Patrick Cannon, Senior Class President
Joseph Patrick Cannon, shown here with Head of School Darryl J. Ford and Cannon's parents, Joseph and Stacy, delivered his senior class president welcome speech to an all-school assembly on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019.
We have bigger houses but smaller families
More conveniences, but less time
We have more degrees, but less sense
More knowledge, but less judgment
More experts, but more problems
More medicines, but less healthiness
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor
We built more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever,
But have less communication
We have become long on quantity,
But short on quality,
These are times of fast foods but slow digestion,
Tall man but short character,
Steep profits but shallow relationships
It’s a time where there is much in the window,
But nothing in the room.
-Dalai Lama (from goodreads.com)
In my election speech for clerk this past Spring, I strongly conveyed the idea that your individual legacy determines how you are remembered and how your impact shapes a grade and the community as a whole. Whether everyone here knows it and quite frankly likes it, everything and anything you do here, any interaction you have, whether this is your first year or your 40th year at Penn Charter, you in some shape or form are significant and important to this 330-year-old institution.
The first time I heard the Paradox of Our Age, the parable I just read, was on June 23, 2014. It was the first night of my 5th year at Camp Belknap in New Hampshire. This poem was read to our cabin by my counselor on the first and last nights of camp. It was read on the first night to get our cabin thinking and to put into light our anxiety of not only the prospect of meeting new friends but for some cabin-mates, going away from home for the first time ever. It was read on the last night to show how far we had come as a unit and to reflect on our time together and how we as individuals shaped and impacted the environment around us.
To be completely honest, from what I remember of five summers ago, my initial thoughts of the poem were absolutely nothing; I was actually starving and really had to use the bathroom, which in my mind, makes everything else irrelevant. True story. What I didn’t realize was that that summer would be the summer where I would cement and formulate lifelong friendships that I can express through three distinct memories.
First, I entered this summer with a core group of friends who I’ll briefly note included William Fleming and many others. Through the duration of our stay, we all laughed together, cried together and most importantly, had fun with one another. And while some of them were receiving letters from their girlfriends back home, I had the fortune of getting letters from Webber Walker about the condition of our Minecraft faction and his latest mining endeavors.
Second, that summer was also the year I got Lyme disease. Although, in hindsight, it wasn’t the worst thing given that I lost 15 pounds in three days and got a break from the camp's farm-to-table diet and could eat practically whatever I wanted. However, I had no access to technology and the only book I brought was Diary of Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, which I’m proud to say I read seven times ... a true work of American literature. These three days, although painful and not fun at times, ultimately gave me time to reflect and to realize the weight loneliness and isolation can have, and the impact a small gesture of someone checking in on me could have. This experience offers commentary on the present day where we — as Penn Charter students and even faculty — all have at least one person to lean on in the PC community during the most difficult times, no questions asked. And through the Quaker values learned at Penn Charter, any extended period of silence can be transformed into a meaningful experience.
Finally, this particular summer, with the help of friends, I came up with the groundbreaking idea of attending Catholic mass ... even though none of us were Catholic. So when the first Sunday of camp came, the 4th of July, we all dressed up in our Vineyard Vines and khaki breaker shorts and boarded the bus to St. Katherine Drexel Church. That Sunday I would hear one of the most influential church sermons of my life from Father Cole about how President Abraham Lincoln was a failure. A complete failure. He spent his life running for political office and never won; his businesses always were a bust, and anyone he ever loved died. However, what President Lincoln did out of times of darkness and despair was to transform America and offer hope that America would one day see our better angels. This sermon and the sheer fact I enjoyed going to church for once in my life were signs that this summer was different in some capacity and what I thought would be a good summer turned out to be life-changing and the start of my legacy at a place that I may never even see again.
This year, I challenge everyone at this opening assembly to think of your role at Penn Charter as part of something bigger than yourself. Whether you’re here for one year or for 40 years, make PC a greater place than you found it. What you take away from your experience at Penn Charter is only what you put into it. Even if it doesn’t feel like it at times, if you put your all into your passion, whatever it may be, it will eventually pay out; just look at Abraham Lincoln. And lastly, in accordance with this year's theme of “the light within,” I encourage everyone this year and beyond to find the light within yourself and in others even on your darkest days, and strive to do things at this place that will be remembered for years to come.