, Mr. Burkhart, and Mrs. Chaitt.
Hello friends. Hello families. Hello teachers. And HELLO CLASS OF 2023!
Before I begin my message, I want first to take a moment to recognize Dr. Ford, our beloved Head of School. Dr. Ford is the essence of what Penn Charter is all about. He genuinely cares about this school and has impacted everyone who has walked through its doors. As one simple example, Dr. Ford took an entire afternoon out of his busy schedule to tour George Glomb and me around his alma mater, Villanova University. I do not know any other head of school who would do the same for their students. I know each and every one of my classmates has an example of Dr. Ford’s commitment to them. Dr. Ford, thank you for being you. You have made Penn Charter what it is today. We will miss you and our school will miss you.
And now, back to the scheduled programming . . . At the end of my eighth-grade year, I was planning on staying at my local public school, Central Bucks East. After my club lacrosse season, I noticed that most of my teammates were attending private schools. I learned that in order to maximize my chance of being recruited to play in college, I would have to do the same and play in the Inter-Ac.
What makes PC truly special is the community surrounding it. At all levels and across the divisions, people care about the success of the school and each other.
After some insight from coaches, I looked at Penn Charter. I applied on June 1 and was told I was the last person accepted into the class of 2023. I had never visited the school, I did not have any friends, and I had no first-hand experiences at the school outside of practicing club lacrosse on Perrott Field.
From what I read online, Penn Charter was also strong academically. But don’t be mistaken, I was coming here first and foremost for lacrosse. Looking back, I realize how short-sighted and uninformed I was. I basically came into the process with a ton of faith in PC's reputation. I would characterize this huge decision in my life as lacking perception or awareness as to what I was getting into.
Unaware or not, once I got here, I was in awe. PC is known for the 3 A’s—academics, athletics, and the arts—and it should be. Academically PC is consistently ranked one of the top schools in the state and nation. The robust curriculum prepares students for college and life in the real world. We have amazing teachers who dedicate themselves to the success of their students. In particular, I would like to acknowledge a few great teachers: Teacher Sharon, Mr. Oberfield, Ms. Turner, Ms. Kleinle, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Gorham. Sincere thanks for preparing me in such a thorough and fun way.
In our College Counseling office, I’d like to recognize Mr. Furda for his consistent help with the never-ending West Point application process. All said, I feel more than prepared academically by Penn Charter as I matriculate to the United States Military Academy next year. Sorry Ramsay, but Go Army, BEAT NAVY!
If you have a positive mindset and a strong desire to succeed, you will succeed. I challenge you to embrace these opportunities, known and unknown, and attack every day with a great attitude and a smile on your face.
Athletically at Penn Charter, we have access to the best facilities, the best coaches, and the best trainers. A special shoutout to Coach Bobby, Coach McDonough, Coach Estok, and trainers Bashir, Mare, and Jess. Thank you for pushing me to be my best on and off the field. And thanks to our Athletic Director Mr. Brooks, I am confident that PC Athletics is heading in the best direction ever with your leadership.
I must be honest; I am not the most inclined in the last A, the arts. Despite this lack of firsthand experience, I know how talented and dedicated our arts department is. This year, I was persuaded by some fellow students to attend both the Mamma Mia Musical and Spring Concert—I could not have been more impressed at the talent on display. To all the actors, musicians, and artists in the crowd . . . well done.
Be thankful and confident you can always fall back on the lessons we learned at PC. Quaker principles such as stewardship, service, and honoring the light in others will carry you far in school but also in life.
Upon reflection the 3 A’s is nowhere near the most important thing I will be taking from Penn Charter. What makes PC truly special is the community surrounding it. At all levels and across the divisions, people care about the success of the school and each other. Administrators care. Teachers care. Coaches care. Staff cares. Students care. And each participates in making Penn Charter special.
Class of 2023, we will all be facing new challenges next year and beyond. Some of you might be ridiculously informed. Others might be unclear about their next chapter, like I was at PC, and counting a bit on faith. If you have a positive mindset and a strong desire to succeed, you will succeed. I challenge you to embrace these opportunities, known and unknown, and attack every day with a great attitude and a smile on your face.
Be thankful and confident you can always fall back on the lessons we learned at PC. Quaker principles such as stewardship, service, and honoring the light in others will carry you far in school but also in life. Not only will these traits better you personally, but they will also help you impact the new communities you join.
Some communities you can see and know about right now, but most you simply cannot see or predict yet. Have faith that we are prepared well! And conquer life with vigor and a positive outlook. I cannot wait to see what we will all accomplish on our journeys.
Class of 2023, it has been an honor being your classmate and your friend. I truly loved spending each and every day with you here at Penn Charter.
Thank you and Go Quakers.
Delivered June 10, 2023.
I couldn’t figure out how to start this speech for weeks . . . but I think it only makes sense to allow for a brief moment of silence, so I invite you to join me in the manner of Friends.
When Dr. Ford invited me to speak on behalf of my class, I felt honored, excited, and, to be perfectly honest, intimidated. How could I, a singular person with such a distinct Penn Charter experience, possibly encapsulate and express that in all my peers? I wasn’t sure in the beginning, but since my classmates had trust in me, I did too.
Now . . . where to begin . . .
Pre-K? I was four, and all I can remember are the bikes in the basement and playing with those amazing, colorful, see-through building blocks. I’m deeply sorry if you don’t know what I’m referencing, but Ms. Studdy and Connor Ford know exactly what I’m talking about.
Now, I think I want to begin with fifth grade. Fifth grade was a beast, let me tell you. Penn Charter has many traditional milestones: big events like the kindergarten’s first Meeting for Worship with the rest of the Lower School, becoming a “big” in third grade, the fourth-grade economics fair, the fifth-grade egg drop, Physics 500, and of course, math basketball.
I learned that success to me is not about being better than others, it's about being continuously better than yourself.For those of you that are unaware of how this game works, essentially, the class is split up into teams and a bracket is created. In order to move your way up the bracket, you have to compete against other groups by correctly solving as many multiplication problems as possible within a given amount of time (usually a minute or so).
The team with the most problems solved gets the win and moves forward in the game. Everyone else saw it as a game, I saw it as my demise. I was the weakness of my team and it was clear as day. I cried so much and told myself I was stupid because I wasn’t fast enough, or didn’t know enough, and was causing my team to lose.
One day, I was complaining about my inadequacies, and my mom was growing tired of hearing it. She told me that if I wanted to succeed and be an asset to my peers, I would have to put in the work for myself and for my team. So, I did. It was the first and last time I think I ever truly used physical flashcards to study for something in all of my academic career here, but it worked! My team didn’t come out on top, unfortunately, but we made it further than expected, and I actually provided points for my team!
Fifth grade was a big year of growth for me: I started drinking coffee and getting up extra early, as I would go in every Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 to work with Mr. Burnett on the material we were learning that week. And although waking up early did remind me that I was struggling in math, the coffee, Brookeside chocolates, and downtime to bond with Elmo The Chinchilla was SO worth my time. All of my hard work helped me understand how I viewed success.
I was not a straight-A student and often got C’s on my math tests that year. But let me tell you, the first time I received an 80%, Mr. B and I were beyond proud of my progress. I learned that success to me is not about being better than others, it’s about being continuously better than yourself. You have to be your biggest cheerleader and your biggest critic. Finding the balance is hard, but once you have your own back you don’t need anyone or anything other than motivation to succeed.
That’s what Penn Charter is about: it’s a community full of supportive peers and faculty who all work to better themselves and push those around them to do the same. Fifth grade was just the start of it for me. I have so many incredible people to thank for helping me keep my chin up. The adjustment to Middle School was hard enough academically, not to mention the weirdness that comes with being that age—it was a lot to navigate. In eighth grade, I advocated getting myself tested for ADHD after years of academic frustration. When I finally got diagnosed, I was relieved but had no idea what to do next. I knew damn well that I wasn’t going to let a diagnosis get in my way, and Heather Larrabee is THE person who made that possible. And Ms. Ketler who was always patient with me, even through what was sometimes an emotional rollercoaster.
I realized in eighth grade: whatever it is that you love, do it well. But you should also do the things you dread the most. They can be just as important in life as the things you love.
Honestly, if any of you had me for math you have experienced the rollercoaster and you know it’s a trip. But we all made it and definitely had some laughs along the way.
When my peers and I are off to colleges, big or small, I hope we are able to harvest and hold onto the same compassion, level of understanding, and open-minded perspective that Penn Charter has worked so hard to make present in our surroundings. It’s the small things that make such a big impact. Next year, I may not have access to the uncomfortable benches in the meeting room, or the wooden bricks on the floor to count, but whenever I need to contemplate something or work through an internal problem, when I engage with silence, regardless of where I am, it will take me back to this community. And for that, I am beyond thankful.
It’s easy to say “I’ll never come back! I’m outta here!” But, as Mr. Dziedzic told me once at RLC after I made a joke about never coming back to see Ms. Jones again, perhaps these last few months I could try being less like a traditional angsty 18-year-old and to embrace the people and things I love, rather than push them away. And I think he’s absolutely right. Penn Charter is a special and unique place, but high school is high school. It’s got ups and it’s got downs. But it provides the perfect space to make mistakes as well as to succeed. It is a microcosm of the world and can show you everything you need to know about the “real world”.
Whatever path you’ve chosen to go down after we turn our tassels today, no matter how concrete or unstable our next steps are, know that Penn Charter will always be there for you—not just at 3000 W School House Lane—but within your future studies, your work ethic, your next job, through times of change, and during your biggest triumphs. Penn Charter is with you. Penn Charter is you. And you are the light that makes this place shine.
School can be annoying, but we learn the most from uncomfortable or annoying situations. I don’t believe we ACTUALLY need to know everything about Mesopotamia or memorize all the biological processes of the human body, but as I realized in eighth grade: whatever it is that you love, do it well. But you should also do the things you dread the most. They can be just as important in life as the things you love.
The next thing I’m going to say is directly for the benefit of my friends and classmates. Whatever path you’ve chosen to go down after we turn our tassels today, no matter how concrete or unstable our next steps are, know that Penn Charter will always be there for you—not just at 3000 W School House Lane—but within your future studies, your work ethic, your next job, through times of change, and during your biggest triumphs. Penn Charter is with you. Penn Charter is you. And you are the light that makes this place shine. Thank you, and congratulations to the class of 2023!
Delivered June 10, 2023.
Good Morning Dr. Ford, the Board of Trustees, Mrs. Chaitt, Mrs. Berndt, Faculty and Staff, Family and Friends, and Good Morning to the Class of 2023. My name is Clifford Harling, Jr.
As this year’s Senior Class Clerk, or “el presidente” as Teacher Sharon calls me, it is my privilege to present the Senior Parent Gift. The Senior Parent Gift is a tradition at Penn Charter where the families of seniors make gratitude gifts to honor the teachers who have supported students throughout their years at Penn Charter. The money raised is put towards the professional development of faculty and staff here at PC. This money will not only be used for the betterment of our wonderful teachers, but it will also serve as a continuation of the excellence in education that Penn Charter has achieved for more than 300 years.
At Penn Charter, it is sometimes easy to let materialistic things such as new buildings and beautiful playing fields catch your attention, but I believe the true magic happens inside the classroom.
The dedication and unwavering guidance that our teachers at Penn Charter embody has led to true and lasting impacts on me and my peers. Ms. Jones -- one of the most important backbones of the Upper School -- taught me English in ninth grade. Coming into her class as a freshman who was mad at the world, maybe not the world, just english class. She would pull me aside and ask what I needed in order to be successful on that given day. Whether it was simply a walk or a trip to get some breakfast in the cafeteria, she went out of her way to allow me to do what I needed in order to be mindful throughout her class. All while putting together the school’s Class Record, our yearbook, each year!
Ms. Ketler, my 8th grade advisor, told me that she could see me in this exact position of class president in four years. That planted a seed in me that I wouldn’t come to realize until the Senior Class President race was announced. And as my Algebra teacher, she was a part of the beginning of my love for math.
Mr. Oberfield taught me Civics as an 8th grader and then US History as a 11th grader, but where Mr. O excels is his student engagement. Everyday he says hi, tells a story, ask about a game, our lives, and makes your day with these simple interactions.
And finally, Ms. Goodner, given that our class decided for her to be a part of the yearbook dedication, it is safe to say that this class admires her to the highest degree. Her radiant personality has touched every student in the class of 2023. She supports you in any capacity, goes out of her way to make your day, and she will even make you a get-well package when you are sick or go through a life-threatening accident. And I have first hand experience with her famous get-well packages. Ms. Goodner, thank you for the blanket.
Senior families, your gift will help lead Penn Charter into a better future and continue along the path of good instruction and excellence. At the beginning of the school year, the goal was to raise $100,000 with 100% participation. I am honored to announce that on this day, we have reached $121,198 with 88% participation. And please know your generosity is always appreciated, and there is still time to support this effort.
To the parents and caregivers of the Class of 2023, Penn Charter is forever grateful. Thank you!
Thank you to the parents and caregivers who have contributed to the Senior Parent Gift, which supports professional development for PC teachers. As of June 15, we had raised $121,658! If you'd like to make a gift, the deadline is June 30. All gifts, no matter the amount, impact future students and continued excellence in teaching.