Marking Five Years at Friends Select—and Wondering What the Next Five Will Hold

When I came to Friends Select School five years ago, I knew an exciting challenge lay ahead of me. 

This month marks five years since I arrived at Friends Select, a storied Quaker school in the heart of Center City Philadelphia. As a cornerstone of the Ben Franklin Parkway, our school has always been proud to be both in the city and of the city. Our students reflect Philadelphia’s great diversity, and wherever possible, we use the city as a classroom where our young scholars take advantage of the rich mosaic of cultures, histories, and innovations that have made Philadelphia a world-class city. 

But since early 2020, when our student body was first sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic and soon after galvanized by a global movement for social justice, I’ve come to see in a whole new way the importance of the city to Friends Select. I had no idea how the last year and a half would transform this centuries-old school—and me along with it. 

Even during the most challenging months of the pandemic, our students remained focused on becoming agents of change, celebrating diversity, and deepening their commitment to social justice. They held a voter registration drive last fall and made sure 100% of our eligible students were registered to vote, for which they received a gold-level Governor’s Civic Engagement Award from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. They designed and implemented a Social Justice Week that encouraged critical conversation on tough issues and developed partnerships with local organizations to take meaningful action. They helped our collective efforts to become a more antiracist school. And they facilitated virtual programming, such as a civil discourse panel discussion in which experts debated police reform. 

This isn’t how I expected to wrap up my first half-decade at Friends Select. But given all of this year’s challenges, I’m inspired by the resilience of our community. 

I’ve been reflecting on this work as we emerge from one of our school’s and city’s most challenging years. As we emerge together, we are now rededicating ourselves to Philadelphia, renovating our current Parkway Building and adding an additional building at 1520 Race Street. In creating state-of-the-art classrooms and facilities, we are deepening our Quaker roots and values while continuing our commitment to Philadelphia and the role it plays in educating our students.

If I’ve learned anything from my first five years on the Parkway, it’s that I don’t know what my next five years will look like.

But, friends, I can’t wait for us to find out together.  

—Michael Gary, July 2021