On June 8th students from around the country and around the world gathered under a beautiful Copper Beech tree on the Oakwood Friends School campus marking our 220th year of Friends education. As is tradition, each of the 36 graduates shared words of gratitude, words of hope and words of optimism. The students spoke powerfully about what they have gained academically, socially and spiritually. Through their words, spoken at times in multiple different languages, they expressed deep gratitude for the opportunities a Quaker Education affords.
This intentional community of learners draws students and families from multiple nations, cities, states, religious, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, families, orientations, genders and family structures. We do not do this for diversity’s sake, but out of a well-informed understanding that a community learns best when open dialog, respect, engagement, and multiple perspectives are present. This is a community in its truest sense; one that, even during times of disagreement or conflict, strives to elevate every member and one that helps our students responsibly navigate the world beyond our campus.
And this is where I have every confidence in our graduates. I see this in student-led inter-generational conferences on gender equality. I see it when our students organize 5k races in partnership with the United Nations in support of refugee schools in Kenya. I see this when a recent alum returned to campus in May to talk with passion and light about her current three years with the Peace Corp in Zambia. I also see this when alumni who graduated 60 years ago quietly and anonymously support students on financial aid, expanding the reach and opportunity of an Oakwood education.
These are exceptional and important times to be part of the Oakwood community. Students and faculty engaged in dialog on social justice, equality, identity, and faith not just in a class but around the lunch table and in the dorms. Students travelled multiple times to Washington, Albany, and NYC joining thousands of others speaking out on gun violence. Meeting with our NY State Representatives, our students voiced concerns on topics ranging from mental health awareness to suicide prevention to environmental sustainability. Partnering with local organizations, our students are volunteering their time while simultaneously gaining a deeper appreciation for the natural world around them.
One graduating senior from the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota spoke powerfully as she and her mother presented traditional Lakota quilts to members of the community. Another student identified her responsibility to be the voice of change she wishes to see in society. While another student, who lives half-way around the globe, pointed to his exposure to the Quaker faith, weekly meetings, and the ability to reflect inward as ‘immeasurable gifts.’
Many aspects of our program and our institution have evolved over the decades. Yet, there is a thread that connects our graduates; a core belief that what we discuss around the dinner table, the dorms or the quad is as important as the coursework. These graduates understand that student voice has power and that each of us has a responsibility to our learning, to each other and to take action. Congratulations class of 2018.
Head of School