by Michael C. Wirtz, Head of School, Hackley School
The end of the school year is full of important rituals and traditions: art shows, championship games, athletic dinners, final concerts, Senior Project Panels, prom, Senior Dinner, Raymond-Goodhue Games, Class Day, Commencement. It is the last that gets most of our attention and rightly so. It is the ceremony in which we gather as a community — students, faculty and staff, parents, alumni, and trustees — to mark the passage of another group of young adults into the next phase of their lives. With so much focus on Commencement itself, I found myself reflecting not only on our seniors — our soon-to-be graduates — but also on the value of the diploma they will soon receive.
Before considering the diploma itself, it is important to understand the recipients and what this moment means. Like those that have come before them, Hackley’s Class of 2019 is filled with artists, athletes, and scholars. There are also volunteers, strategy gamers, mentors, jokesters, friends, actors, musicians, leaders, programmers, thinkers, writers, activists, and researchers. High school and the years prior are a time for students to try on and change various descriptors, often wearing more than one simultaneously. It is always important to realize, however, that we are working with young adults and not adults. The words used to describe interests, passions, talents, or direction at this time in their lives are likely to change. Our graduates depart in search of additional knowledge, deeper perspectives, and new experiences. They carry their Hackley diploma as a passport, a tangible artifact of this prelude of who they will become and all they will accomplish.
Thinking about all that students will accomplish after earning their diploma is never far from my thoughts, especially because “accomplishment” is not considered lightly at Hackley. It is featured prominently in our mission statement (“Hackley challenges students to grow in character, scholarship, and accomplishment…”) and from there it informs a significant portion of Hackley’s Portrait of a Graduate. Implied in its name, the Portrait of a Graduate is an aspirational representation of all that we hope for and value in a Hackley education, culminating in the receipt of a diploma.
The process of generating the Portrait of a Graduate during the 2017–2018 school year by teachers of kindergarten through 12th grade allowed for a deep consideration of what we value in an education and all that we strive to achieve through the classes, programs, extracurriculars, and experiences offered here. Like the mission statement, it is a North Star for the community, a vision around which we unite and align. It was in this process that the talented educators responsible for creating and delivering the totality of Hackley’s educational experience explored the concept of “accomplishment.” And what they created points to a higher purpose for our students and the value of the diploma they will soon receive.
The Portrait of a Graduate considers accomplishment as a habit to be formed, not in terms of material success or possessions. It is a living document and a statement of Hackley’s values, as much as it is an articulation of what we want for our students. Students earning a Hackley diploma will have had experiences that shape their minds, perspectives, skills, and character in ways that allow them to think about and define accomplishment in ways distinct and perhaps counter-cultural to the world around them:
- demonstrate the personal courage to attempt new things, the intellectual courage to consider new ideas, and the moral courage to stand for matters of principle;
- create a sense of purpose, orienting talent, service, and actions to transcend individual success;
- reinforce the immeasurable value of a life marked by friendship, balance, and joy.
As an educator, this document — especially the habits of accomplishment — encompasses all that I want for these young adults as they leave this hilltop. To me, this represents an education well-employed. Hackley’s ability to prepare them for their next steps — to live and strive and accomplish beyond simple descriptors and measures — lies at the heart of the value of their Hackley diploma. The diploma serves as a symbol of their preparation for a dynamic and challenging world, one where they are ready to define and redefine themselves, and to create a sense of accomplishment and purpose that will serve them for a lifetime. A Hackley diploma represents the “unreserved effort” that led to the successes, failures, and growth that contributed to the development of who our graduates are, what they believe, what they will accomplish, and how they will author the next chapters of their lives.