Commencement Address 2017
I begin by thanking Harold Anderson, Dylan Burnett, and Emily Zurcher, our commencement speakers, for their reflections. As is our custom, commencement speakers are not the valedictorian or salutatorian. Rather, nominees are raised up by members of the senior class and by their teachers. Traditionally, the Upper School faculty selects a speaker from a student list and a speaker from a faculty list. This year, because you, the Class of 2017, continue to push us, your teachers, in interesting, and, at times challenging ways, we selected three speakers, each of whom honored us with their words. Each of you brings a different perspective to your remarks: Dylan as a lifer; Emily as someone who joined the class as a Lower School student; and Harold who came as a ninth grader.
You have been chosen because each of you is well-thought-of by both your peers and faculty and because you would be inspirational and insightful. You were chosen to speak on behalf of your class. As a Quaker school, we believe that the inner light exists in each of you, so all of you are worthy and each of you is worthy of accolades and of the honor of speaking on behalf of your classmates. Harold, Dylan and Emily, we thank you for completing this last writing assignment for Penn Charter, a task you gladly accepted while your peers were already done with school.
Seniors, on September 8th at our All-School Assembly and on behalf of your teachers, I welcomed you to the 2016-2017 school year. Today, we congratulate you and graciously hold open Penn Charter’s red doors for you to walk through, not as students, but as OPCs: a title and honor bestowed only upon you by virtue of your having graduated from this old Quaker school.
In so many ways, you have been both a remarkable, yet, at times, thought-provoking class. Perhaps, we should have expected this. As “red ruggers” and “blue ruggers” in kindergarten you were independent – independent readers, builders and explorers, and you were verbose. Very verbose. In fact, Quaker silence was not necessarily in your nature. Even today, as we gather for Meeting for Worship on Thursdays, we still experience that Quaker silence is not in your nature as you enter the Meeting Room.
As a class, you outlasted several Lower and Middle School directors, and a whole host of teachers who just weren’t up to your provocation nor your talents. As a class, you have endured more than your share of family illness and familial loss. As a class, you also have experienced notable moments of history in our world and country, seismic social shifts, and even monumental events and changes at your school. These include the opening of the Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts, a new track, Maguire Field, Perrott Field, a renovated Graham Athletics Center and Dooney Field House, the opening of the Blaine, an IdeaLab, and the new Fisher Middle School, which really wasn’t new to you but rather the only middle school you knew.
And of course, you were here to celebrate the 325th anniversary of your school. Complete with guest speakers, musical performances, a film about William Penn, a horse on campus, and a nighttime party with brilliant fireworks, which lit up the night sky above Penn Charter’s iconic bell tower, you were part of that special and historic anniversary moment.
Overseers, faculty and I have tried to provide the educational experiences and resources for you to grow and thrive at each step of your time here at Penn Charter. You have responded in right fashion.
You have shown care to each other. You have watched students leave and remained friends, and you have welcomed many newcomers as they arrived at PC. This year, seniors have completed 578 hours of service, were service leaders at Widener and Casa del Carmen, and led service projects throughout the school, all while showing empathy towards others and learning much about yourselves.
And while we did not capture the win at the 130th PC/GA Day, in your four years of high school, you won 12 Inter-Academic League championships (this is two more than last year’s seniors, I’m just saying), and six PAISAA state championships. These accolades include this year’s Inter-Ac Championships in:
- Girls Soccer
- Boys Soccer
- Girls Tennis
- Boys Track and Field
And prior year’s results, including:
- Three state softball championships and two other Inter-Ac softball championships
- Two state soccer championships and two other girls soccer Inter-Ac championships
- Two boys water polo championships
- Another boys baseball championship
- Among other great athletic achievements and showings
You were stars on stage, too. This year you inspired us with The Laramie Project and Godspell. In prior years, you appeared in Beauty and the Beast, Shakespeare: Complete Works, Hairspray. Antigone, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and Seussical the Musical. You also were headliners in Showcase and the Wednesday Weekly and often, just because of who you are, you performed in the hallways just for the fun of it.
Academically, you are both strong and gained strength as you progressed throughout the grades. Twenty-four of you have the honor of being inducted into the Cum Laude Society; 12 of you were inducted as juniors. The 117 members of your class will enroll in 77 different colleges. Ninety-seven percent of you report that you will attend one of your top-choice colleges. Two of you will be studying abroad, at universities in Canada and China. Two-thirds of you will enroll in a most or highly competitive school as defined by the college industry.
In addition to the lessons learned in the classroom, on stage, and on the playing field, I know you have learned lessons about Quakerism from Penn Charter as a Friends school.
At our opening assembly, I introduced the Quaker testimony of Community as the theme for this year. From your peers Harold, Dylan, and Emily, you have heard examples of what the Penn Charter community has meant to them. From Harold, you have heard the importance of not letting societal expectations define who you are, the importance of finding yourself, and the importance of a community, which supports such self-exploration. Dylan spoke of how this PC community fosters a particular type of leadership development, which encourages “quick-thinking, independent scholars” who also are well-rounded and equipped to face life’s challenges. And Emily described Penn Charter as a place where one can make mistakes without repercussions, learn from one’s faux pas, learn to settle into silence, and learn when to break the silence when necessary to make a difference.
When I spoke of the Quaker Testimony of Community at that September 8th All-School Assembly, I celebrated Ed Jones, a 20-year staff member who both worked security and greeted you each morning upon your arrival for all the years you have been students at Penn Charter. In addition, I identified issues which threaten to divide us in these challenging times in which we live.
A lesson inspired by Mr. Jones is that the quality of people are at heart of a community and make Penn Charter the great place that it is. Class of 2017, as you leave this Friendly place, I hope you will think about the great people like our retirees David Kern, Nora Comiskey, Tony Farrell, Bruce MacCullough, Chris Christoph, Chuck Hitschler, Val Erdmanis and Rick Mellor, among many others, who have taught, coached and inspired you along your way.
At that All-School Assembly, a lesson that I presented about community from these challenging times is this. In community, we survive and thrive together and we struggle and perish apart. In community, we survive and thrive together and we struggle and perish apart. As we take on the challenging topics of politics; socio-economic status; race, equity and justice; gender; and many other issues, I urge that we tackle differences of opinion, strive to understand others’ points of view with empathy, and remember that in community we survive and thrive together.
I hope that this Quaker school has taught you to take time before you act or react; to listen to the voice from within and to really listen to the voices of others; to tackle differences of opinion both with facts and empathy towards others; and to act with empathy.
And it all else fails and you remember nothing from this speech, perhaps you may recall the words of William Penn and they may provide Friendly direction. “Let us then try what love will do.” “Let us then try what love will do.”
- If all else fails, let us try love.
- If you have a difference of opinion, why not try love
- Instead of entering opposing camps of no return, why not try love?
- When you are angry, confused, oppressed, or the oppressor, why not try love?
“Then let us try what love will do.”
At Penn Charter, we hope to educate students to live lives that make a difference. As the sinews of our community at times have been stretched, I challenge you to remember the lessons that this old Quaker school has taught, and for good measure, add a little to love to each of those lessons learned.
It has been my practice to end my commencement address 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 2017, you have done good and shown kindness during your time as students at Penn Charter. You have challenged us and made your mark on this 327-year-old school. As you leave this campus today as OPCs, I hope you will leave it with conviction and resolve to act with love. And when, in the future, you return home to Penn Charter, you will have lived lives that make 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 2017!