A  coed Friends school, pre-K to 12, on 47 acres in East Falls, Philadelphia

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Joy in Community

Darryl Ford in blue suit and tie smiles down at camera with a banner behind him that reads Joy in Community

"What do we need to do to build community? What actions can you take to make the overall Penn Charter community good and positive and strong? How can we foster Joy in Community?"

Good Morning Penn Charter!

I welcome you, our students, to the 2021 – 2022 academic school year. This assembly always marks a new beginning. Joining me in this welcome are Penn Charter Board Members, Jeff Reinhold, Clerk of Trustees; Jane Evans, Assistant Clerk of Trustees; and Christine Angelakis, who also serves as one of our Co-Chairs for the How Far? capital campaign.

This year, it is a little bit different than in years past. Instead of gathering in Dooney Field House, we gather here on the Maguire Field. Usually, this assembly is for students in first through 12th grades, but this year, we have all of our students taking part – with grades 7 to 12 here on the football field and grades pre-K through 6 watching this ceremony in their classrooms. We have not gathered for this assembly since September 5, 2019, so it is good to be together, so no matter how you are taking part, I welcome you.

View of an outdoor gathering of students

A special welcome goes to the 155 new students from this year, the 144 students who were new last year, and the more than 50 new faculty and staff who joined our community over the past two years. Because of the pandemic, we could not extend our communal welcome, so here today, with everyone gathered in some form or fashion, we extend our congratulations to you for becoming part of this amazing community.

As you may know by now, our yearlong theme is Joy in Community. I want to speak about this for a moment and then turn our sights to a new facility which you will be able to tour today and begin using next week.

There are many reasons why we can and should be joyful and recognize Joy in Our PC Community:

The first observation I have about what brings me joy is that We are in school, gathered here today, having had 2 days of classes, and looking forward to 177 more days of learning, participation in arts and athletics, service to others, self-reflection, and continuing revelation. How we do school hasn’t been easy during this pandemic. Last year was difficult, and I expect we will have some challenges this year. But we are in school. Sadly, we know that many public school students haven’t set foot in a classroom in more than 500 days. I am glad that many of them are returning to in-person learning, and I am glad that we are in school, on campus, and at Penn Charter. This brings me joy, and shouldn’t be taken for granted now and when things become more challenging.

I have joy because we are in school. I ask you to think about this and more specifically, the query, “What brings you joy?”

My first observation of our theme speaks to the feeling of joy, the hope for a positive sense of fulfillment, and maybe even a leaning towards happiness.

The second observation that I have is that we are in Community. That means we are together. There are 988 students (the most ever in the history of our school), about 250 faculty and staff members, and a host of other coaches who make up the community that is here on campus delivering the educational program for you, our students. That is the “who” of our community. I think, though, that the “in Community” portion of our theme is not just about the “who,” but also a call to action for our community.

What do we need to do to build community? What actions can you take to make the overall Penn Charter community good and positive and strong? What actions can you take with your friends and with others who may not be your friends to foster mutual respect, even when you disagree? Can you take a moment to pause before you speak to consider the effect that your words and actions might have on others? Might those words and actions serve to tear community apart or build community? In Community takes some work, is intentional, and is an action taken by us as a school and by us as individuals.

Here is a query for reflection: What can you do to both be in Community and do in Community?

Here’s my third observation. Joy + in Community gets us to our entire theme of Joy in Community. How can you take responsibility for choosing joy. I don’t mean this in a “pollyannish” sort of way where we all are simply happy all the time. We have too many serious concerns in the world, in society, and at our school to simply and solely and blindly be happy. And those concerns require work. But while we do this work, how might we also work to choose joy, work on joy, and recognize the incredible gifts of Penn Charter and not take them for granted? And experience some happiness, too!

At our opening faculty and staff meetings, I asked your teachers to reflect upon the query that I now ask you to consider:

How can we foster Joy in Community? How can you foster Joy in Community?

Health and safety, being in school, lots of learning in the classrooms, on the stages, on our playing fields and in our gyms, and Joy in Community are my hopes for your and Penn Charter this school year. These are my hopes; let’s make it happen together.

The Penn Charter community starts with our students, it extends to all of your parents and caregivers, and beyond to the more than 5,000 OPCs – our dedicated and faithful alumni who support this school.

It is now my pleasure, once again to tell you about William A. Graham IV OPC ’58, who is one of our most dedicated and faithful alumni. You saw a video clip this morning in which Mr. Graham told you about the difference Penn Charter made in his life. Bill Graham and his wife Frances visited school last week to tour our new athletics and wellness center, which is named for Bill because of their generosity to our school.

Because of the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Graham and so many other generous OPCs, parents, friends, and trustees, we now have this incredible facility.

Students, this building is for you.Students, this building is for you. The state-of-the-art wrestling room with two mats is for you. The two basketball ball facilities with four courts are for you. The three-story climbing wall is for you. The new classroom spaces are for you. The more than 700 lockers are for you. The new fields that will be completed on the School House Lane side of the building are for you. Estok’s 2-story weight and fitness room, The Blaine, is for you, and Jess’ training room is for you. The new outdoor gathering spaces – for you. The indoor comfy furniture – for you. And, yes, the juice bar is for you.

Whether you consider yourself an athlete or not, this facility is intended to be a gathering spot and to offer multiple gathering spots to build community for all of our students.

It brings me joy that Mr. and Mrs. Graham, and so many others, made possible this incredible facility for you, our students.

May we as the Penn Charter community show our appreciation for Mr. and Mrs. Graham at this time.

You all will get to tour our newest facility today. Now, though, I am going to ask the senior class and other selected student representatives to join me at the stadium field entrance to officially open to our students the William A. Graham IV OPC ’58 Athletics & Wellness Center.

Thank you.

Remarks delivered on September 10, 2021 from Maguire Field.