Commencement is an open door at Germantown Friends School

Senior year in high school can be treacherous. ‘Tis the season of college applications. Dates like November 1, December 15, January 1 and April 1 are met with fear. Application and test score websites become an obsession. The chatter of Facebook is the online escape from everything.

I am a recently emancipated senior from Germantown Friends School. I was an almost lifer—a student since 1st grade. That’s about two-thirds of my life, and over that time the school has taught me, nurtured me, supported me, tortured me and respected me.

The whole of senior year is basically a countdown. A countdown to college acceptances, college decisions, prom, Senior Week and most importantly, graduation. When we started the year, graduation was the last target on the horizon, the final countdown.  We all knew, on June 10 at 11 a.m., if we were lucky, we’d all have made it.

But the spring offered plenty as distractions. These few leap easily to mind:

The massive biology project that slowed the beginning of May nearly to a halt
The last edition of Earthquake (the school newspaper)
Our yearbook, Anno, finally arrived
The senior class round of Assassin (a tag game with water) in the final weeks of school
And we all donned animal face paint after a trip to the zoo

Of course the real distraction was the Senior Parent Play featuring a comical adaptation of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” into “Senior Ladies,” and other skits mocking the school and our class. And in the final week, thoughts of graduation themselves were replaced by worry over 100 degree weather in the non-air-conditioned Arch Street Meeting House. Could we even survive the ceremony there?

So when this past Friday morning arrived and we all gathered, dressed not for school but for that ceremony we had been aiming for all year long, a wave of disbelief hit me square and center. “Are we already here? How? Go back! I need more time!”

Alas, the ceremony went on with no heed to my silent panic.

Looking forward

Many people addressed my class with wisdom. Beloved math teacher David Mraz gave the Faculty Address, Head of School Dick Wade made remarks, and senior Ibrahim Kamara spoke on behalf of us all.

Leaving high school has all of my class mates and me thinking about our plans – for next year, for the next four years, for our careers, for life. We’ve been told time and again about planing – we even plan for the moments when our plans fall through.

At the meetinghouse downtown, Ibrahim talked about how absurd he feels to have a back-up plan for life. He said we should all study and go for whatever it is we want to be when we grow up. I couldn’t agree more.

Since graduation, the flow of parties has been non-stop. At each one, parents have been full of questions and congratulations for the seniors.

The question I have been asked most is whether my class is really at par with all the praise we have received at the various ceremonies that dotted this already busy senior year.

The answer is yes. Though no class is perfect, and we are certainly no exception, it would be wrong to say we do not have exceptional leadership and passion in our ranks. Sometimes the impact of this can be a strong surprise.

I recall the Friends League championships in lacrosse, a hard fight against Friends Central that ended in a loss. And equally, in school choir not long ago it was the final time senior members sang that old standard, “The Benediction.” Tears came easily.

Loving back

The GFS motto reads, “Behold I have set before thee an open door.” On Friday I think many of my classmates fixated on that open door at the back of the Meeting House for what it really symbolized. Doors lead out as well as in.

One of the reasons I am glad that GFS calls its graduation “Commencement” is that it encourages all the graduates to take everything we’ve gained from GFS and put it toward starting something new. I have no doubt that the new things my classmates with take on will be successes. We all have great ambition and should follow Ibrahim’s message.

To echo what one of my best friends said in the final Meeting for Worship held on campus the day before graduation, I could not be more proud to graduate with this class.

One of the other questions I was asked at a recent party celebrating our trip out that open door, was whether if I ended up back in Philadelphia after some years pass, would I consider sending my kids to GFS. I answered “absolutely,” without any hesitation.

For now though, if there is another school lesson to learn, it is how to be an alumna.


Elle Pfeffer is a recent graduate of Germantown Friends School where she was the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper Earthquake. She was also a leader of the Environmental Action Club and was a member of the choir and orchestra. Elle looks forward to continuing with her passions in the fall at Johns Hopkins University.

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