Old and New Traditions

Being an eighty-six-year-old school, Archmere certainly has developed a number of traditions – customs and beliefs that are passed down from generation to generation. Schools like Archmere develop unique cultures based on these beliefs that are manifested in practices each day and events that punctuate the school year.

On Friday, September 14, the opening school Mass took place, which, in recent years, has been held on this date to commemorate the first day of school in the Academy’s inaugural year, 1932. At the end of the Mass, the student body, along with special guests, moved outside to the entrance of the theatre, which was transformed over the summer to a special place on campus to remember especially three individuals: Jerry Ambrogi ’76, Mark Dombroski ’17, and Anthony Penna ’19.

The Ambrogi Gates and Garden” were created over the last several months to remember and honor alumnus, coach, parent, and friend, Jerry Ambrogi ’76. The plaque on the gates explains:

Originally installed to the southeast of this spot during the construction of the Patio in 1916-1918, these IRON GATES were removed from their former location to widen the exit lane. They have been restored here to symbolically welcome new students into the Archmere Academy community and to bid farewell to newly graduated alumni following Commencement each academic year.

 Our LABYRINTH is modeled after one installed in the early decades of the 13thcentury on the floor of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres in Chartres, France. St. Norbert of Xanten established his monastery at Prémontré 100 years earlier in 1120 some 115 miles south-west of Chartres. Walking a labyrinth facilitates prayer and meditation and can represent the medieval practice of undertaking a religious pilgrimage.

Water gardens have been installed and tended to by various cultures around the world for millennia and a water feature is traditionally a part of the cloister in Norbertine abbeys around the world. The KOI POND in this garden is to be a place of gathering for quiet reflection, meditation, and prayer and provides the opportunity to appreciate the wonders of God’s creation.

And so, a new tradition was born with the Class of 2022 and transfer students who walked through the gates to the theatre on their first day at Archmere. The next time they will walk through the gates is on their graduation day. In the meantime, the Class of 2019 will begin the graduation tradition this coming June.

Father McLaughlin blessed the gates and garden area, as well as two benches, one each in memory of Mark Dombroski ’17 and Anthony Penna ’19. Among the guests were Mark’s parents, Anthony’s parents, Mrs. Kristy Ambrogi, Jerry’s wife, and other friends and family. The blessing ceremony, which we have often celebrated on campus for a number of memorials and remembrances, is another Catholic Christian tradition that offers meaning and the assurance that those who have left us will be remembered and honored by the Archmere community.

Last Spring, our alumni, parents, and then freshmen, sophomores, and juniors responded to surveys that are helping us gather information to develop the Academy’s next strategic planning cycle. The responses were consistent and overall very favorable about the Archmere experience. The long-standing tradition of “academic excellence” was clearly valued, with “curriculum,” “academic challenge,” and “reputation,” garnering scores of 4.5 to 4.7 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent, from 343 students (100%) and 154 parent responses (42.8%).  While these responses certainly underscore the strong academic program of the Academy, we also heard from some students and parents that “school-life balance” could be improved.

Students can feel overwhelmed by their academic schedules, combined with their sports and extra-curricular schedules, let alone their outside-of-school commitments and family obligations. Our students want to be academically challenged, such that they take multiple honors-level or advanced placement courses at the same time. The amount of homework generated from these course loads is a persistent issue for some students and an intermittent issue for others. One possible explanation for the variety of experiences might be due to the fact that we customize students’ schedules to match their learning and development in core disciplines. While this can be an advantage, it also creates multiple schedules for students, who are often grouped together in a variety of ways, making it a challenge for a coordinated pacing of academic content across disciplines.

I have begun a new tradition – a monthly “Coffee and Conversation with the Headmaster” program. Open to all students, for the first meeting in September, approximately 15 students spent about 45-minutes in an open-ended discussion on a variety of topics of interest to them. I also asked them, based on the student survey responses, about their feelings around workload and their school-life balance. Most acknowledged that the academic program is challenging and that they have to manage a rigorous workload. They said that the secret to success at Archmere is time management and organization. They also inferred that students need to be strategic about what they choose to do and schedule. One student offered the perspective that the academic schedule is fine, but when adding to it sports and extracurriculars, it can become overwhelming at times, and that is why time management, organization, and making choices are crucial skills.

I am confident that these constructive conversations around curriculum will be helpful in developing strategic initiatives that will enhance an already strong program offering. Dialog between students, parents, teachers, and administrators will insure that our alumni will continue to report how well-prepared they were for college and what an exceptional experience they had at Archmere, embracing revered traditions and helping to create new ones.

Commencement Remarks 2018

I would like to share a few thoughts that I expressed to the members of the senior class at Commencement Exercises on June 3, 2018.

Members of the Class of 2018:

Words matter. What we say, write, email, text, IM, tweet – it all has an impact. In Pope Francis’ message for World Communications Day 2018, he said:

“Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion. . . Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.

Where there is shouting, let us practice listening.

Where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony.

Where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity.

Where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity.

Where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety.

Where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions.

Where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust.

Where there is hostility, let us bring respect.

Where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.”

Our country and our world seems so divided at times over a variety of issues, and it is only through empathetic communication that we can help reconcile and resolve our differences.

What a wonderful day to be graduating, because in the Catholic Church, we celebrate today the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ!

St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians (12:12-13): “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

Jesus is the “new covenant“, replacing the covenants of the Old Testament between God and the Israelites, which were often broken by the Israelites, and had to be renewed again and again. The covenant of the New Testament is one of love; it is forever renewed through God’s mercy; and it is for everyone. It was created by Jesus who gave his very life as a sacrifice for us all.

You may never feel as connected to one another and to a community of students, teachers and parents as you do right now, graduates of the Class of 2018, so recall these feelings of friendship, love, and common experience as you move into new communities and new relationships.

The vision of one person, Norbert of Xanten, nearly 900 years ago, shared his gifts of preaching and reconciling, and today his communities are still making an impact on people all over the world, including here, at Archmere.

Two teachers, who have been here each for 30 years, certainly have emulated Norbert’s spirit, and now they are retiring. I would like to recognize and ask you to join me in thanking Mr. William Mulhearn and Mrs. Rosalba Bellen.

And so, my prayer for you as leave Archmere is to use your talents to speak well, to build community, to repair relationships, to make good and lasting “covenants,” to recognize that, in the end, we are all one body – connected. Expand your “nets of friendship,” and perhaps the love and empathy you share will exponentially spread to others, and, day by day, change our world for the better.

 

It Is The Journey That Matters, In The End…

At this time of year, I often attend other commencement exercises and end-of-year programs, in which the speakers offer some inspiring words, talk about an institution’s mission and values, explain how they have been personally affected by the educational experience, or describe a vision for the world that addresses some issues or challenges we face as a global society. I find myself listening to find the common denominator in all of these speeches, and, for me, a succinct summary that most, if not all of us, could use the reminder that was written by don Miguel Ruiz in his book: Los Cuatro Acuerdos – The Four Agreements. The book is based on ancient Toltec wisdom. I read it many years ago, but I still refer to the four agreements now and again to remind myself how I can better interact with others, and thereby become a better person each day. They are:

  1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.
  1. Don’t Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
  1. Don’t Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
  1. Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret. (from http://www.toltecspirit.com)

In the last days of the Easter Season, we heard Jesus in the Gospel of Saint John each day talking about the transition of leaving this world to be with his Father in heaven. Though Jesus physically would no longer be among us, He says, “. . . I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, so we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one . . . I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” (John 17: 20-26)

So, as we mark the end of educational journeys for our graduates and say, “good-bye,” they “commence” a new journey. While there are tears of sadness and feelings of anxiety when we are separated from the familiar and from people we have come to know and appreciate, as some of our seniors have expressed to me in recent days, we know that the love that we share remains. And, if we honor ourselves by continuing to live by an ethical code, we will be drawn together always – united, one.

Congratulations and Godspeed to the Class of 2018!