John Palfrey

Dr. John G Palfrey, Phillips Academy's head of school

Here is the text of a letter sent by Phillips Academy Head of School John Palfrey to students and parents and posted on his blog "in response to an unfortunate incident involving a group of our recent graduates."

On Sunday, we celebrated Commencement in our 237th year under blue skies. We graduated 328 exceptional students, capping a fine year at Andover across the board—in the arts, athletics, community service, and academics. These students and their families as well as our faculty and staff have every reason to be proud of the community’s accomplishments this year.

A few hours later, 74 of our new graduates found themselves in protective custody in Sunapee, New Hampshire, for alleged acts at a party in a rented home. According to police reports, 51 of our graduates passed a breathalyzer test; 23 of our graduates did not and, as a result, face a court date in August for underage consumption of alcohol. Fortunately none of our graduates was hurt. All were released to responsible parents and guardians.

We remain proud of all our graduates and what they achieved while at Andover. At the same time, the faculty and I are deeply disappointed about what happened in the hours after graduation. Andover stands for strong values: non sibi, above all, and respect and care for others. I have no doubt our graduates did learn these lessons at Andover, but some of them did not practice them that night. Their actions fell short of what we know to be their best. I hasten to credit those graduates who chose a different path that evening, as well as those parents who supported them in celebrating responsibly.

With the benefit of a few days of reflection, the primary lesson I take away from these events is one of humility. Personally, I realize the limits of my persuasive power and the shortcomings of our efforts to stop this kind of party. A few weeks ago, I stood before all 328 graduating students in Cochran Chapel and told them unequivocally not to host or to attend such a party. On large screens in the chapel, as a cautionary tale, I put up a recent newspaper article about a peer school at which a large number of former students were arrested at a graduation party in northern New England. We sent a clear letter to students and families about graduation week, as we do every year; we held follow-up meetings with students and parents to forestall these events. As we now know, for some students, these efforts did not prevent such an event from taking place.

I hope that our students, too, learn a version of my lesson in humility. To hold an Andover diploma is an extraordinary thing, the symbol of much accomplishment and promise. It does not, however, exempt you from the law or keep you safe from harm. The arc of learning is a long one and not always smooth. If there is a silver lining to be found here, it is that this incident will help to prevent students from making greater mistakes in the future. We suspect that their disappointment in themselves exceeds our own in them. We will help them, however we can, recover from this stumble.

I remain confident that this lapse in judgment does not reflect the true character of the graduating class, nor the values of our school. We are grateful to the New Hampshire police for keeping our graduates safe that night. Over the coming school year, we will redouble our efforts to teach the importance of good decision-making at Andover and of health and wellness. I look forward to the time for reflection that summer affords. And I look forward to beginning our 238th year with a renewed sense of purpose and vigor.


John Palfrey

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