Convocation Address: The Power of Courage

President Martin’s Convocation Address at the start of the 2019-2020 Academic Year:

I am so happy to welcome all of you, students, faculty and staff, to the 2019-2020 school year at The Academy at Penguin Hall.  

As I look at the Class of 2020, I am especially excited because so many of you have been with us since the school opened four years ago. You took a leap of faith in joining a brand new high school and you have worked together with teachers and administrators to help our school grow and develop in pursuit of its mission to educate, enlighten, and empower.

The beginning of the school year is the ideal time to reflect on who we are as a community and as individuals.  Each year at The Academy at Penguin Hall we highlight one of our core values and think about the way that value is woven into the fabric of our school. 

In the past years, we have celebrated the value of Resilience and Integrity.  Resilience is about developing our grit and the ability to bounce back from challenges.  While Integrity is about doing the right thing even when no one is watching.  

The value we are highlighting this year is Courage. 

As Maya Angelou said,  “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” 

What is courage?  To me, courage is the ability to do what frightens you. It’s the willingness to step into fear, discomfort or uncertainty.

Some people have the courage to run cross-country but may not have the courage to speak in public. The courage to spike a volleyball is different from the courage to sing on stage. The courage to start a club is different than the courage to walk down a city street. We all have courage in some areas and less in others.

Today I will share some thoughts on courage in the classroom, in the community, in clubs, activities and sports and in your personal life.

Courage in Academics
What does courage in the classroom look like?  It is the risk you take when you raise your hand to ask a question or to share an observation or opinion even if it means your peers or your teacher may not agree with you. It is when you ignore uncertainty and volunteer to work a problem set on the board even if you might make a mistake. 

Sometimes it might be when you have to have to tell your teacher, your advisor, or your parents that you have not completed work that is due. It is resisting the urge to take academic shortcuts by turning in work that is not your own.

Most importantly, courage in the classroom is when you trust yourself to apply what you’ve learned in class to new situations and to create your own theories or outcomes.

Courage in your Community
Last year a number of you were inspired by 16 year old environmental activist Greta Thunberg who left school every Friday to sit in front of Sweden’s parliament building and call on her government to take action against climate change. 

Students in Dr. Kimberley’s humanities class watched Greta’s TedTalk and were captivated by her words and inspired to take action. With the approval of the administration, these students organized more than half of the student body to travel to the State House in Boston to take part in the world-wide Climate Strike, listening to and sharing their own stories about how climate change is affecting their lives.

It will take courage to sustain the fight against climate change in the coming days and years, and we look to each of you who participated to help us practice what you preached that day. 

It will take courage to remind your peers and all members of this community to recycle, to compost, and to resist the urge to use disposable items (like plastic cups!) that threaten our environment.

Courage in Clubs, Activities and Sports
Whether it’s standing up for what you believe despite it being unpopular, remaining calm and composed during the heat of intense competitive pressure, consistently moving towards your fears, or maintaining grace and dignity when you feel you have failed miserably, courage looks different. 

I challenge you to find the courage to take risks this year.  Try a new sport, take a class that pushes you out of your comfort zone, go out for one of the plays, or take a chance and audition for one of the a cappella groups. You might discover a talent or a voice you never knew you had!

Courage in your Personal Life
Throughout our lives, we are faced with situations that are stressful or that challenge our personal values.  Sometimes it is tempting to ignore our values in order to fit in or to avoid the scrutiny of others. But it often isn’t long before we regret compromising our integrity – our core value from last year.

The former Prime Minister of England, Sir Winston Churchill, said, “FEAR is a reaction. COURAGE is a decision.” This year I challenge all of you to remain strong in the face of situations that scare or intimidate you. 

Remember that it is also courageous to reach out for help when you need it. When faced with stressful situations reach out to friends, your advisor, your teachers, or your parents to help you out.

Each of you possesses academic, athletic or artistic gifts and I hope you will exercise courage in sharing them with the larger school community so that we can all learn and grow from one another. 

Whether you are starting your journey at The Academy at Penguin Hall as a first year or as a Senior, you are courageously blazing trails by joining our school at this moment in time to build a powerful educational institution for the young women who will come after you.

Throughout the year we will continue to discuss and practice courage.  So when your inner voice is expressing doubt and you wonder whether you have what it takes to succeed, I want you to know that I believe in you. Your teachers and peers believe in you. And your parents believe in you.
This is going to be an incredible year!