Shipley Community Letter from Michael G. Turner

Dear Shipley Community,
Normally, a head of school’s note during the final week of school offers reflections and congratulations on the past year, along with well wishes for the summer. We are not living through “normally.” 
Like you, I imagine, I’ve awoken each of the last several days to news feeds detailing the previous night’s heartbreak. As I ingest the burned cars and stores, injured citizens and officers, shattered remnants of anger and anguish, I am filled with a confusing mix of emotions -- anger at injustice, sadness for loss, and fear of tomorrow’s news feed.
I am conscious of the privilege, blind spots, and insights my background presents. As a resident of Bryn Mawr, I can turn off the news feed and the pain, allowing it to remain distant. As the parent of White children, I have only discussed “the talk,” not had to deliver it.
My feelings are my feelings, and (as your head of school) only help you if they motivate me to contribute to meaningful, sustained, systemic change of the root causes of what we see playing out in our news feeds and on our very streets. Awareness and personal response are necessary, but not sufficient.
Yet again perhaps like you, perhaps in ways and for reasons very different from you, I feel at a loss. I recall the words of abolitionist Martin Delany, who wrote of his fellow 1800s African-Americans, “more is asked of us." That ask would have seemed unfair then, and it seems unfair now.
We are tired. We are tired of the absence of change; tired of false starts and failed attempts; tired of apathy and anger. As a nation, we are literally sick and tired; tired of losing loved ones; tired of social distancing and economic dislocation. We are tired of a pandemic exposing deep fault lines in our society, and tired of those same fault lines being painfully real.
That’s where I’m at.
Yet, as a member of the Shipley community, I sit with a very different kind of privilege. I, in this case very much like you, am part of a community that can offer support when I’m struggling. While we may all approach the Shipley experience differently based on our backgrounds and positions, as members of this community each and every one of us has the opportunity to be seen, heard, cared for, and valued. This is indeed a privilege. It is a privilege notably absent from the lives of too many in our broader community. The pain of this absence, and the salt-in-the-wound-juxtaposition of this absence with the abuse of privilege represented in the video of George Floyd’s murder, has a lot to do with what we see on in our streets and news feeds.
Recognizing this pain as well as the privilege of being a member of the Shipley community, we will come together to serve the needs of our community – students, colleagues, families, and alumni. Some of us experience Shipley as a “bubble,” shielded from the trials of much of the world. There are elements of truth in this. Yet in this case, the space provided by that bubble may be a benefit. When we see the broader community tearing at itself, having a space dedicated to support, understanding, and civil discourse is a godsend.
So over the next few hours and days, though they are right at the end of the school year, Shipley will do what it has aimed to do throughout its history. We will re-commit ourselves to our Mission’s call to love learning, participate compassionately, and pursue excellence -- which at Shipley must include achievement as well as our own well-being and that of our community. This is why we will hold fast to our community commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Basically, we will serve our community by serving our Mission. We are all indebted to our outstanding colleagues who will guide this essential work this week as they do every week.
I know you’re tired. Me too. We all have reason, in one way or another, to be exasperated and tired. It’s been a brutal week, after a historically difficult few months. Let’s look on that as something that unites us, not divides us. Let’s do what friends and family do when they’re tired. Let’s lean on each other. Let me toil while you rest, then you can help me. We’ll each do our part, together.
With compassion, and hopefully enough courage and grace,
Michael G. Turner
Head of School
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.