“The Time Has Grown So Short; The World So Wide”

Recallilarge_news733886_587430ng my own graduation from Archmere Academy makes me reflect on all of the mixed emotions I felt – excitement, happiness, a sense of accomplishment, nervousness, anxiety, and expectations for college and a career. As the school year draws to a close, I expect that many of our seniors have the same thoughts and feelings.

The May issue of The News Journal carried an article by Danielle Paquette of The Washington Post, called “Meet ‘Generation Katniss:’ Born between 1995-2002.” The title references the popular series, “The Hunger Games”, and the heroine, Katniss Everdeen. Specifically discussing young women and their attitudes and feelings, Paquette quotes British economist, Noreena Hertz, who, from her research with young women in the U.S. and Britain, states, “This generation is profoundly anxious.” She goes on to say that our young generation has witnessed international threats of terrorism, domestic job loss, gender pay gaps, distrust of the motives of large corporations, civil unrest, accumulating college debt, high stakes testing, competitive college admissions, and the challenges of educational reform. And they read and view images of all of these things practically in real-time. Is that not enough to contribute to an individual’s anxiety?

So, how do we adults help our teens to cope with the images and messages of the world? What assurances can we give to help them cope with the anxiety and nervousness that they may be experiencing?

My experience of most Archmere students is that they are high achievers and prize academic success. From the Academy’s earliest years, Archmere students have sustained a school culture that supports stretching personal limits of learning, and “setting the bar high.” This achievement culture can be wonderfully creative and supportive, particularly when it is understood that failure is celebrated as much as success, because through failure we also learn something – what not to do, how not to go about tackling the problem, what assumptions made might not be true. In other words, through exploration and experimentation, we may not only solve our initial problem, but we may also broaden our understanding of the topic, recognizing typical pitfalls and red herrings, and, potentially accidentally discovering other revelations tangential to our original quest. If we can incorporate this philosophy into our students’ sense of achievement, I believe that can help reduce greatly students’ anxiety as it relates to their academic career. They should not be expected to walk an academic tightrope, and particularly a tightrope without a safety net! That does not mean that students should not plan or organize or develop a career path based on their passions, interests, and skills. It does mean that sometimes students have to be flexible enough to consider other academic and professional paths that may be quite different from what they and/or their parents had in mind.

As parents, teachers, and adults, I believe that our most important role is to be the guides for our young people, relating to them our own personal journeys, filled with “fork-in-the-road” decisions and choices, and offering them support by truly listening to what they are saying to us, and responding with sincerity and empathy. We also need to be role models – walking the talk. This adult task is not an easy one. When either of my own children call me from college and graduate school and “want to talk”, most of the time I feel good about the opinions I am offering to them about the issue they wanted to discuss. But there are those times when the issues may be more complex, or we may not initially be “on the same page” as they say. After ending the phone call or Skype, I question if I was at my best. Did I say the right thing? Did I offer good advice? In those times of self-questioning I usually have to resort to reflecting on my personal beliefs and values – almost as if I were lining them up on a cloth like silverware ready to be scrutinized and polished. I think about my conversations with my children and ask myself if what I said and how I said reflected my core beliefs and values. And if I realize that I spoke harshly or out of emotion because, as they say, your children “know how to push your buttons,” then I ask myself why did that bother me so much. I usually find the answer in my own upbringing.

My beliefs and values were shaped by my Catholic faith, my family, and my educational experiences – most particularly, Archmere. For me, this exercise produces an internal calm and quiet that allows me to work through especially difficult situations – those that generally make us nervous and anxious.

Paquette concludes her article with optimism, saying that, although this young generation has experienced much to cause anxiety, being so aware of the problems of the world may inspire them to devote their lives to solving them. Quoting Hertz, “This generation celebrates difference, diversity, their own independence . . . they want to create, lead and be heard.”

The last Green Concert of the 2014-2015 series held in the Patio featured our student musicians. Claire Caverly. a graduating senior and a national award-wining soprano, sang “Laurie’s Song” from Aaron Copeland’s “The Tender Land.” It was a beautiful and fitting ending to the Concert and to the school year, perhaps capturing the personal sentiments of Claire and so many seniors who are being graduated not only from Archmere, but from other high schools and universities. This is a hopeful time of year when the talents and optimism of our graduates should sufficiently suppress our anxieties. Laurie says it best in her lyrics,

Once I thought I’d never grow

Tall as this fence.

Time dragged heavy and slow.

But April came and August went

Before I knew just what they meant,

And little by little I grew.

And as I grew, I came to know how fast the time could go.

 

Once I thought I’d never go

Outside this fence.

This space was plenty for me.

But I walked down the road one day,

And just what happened I can’t say.

But little by little it came to be

That line between the earth and sky came beckoning to me.

 

Now the time has grown so short;

The world has grown so wide.

I’ll be graduated soon.

Why am I strange inside?

What makes me think I’d like to try

To go down all those roads

Beyond that line above the earth and ‘neath the sky?

 

Tomorrow when I sit upon the graduation platform stand,

I know my hand will shake when I reach out to take

The paper with the ribboned band.

Now that all the learning’s done,

Oh who knows what will now begin?

Oh it’s so strange, I’m strange inside.

The time has grown so short; the world so wide.

 

To the graduates of the Archmere Class of 2015, congratulations and God-speed. Perhaps when you arrived as Freshmen four years ago you thought the space inside our fence was plenty for you, but now, four years later, you have grown in so many ways and are prepared “to go down all those roads beyond that line above the earth and ‘neath the sky.” Know that you will always be a part of Archmere and Archmere a part of you.

To all of our parents and Freshmen, Sophomores, and Juniors, thank you for sharing so much of yourselves to make the 2014-15 school year at Archmere so successful. Our students are preparing for AP and final exams – a potentially stressful time. And I know that the year was not without personal challenges, disappointments, and anxious moments, but I hope those times were balanced with successes, accomplishments, and happy celebrations, all contributing to our collective growth in “pietate et scientia.”

Enjoy the beautiful Spring weather and best wishes to all in the last few weeks of school!

“Pray Hard”

On Wednesday, March 6, there was a flurry of media coverage around the Dow Jones Industrial Average breaking an all-time high – and, as I write this, the average sits at 14,338.81, up 0.3% from the opening bell.

This news of economic upswing (even if slight,) provides a contrast to the early days of the school, when Father McKeough and the other Norbertines who became the first faculty of Archmere exhausted all of their resources to generate funds for the Academy.

raskob estate hagley museum

John J. Raskob Estate, 1927
Dallin Aerial Survey Company

I recently finished reading “Passages and Transitions: A Reflection on the First Eighty Years of Daylesford Abbey” by Father Francis Cortese, O. Praem. In his researched work, Father devotes a section to the foundation of Archmere Academy, in which he includes some of the correspondence between the first headmaster of Archmere, Father Michael McKeough and Abbot Pennings, head of the Norbertine Community in America at Saint Norbert Abbey in DePere, Wisconsin.

Much of this correspondence deals with the Norbertines’ struggle to keep the school afloat.

In a November 30, 1932 letter to the Abbot, Father McKeough wrote:

“Father Hurley has a thousand dollars coming on an insurance policy which he offered today to collect. We both have our government ‘bonus’ of which we can collect fifty percent of the face value, which in our case would amount to about eight hundred dollars. Even these will not carry us far.”

Not two full months later, on January 28, 1933 he wrote:

“My bank balance is below fifty dollars. I don’t know where I can get the money to pay the salaries due the end of this week. Debts, debts, appeals, demands, every day. Something must be done soon. We must either get some money or quit.”

In the middle of the Depression, Archmere leadership struggled with keeping the school open. On June 19, 1933 in response to Fr. McKeough’s letters, Abbot Pennnings wrote:

“The enclosed 2 items will help you some to tide over the hard times of beginning a new institution. Let us hope and keep hoping that we may pull through the lean years. The one item as you can see is from Fr. Kirkfleet, who cancelled his life insurance and collected what was due him. The other item $700 I have borrowed.”

Apparently, the assistance of the Abbot, though appreciated, was not sufficient to meet all of the obligations. Again, Fr. McKeough writes on July 20, 1933:

“I have been waiting as patiently as I can for some financial help but it is hard to be patient when creditors are calling up and writing letters day after day and asking for their money, which is due them. I have made excuses and promises until I don’t know what to say any more. Our own income since school left out has been insufficient even for salaries. As a result I haven’ t paid the food bills for June and some of them not even for May.”

In another letter, Father McKeough concludes:

“The depression is really getting worse . . . Some people are withdrawing their boys at the 2nd semester. They cannot even meet a reduced rate, and they are honest people, others leave them here with perhaps no intention to pay all their dues. . . I cannot help to feel discouraged at times. Let us pray hard.”

These words – “pray hard” – at a time of seemingly insurmountable obstacles reveal the deep faith and mettle of these founding Norbertines who sacrificed much for generations of students and families they would never know. They were not even sure that their efforts would be lasting and that Archmere would survive the early years, and yet they continued to persevere.

As I read these accounts, I thought about the lessons learned and particularly reflected on during this Lenten season – the meaning of sacrifice; belief in a divine plan that is not your plan; obedience to God’s will (which is not always joyful but sometimes stressful and difficult); and the understanding that riches are not always measured by the Dow, but by the experience of community created by shared work and sacrifice.

In the coming weeks, we have a number of Archmere community events beginning with the Memorial Mass sponsored by the Alumni Association on Sunday, March 10, followed by a celebration of Archmere spirit on Thursday evening, March 14, at the Springfield Country Club.

On March 17, the Green Concert Series presents an afternoon of Irish music and dance in the Patio. The following weekend, the Mothers’ Guild Garage Sale takes place on Saturday, March 23, followed by the Fine Arts Festival on the same day starting at 4:30 PM.

We are so fortunate to be able to share many gifts and talents to present these events for the benefit of preserving and growing the Archmere experience. We follow in the footsteps of our first founders who sacrificed much and stayed the course.

May this Lent be a time for you to reflect on all that you do and all that you willingly sacrifice as a response to God’s will and presence in your life.  And may your Easter be a time of joy and celebration for you and your family.