Dear Shipley Families:
It is hard to imagine that Memorial Day has just passed. As I reflect on the holiday and our country’s history, I am wondering whether you and your family have ever been to Gettysburg. I had the privilege to be there just last week with our fourth grade, and I cannot tell you how rewarding and enjoyable it was for me to observe both the extent of our students’ knowledge and their intense desire to learn more. Lots of great things happened that day, but I was especially taken by the tour of the battlefield. I highly recommend Gettysburg as a family destination that is both educational and worthwhile.
I must admit that I went on the trip feeling a little guilty about all that I was missing here at the school. I am now left thinking that, given the frenetic pace at this time of year, it is difficult but essential to break out of our normal routines and slow down and appreciate the things that are going on around us. Of course, that is exactly what closing ceremonies, graduations, and other end of year events are all about – taking time to acknowledge the passing of time and the accomplishments of those we love. Yet, before we can slow down in the way those events require, we first have to let go of our own day-to-day life.
Earlier this month, when I traveled to Washington, D.C. with my wife and daughter to attend my niece’s graduation from Georgetown University, I had another of those opportunities to slow down. The trip gave us the chance to celebrate my niece’s many accomplishments and to enjoy some time together in the Capitol. We walked from Georgetown to the memorials and monuments surrounding the Mall area (twice!) and realized as we approached the Mall for the first time that we had not been there together in about ten years. When we walked past the Lincoln Memorial, I could not help but think of the movie, Forrest Gump. I felt reinforced by the movie’s suggestion that an individual such as Forrest, who in his own words is “not a smart man, but knows what love is,” was so committed to doing the little things in life, and made such a difference, seemingly without even trying.
As we walked past the Vietnam Memorial and World War II Memorial towards the Washington Monument, I found myself incredibly taken by the history that surrounded us. I was in awe of the fact that we have such a wonderful place where we remember the battles our nation has faced, the people we have lost in them, and the people who have made a difference in the world. I was particularly happy to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which only opened to the public last month. As I spent time at the King Memorial, I was taken by a number of inscriptions. Here are three of my favorites:
“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” (18 April 1959, Washington, DC)
“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. ” (24 December 1967, Atlanta, GA)
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. ” (16 April 1963, Birmingham, AL)
At Georgetown’s graduation, we were fortunate to hear Mark Green, the former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania under President George W. Bush, who has been instrumental in the fight against malaria and an advocate for medical support around the world. He told an anecdote that put things in perspective. Green, in some ways, echoed King’s ethical worldview. He spoke of a Tanzanian woman who had been a successful businessperson but had lost her business and much of her money as a result of her infection with AIDS. Her challenge, as she put it to Ambassador Green, was, “Should I use my money for medicine for those of my children who are sick or for books for those who are healthy?” This is a dilemma that no one should have to face. As Ambassador Green spoke, I found myself wondering whether, if we ever achieve world peace – which King so adamantly sought – we could use the money spent on defense to end hunger and provide top quality education and medical care to people in need everywhere. Yet, since world peace is not realistic, it seems inevitable that as financial challenges increase here and across the world, we as individuals will be faced with an even greater responsibility to help deal with these issues domestically and internationally. Still, I am reminded of one more of the inscriptions on the King Memorial:
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” (10 December 1964, Oslo, Norway)
Reflecting upon Ambassador Green’s words and thinking of my visits to the King Memorial and the Mall, I realize that the battles and challenges that we face today are remarkably similar and every bit as intense and important as the ones recalled by the monuments and memorials and suggested by the inscriptions. Now more than ever I believe that the Forrest Gumps of the world matter, and that it is the little things, sometimes unplanned, that make a difference. History has shown us that when we put our minds together the difference we make can be greater. As Margaret Meade suggested, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I would like to believe that it is through such individuals, and such groups, that we can realize King’s audacious belief.
I hope all of us can take a step out of our routines in the coming weeks and months and spend time focusing on the important things in our lives. At Shipley, this is central to our mission and is what our seniors do as they finish the year with a service project, working with a nonprofit in the Greater Philadelphia area and using their individual talents and abilities to make a difference. It is also incredibly important that we, as parents and teachers, follow their lead and take the actions to become stronger individuals and, ultimately, make the world around us better for others.
With our Lower and Middle School Closings right around the corner and our Upper School Commencement Exercises on June 15, I hope that everyone has a great end of the school year. If you have the time, you might want to come to our graduation ceremony to celebrate our seniors and to hear Mark Schoeffel, our departing Upper School Head, deliver the address.
In case I do not see you between now and the end of the year, my thoughts and wishes are with you for a wonderful summer.
Steven S. Piltch
Head of School
P.S. With the completion of our spring sports season, I want to formally congratulate our boys’ varsity lacrosse team on winning its fourth successive league championship and our crew program for placing three boats, girls’ varsity double, boys’ varsity double and girls’ junior four, in the semi-finals of the nationals with one of them, the boys’ varsity double, earning a silver medal in the championship race.