This week I am inspired to lift up our beloved Seniors who are making their way through an incredibly challenging time with compassion, grace, thoughtfulness, resourcefulness and an extraordinary spirit of gratitude.
I must admit, at the start of the school year I was a little worried about this year’s graduating class and their ability to weather obstacles. A decision was made this year to no longer allow eating on the floors in the hallways of Upper School. At the time, it seemed to adults like a reasonable way to keep the hallways cleaner, protect carpets and spruce up our decorum a bit.
For some students, this felt like an arbitrary decision with poorly anticipated social ramifications and one that should have been made with students rather than for them. While I understood these feelings, I also thought quietly to myself that in a world filled with challenges, this was definitely a surmountable one. I wondered that if some students couldn’t adapt to a change like this, how might they respond to bigger challenges in the future.
None of us could have foreseen that a massive disruption with very real losses was on the horizon. This class of 2020 would come see a global pandemic in their second semester. Our campus closed for the remainder of the school year and the all of our senior traditions as we’ve known them for generations became impossible. In retrospect, I should have foreseen that our seniors would rise to meet real challenges with all of the emotional intelligence, honesty, perspective and care that they have been developing at AFS and within their amazing families for many years.
There have been key moments for the class over the past few weeks. First, was a worship sharing (a form of Meeting for Worship guided by an opening query). The query was developed by the senior leadership of SQuAC (pronounced as you would think and standing for Student Quaker Action Committee), Cole Lewis and Sophia Perkins. Coming the day following the announcement of closure until the end of the year by Governor Wolf, the query was “What do you need from your teachers, your classmates and yourself at this time?”
The simplicity and directness led to very thoughtful, honest responses, acknowledging the need for compassion, flexibility and care in various ways. The reflections shared about the losses of traditions like Arbor Day, Prom, Candlelight Dinner, Senior Recognition and Commencement were profound. Students spoke about the meaning of traditions at AFS, how traditions are observed, participation and anticipation of them over the years as being such deep expressions of community and the values at the core of their education. They spoke of Commencement as being a gathering of all those who love and support them coming together to celebrate such a significant moment in their lives. They expressed that they have come to love the AFS community and that they are eager to share that with their families. What struck me was that the sense of loss was far from one of grievance at the loss of entitlements, but rather of deep connection to the meaning of these rites as part of Abington Friends School’s history. It was important for students and faculty alike to hear these thoughts expressed with such care. I was grateful for the tradition we have of gathering in worship as a way of connecting on a deep level at a time when it was so necessary.
On the following Monday, led by Upper School Director Dom Gerard and Senior Class Clerk Elizabeth Baah, the class met for Class Meeting to move into the mode of imagining ways to honor the milestones and rituals of Senior spring in new forms. The conversation was creative, resourceful and showed a skill for collaborative inquiry and planning that was impressive. The meeting led to the formation of four committees of faculty and students to develop proposals and plans for the spring. One committee is focusing on the celebratory traditions like Arbor Day, Candlelight and Prom. Another is looking at Capstone projects and how seniors will spend the month of May. Committees are also formed to reimagine Senior Recognition and Commencement. The work is well underway and I know it will lead to genuine and very meaningful celebration and connection for and with the group of graduating seniors who have accomplished so much and of whom we are so proud.
The Seniors did survey and rank the importance of the various events and indicated which ones they would most be ready to forego. Our seniors said, in near unanimity, that of all the senior events, Prom is the one they could let go of most easily and Commencement is the most important. I love this clear statement of values.
And so, Seniors, this love letter is for you and all the ways in which you are approaching a terribly undeserved and unfair challenge. Your class will be remembered with special reverence through the years by all who love you at AFS.
Finally, our seniors are representative in this historic moment of our entire student body. All AFS students are coping with a profoundly difficult challenge of isolation and being apart from each other and their teachers. Their teachers are thriving on the daily contact they have with their students and your children, the bright spot and inspiration at a time that is asking so much of all of us. Future love letters are planned for our heroic parents and extraordinary faculty and staff. Stay tuned!
All the best,