Palfrey Aims to Balance Tradition and Technology During His Tenure

With the symbolic handover of Eliphalet Pearson’s gavel from former Head of School Barbara Chase, John Palfrey formally accepted his responsibility as Head of School of Phillips Academy during his Investiture last Sunday afternoon.

“I thought the ceremony was wonderful. It was a beautiful day, but it was much more than that. There was a thread throughout the remarks that everybody made—there was a consistency. There were different viewpoints and different [ideas of how] to implement the values that we share—but there was a commonality that’s very powerful,” said Peter Currie ’74, President of the Board of Trustees, referring to the common theme of the marriage between Andover’s traditional values and innovation.

The event began with processions of bagpipers, flag-bearing cluster presidents and international students, robe-clad faculty members and trustees. The processions were followed by speeches from Rebecca Sykes, Associate Head of School, Victor Henningsen ’69, Instructor in History and Social Science, Heather Thomson, Senior Manager for Operations and Maintenance, Hemang Kaul ’13, School President, Currie, Chase and Palfrey.

“How can we at Andover contribute in the spirit of Non Sibi and our other founding principles in making the world a better place?” asked Palfrey in his speech on Sunday.

To answer his own question, Palfrey outlined three key goals for his tenure: providing “youth from every quarter” access to the best education the school can provide, establishing the “surest foundation” for such education and creating connections that reach far beyond the Andover campus.

“The main concept I was trying to get across [in my speech] was the importance of both reaffirming the founding principles of the school and also giving a sense of continued forward motion—the balance between tradition and innovation,” said Palfrey in an interview with The Phillipian.

Kaul’s speech revolved around his reaction to seeing the renovation of Pearson Hall, home of the Classics Department and Kaul’s favorite building on campus, upon his return to Andover.

He said that as the scaffolding came down, he noticed that the outside of the building had changed, but that its atmosphere and mission had not.

“Andover is a school of much tradition. However, what makes Andover special, what makes it different, is its ability to adjust and adapt. Today marks the beginning of a new journey. We will see how age-old customs will blend with new ideas and new technologies in order to shift and strengthen our campus for the future,” said Kaul in his speech.

Henningsen, who spoke on behalf of the faculty, expressed similar sentiments about reshaping old values to conform to the future in his speech.

“John Palfrey will be my fifth Headmaster, so I have seen a lot of the changes that have gone on… And you do see how the school reshapes the meaning of [“the great end and real business of living,” as stated in the school’s constitution] to meet the genuine needs of the moment,” Henningsen said in an interview.

Thomson, whose family collectively has served Andover for over 100 years, welcomed Palfrey to the Andover family on behalf of the staff.

“I’ve seen a huge change in my time here. [The staff has] become more a part of the school, and we’re more involved in what goes on here. Back when I first started here, we didn’t have computers, we didn’t have iPhones that somebody could [use to] get a hold of me 24 hours a day. I think with [Palfrey’s] look to the future, we’re more connected, and we will be even more connected to the school than we have in the past,” said Thomson in an interview.

Chase said, “I think that the highest value in a place like [Andover] is that it calls us all out of ourselves and into something that is larger and that means more than our own personal daily cares—and that there has been this continuity from year-to-year, over 15 [Heads of School] since 1778, is really such a remarkable thing. I couldn’t be more joyful and enthusiastic about my successor.”

Oscar Tang ’56, former President of the Board of Trustees, said, “The school is in such strong shape because of what Barbara [Chase] has done and… the passing of the torch from Barbara [Chase] to John [Palfrey], who has a vision for the future, [is] a very exciting time, both because we are in such a good position and because we are looking forward to all we can do under John [Palfrey].”

Chien Lee ’71, Charter Trustee, said, “I believe [Palfrey] is one of the few [educators] that has focused on… how education may change because of the Internet and other developments. Nobody hears about it, but it’s really happening at the university level. I don’t think anybody has really looked at it with as much rigor as he has in terms of what to do at the secondary school level.”

Elizabeth Parker Powell AA’56, Trustee Emerita, said that the three Investitures she’s been to all have been “uplifting.” She added, “I’m a graduate of Abbot Academy, so it’s very important to me how many times Abbot was mentioned and that [Palfrey] quoted Bertha Bailey [the 13th Principal of Abbot Academy].”

Preparations for the Investiture began months ago. Nancy Jeton, Special Assistant to the Head of School, and Debby Murphy, Director of Alumni Affairs, led the planning committee, which included Paul Murphy, Dean of Students, Temba Maqubela, Dean of Faculty, Tracy Sweet, Director of Communications, and Sykes.

During the ceremony, the Phillips Academy Chorus sang “Thou Whose Harmony Is the Music of the Spheres” before Currie’s charge to Palfrey, and the Student and Faculty Jazz Ensemble played “Blue Skies” before Palfrey’s acceptance speech.

“We wanted something a little bit reflective, and we wanted something that was more upbeat. I thought… some jazz would be great, so ‘Blue Skies’ fit perfectly,” said Chris Walter, Conductor of the Phillips Academy Chorus and Instructor in Music. “We wanted to have as many students involved as possible, and so the chorus, which is a good number this year, [was] the choice.”

Twelve culinary staff members and 14 wait staff members from Paresky Commons were responsible for providing refreshments at the reception after the Investiture. The staff made 4,000 finger sandwiches and 7,000 cookies, some topped with white chocolate versions of the school seal, for the event, according to Paul Robarge, Senior Food Service Director.

“The bakers actually did the graveyard shift on Saturday morning; they came in at two in the morning and started cooking the rolls at that point. The cookies were made about a day or two before that. It was really impressive,” said Robarge.

The Investiture was live-streamed for members of the community who could not attend the event in person.

Shireen Aziz contributed reporting.