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Meaning, Compassion, and Happiness: 172nd Commencement Exercises

On Thursday, June 13, the 93 members of the Class of 2019 received diplomas at Packer’s 172nd Commencement.

After a suspenseful day watching the uncertain weather, and with a backup indoor location fully prepared, Head of School Dr. Bruce Dennis made the call for the ceremony to take place in the Packer Garden. Despite the intermittent threat of dark skies, the rain held off and the sun peeked through the clouds for a lovely outdoor ceremony.


Attending his 52nd high school graduation, and his 15th and final Packer Commencement as Head of School, Dr. Dennis reflected upon his tenure both at Packer and his career as a whole. He built upon the advice he gave seniors a couple weeks earlier, to “find work that you love and that doesn’t feel like work.” True to character, he shared a few jokes about work, then turned to a more serious note.

“Lots of the research on happiness and job satisfaction has identified ‘meaningfulness’ as a critical factor. My belief that the work I do every day really matters has been intrinsic to why I have been so happy throughout my career.” 

Tracing his career path from English teacher to positions in school leadership, he noted his discovery of the meaningfulness of his work.

“I have been able to experience the pleasure of watching thousands of students grow and develop, just as I have watched all of you — those who entered Packer with me as Puppies in 2004, and those who joined us later, and are now graduating this June. I can barely find the words to describe how meaningful that is to me, and what I wish for all of you as you choose your own professional paths.” Read his full speech.


Kai Carse ’19, elected Senior Speaker by his classmates, spoke about the kindness he felt was intrinsic to the grade as a whole. Referring to a good-deed initiative led by Student Council in the grade’s freshman year and Senior Shabbat dinners organized by and for all seniors earlier this year, he noted the wide-reaching effect of their kindness.

 “Our compassion is also notably universal. Part of what makes this group so exceptional is that we aren’t only kind to those closest to us; we are particularly caring to those we don’t necessarily speak to every day or often at all.”

He ended his remarks by speaking to his classmates both about the past and the future: “...all of you and your phenomenal kindness have already shaped me into the person I am; so no matter where I go, I will feel you impact my actions and expressions of compassion. I believe this is true for every one of us. We have grown together, and in doing so I am sure we will continue to spread the kindness we shared here at Packer.” Read Kai’s complete remarks.


The invited speaker was Jodie Patterson P ’17, social activist and award-winning author. Speaking from her own experience as the mother of a transgender child, she urged the graduates to embrace change in their lives.

“We must reimagine ourselves, all of us, each of you. We can be more than what our gender says, more than what society tells us. If you write yourself off as purely one thing, you will underestimate your infinite potential. Miscalculating ourselves by far.” Read her complete remarks.

Head of the Upper School José De Jésus, leaving Packer this year to become the Head of School at Lake Forest Academy in Chicago, similarly referenced the need to live up to one’s potential. Quoting Packer’s mission statement, in which “Packer students are challenged to develop talents,” he encouraged the graduates to share their all their talents with the world.

“Ninteeners, never be afraid to shine. Do not deny the world, and yourself, of the gifts you have so beautifully developed here. . .We are proud of you, we love you — go forth unafraid knowing our community will always have your back. And shine, shine, shine.” Read his full speech.


Chair of the Board of Trustees Debbie Juantorena spoke of her impression of the Class of 2019 as happy above all else. She recounted a disagreement with her son — Julian J. ’19 — about whether happiness was the most important thing in life:

“Life is not a tradeoff between happiness and a successful and fulfilling career and life. I would offer to you that happiness is a prerequisite for a fulfilling life. When we are happy, we engage others, we are open to sharing and considering life’s possibilities. Happy people are like magnets.” Read her complete remarks.

The skies lightened for the conferring of diplomas and for Packer’s alma mater, boisterously led by the School’s newest alumni class. 

— Lily Jensen ’19

View all photos on Flickr.

Watch the entire ceremony on YouTube.


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