It is a lofty hope that we place on you: to repair our world, to make it better, and to put things right.
Head of School Darryl J. Ford conferred diplomas virtually to 112 graduates on June 6, 2020. In his address, Ford spoke of his hope that this remarkable class will help mend the world. His remarks appear below.
These are different times. These are different times.
At the center of Penn Charter’s Commencement ceremony are our student speakers. Let me begin by thanking Akeel Blake, Noah Evans and Vanessa Ewing for their thoughtful remarks as our commencement speakers for this virtual ceremony. We also look forward to Jalynn Johnson’s and William Lewis’ speeches when we can gather in person to honor our students’ accomplishments at our Commencement Convocation, we hope, in the near future.
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 a perspective that we need to hear. Traditionally, the Upper School faculty selects a speaker from a student list and a speaker from a faculty list.
This year, Akeel, Noah, Vanessa, Jalynn and William were chosen because you have the respect and admiration of both peers and teachers. You are the five people your peers made clear they wanted to hear, and you were chosen not to speak for your class but on behalf of your class. So, because these times are different, your faculty respected student wishes and selected all of these classmates to be speakers over the course of two planned ceremonies – one virtual and one in person. We honored your desire in this small way, and we have been blessed by the words of your peers.
Seniors, when each of you was born in 2001, 2002 or 2003, we, your parents, beamed with such pride. Never could we have guessed that you would have become such accomplished academicians, singers, actors, athletes, social activists; or been so committed to service, the environment or global issues; or that you would have been so kind-hearted, caring, and, yes, even opinionated. Yet, we hoped for all of these things and more. Seventeen, 18, or 19 years ago when you were born, we, your parents, had hoped for all of these things. With each birth, you provided hope.
And here we are today, with so much to be mended in the world around us. You have probably heard the adage, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I don’t know why, but I have always hated that saying. Standing here today, perhaps I now understand my distaste for it.
You have been dealt a hand that is so much more than lemons. You have missed out on your Senior Comprehensive Projects, where you were to pursue a passion or get some real-world work experience, all while thinking deeply about public purpose. Final elective classes that you desired became something different with distance learning. The Inter-Ac championships in softball, baseball, crew, boys tennis, boys and girls lacrosse, and boys and girls track and field that you were to compete for and were destined to win became non-existent; and the captaincies you held became symbolic. Prom, Color Day, and now, even Commencement, all needed to be reconceived and experienced in this distant way. And if the pandemic’s results were not enough, your graduation happens when the embers, the cinders of social injustice have burned to full-fledged flames and the world has caught fire. Class of 2020, you have not solely been given lemons, but so much more untasteful events, emotions and issues to manage.
Class of 2020, I want to remind you that before all of these lemons were hurled at you this year, you were a class of remarkable achievement and, now, you remain a class of remarkable achievement.
Academically, you have been so interesting and inquisitive, and you have excelled. Twenty-three of you have been inducted into Cum Laude; many of you have garnered awards throughout your four years of high school. And your college acceptances have been spectacular. And speaking of college, your list is varied and impressive. From California to Alabama to New England. The Ivy League, private top-tier colleges, large state universities, and HBCUs. You have great destinations where you will study and learn and where more than 30 of you plan to contribute as student-athletes. But beyond these achievements, you have been inquisitive, seeking opportunities to pursue your passions with three of you completing PC Certificates in Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability and seven of you completing PC Certificates in Global Studies, all on top of your other coursework. Others of you have done independent work at universities outside of our school. These pursuits have included hospital research, working on racial literacy with college professors, and working in museums. You have been learners, and we teachers always love this!
In terms of service, you have been hailed as “tremendous.” You started the Food Security Club to address issues of hunger. You have collected food for others and cooked more than 400 meals for people at St. Francis, and spearheaded enrichment programs with Lower School students and with our service partners Cradle to Crayons and Share. You founded the Microfinance Club, exploring social entrepreneurship, and the Women’s Experience Club, and you have had the greatest representation on the Service Council for the past four years. You worked with Athletes Helping Athletes, welcoming to our campus students who have special needs, and you included them in our competitions.
Even in the midst of the pandemic, many of you have continued to volunteer at Share to get food to the hungry and at Food Moxie to box food for those who need it. You have sewn masks for nursing homes and hospitals. And many of you protested peacefully for social change this past week at City Hall and the Art Museum. These are but a few of your lasting contributions and examples of your living a life of purpose.
You are a remarkable class athletically. While your 1-2-1 PC-GA Day record could have been stronger, you have won 10 Inter-Ac championships in girls soccer, cross country, tennis and swimming; and in boys soccer, baseball, and track and field. You have won five PAISAA titles, and Easterns twice, and, this past year, you won the 700th football game in our school’s history. And speaking of football, senior Quakers on the gridiron graduate with 30 wins, the most ever for a senior class in PC history. Individual athletes have dominated in swimming, basketball and lacrosse, and hold records in football, among other great individual achievements. In addition to the 700th football win, two other incredible athletic memories for me are the girls swimming first-ever championship at Easterns and, last year, when baseball beat a neighboring team to knock them out of the state championship run. Of course, I am a bit partial to baseball! You have been and are a remarkable class!
Beyond these accolades, here is the most important thing for you to know. After this pandemic and social unrest resolves, you still will be a class of remarkable achievement. The hope that all of your parents felt the day you were born and the hope and promise that your teachers felt on your first day of kindergarten at PC, or whenever you first came to our school, is the hope that your families and faculty place in you to mend the world.
To mend. The word mend means to “repair” or to “remove the defects.” It comes from an Old French word amender. Amender means to “correct, set right, make better, improve.” To correct, set right, make better, improve. And of course, we are all familiar with the word amend: “to put right” and “to atone for our faults and errors.”
Yes, it is a lofty hope that we place on you: to repair our world, to make it better, and to put things right. Yet, we believe that you’ve got this. You’ve got this and you have to have this because we adults clearly have made a mess of things. You’ve got this, too, because you are Penn Charter graduates of the Class of 2020.
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 2020, I encourage you to do good and to show kindness even when faced by lemons, pandemic and social injustices.
Class of 2020, I encourage you to know and accept the hope that your families and faculty have placed upon you to mend this world that we have broken.
Class of 2020, we, your faculty, encourage you to live a life that makes 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 2020!