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Head of School John Palfrey Addresses His Departure During All-School Meeting

E.Ellsweig/The Phillipian

As president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Palfrey hopes to continue the work of Non Sibi by addressing issues such as criminal justice reform and climate change.

Following the recent announcement of his decision to leave Andover, Head of School John Palfrey used Wednesday’s All-School Meeting (ASM) to officially address his departure.

Palfrey plans to take on a new role as the sixth president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in the rall, a large, nonprofit foundation based out of Chicago, most famous for their million dollar Genius Grants. Palfrey said that his decision to leave Andover was primarily driven by his enthusiasm and passion for the Non Sibi spirit.

“When I came to Andover, the thing that moved me the most…was [what] it was a chance everyday to walk across that street to work on Non Sibi. That was what, in my heart, moved me to take this job: the idea—not to be the most important person in your lives, not to be your best teacher—but to be somebody who upheld Non Sibi in our life. And when this past year, the opportunity to do that at the scale that the MacArthur Foundation could do, it felt like the [right] thing to do,” said Palfrey at ASM.

Palfrey said that he hopes the school continues to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the coming years and emphasized that there are still strides to be made in those areas. He also spoke about his own experience with sexual assault and why promoting a culture of consent is an important goal for Andover.

I feel there’s unfinished business is the focus of consent and respect…I will say that I too was a victim of sexual assault when I was your age—that not at my school, but in a gym, I was attacked. It was something that was not pleasant. It was by an older person who I trusted. And I say this not so you will look at me differently, in any way, but just to think, ‘This is all of us.’ This is all of our work and we as humans, as adults, we bring this to our work every day,” said Palfrey at ASM.

As part of his talk, he called upon both students and faculty to spread awareness about equity, consent, and mental health and to tackle these issues together as a community.

Palfrey said in an interview with The Phillipian,It’s very important that students support one another no matter what. I think one thing that happens after sexual misconduct is that oftentimes, people’s friends treat them differently. One really important thing is to be enormously supportive of people who have gone through what is a traumatic experience.”

Palfrey’s message of promoting a positive student culture especially resonated with Alex Ashman ’19.

Ashman said, “I think the goals Mr. Palfrey set for the school are incredibly important, and I hope that Andover does continue to make equity, consent, and mental health top priorities going forward. His commitment to making this school a better place and promoting Non Sibi spirit is remarkable, and I’m glad that now he has the chance to keep making a change on a broader scale,” Ashman said.

Although Palfrey will depart at the end of the 2018-2019 School Year, students like Itzelt Reyes ’19 believe that his legacy at Andover will continue to live on. Reyes especially appreciated Palfrey’s choice to maintain the need-blind admissions process as a student for whom it provided countless opportunities.

“Out of the many, many possible initiatives that he could’ve focused on, I think his decision to continue the need-blind admissions program definitely opened many doors for many current students on campus, myself included. His later-on focus on equity and inclusion definitely made it easier so that students could not only feel as if they had equal access to resources on campus, but were given what they needed to thrive in an environment like Andover,” said Reyes.

Michael Barker, Director of Academy Research, Information, and Library Services, spoke about Palfrey’s close connections with the student body as well as his continuous acts of leadership.

“I think his legacy is best defined by an authentic commitment to improving the student experience here. He made sure to learn the name of every student every year for a reason. He wanted each student to truly find their home here, to be cared for here, and find their ‘thing’ here. Second to that, I think he leaves behind a legacy of incomparable leadership and vision…During his tenure the school also experienced some very trying moments, but he consistently found ways to lead the community through them, and encouraged us all to rise above them together,” said Barker.  

During ASM, Palfrey opened his speech by presenting a list of notable Andover alumni and acknowledging their contributions to the Andover that we see and experience today. Sophia Hlavaty ’21 said that she enjoyed his talk mostly for the purposeful and powerful message that Palfrey conveyed to the audience.

“I like how [Palfrey] brought up the point that there’s this kind of continuous history that’s being written about Andover ever since its inception and how this history is still being written today, and we are part of that history,” said Hlavaty.

As a first-generation, low-income student, Reyes also expressed her gratitude towards Palfrey for being a supportive teacher and mentor throughout her years at Andover.

I can definitely say that my coming from a first-generation background, from a low-income family, and not having anyone there to guide me was not really helpful in navigating a space like Andover. I think that through his leadership I was able to realize that not only was I tolerated in this community, but I was thoroughly and wholesomely accepted,” said Reyes.

Palfrey concluded the ASM with a message to the student body about the lessons he has learned while being at Andover during the past seven years.

He said, “You taught me that there’s a note in the range that I did not know existed. You taught me a form of affection that I did not know was in me or in society. There is something special that happens here at Andover and it didn’t happen at my high school. There is something that is deep and connected and what you taught me is that there is a form of affection that gets in your bones and I can tell you, for me, that is what I will leave Andover with most when I leave this summer.”