We welcomed the new school year at our annual Convocation assembly on Sept. 3, 2019, including an opening address by Head of School Mercedes Z. Sheppard.

A transcript of her remarks:

Good morning and happy first day of school! Welcome to Convocation 2019.

For those of you I haven’t met, my name is Mrs. Sheppard and I am the Head of School. While this is the beginning of my 23rd year at MPA, I always get the first-day-of-school jitters.

I’m sure I’m not alone — this year we have about 65 new students and several new faculty members. If you are a new student or faculty member to MPA this year, please stand so we can welcome you to our community.

Convocation is about formally coming together as a school community to celebrate the beginning of a new school year and set our intention for a positive year. This year I would like for us to commit to celebrating the entire year, not just the special occasions, but every occasion.

Finding your voice means to learn to be your authentic self, speak up for yourself and others, and speak the truth.

While we are all struggling to let go of summer, today is the first day of an amazing school year. If you are a senior, in approximately 180 days you will be graduating. If you are in first grade, you are 180 days from moving to the second floor of Barker Hall. The list of firsts goes on and on.

So let’s choose to celebrate all of the milestones in between now and the end of the school year. Let’s celebrate our uniqueness as a community, our differences as individuals, and a common goal of service to others. Don’t wait for the party to start to get involved; become the party where you are at! Join a club or athletic team — or better still, support a team or production. Be remembered for your enthusiasm for life, not your complaint about a situation.

Convocation is also when we share the theme for the school year. Our theme is our charge for how we want to conduct ourselves for the year. We have made service a priority and committed to be three divisions within one school and to treat each other with mutual respect.

This year I had some help with our theme from Ms. Carey and the Speech Club. This year’s theme is Find Your Voice.

What does that mean? For us it means to learn to be your authentic self, speak up for yourself and others, and speak the truth. For the faculty and staff, our role is to facilitate each of you in your journey to be your authentic self and also hold each other accountable for honest and frank communication.

As easy as that sounds, there are some challenges in becoming our authentic self and speaking out. But just like when you choose to learn a new language or video game, starting a new habit takes time, patience, and a commitment to the habit. So for this year’s theme, take baby steps. Focus on speaking your truth daily, then let that evolve to speaking up for others and creating a warm welcoming environment for others to speak their truth.

And in this process, don’t forget the MPA Way: Be kind and do your best. Let that kindness extend to our 65 new students and seven new faculty members. Help them feel welcomed at MPA.

Welcome to the 147th school year at Morgan Park Academy. I can’t wait to hear your voices!