Autumn Prayer

It has been summer-like weather for quite a few days this autumn, until recently, when the chill in the air and the wind scattering the fallen leaves have signaled that the seasons are changing. Summer is giving way to a time when nature sheds many of its blooms, only to return with the longer, warmer days of Spring. This life cycle is a hopeful reminder to us about renewal and new life, as our school community mourns the loss of Anthony Penna ’19 and gratefully welcomes the return to school of Gabrielle ’20, his sister. Never has Archmere felt more united as a community of faith as we did in the hours, days, and weeks after the tragic accident that occurred on the morning of September 29th. Administrators, students, and parents of many other area schools were in contact with us at Archmere and with the Penna Family, offering messages of support and prayers, cards and flowers. We are truly grateful to all who have supported the Penna Family and our students and members of our school community.

We continue to have faith in God and the promise of everlasting life made real by the resurrection of Jesus. We pray in the weeks, months, and years ahead for the wisdom and strength to manage our many challenges that may be a part of our journey.

At a recent meeting that I attended, we prayed the following “Autumn Prayer” by Peter Jarret, C.S.C. I share in the same spirit of community that continues to unify and shape us.

God of all creation, you give us the gift of seasons to mark our journey through time.

The season of autumn, with its changes of colors and falling leaves reminds us that sometimes things must die and fall away for new life to arise.

Such is the message of the cross –

That through death to self we find life in all its richness.

In those moments when we experience setbacks or failures,

Help us to remember that you are with us always,

And that there is no failure or sin your love cannot heal.

Help us to trust in you and in your promise of new life.

 Amen.

Personal Innovation

One of the books on my summer reading list was The Other Side of Innovation by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble. The authors analyzed multiple organizations in an effort to study why innovations succeeded or failed. I thought this would be timely reading material in light of the Academy beginning a new strategic planning cycle, and with it, potentially new and innovative ideas that might be developed. However, the more I read, the more I realized that the successful processes of innovation the authors described could be applied to students’ learning, as well. I shared the following thoughts with the faculty and staff during our professional days in August.

Govindarajan and Trimble developed the simple formulas: Innovation = Ideas + Process; and Process = Leader + Team + Plan. They also devoted many pages of their book to the role of a dedicated team of people who need to be assigned to innovative, non-routine tasks. This team is most effective when its members work collaboratively and in coordination with others who continue to perform the routine tasks of the organization. The authors explain that this necessary partnership creates sustainable innovation through a single organizational plan. Hence, innovation requires adequate resources, and also needs to somehow coordinate with the status quo – the day-to-day business at hand.

Adapting this model to an individuals’ sense of balance between innovation and the daily routine, one must be able to set aside time and other personal resources to innovate, while at the same time, continue with daily responsibilities, tasks, and demands. Harry Kraemer, in his TedTalk on leadership comments that daily self-reflection is critical to understanding the difference between our activity and our productivity. He poses the question, “We can be busy multi-tasking all day, but has all the activity produced the results that matter and that we value?” So, it might be that the first step to personal innovation is to assess the value of all the activities in which we are currently engaged to determine if we can eliminate any or be more efficient about them so that we have time to be innovative.

Govindarajan and Trimble suggest running a disciplined experiment to determine the success of our innovation or an enhanced productivity. They suggest documenting a single, clear hypothesis, then determine what can be learned from the outcomes. For example, if the end results are low outcomes, are they a result of poor execution or too high predictions indicating potentially poor assumptions? In other words, accountability in some measurable way is an essential and valuable piece of the innovation process that is made up of three components: Results = Did you deliver? Actions = Did you execute? and Learning = Did you follow a rigorous learning process?

If there was a time for an innovative spirit to take hold to rebuild communities and individuals’ lives, it is now. In the last few weeks, the natural disasters around the globe and particularly in the Caribbean, Texas, and Florida seem overwhelming. Along with the stories of devastation are stories of hope, compassion, and heroism. It seems that at the darkest moments, the human spirit triumphs. In the last few days, students, parents, and other members of the Archmere community have been organizing responses to help those affected by these tragic events. While we sometimes feel helpless and inadequate in responding to victims’ immediate needs, we, as a faith community, can immediately offer our prayers. And organized prayer can be very powerful. I ask you to commit to daily prayer particularly for the people affected by the hurricanes.

As we begin a new school year, perhaps preoccupied with nature’s catastrophic events, may we all use our time together to be innovative, and in doing so become better persons who are more self-aware of our place in the world, enjoying the work we are called to do in response to the needs of those around us.

A Tale of Two Stories

At this time of the year, I become very nostalgic and reflective whenever I am asked by people, “How was the school year?” Having just experienced once again the traditions and rites of passage that go along with the Archmere experience for our students, I cannot help but be proud and impressed at the accomplishments and developments of these boys and girls as they grow into responsible and caring young men and women. In addition to this perennial experience, and within the same timeframe this year, I had the opportunity to raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I was introduced to the cause like so many others – through a personal family experience. While I accepted the challenge of being a part of the Man and Woman of the Year Campaign, I was also sensitive to my position as Headmaster at Archmere Academy. I shared my story with a few hundred family and friends, and now that my leg of the Campaign is completed, I want to share my story of blood cancer with the members of the Archmere community. I believe that my story may be much like your own relationships with family and friends, as well as the faith and support that you share with others.

My wife, Diane, was the Campaign Manager, and like everything else that she does for our family and for me, did an amazing job in keeping us organized and on track. I simply could not have kept up with all of my obligations without her. Lasting 10 weeks beginning March 30, the Campaign ended on June 10 with a gala, when I was (surprisingly) named 2017 Man of the Year! Thank you to the more than 225 donors and family volunteers who raised over $30,000 for the cause. As you can imagine, as Ring Mass, proms, baccalaureate, and commencement were unfolding at Archmere, with speeches about promise and hope for the future – all telling a story of a bright future – I was also meeting with children and young adults afflicted with blood cancers and fighting for survival, and some, happily, in remission, but with the worry of potential relapse – stories of hope for a permanent cure.

This Spring experience for me reminded me more than ever of the peaks and valleys of life’s journey, and the need for all of us to have a faith and a spirituality strong enough to manage through our challenges and recognize those who helped us achieve our successes. So, if you have a few moments to spare, and would like to read about my experience with blood cancer, here is my story.

MY LLS STORY

My first memories of my older brother, Gene, are when I was about 5 or 6 years old. By that time, he was in college and would be home on weekends and during the holidays and summer breaks. He was always fun to be around, because he paid attention to me. As a much younger brother (by almost 14 years), I suppose I could “get in the way” with his social calendar, although I never felt that to be the case. Frequent visits to the local ice cream shop, playing “Around the World” with Gene and his friends at the hoop on the driveway, or just listening together to 45 RPM records in the family room, I was always included. When Gene graduated from Mt. St. Mary’s College and enlisted in the Navy in the summer of 1968, I remember my parents keeping in touch with long weekly phone conversations from the kitchen. I would listen, and always hope that he would be kept safe as my parents and I watched nightly reports on the TV news of the Vietnam War.

After his Naval service, Gene, his wife, Karen, and their family relocated to Delaware, where, as a close-knit Italian family, we watched his family grow. It was over four years ago this past fall that I received a phone call from by brother telling me that he was diagnosed with AML, Acute Myeloid Leukemia. The prognosis was not hopeful with a life expectancy of 3 to 9 months. He began a regimen of treatment at the Helen Graham Cancer Center, with the hope of finding a bone marrow transplant donor. My two other brothers and I were soon tested for a donor match. I had the closest partial match with six out of ten markers. The decision of the family with Dr. Beardell was to continue with a consistent course of chemotherapy, since Gene was having good success with maintaining his health and quality of life. During that two-year period his leukemia was in remission with the chemotherapy, while no identical match was found for a transplant.

In May of 2015, I received a phone call from Gene telling me that the medication regimen was beginning to fail, and the only hope of long-term survival was a bone marrow transplant. Since no perfect donor match was found, Dr. Beardell was recommending a new protocol involving a transplant with a partially matched donor. I immediately said that I would participate, and on July 9, 2015, I had bone marrow surgically removed and given to Gene that same afternoon. Leading up to the day, the staff of the Helen Graham Center could not have been more supportive, especially nurse Donna, who took me through all of the pre-surgical tests and blood work, as well as explaining to me the procedure in detail. I had the simpler preparation, as my brother had to be admitted to the hospital weeks before and stay in isolation while his immune system was suppressed sufficiently for his body to accept my T-cells. He had chemotherapy and whole body radiation. I never saw a person with such strength and humor suppress, what I am sure, was anxiety and fear.

By the fall of 2015, Gene was experiencing his body’s reaction to the foreign T-cells, and although they were helping, his cancer cells would not give up. So in March of 2016, we harvested more of my T-cells, and Gene was injected with them, in addition to beginning another regimen of chemotherapy. By the fall of 2016, Gene was feeling pretty well. As he said once when I visited him, “If I did not know it, I would say that I am not sick.” The best news came later in the fall, when a bone marrow test showed no signs of cancer cells. While he continued with the chemotherapy treatments, and is having another bone marrow test in February, he said to me at the holidays, that no matter the final outcome, he considers each day of the last four years as a gift, because he was not expected to survive more than 10 months.

I have to attribute my brother’s survival and quality of life to the medical research and practice of the wonderful physicians and assistants who work in the field of blood cancer diseases and treatments. Dr. Beardell has regularly conferred with doctors from Johns Hopkins and Anderson Cancer Center in Texas to make sure my brother gets the best care based on the most current and effective drugs available for his illness. Dr. Beardell even followed the Johns Hopkins course of treatment for the bone marrow transplant administered at Helen Graham. He speaks with other doctors from different leading research hospitals across the country, making it possible for my brother to receive care from great minds whom are all working tirelessly together to extend life and eventually cure this disease.

If we can advance the study and application of cancer cures, we can make a difference in the lives of so many people – from the youngest children to the most senior among us. I also believe that my brother’s faith and determination – his mental outlook – played an important part in living with his cancer diagnosis. The team of medical professionals, family members, and friends all provided encouragement and support that are indefinable, but necessary ingredients in the fight for the cure. The work of these research professionals has played a great part in extending my brother’s life, and we cannot begin to attach a dollar amount to that gift. Yet that’s why, together with family and friends, I am raising money, so research for better treatments, life extension and cures can continue.

I agreed to participate in the Man and Women of the Year fund raising campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society because I am grateful to have seen and experienced first-hand the thoughtfully prescribed, cutting-edge, research-based treatments by caring medical professionals that bring hope to a patient and his family. That journey of hope, no matter how long or how short, joins together people who love each other in a unique way – one that supports the very physical life and spirit of another. We, as fellow human beings on this life’s journey, can experience nothing that connects us more than life itself.