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A Send-Off with Purpose and Heart
Posted 06/28/2016 02:39PM

A Send-Off with Purpose and Heart

Speakers at Packer's 169th Commencement invoke the importance of empathy and vision in matters of equity and social justice.

On Thursday, June 16, the 91 members of Packer's Class of 2016 were granted diplomas at the School's 169th Commencement, held in the Alumni Garden.

Under blue skies, Head of School Bruce L. Dennis opened the ceremony by encouraging the graduates to carry the empathy and kindness they cultivated at Packer beyond the School's walls:

As individuals and as a group, you have distinguished yourselves academically, artistically, athletically, and musically. Many of you have been honored for your service to others, and those in Packer who have worked with and gotten to know you appreciate the contributions you have made to our school's long and outstanding tradition. As you go off into the world to enjoy what I trust are lives of great joy, good health, and continued success, I hope that you have found that your time here at Packer was spent happily and productively.

It seems reasonable to ask what can you, our graduates, do as you enter this crazy, exciting, world, filled with boundless possibilities and seemingly limitless contradictions. I would submit that the most important thing you can do is offer your inherent goodness to the world (and there is so much goodness there, as you have repeatedly shown us) do well for yourselves by doing good for the world around you.

Ben Hinton '16 was elected to give the Senior Class Speech, in which he reflected on the wisdom of novelist David Foster Wallace and his notion that education involves a deepening awareness of the world, rather than specific knowledge:

How has Packer helped us develop our awareness? Packer's mission is to develop students to Think Deeply, Speak Confidently, and Act with Purpose and Heart. To me, the key word there is think — a word that is completely different from terms like learn, memorize, facts, and knowledge. Whether or not we've noticed it, Packer has been putting a lot of emphasis on thinking deeply as it pertains to learning. They've been encouraging us to develop a sense of comfort being at the center of our own learning, assigning us fewer tests and more projects and essays — assessments that require us to think rather than memorize facts. Consequently, we have been able to take this critical lens with which we view our studies and turn outward and inward, to think about ourselves, our community and those struggling around us.Therefore it is no surprise to me how involved many people in our grade are with issues surrounding social justice, community service, and just general good person-ness (which is my favorite one of the three, by the way). So I say don't worry about the facts and really think about the way you're looking at them because that is where real learning takes place.

Our paths to success are each going to be drastically different. From immediately entering into a pre professional college program to taking a gap year off, we will all follow different journeys of varying length and difficulty. But no matter how long and hard our journey to success is, it is and always will be of the utmost importance that you slow down, take time to appreciate the really small stuff, and not let life pass you by.

Jennifer Allyn (mother of Jordan '16) was the invited speaker at this year's ceremony. As the Diversity Strategy Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ms. Allyn is responsible for designing and implementing internal initiatives that promote a diverse range of individuals to leadership positions. Her understanding of social bias inspired her to encourage the graduating Pelicans to reach outside of their own frameworks as they go to college:

For those of you who just took Driver's Ed, you know that your blindspot is real. It is a literal hole in your vision where you can't see. We know they are dangerous... It turns out we have blindspots in other areas, where our brains take shortcuts in an attempt to organize all the information we have to process.

One of the most difficult blindspots to overcome is the "similarity effect." Research shows we are drawn to people who are like us. Familiarity leads to comfort, which leads quickly to trust. This dynamic can be good — think love at first sight ­— but it is also the foundation of most pyramid schemes and frauds where someone shakes your hand and says, "Just trust me."...These unconscious assumptions are often more pervasive and harder to recognize. In the workplace, we found the problem was less about people excluding others who were different and more about people advocating for and helping those who were like them.

Think about that: I'm not against anyone, I'm just for my group, my people. What could be wrong with that? Well, if the people at the top are all the same, then they only see talent in colleagues who remind them of themselves.

Head of Upper School José M. De Jesús spoke to the compassionate nature of the Class of 2016, urging them to see the world with empathy and purpose:

So dearest class of 2016, right now, in a culture that so often prefers to keep the invisible invisible, we need you. A culture that places blame on our society's most vulnerable people, the most impactful act you can have is simply to see. To see in ways big and small.

This will not be easy. Actually, this may be painful. It will make you engage your privilege, it can shake you up, and it will be tempting to stay the safer course. Ignorance is indeed often bliss. I should know: this is something I struggle with every day... The struggle is real, and I know it is a big ask to invite you to join me in it.

View over 600 Commencement photos on Flickr

Complete 2016 Commencement Ceremony

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