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Dylan burnett OPC '17 

Dylan Burnett Penn Charter Commencement Speaker 2017The word “leader” is a more complicated term than one may imagine. Immediately, this word exudes a positive connotation; however, if you take a moment and think about a leader in your life, I am sure we can all remember at least one person who was in charge, but not well liked. Well, now you are thinking about an individual you really disliked, let’s try to recenter ourselves and just think “Quaker thoughts.” What I’m trying to explain is that just because a person is in a position of power does not mean he or she is a good leader, which is one reason why I believe Penn Charter does not shape mindless leaders, but helps to mold quick-thinking, independent learners.

As a lifer, I have had the privilege to be a part of the whole Penn Charter experience. I have been able to see myself develop from an energetic youth into an mature adult. And while my mom may argue that the excessive amount of time I play video games proves that I am an immature child and that this doesn’t quote – prepare me for the real world – unquote, I would like to state that legally anyone eighteen years or older is considered an adult. Thank you Mr.Oberfield for teaching me that in 8th grade civics. 

This type of personal transformation is what separates Penn Charter from other schools. These schools may also produce intelligent students or invest more of their resources into preparing them for standardized tests; however, the Penn Charter experience does more than produce bright students; PC helps to create well rounded leaders who can conquer any degree of adversity. My fellow classmates behind me have taken on leadership opportunities, such as managing clubs, taking part in service work, or being captains on sports teams, on campus. 

Off campus, others have already begun doing amazing things such as conducting research in labs at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, shadowing middle school learning specialists, and created businesses. 

The changing point in my personal understanding of leadership took place during my junior and senior year when I participated on the track and field team. As a junior, I was one of the four captains on the team. In this position, I had the great honor to be a liaison between the runners and the best track coach in all of North America, Dr. Bonnie.

As a captain, I knew that it was my job to be a good role model and help keep the team focused. However, knowing what to do and executing what needs to be done are two entirely different skills. During my junior year, I assumed that effective leadership meant yelling at teammates to do their work. I mean my parents constantly yell at me to do my chores and by the fifth time they have screamed at me, I finally get out of bed. So, naturally I thought that this strategy had to work... However, many runners disregarded what I said, overall making this method of so-called “leadership” ineffective. Who would have thought that teenagers would be unresponsive to the voice of authority? I know; I was flabbergasted too...

The next mistake I made my first year as team captain was being unapproachable. Track is an individual sport, and in terms of results, I often performed well; however, I did not do a good enough job of helping my teammates to improve. Selfishly, I was blinded by trying to win independently. I neglected my teammates and did not teach them the art of running well enough. I failed to remember that a track meet is not won by an individual, but by the collective total of points, scored by a team.

I stand here telling you about my early challenges and my poor leadership skills because these experiences have helped me become a better leader. All of us have failed at something at least once. Michael Jordan has missed shots. Usain Bolt has lost races. Even the Yellow team loses Color Day. Okay, that part is a lie... Yet, the one thing every Penn Charter student has in common with Jordan and Bolt is our drive and willingness to overcome any obstacle, of course disregarding all second semester seniors. As a twelfth grade captain of the track team, I took what I had learned the year before and put it into action. Rather than yelling, I became the cheerleader and encouraged my teammates to do their laps and fight through any pain they felt. I also began to help the younger hurdlers during practice and then complete my individual training after practice was over. By the end of year, I was able to see a difference in the team’s whole attitude and in my own. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was personally more connected to the team. This experience allowed me to understand leadership: a good leader is not simply the one in charge, but a person who is able to see oneself as an equal and not a superior. A good leader interacts with their followers, so that the group will succeed as a whole. 

Although this is my personal experience of showing leadership on the track team, every single senior sitting here day, undoubtedly has experienced a moment when they transformed into a leader, while at Penn Charter. This institution does more than help students mature, it also allows us to better understand that before you are a leader, you must be taught the skills to become a better role model. Penn Charter students are able to take what they learn about leadership and apply it to the classroom and future jobs. A place that I was able to use my leadership skills was last summer when I was a head counselor at Penn Charter’s Day Camp. I also have become more outspoken in meeting for worship, a place that I used to consider a sleeping ground. This school’s ability to have many students succeed in a wide variety of activities is second to none. Our athletes won state championships, our actors performed in brilliantly choreographed works, and our diversity clubs helped to promote acceptance. This school has brought out the best version of ourselves and has helped us to inspire others to do the same. This form of Leadership that we have been taught at Penn Charter will hopefully allow us to positively change our community, our nation, and world. And on behalf of my fellow classmates, I would like to thank the faculty, the staff, and our loving families who have sacrificed so much for us. 

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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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