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171st Commencement Exercises

Relationships and Respect: Values for Fractious Times

On a beautiful June evening in the Garden, graduation speakers — including The Honorable Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States — gave words of advice to the Class of 2018.

Read highlights of their remarks below and view the complete photo album on Flickr.

The Honorable Anthony M. Kennedy

[Senior Speaker Skye] Brodsky mentioned the musical Hamilton. At one point in that musical, the lyrics say that the Americans from the jaws of defeat were able to snatch a stalemate. The Battle of Brooklyn Heights in 1776 was hardly even a stalemate. Washington ... could see the British over in Staten Island, where they were able to discharge troops — thousands and thousands of them — in perfect order from their ships. And Washington had this raggle-taggle group of an army. And after [Washington's] beautifully executed retreat over the river, the Americans learned to fight another day. [The Battle of] Brooklyn Heights teaches you that if you're brave and if you believe in your cause and if you believe in freedom, you will prevail.

"Our civil discourse has become fractious and hostile — and this comment isn't just about political discourse. It's about our discourse in art, and literature, and entertainment. Our civil discourse must be what defines our freedom. A civil discourse means that you can have an idea, and you'll explain it, and then — you know what to do — you listen, with respect. And then you think."

— The Honorable Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United StateS


Senior Speaker Skye Brodsky '18

...The political climate and global events that have taken place over the course of this year alone pushed us to find paths of involvement in the larger communities. The students on this stage have taken leadership roles in the NYC Says Enough movement, March for Our Lives, Black Lives Matter, Me Too, Time's Up, along with other organizations. Whatever your political beliefs, everyone seems to agree that what's happening right now is unlike anything that this country or even the world has seen. Adults in conversation constantly seem to assure my classmates and me that everything going on is uncharted territory, but that's a strange thing to hear as a high schooler... We keep hearing that the world is bending into shapes it's never previously held, but we basically just got here. We missed all the shapes prior to this one.

"...To you, my class, thank you and I love you. I love you for May Orientation and frisbee in Baltimore and everything in between. I love the way you put yourselves out there, leaving room for me to do so as well. I love our class discussions and inside jokes. I even love our failed senior skip day and our terrible senior prank, which pranked absolutely nobody in the school, but served as an excuse for us to spray sparkling cider all over ourselves and dance outside the Atrium, and I love you all for our altogether fantastic senior year. And I love you for the three years that preceded this one and the lessons I've taken from observing the confidence you exude and immersing myself in the laughter you have inflated Packer's halls with for the past four years. Without a doubt, the hardest part about saying goodbye to Packer is saying goodbye to you all."

— Skye Brodsky '18, Senior Class Speaker


Upper School Head José De Jesús

In the desire to replicate the close family bonds that many West African cultures shared, enslaved Afro-Caribbean people developed 'kin networks,' a mix of genetically and non-genetically related people who would become family. If families were to be taken from enslaved people, then, darn it, enslaved peoples were going to build new families. My calling [the adults around me] tío and tía had a direct connection to my family's experiences as enslaved people in the Americas. My calling them tío and tía was not just a sign of respect, it was an act that helped my ancestors survive. Of course you are not strangers to the idea of kin networks. (...).

"Every year I seek to connect the graduating class to Packer's mission in some authentic way, and with you, mighty Class of 2018, I could have gone many different ways. Your dean already spoke beautifully during Academic Awards Chapel about how you have acted with purpose and heart, and that is true. Your actions will leave an indelible mark on Packer. But before you leave us, I want to speak to you about a part of the mission I've never spoken to you about directly, and that is the "importance of meaningful and sustained relationships". You, 18ers, already live that part of the mission in beautiful ways.

"...Over the last 4 years I've seen countless examples of your having each other's back, especially when times were tough. It is easy to be someone's friend when the winds are steady and sailing is smooth, it is another thing entirely to be a friend when the storm comes. You are kin to one another."

— José M. De Jesús, Upper School Division Head


Head of School Bruce L. Dennis

Like [those who research happiness], I have found that the key to happiness is relational and the key to successful relationships is demonstrating empathy and genuine caring for others. Your class, which is distinct for its unusual level of unity, seems to have demonstrated that you truly understand this. (...)

"One of the reasons I've found myself so happy at Packer is the relationship-driven nature of the school. For me, the keys to happiness have been my relationships with my family, my friends, and my connection to my work. And while many of us may think that wealth and financial success are the keys to happiness, other research that I've read suggests that it isn't success that makes us happy, but happiness that makes us successful. There is actually an entire school of thought that believes that optimism is the greatest predictor of success, by helping one cope when things are not going well and maintaining our vision when life is not proceeding according to plan. Abraham Lincoln may have said it best: 'Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.'"

— Bruce L. Dennis, Head of School


Board of Trustees Chair Deborah Juantorena

In 2012, Marilyn Hagerty, an 85-year-old food columnist for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota was mocked and ridiculed online for her positive review of the town's newly opened Olive Garden, which she described as 'the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks.'" [Celebrity chef Anthony] Bourdain came to her defense, praising her years of reviews that constituted 'a history of dining in the America too few of us from the coasts have seen.'... Ultimately, Marilyn was recognized for her years of work, and she wrote a book for which Bourdain wrote the forward.

"His kind act was a lesson to all of us about the importance of withholding judgement, showing kindness and treating other people with respect – especially those in society who lack power and sophistication. It allows people to feel safe, appreciated and part of a community. I am proud that people described [the Senior Class] as nice and as kind, and I am hopeful that Packer contributed to your development in these areas. Continue to cultivate these traits. They matter and can make a difference in big and small ways."

— Deborah Juantorena, Chair, Board of Trustees

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