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Shipley Community Letter: Same, Different, Other

Dear Shipley Families,

As we come to the end of February, we mark a moment of transition. We wrap up Black History Month as well as the winter athletic season and are nearing the two-thirds mark of the school year. So it would seem an appropriate time for a bit of reflection before looking ahead to the final stretch of the 2019-2020 school year.

Throughout February, students studied in a variety of ways the rich and complex history of the African-American experience. The Jeannine Osayande & Dunya Performing Arts Company visited and performed for Lower School. Students learned and participated in traditional African dance and storytelling. Middle School students learned about the Harlem Renaissance and Great Migration, examining the social, cultural, political, and economic climates of the time. The Upper School’s Black Student Union hosted an assembly, leading students in a discussion of unsung heroes often overlooked during Black History Month.

As I reflect on the month, I recall that it began with an All-School Assembly titled “Courage for the Deed,” honoring Black History Month. In the opening, I noted—as did All-School President Declan Buckley—that it seemed a bit odd for two white guys to kick off this particular assembly. I offered that while Black History Month does not chronicle my individual history, it absolutely and essentially is our collective American history. This tension underscores a challenging truth we must all hold in our hands. We must recognize that some narratives speak to our personal journey, and some do not, but all have something to teach us. As a person of European ancestry, I cannot not claim black history as the "same" as mine, nor can I label it as "other." Conversely, you might experience Black History Month as an indispensable opportunity for aspects of your individual story to be seen, understood, and honored. Just as Odysseus navigated between the two dangers of the Scylla and Charybdis, we in the United States and within the Shipley community must steer between "same" and "other" by recognizing the beauty and power inherent in “different.” This is a uniquely and powerfully American ideal, reinforced by Black History Month, to recognize, honor, protect, and celebrate individuality while insisting that e pluribus unum.

As we reflect on the conclusion of our second athletic season and move toward spring, we recognize a similar effort to navigate between “same” and “other.” At one extreme are those who spurn competition, claiming we are all the “same,” we are all winners and that everyone should get the trophy. It is my observation that such a stance does not fit at Shipley, and I personally reject this assertion. At another extreme are those who see opponents as the “other,” enemies to be trampled and occasionally embarrassed. Again, this is not my view and it is not who we are at Shipley.

Shipley’s fall and winter athletic seasons were successful not because every team won a championship or posted a winning record. The seasons were successful because, supported by our community, our teams strove for victory while representing what makes this community different. Our Shipley teams were not the same as teams from around the region. We had different records, different results, different experiences. Yet, those teams and those schools are not “other.” We share many values, including a love of the sports we play. In fact, we at Shipley can only enjoy the sports we love if we have different teams to play. Different teams are fellow competitors, fellow student-athletes, and coaches who offer us the chance to play, to test ourselves, and even define ourselves. Even when, and perhaps especially when, things get heated in the arena of sport—or political discourse—we must stretch ourselves to be grateful for the challenge of “different.” When we do this, we are rewarded not with mere trophies to place on shelves, but with enduring and valuable mutual respect.

We are living through a time of incredible political polarization and challenging social-political discourse. In this context, we serve ourselves and our communities well not simply by remembering the concept of the same-different-other balancing act outlined above, but by actually working to practice our balance. This is what we strive to do every day at Shipley. In fact, balancing the individual and the collective is quintessentially Shipley, and I dare say, quintessentially American.

So after eight months at Shipley, I am delighted to have observed that Shipley is doing this well—guiding students to develop skills and knowledge in one space (e.g., diversity, equity, and inclusion work), then apply them in another (e.g., athletics), and on and on. Are there places to improve? As students, athletes, and artists, we know this will always be the case. Yet, I can imagine no school better positioned to strike this benevolent balance.

Many thanks and sincere congratulations to all those who contributed to a remarkable Black History Month, two successful athletic seasons, and our students’ myriad of accomplishments so far this school year. Here’s to an exciting stretch run for the Gators here and everywhere!



Michael G. Turner
Head of School
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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.