News from Penny B. Evins

Graduation Speech to the Class of 2014

Experienced heads and educators were in my ear before I met this senior class.  They warned me with their generalizations.  I was told “seniors and first-year heads of school are usually not a match made in heaven”.  Mark Twain once said that, “All generalizations are false, including this one.” Well, I am here to declare that my first year at St. Paul’s School for Girls with the class of 2014 has proven Mark Twain’s quote to be true. After all, the class of 2014 even included food for my dog in their Senior Prank.  They did a skit poking fun at my “drawl and y’all”; imagine that! The positive relationship I’ve enjoyed with this class as well as the relationship they’ve cultivated with all members of our school community is one of the many signs pointing towards their flexibility and general goodwill.

I have discovered that if offered a moral compass and in an environment that is growth oriented, seniors and first-year heads can be a match made in heaven.

To the parents and guests with us today, thank you for sharing these 58 exceptional seniors with us. Thank you for giving them your love, your care, your time, and your support.  You have helped these young women become the kind and spirited ladies who grace us with their accomplishments on both average and extraordinary days.

They are diverse and independent; they were accepted to over 100 colleges and universities and are attending 42 different schools. They have taught and led many; they have given of themselves and clocked over 5,500 hours of service. They have been faced with new responsibilities, pressures and demands that we never saw when we were their age. At the same time, they are comfortable being kids. They clearly consumed more Swedish fish and cookies than those who previously sat in the treasured Senior Room.  In fact, after a recent senior luncheon, a fellow SPSG alumna, who is a talented caterer for many schools in the area, shared with me that unlike other seniors, “these ladies eat”! And they clearly have appetites for the world beyond the gates of SPSG. These 58 bold and courageous ladies have heart, they have faith, they have moral compasses, and they have voices that ought to be heard.

Ladies, while you are the product of your parents, the SPSG professionals, community cheerleaders, and educators from your past have much to do with who you have become. I encourage you to pause and consider all of those who have touched your life in some way, shaping who you are today. And for the guests with us, take a moment to acknowledge what you have accomplished in serving as loving role models for these future leaders.   These ladies join me in thanking each and every one of you for all you have done to ready them for this day.

And to you … our bold and courageous ladies, our seniors, during these last moments as students in our school, I will offer some guidance. Our world is open to you as doers, givers, tinkerers, leaders, admirers, teammates and citizens. But you will need courage and social graces as you continue your life’s journey. I was shown the way by female role models who wrote thank you notes, greeted strangers and familiar souls with manners. They played hard, showed emotions, failed publicly; grabbed opportunities; held doors open for others; and led and lived with character.

Do not leave your manners and character at the door of opportunity.  Rather, use character as your compass, and be known for whom you are and how you do that which you choose, or feel you must do in order to be your true self.  People may admire your accomplishments but they will respect your character.  Continue to be bold and courageous ladies.

You have been surrounded by excellence during your time at SPSG. You have been loved and given the privilege of a preeminent education-one that has shaped your mind, body, heart and spirit. You have been treated as a child of God. You have been cared for in a school created and maintained to ready girls as independent and confident young women to embrace the extraordinary opportunities of our complex world. This is our school’s mission statement. The healthy RISCs visionary women took long before you were born paved the way for us.  Those who planted the seed ideas of our school in 1799 clearly felt strongly about how respect, integrity, spiritual growth and creativity should mold and shape young women.  Our mission remains relevant as we continue to prepare girls for the world beyond this stunning campus and nurturing community.

Former administrators, faculty, staff, board members, and students are with us today. We cherish the connection between past, present, and future at SPSG because as you graduates are about to learn, the school community is not dependent upon being in the same place at the same time. The shared experience of this day is indeed valuable and we thank you all for attending today's commencement ceremony and honoring these magnificent graduates.

We will keep in touch with the Class of 2014 and hope you will keep in touch with us.  Please come back for Prayers and Chapel.  Join in our scholarly pause.  Mentor your younger community members.  Help them see what they are capable of becoming as you welcome their possibilities, much as you have helped welcome me to this exceptional community. Whether Green or White, it is your unique shade and character that will ensure our future relevance for the next generation of visionary Gators.  You were the first class to sign The Ivywood wall.  You have left your symbolic mark on many; however, we know, we hope, and we imagine your futures will continue to inspire us as you take on new adventures.  Just as the former heads of SPSG left big shoes for me to fill, so do you for the class of 2015.  You have taught all of us well and we look forward to continuing to be a part of your lives.

As you begin your next chapter, I ask you to remember the quote I chose for you, even before I came to know you.

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

Continue to hold each other to your best as you take your Healthy RISCS and move onward in your collective and individual destinies. God Bless and much love from me to each and every one of you bold, and courageous ladies who I have come to know and love as my first Seniors at SPSG.

Congratulations to you, the unforgettable Class of 2014.