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GFS Unity Day 2024

Birdsong and the breeze were the only sounds on the Common as Germantown Friends School students, faculty, and staff settled in for All-School Meeting for Worship. Hundreds from the community gathered, seated across the open central campus space, and joined in this special spring tradition. After a few minutes of reflective silence, people began approaching the microphone to share from the heart, many of them from the younger school divisions. 

Fears and calls to action around climate change were a common theme, as were concepts of being changemakers, practicing kindness, and gratitude for the GFS community as a space where everyone’s voices can be heard. Seniors shone a light on the connections and relationships forged during their time at school, and some Upper School students shared advice and messages of hope with the smaller kids, specifically around their concerns about climate change.

"The most important thing you can have is hope," said one US student, in response to some of the younger speakers. "Be kind to those around you and be kind to yourself."

“What you’re saying is true, and I'm proud of you,” said another senior. “And one thing I've learned in my GFS experience is that there is hope all around, and I encourage you to be a part of it. I really appreciate all of you, because I know that GFS will be left in good hands.”

All-School Meeting for Worship is part of GFS Unity Day, which was held this year on Friday, May 3. Unity Day is the culmination of Unity Week, a series of programming organized by the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office. This all-school week of programming, like assemblies, speakers, and dance parties, is designed to educate the GFS community on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice as we highlight our Quaker testimonies of Peace and Equality. 

“Given our rich and plural community, we seek to build connection and understanding across social identities. More than ever, we continue to lean on the Quaker saying that reminds us that ‘We needn’t be of one mind, but we should strive to be of one heart,’” said DEI Director Charla Okewole.

Before the All-School Meeting for Worship, Upper School students started the day at an AANHPI Month assembly in St. Luke’s Church, featuring special guest Patricia Park, an author and tenured Associate Professor in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at American University. Ms. Park’s debut young adult novel is titled, “Imposter Syndrome & Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim,” and she spoke to US students about the concept of imposter syndrome through the lens of social and cultural identities. Afterward, students and faculty were invited to the microphone to give spontaneous shout-outs and thank yous (to much applause and cheering) to others in the community.

Following the Meeting for Worship, each division celebrated Unity Day in its own way: the EC group, including young friends visiting from the GFS Center City location, held an exuberant outdoor dance party, and LS and MS participated in various activities throughout their classes. 

US students met for grade-level forum discussions, where they were able to engage with school leaders around the Israel-Hamas war with questions submitted in advance and asked during the session. The panels were moderated by faculty members Maryanne Rawlings and Jake Miller. In the afternoon, they participated in community service and community building on- and off-campus with their advisories. The day concluded at Fields, where students, staff, and family members cheered on the Tigers baseball and tennis teams.

“Making space to honor and uplift student voices through programs such as Unity Day and All School Meeting for Worship is vital for our school community,” says Matthew Young, GFS Director of Upper School. “This year's grade forum discussions and shared community appreciations at the end of the US Assembly were certainly highlights for me this year.”