One of the five core values we talk about is Community. It is a part of our mission statement, written on the walls of our classrooms, included in our website and in printed literature about Archmere. It is a word that so many institutions use to describe the family-like atmosphere that they believe they create for the people associated with a particular school, church, organization or cause. But at Archmere during the week of November 6, I experienced Community “in action,” and I could not help but share with you how I felt at each event.
On November 3, the Archmere Academy community learned of the passing of Jerry Ambrogi ’76, a much beloved coach and mentor at Archmere for over four decades. An estimated 600 people gathered at Archmere on Tuesday, November 8 for his funeral Mass in the Theatre, followed by a luncheon reception in the Patio. Hundreds more visited at the funeral home the evening before. After a two-year, brave and painful bout with cancer, Jerry is at peace. Over the years, he has been a significant benefactor to Archmere, quietly helping students with words of guidance, financial support, and a sincere mentorship that positively affected the lives of others. In talking with one mother who attended the funeral Mass, she said that Jerry was the only person that was able to talk to her son at a time when he needed support at Archmere, and she will never forget how that mentorship changed her son’s life. In gathering with family and friends, in celebrating the Mass, and in sharing our individual stories of Jerry, I felt the tremendous impact of the intersections of our lives, creating a powerful sense of Community.
A few days later, on Friday, November 11, we held an assembly for the students to observe Veterans Day. As part of that assembly, students from the War Heroes Club, working with Principal John Jordan ’80, researched the World War II career of one of our students, Richard Fox Grace, who left Archmere in his junior year in 1943 to join the Navy. In May 1945, his submarine was torpedoed in what was then the Bay of Siam, and all the crew perished. The submarine was discovered in 2006, and the location in the Bay of Thailand was designated a war grave by the U.S. Navy. Richard, who was a few weeks shy of his 19th birthday, had a nephew, Richard Grace Armstrong ‘69, and his son, Richard Kyle Armstrong ’02 attend Archmere. They were present at the assembly to receive their uncle’s diploma posthumously from Archmere, which was dated June 9, 1944, the day he would have graduated with his class. After his nephews received the diploma, Richard ’69 read a letter he had composed to his uncle. At the conclusion of the letter, the students gave Richard a standing ovation. A color guard from the U.S. Navy joined us, and our own Mastersingers sang the National Anthem and the Navy Hymn. The assembly concluded with the scrolling of the names of those men and women who served or are serving in the armed forces. Needless to say, this special program was an emotional moment for the Archmere community, a moment that acknowledged officially Richard Fox Grace as a graduate of the Class of 1944, a war hero, and a role model who left the Archmere campus 73 years ago to defend our country and our freedoms.
The next evening, I was sitting in the same Theatre where Jerry’s funeral Mass took place and the Veterans Day ceremony occurred to watch the closing performance of “A Christmas Carol,” presented by our drama students. It was a wonderfully unique interpretation of the traditional story, in that all of the characters signed throughout the play. I learned that all of the student actors were taught sign language, which they incorporated beautifully into their acting. It added another dimension to the play, in that Ebenezer Scrooge was taught a “new language” as he transformed throughout the drama. The key words of this new language were: family, friends, love, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion. Gradually, as each ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future presented themselves to Scrooge, he was able to sign the words and speak a new language.
What is Community at Archmere? It is those three actions: a funeral for a dearly loved and highly regarded alumnus and coach; a respectful student assembly that remembered one graduate who left Archmere 73 years ago, and in remembering one who served, honored all who served or are serving our country in the armed forces; and a fall play that presented a deeper understanding of “Christmas spirit,” that is a recipe of family, friends, love, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion.
Often times we do not know why things happen. It is exactly in those times that we give thanks to God for being a Community of faith, one that recalls the words from the Book of Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We learn to accept those things we cannot change by gathering together, by relying on each other, and by knowing that someone is there to mourn with you, to remember with you, and to offer you kindness and compassion.
I told a group of students after the events of last week that if there is one thing they should remember, it is that, “We, the Archmere community, will never forget you. You are forever a part of Archmere, and Archmere is forever a part of you.” As we celebrate Thanksgiving and begin preparations for the Christmas holidays, I extend to you my thanks and gratitude for each of you, who are an important and vital part of the Archmere community. May we be grateful for God’s blessings!