We welcomed the new school year at our annual Convocation assembly on Sept. 5, including an opening address by Head of School Mercedes Z. Sheppard.

A transcript of her remarks:

Welcome to the 146th school year at Morgan Park Academy.

Since this is only the second day of school, some of you are still finding your way around campus — that’s students and teachers alike — trying to remember your class schedule, determining which lunch table to sit at, and all those fun things that come with starting a new school year. Well, don’t feel like you are alone. This year we welcome over 60 new students and eight new faculty members. I am excited to welcome all of the new faces to our community. I am also very excited to welcome back all of the familiar faces, both students and faculty. Together, all of us make MPA a unique community of learners.

Convocation is our traditional beginning-of-year assembly to celebrate the start of a new school year and set our intentions for a successful year.

Over the past four years, we have accomplished a lot as a school. Each year our theme has helped us frame our intention for the school year and hopefully sparks meaningful discussions. Our school themes have pushed us to make service to others who we are instead of what we do and reminded us that we are three divisions but one school. We were challenged to be the best version of ourselves and last year we focused on one of our core values as a school: mutual respect.

So what are we going to do this year?

Better said, when we are assembled at the end of the year for closing exercises, what accomplishments will make you proudest to share with your family and friends? It goes without saying that good grades and participating in co-curriculars will be something to be proud of, but what could we accomplish as a school community that would make us proud?

The learning that you are doing now is not just for when you become an adult; it is for right now, this moment. Give yourself permission to dream big and make it happen.

Johnnetta B. Cole, an educator and director of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African Art, once said, “An education that teaches you to understand something about the world has done only half of the assignment. The other half is to teach you to do something about making the world a better place.”

Making the world a better place — that should sound familiar. It sounds a lot like our mission statement. The mission of Morgan Park Academy is to engage the whole child, inspire the independent learner, and prepare global leaders to make a positive difference in the world.

That sounds like we need to be out in the community doing really huge things to make a positive difference in the world, right? It almost sounds unattainable for each of us to be able to do things have an impact on global warming or end hunger, right? Or is it?

John F. Kennedy, our 35th President of the United States said, “The problems of this world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men — and women — who can dream of things that never were.”

When I read that, my first thought for a theme was “Just do it” — but I believe someone already is using that. But those three words — just do it — really sum up how each of us individually and MPA as a community can begin to have a positive impact on the world. You have to, first and foremost, believe in yourself and have the courage and confidence to move forward. Then you need to just do something, take action. But you can’t do just anything; it has to be thoughtful and focused. You need to have a plan.

So this year we are going to dream big. We are going to use our voices, our hands, our time and our talents to dream big and make a positive impact. Opportunities are all around us, from recycling here on campus, composting at home, starting a literacy program at a local school, writing letters to elected officials about issues that matter to you, or volunteering to help tutor a fellow classmate. The list goes on and on.

Taking your experiences both in the classroom and outside of the classroom, and applying them to your daily life is what education is all about. The learning that you are doing now is not just for when you become an adult; it is for right now, this moment. Give yourself permission to dream big and make it happen.

As you look around campus, your neighborhood, your home, be on the look out for your opportunity to make the communities that you are a part of better. Often times it is so much easier to complain or decide that you can’t make a difference. But you can. We all can — and complaining and being cynical never changed a situation, it just brings those people around you down.

One good indicator that you are dreaming big is when you propose an idea or ask a question and someone looks at you like you are crazy! That is always a good sign that you are thinking bigger than the situation and working toward solutions and not excuses.

Finally, for those of you who don’t know, I am a complete Disney fan. I love everything about Disney, from the annoying song “It’s a Small World” to Mickey Mouse. What I love most about visiting a Disney park is the phrase most park employees end their conversations with. They always say: “Have a magical day.” I love how corny it sounds, but I also love the idea of making each day magical.

So this year, we’re going to start dreaming big. We’re going to make each day magical. And we’re going to do our best to have a positive impact on the world.

Welcome to the 146th year at the Academy, and let’s have a great year.